Peruvian novelist and Nobel Laureate Marío Vargas Llosa once quipped that the greatest producer of anti-capitalist, anti-US propaganda was none other than the United States. This truth crystallized in my mind recently, after I read Cuba: From Columbus to Castro and Beyond (fifth edition, 278 pages) and then inadvertently watched a A Brief History of US-Cuba Relations by ABC News.
Let’s just say that ABC delivered a version of “history” sympathetic to the Castros and critical of the United States, in contrast to the observational account by Jaime Suchlicki, a professor at the University of Miami. Narrated by George Stephanopoulos, the seven-minute clip is riddled with errors and lies by omission, perhaps by design, and could have come straight from the regime’s Institute of Radio and Television.
The ABC clip also belies the importance of the hard yards, of taking the time to examine a topic in depth, as opposed to accepting superficial and sugar-coated reports. For those willing to make the investment, then, does Cuba by Suchlicki fit the bill?
Yes, but with a few provisos. Such an effort, covering Cuba’s long and complicated history, is a balancing act: depth versus economy, objectivity versus frankness, and nuts and bolts versus human interest. You cannot win them all, and Suchlicki’s focus on countless acronym organizations and his attempt at neutrality, at least for the bulk of the book, make for a dry read that is at times hard to follow — a problem amplified by the presence of many Spanish terms. The style is also a departure from his oral presentations and shorter commentaries, where he lays his views on the table without hesitation.
In saying that, those with the will to forge on to the end will be rewarded. Cuba packs a lot of detail and pays closest attention to the 20th century: the US presence and then the Castro era.
In particular, Cuba cuts through many prevailing assumptions, such as the notion that the ousting of strongman president and dictator Fulgencio Batista (1901-1973) was contrary to the wishes of US officials. They had actually grown increasingly concerned with his violent rule, and even imposed an arms embargo in 1958. Similarly, Fidel Castro’s charade of anti-imperialism falls by the wayside. As Suchlicki explains, Castro merely “exchanged the pervasive influence of the United States for a new, more complete dependence on the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.”
While Cuba was published more than a decade ago, in April 2002, you can hardly tell.* In fact, the final chapter of advice and speculation for the future, “Beyond Castro,” is the most insightful and engaging. In 12 pages, Suchlicki finally opens up and delivers the hard truths that one wishes those in the White House would consider.
Regarding the initiation of US diplomacy with the Castro regime, which has already proved an embarrassment, Suchlicki could easily say, “I told you so.” Cubans are now fleeing in greater numbers, and Raúl Castro has upped the ante of his crackdown on free speech.
We believe that we can negotiate with them most, if not all, of our mutual problems, that we can find common ground and work out our differences. Nothing could be further from the truth.… Negotiations with these leaders are usually of little value, and agreements of short duration.
The myth that pulls the most on my heartstrings, though, is the communist notion that the state will “wither away.” The absurdity of collective ownership with no state has always baffled me, and Suchlicki explains that it “is nowhere to be found in Cuba.” Likewise, in Castro’s new socialist morality, money was to be abolished, but apparently they’ve yet to get to that after half a century.
Far from withering away, the state that Cubans now suffer under is a “highly intolerant and hierarchical party structure.” More than anything else, the regime is a tyrannical cult that demands “complete loyalty to Fidel as the paramount ideological requirement.” The Facebook page of twisted apologists is even called Fidelista Por Siempre (Fidel supporter forever).**
So Suchlicki’s work does deliver the goods, albeit tough going at times, and doesn’t need trickery to clarify the brutality of the Castro regime and the impoverishment of the common Cuban. A read is worth the investment of time, so you need not be indifferent towards or another misinformed cheerleader for Marxism in the Caribbean.
* Suchlicki tells me he’ll work on a sixth edition when the Castros pass from the scene, which, given human mortality, could be any day now.
** I have been mocked on this page, and being blocked from commenting is a badge of honor.
This article first appeared in the PanAm Post.