Cuba (Opposing Viewpoints), edited by Noah Berlatsky
In reading a book like this it is fascinating to see some of the aspects of a subject like this that draw substantial disagreement and also what matters that may appear to be of deep or timeless interest that do not last the test of time at all. As I am planning a family trip to Cuba coming up in the next few months, I figured it would be worthwhile to study up a bit more on Cuba than I have done before, not least because its anomalous status and issues have made it a complex area whose economy has been dependent on its friendship with Venezuela (a nation that has definitely seen better times). Can Cuba survive on its own? What would it take for Cuba to come in from the dark and open up its society to such a degree that its people could safely read blogs and would be able to earn decent incomes based on their obvious levels of education? How can Cuba avoid the shadow of its overmighty and very nearby neighbor? These are not easy matters to figure out, and any post-Castro Cuba will have to wrestle with a lot of such questions.
This book is a relatively quick read at about 200 pages or so, divided into four chapters with a lot of short articles written mostly by foreign policy wonks of one kind or another. The first chapter discusses the state of Cuba, with wildly different judgments of its state from statements of progress towards economic liberalization, the adoption of a more flexible socialism (whatever that means), Cuba’s dismal record on human rights, its works in health and education, and their low-standard of living and whether or not Cubans accept such poverty (1). The next chapter tackles Cuba’s relationship with the world (2), from Cuba’s ties to Moscow to the question of revolutionary doctors to the Cuban relationship with Venezuela and Canada. After that there is a discussion of the relationship between the Cuba policy and American domestic politics (3), with musings on whether Cuba is a security threat or whether Cuban-Americans are moving away from the Republican party or not. Finally, the book ends with the question of what America’s policy towards Cuba should be like (4), with predictably partisan and self-serving answers as well as a bibliography, suggestions for further discussion, organizations, and an index.
In reading this book, I have to admit I was somewhat disappointed in learning far less about Cuba than about what a lot of people (including an alarmingly large amount of leftists) thought about Cuba, which is unsurprisingly a lot less interesting and valuable. Had this book given more information from the point of view of articulate Cubans, it would have been more valuable. Had the overall bias of many of the authors been less stridently leftist, it would have been at least more tolerable. Had the book talked more about the issues of Cuba itself and what it is like for someone who would want to visit there and less to do with the political posturing of people who do not know what they are talking about, whose political worldviews are totally unacceptable, and whose self-serving perspective is transparently obvious, this would have been a much better book. Unfortunately, a book like this one does a good job at providing opposing viewpoints but not always a good job at revealing what the reader might actually want to know about a given subject in particular. That is certainly the case here, where I am far more interested in what it is like to visit or live in Cuba and far less about the voting patterns of post-Mariel Cuban-Americans.