An ajiaco is a spicy Cuban stew. Cuba Confidential: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana is just such a book, filled with myrid tasty insights, bubbling quietly in hidden corners.
Written by the experienced and thoughtful journalist Ann Louise Bardach, Cuba Confidential helps shed some light on what, to an outsider, is one of the most puzzling political stews leftover from the twentieth century.
Taking the recent Elian Gonzalez case as its starting point, the author delves into the intricacies and byzantine political machinations of the both the Cuban exile community and the stolid and enduring dictatorship of Castro, recasting what many see as a Cold War leftover into a bitter family feud that divides Cubans on both sides, sundering relationships and tearing deeply personal scars. The author’s expertise and long-relationship with both sides of the Cuban coin reveals the depth of political intrangience that cripples both sides, preventing both true discourse and productive change – trapping both countries in a mutually destructive relationship that neither encourages nor rewards finding common ground.
Bardach is particularly chilling when she digs into the role of Miami’s imbittered and politically powerful Exile community of Calle Ocho (the so-called Third Rail of Florida politics (as in, the rail that will electrocute you if you touch it)), the control and dominence they have established over South Florida, the strings they pull and influence they wield. Filled with vivid glimpses of the inside wheels of power and personal motives (Janet Reno, the Miami-born US Attorney-General under Clinton weeping in her office over the vicious characterizations and personal attacks that exploded in the wake of the Elian affair; the particular callous disregard for the well-being of Elian by his exile relations; the manipulation of the press….and so on. Read the book for a full view.), the book in particular highlights two constrasting characters – the greying Fidel Castro and the Exile leader Mas Canosa and CANF.
One of the particular nuggets of note in the book is the intricate ties between the Exile community and the Bushes; George Sr., George Jr. and Jeb (Governer of Florida); and the infamous “hanging chad” electioneering that in the end, decided the presidency and shaped dramatically the future of the US. Interestingly enough, prior to September 11, 2001, one of the most infamous acts of terrorism in the Western hemisphere was the bombing of Cubana 455 in 1976 which killed 73 people (including almost the entire Cuban National Fencing Team). Carried out by Orlando Bosch (an exile with strong ties to CANF and Mas Canosa), Bosch was later pardoned by – you guessed it – George Bush Sr. This tends to make anyone who follows the current adminstration’s pronouncements on terrorism a bit leery…
Cuba Confidential starts a bit slow and I for one found the intricacies of Cuban family ties to be difficult and somewhat tedious to work through, but persistant readers are well-rewarded with a well-written, quality glimpse inside what can only be called the unrivaled family feud of the last century.
For a recipe for ajiaco, check out this site.
For more insight on Cuba check out Cuba Diaries: An American Housewife in Havana by Isadora Tattlin, or This is Cuba: An Outlaw Culture Survives by Ben Corbett.
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