A Cuba Book For Obama’s Xmas Stocking

Dawn Gable

HAVANA TIMES — If you are reading any other book on Cuba right now, close it. If you were thinking about giving another title as a Christmas gift to a beloved Cubaphile, don’t. Make better use of your time and money with Marc Frank’s Cuba Revelations.

This 325 page (30% post-consumer recycled, acid-free) treasure is the most informative, accurate, insightful, detailed account on 21st century Cuba available. As an avid reader of anything written on Cuba, I place this book firmly on the top tier, virtually alone and towering over most.

You won’t find ideology or an agenda in here, but rather a comprehensive composition covering the multilayered, and often quite complex, reform process that has been underway in Cuba since at least 2006.

The treatment is appropriately contextualized -temporally, geopolitically, and meteorologically- and told with the preciseness of an old-school journalist, the detail known only by a witness, and the familiarity reserved for those exceptional foreigners who have managed to insert themselves into local life. This book is based on solid sources, first hand investigation, “behind the scenes” access, and an understanding of Cuba and Cubans that is very, very rare.

But don’t worry, this is no dry, drawn-out news article. Scattered among the chronicles and statistics are entertaining and invaluable anecdotes and conversations with friends. However, it is not an airing of gossip, speculation, or wishful or spiteful thinking.

Books that rely on anecdotes typically land in my circular file after the first chapter or two because most authors on Cuba use them, real or contrived, as a passive-aggressive tool for introducing their personal views and furthering their own agenda. But that is not Frank’s style. He shares these glimpses of day-to-day life and familiar chatter to deepen and enrich the discussion.

In fact, the author dispels many rumors and simplifications. My favorite example of this is his telling of the downfall of former foreign minister Perez Roque and former council of state vice president Carlos Lage.

By reconstructing events, as well as the contents of four “eyes only” DVDs that were shown to select Party cadres, he reveals the pair’s indiscretions and careless behavior that made them unwitting informants to Spanish intelligence.

Apparently Lage had been under investigation since before February 23, 2008 when he was, inexplicably it seemed, over looked for the first-vice president position that virtually everyone thought would be his.

Havana barbershop. Photo: Juan Suarez
Havana barbershop. Photo: Juan Suarez

On the more day-to-day scale, Frank seeks out the impact of Raul Castro’s tweeks to the system on the average person, not by educated guessing or pretending that Havana is Cuba (despite the book’s subtitle), but by traveling the island and talking to people, studying statistics, and examining, rather than discounting, the Cuban press and the government’s statements, both public and semi-private.

He shares proceedings of neighborhood meetings called to discuss mechanisms of economic reform and he describes what he calls “stealth reform,” that is, regional pilot projects that quietly go national (e.g. suburban organic farms) and unannounced policy shifts that seem to occur overnight (e.g. private control of barbershops) that armchair naysayers have brushed off as insignificant, but Frank recognizes as signs of a fundamental shift.

In addition to Cuba’s domestic scene, Frank takes full advantage of his unique “gringo in Havana” position to present a forest view of U.S.-Cuba policy, while not ignoring the important trees that make up and explain the poisoned relationship.

Moreover, he astutely passes on the background noise that many authors spend entire volumes on. Refreshingly, his analysis is not from the typical blue-blood perspective, nor is it full of Cuban rhetoric. It is more a sober, pragmatic analysis from the island side of the straits.

Mr. Obama would do well to give this a read.

In fact, I’d say this is a required stocking stuffer for anyone calling themselves a Cuba expert, consultant, or activist; all Cubans living in the U.S.; anyone involved in U.S.-Cuba policy or engaging Cuba economically; and especially those who think they have a strong grasp on Cuba because they spent significant time there in the last century…. and boy don’t we all know a bunch of those…

I only caution that it may be a little too “insider” for readers with just a casual interest in Cuba, those wanting their political views to be supported or attacked, or those looking for shallow tales of salsa, rum and Santeria. They’ll have to look elsewhere.

12 thoughts on “A Cuba Book For Obama’s Xmas Stocking

  • Don’t be naïve Dan. The US is hardly the only country to engage in torture. We are not even the best at it. The Castros have quite a few survivors giving their accounts of torture living inside and outside of Cuba. Google “Cuban torture”. What the US has is an independent media that investigates and reports government wrongdoing. That doesn’t exist in Cuba.

  • Torture ? Oh you mean like water-boarding ? If we are talking about Venezuela, for example, no need for concern. The days of Posada Carrilles working for DISIP and torturing pregnant women are over. I won’t bother to comment on your novel universal jurisdiction theory.

  • Our military cooperation agreement with a sovereign Pakistan permits the US to legally conduct these operations. Drone targets are not choirboys. On the contrary, by definition, these are operatives who have already committed terrorist capitol offenses and through hard intelligence appear to continue in this behavior. This is against the laws in Pakistan, the UN, the US and even Cuban law. I assume your last comment is directed at the US. It is not against the law in the US to conduct paramilitary training on private property. Certain extradition requests are ignored when the requesting country is likely to engage in torture or the fairness of the judicial process is questioned.

