Alibi V.12 No.45 • Nov 6-12, 2003 

Art Article

A Divided Nation

Cuba Confidential: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana

Vintage
paper
$15.95

Back in the early '90s, a joke made the rounds about Cuba. It went like this. What are the triumphs of Fidel Castro's Revolution? Answer: Education, health care and athletics. And what are the failures of the Revolution? Answer: Breakfast, lunch and dinner.

When Ann Louise Bardach told this joke to Castro, the aging dictator just laughed. "When you have too much breakfast, lunch and dinner," he said, "it's bad for your health."

Only a pus-oozing canker on the skin of humanity like Fidel Castro could make such a callous statement about his long-suffering people. Since the collapse of its old benefactor, the Soviet Union, in the early '90s, Cuba has fallen on especially hard times. In the parlance of commie propaganda, this is called Cuba's "Special Period." In plain English, this means less of everything for people who already don't have much to begin with.

It's hard to paint a sympathetic portrait of Fidel Castro, the social idealist turned tyrant, and Bardach, thankfully, doesn't try. In Cuba Confidential, Castro comes off as exactly the ruthless, power-hungry bastard he is.

Yet Bardach—who's considered by many to be our country's best investigative reporter on issues concerning Cuba—spares no one in this readable, well-researched book on U.S.-Cuban relations. She points out many disturbing facts that Miami's émigré population never mentions. For one thing, the main reason Cuban exiles in Florida have so much hatred for Castro isn't because of his well-documented human rights violations. It's because they're mostly members of the lily-white, obscenely wealthy ruling class that oppressed the Cuban masses during the reign of Batista. Castro took their wealth from them, and for that they can never forgive him.

Throughout Cuba Confidential, Bardach closely examines the relationship between Cuba and its exiles, illuminating the 42-year-long standoff better than any book I've ever read. After reporting on the situation for the past 10 years, Bardach understands the intricacies of the ongoing crisis better than anyone around, and she's articulate enough to convey her knowledge lucidly to the reader.

My favorite parts of the book dig into the personality of the megalomaniacal dictator himself in a series of entertaining and deeply illuminating anecdotes. No one can deny that Castro is an incredibly smart guy. Bardach tells several astonishing stories about his photographic memory. In one particularly incredible tale, Castro is said to have been able to recite to a classmate from memory a page from a textbook they'd read together 50 years ago.

Cuba Confidential, though, is much more than just a portrait of Castro and his enemies. It's also a highly incisive investigation into the ways Cuba has affected U.S. politics, from the Elián González affair to the 2000 presidential election to the shady backroom dealings of Florida governor Jeb Bush and his inner circle of cronies.

The book has just been released in a newly updated paperback edition. It's one of the best pieces of investigative journalism I've read this year.