Book: Cuban Revelations: Behind the Scenes in Havana by Marc Frank
Genre: Journalistic history
Publisher: University Press of Florida
Publication date: 2013
Source: Purchased paperback
Summary: Cuban Revelations covers the recent history of Cuba, described by a US journalist with a Cuban home and family. This account crosses the narrow Straits of Florida to provide a nuanced understanding of Cuban-US relations, illuminating the motivations of each while giving neither a free pass from blame in the long-term breach.
Marc Frank has lived in Cuba for nearly a quarter century and witnessed many changes. He provides a good background of the history, but most of the book focuses on what has happened since 2008 when Raúl Castro came to power just as the world was about to descend into economic crisis and Cuba got hit by back-to-back hurricanes.
Since 2008, Cuba has changed rapidly to find ways to boost its economy, preserve beloved and working social structures, and build a resilient system that will survive the inevitable retirements and deaths of the generation of the Revolution.
Life has always been difficult for the majority of Cubans and remains so. Those with us today are the survivors and come from a survivor stock. p. 8.
During our trip to Cuba, I learned from our guide, Christopher, the words that Cubans use to describe their difficult lives. Everyone is luchando, struggling. Everyone needs some side business or moonlight job to earn a little extra money or they need to barter for goods and services in some other way. La lucha means “the struggle,” but in Cuba it’s used to refer to the method a person uses to get that little extra. The la lucha for our guide and driver was the tips that they are given by tourists. We met a doctor who earns more than twice as much as a doorman at a restaurant than he does at his day job.
The most visible form of la lucha to visitors are the hucksters at tourist sites. They dress in costumes and charge to have their pictures taken or they form small musical groups and play “Guantanamera” a hundred times a day. They’re assertive, but not aggressive or hostile.
Unlike in some third world countries, we didn’t see many children begging or participating in the tourist trade. Education is a big deal in Cuba, the children were in school most of the time that we were there.
When people ask me about Cuba’s universal and free health care and education, I use cheese as an analogy. Health and education used to be, say, a French Brie or a Camembert, but after two decades of crises they are now Swiss cheese – still absolutely delicious by developing-world standards, but with lots of holes.
Cubans raised hell during the 2007 debate over what they believed was a marked deterioration in health care and education, even though the United Nations rated the country first in the Latin American region. p. 117
Just this week, the World Health Organization announced its validation of Cuba’s success — the first country in the entire world to eliminate the transmission of HIV & syphilis from pregnant mothers to their babies.
Cubans don’t look to the US as a model for solving the problems that they face. They are determined to hold on to the good things in their society – universal health care and education, low crime, and the prevailing attitude of “we’re all in this together.” Since the US fails visibly in all of those areas, Cuba doesn’t believe we have the solutions to their problems. Instead, they look to Vietnam and other small countries that have turned to small-market capitalism while continuing to value governance that focuses on social good.
Appeal: I read this book because I expected to meet the author in Cuba. Unfortunately, he recently had eye surgery and was unable to meet with us. I’m still glad I read it. I read several books, monitored websites, and watched lots of movies in advance of our trip. This book gave me the least biased, most detailed, and most up-to-date understanding of any resource that I tried.
Do you dream of going to Cuba? I’m posting photos from my trip on Saturdays. Last week, I put up photos from our entry into Cuba. This week, I’ll have photos of Palacio de Valle in Cienfuegos.