  • Who says that Obama’s victims violated any Pakistani laws? They are executed purely and simply b/c they are deemed to be an enemy of the US. And isn’t it even more egregious when the terrorist- harboring country could act, but doesn’t, such as turning a blind eye to paramilitary training, ignoring extradition requests, ect ?

  • Stupid comparison. The ruling government in “Waziristan”, if any, is incapable of maintaining rule of law within its territory. A terrorist in the “Hindu Kush” is targeted because he is in a rural and sparsely populated region of the country where local law enforcement is either corrupt or non-existent. To assume that Obama sends drones strikes into densely populated areas of countries capable of providing law enforcement or military assistance to capture and detain terrorists is ridiculous. Furthermore, the Obama administration has been clear about what will trigger a drone strike. One of the criteria is the high degree of IMMINENT threat posed by the target. To make such a comparison speaks volumes about how your mind works.

  • Would Raul be justified in sending a drone (assuming Cuba lavished its military with money to buy one) to Miami to kill a terrorist drinking coffee at restaurant Versailles, and maybe killing more than a few bystanders in the process ? Aren’t people in Havana, a few miles from well equipped terrorists in Miami, more at risk than someone living in New Jersey is from a terrorist in the Hindu Kush of Waziristan?

  • I believe every word I write. If the US State Dept. happens to agree with me then kudos to them. The military use of drones safeguards the lives of American soldiers. The lives of those Americans saved is partially offset by the accidental loss of civilian lives from time to time. The debate continues regarding when and where to use drones but the reality of the use of drones in combat is here to stay. President Obama has the responsibility as Commander-in-Chief to weigh the use of drones against the use of troops in the war on terror. No one with a serious argument in this debate considers Obama an immoral man for exercising his role as Commander-in-Chief.

  • Sounds like a press release from Department of State. You may believe it, although I doubt it. Certainly that Pakistani family, recently here to testify before an empty congress about their 67 year old grandmother, blow to small pieces by one of Obama’s freedom drones, might disagree about the morality of your president.

  • John, you are confusing politically illiterate with politically complacent. Americans know what we need to know politically. We love and fight for our freedoms. For this reason, a tyrannical form of government like the Castros would not survive in the US. You may argue his effectiveness but nothing that President Obama has done would imply that he is not a moral leader. Our Cuban policy reflects US law and the will of the people who elected President Obama…twice. By an overwhelming margin, Americans oppose communism and dictatorships.

  • Good point about Obama not really being interested in knowing much about Cuba except that he is out to destroy its revolution.
    Since the War On The People Of Cuba is intended to make life as miserable as possible, he well knows what life is like in Cuba in a way that most U.S. citizens are not. capable of.
    Obama really doesn’t need to know anything about Cuba except to know that he must follow his predecessor’s policies against the Cuban people.
    And Obama does indeed know who calls the shots on U.S.-Cuban relations,
    the people who have him and the entire national government in their pockets.
    Many Americans make the mistake of thinking that Obama is really a good , moral person and has the welfare of the Cuban people at heart when in reality he is just one more in a long line of presidents out to make life as bad as possible for all the Cuban people in the hope and belief that they would eventually overthrow their revolution.
    In the meantime, Havana Times provides as objective a view of life in Cuba as anything available to the U.S. public .
    Too bad much of the U.S. population is politically illiterate and will not read it.

  • I hope it tells of the fear with which its peoplewalk its sewer infested trash filled streets and the lack of everything. The rat infested hospitals with little medicine if at all and the barefoot children. Will it tell of the ONE “Avenida” street in each town prepared and decorated to give an inacurate snapshot of how the people only one block away and onward are truly living. I go there every year and laugh at these articles protraying this as a left wing model…Well come to think of it….IT IS.

  • Dawn Gable has posted an engaging book review. Not surprisingly, her comments reflect a commonly held view of many Cubans. She writes “and an understanding of Cuba and Cubans that is very, very rare”. This implies that there is some great mystery about Cuba and Cubans. Really? I believe she confuses a lack of interest with a lack of understanding. There are more than 1 out of 6 of every Cuban alive living in the US and they have not been sworn to secrecy. If you want to learn about Cuba, ask a Cuban. It is not that hard to do. Dawn, like many Cubans who do not travel, seems to believe that views about Cuba that differ from her own are as a result of ignorance about Cuba. The title and tone of this post implies that Obama lacks information about Cuba. Again, really? The CIA, NSA, USINT notwithstanding, if only Obama reads this book would he finally come to know the ‘real’ Cuba. It never occurs to some Cubans that the Cuba they have come to know from Cuban media and the educational system is hardly the real Cuba either. Finally, given more pressing issues like Obamacare, Iran, Syria, Immigration reform, the budget crisis and so on, I am sure Obama’s Christmas stocking is already quite full.

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