Sunday, February 28, 2010

Without Fidel - book

Without Fidel A Death Foretold in Miami, Havana, and Washington, by Ann Louise Bardach (Scribners, N.Y., 2009).

Ann Louise Bardach is an award-winning investigative journalist who has covered Cuba and Cuban politics for almost twenty years. In this fine book she offers an analysis of the long slow dying of Fidel Castro, the presence of the new President, Fidel’s brother, Raul Castro, and what this might mean for the future of Cuba and Cuban-American relations.

The book is divided into three major sections: The Long Dying, The Fidel Obsession, and Raul’s Reign. For those interested in the ailments afflicting Fidel Castro you will find them described here in some detail. I, for one, was surprised to learn that contrary to the rumors, he has not been suffering from cancer, but, rather, from a very severe problem of diverticulitis, complicated by repeated surgeries, not all of them entirely successful. And also contrary to some rumors, he is not dead, and, although not in good health, remains very much in charge despite now being in the background. In this first part of the book Bardach also gives a detailed account of the Castro families. You would have to have a much more profound interest in this family history than I do to truly appreciate it. I am quite content to know only that Fidel’s father, Angel, emigrated to Cuba from Spain, and by a great deal of hard work and talent managed to become a large and wealthy landowner. This allowed his children to have a fine education although they were not what would be considered upper-class Cubans. I also learned that Fidel, twice-married, has some eleven children, at least five of them from affairs with other women, and that this is apparently not at all unusual in Cuba. His father also had children in this way as does his brother Raul, although not as many. There are genealogies of both families provided, if you are sufficiently motivated to trace all of the family members, where they are and what they are doing. In this same section of the book there is discussion of the history of the “empire,” and considerable detail about Fidel’s illness and treatment, as well as information about his relationship with Hugo Chavez and others.

Part two continues a historical account of the revolution, the executions and defections, but then deals mostly with Fidel’s many enemies, including the Bush family, and more particularly with Avila Bosch and Luis Posada, responsible for the bombing of a Cuban plane and the deaths of all aboard. Bardach has been much involved with this investigation, there is no question of who was guilty, but there should be an investigation of the Bush families involvement and their protection of these murderous terrorists who now roam free with their passionate hatred of the Castro brothers. Indeed, the involvement of ex-President Bush and his father before him in Cuban affairs was much more involved than I suspected and is responsible for our failure to establish other than hostile relations with that nation. Their hypocrisy when it comes to the treatment of terrorists is quite apparent.

Part three deals primarily with the ascendancy of Raul now that his big brother is incapacitated but not out of the picture by any means. It also deals with the hardships Cuba has had to endure after the Russian collapse and withdrawal of aid. It seems that Raul is quite aware that Cuba must change if it is to survive, but most of his attempts to change have been rejected by Fidel. This is not to say Raul has changed his mind about communism or how to run Cuba, only to say that he has made at least some steps in the direction of reform. Although Raul might wish to instigate certain changes he still defers to his big brother, and no doubt will continue to do so until Fidel finally dies. It is clear that some progress is being made in Cuban/American relations now that Obama and Raul are Presidents, in spite of Fidel’s overriding influence. But as Raul is only four years younger than Fidel, and as virtually all of the major players in Cuban politics are elderly, the book might have been better titled “Without Raul.”

Without Fidel is a finely detailed, complex, and, I believe, a fairly objective account of the history and potential future of this island nation situated in the shadow of the larger and potentially aggressive United States. Bardach does an interesting job of describing the problems as well as the different personalities of the players. There is the intellectually inclined, flamboyant and garrulous, proud and arrogant Fidel, somewhat humorless, well read, brilliant, and opinionated, contrasted with the more poorly educated but intelligent Raul (who dropped out of the university because of lack of interest), who does not like the spotlight, making speeches, and is quiet and much more family oriented, as well as communistic (Fidel was never trusted by the communist party because he was too independent and unpredictable). Where Fidel governed by force of personality, Raul will govern through the military (where he has spent his entire career), and the communist party apparatus that has now become strengthened, and he appears to be in control of both of these institutions. It also seems clear that the U.S. has shot itself in the foot when it comes to Cuba and they will quite likely get by with good relations with other countries such as Venezuela, China, and others while we may be shut out of their new-found oil fields, their beginning to burgeon tourist industry, and so on. It is not my impression that Bardach set out to deliberately portray the Bush administration in such an unflattering portrait, but that’s the way they appear. And there is little doubt in my mind that the Bush administration created the conditions that kept the U.S. and Cuba from making any forward progress whatsoever for all these many years. An interesting insight into Fidel Castro’s pride is the fact that in fifty years he has never once cashed one of the rent checks the U.S. sends for Guantanamo. He also glories in the fact that he lives on in spite of his enemies and their wishes for his demise. I think Bardach should be commended for producing such a well-balanced and reasonably objective account of this up-until-now intractable situation.

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