Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know

Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know

Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know

Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know

Synopsis

Ever since Fidel Castro assumed power in Cuba in 1959, Americans have obsessed about the nation ninety miles south of the Florida Keys. America's fixation on the tropical socialist republic has only grown over the years, fueled in part by successive waves of Cuban immigration and Castro's larger-than-life persona. Cubans are now a major ethnic group in Florida, and the exile community is so powerful that every American president has kowtowed to it. But what do most Americans really know about Cuba itself?

In Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know, Julia Sweig, one of America's leading experts on Cuba and Latin America, presents a concise and remarkably accessible portrait of the small island nation's unique place on the world stage over the past fifty years. Yet it is authoritative as well. Following a scene-setting introduction that describes the dynamics unleashed since summer 2006 when Fidel Castro transferred provisional power to his brother Raul, the book looks backward toward Cuba's history since the Spanish American War before shifting to more recent times. Focusing equally on Cuba's role in world affairs and its own social and political transformations, Sweig divides the book chronologically into the pre-Fidel era, the period between the 1959 revolution and the fall of the Soviet Union, the post-Cold War era, and-finally-the looming post-Fidel era.

Informative, pithy, and lucidly written, it will serve as the best compact reference on Cuba's internal politics, its often fraught relationship with the United States, and its shifting relationship with the global community.

Excerpt

I first visited Cuba as an undergrad in 1984, not long after then secretary of state Al Haig had threatened to go to the “source” of Communist subversion in Central America, where the distinctive smell of Cuban cigarettes wafted through certain neighborhoods in Managua, and guerrillas from El Salvador routinely flew to Havana for medical care and R & R. One of my clearest memories from that first trip was sitting in a park in downtown Havana alongside an imposing, modernist sculpture of Don Quijote and his steed Rocinante. I remember taking a photograph of two young men talking there. They both wore jeans and short-sleeved, cotton, plaid shirts. Very clean-cut. Very 1970s, even though it was the ’80s. Like the city around them, they bore no clear markers of consumer brands. In those days, other than eating Cuba’s legendary Copelia ice cream, one of the only possible acts of consumption for consumption’s sake was smoking. The smell of Cuban cigarettes, together with their bright blue, block letter Popular brand packaging, remains identical today. Although he made a point of not allowing himself to become a cult figure, the only other brand name I recall from that visit was, of course, Fidel Castro. While government offices and homes often sported large portraits of Fidel on their walls, Cuban officials always reminded visitors that public spaces were intentionally kept free of statues or other images of the revolutionary leader. I found this to be . . .

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