By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
|Illustration by Jordin Isip|
READING ANN LOUISE BARDACH'S ACCOUNTS OF life among the Cuban elites of both Miami and Havana, you reach one major conclusion: that arbitrarily stuffing all Cubans into one of two categories -- either pro-revolutionary Fidelistas on the island or counterrevolutionary gusanos(worms) in Miami exile -- no longer tracks with a much more complicated reality. While it's a neat configuration that might serve the purposes of both the ossified ideologues that the Bush administration has appointed to oversee Cuban policy and the die-hard true believers on the left who continue to venerate and apologize for Castro, it is nevertheless a paradigm as obsolete as the '57 Buicks and Oldsmobiles that still chug and smoke through downtown Havana.
Instead, a growing number of Cubans on both sides of the straits strain to find some sort of reconciliation, some sort of joint future, if not now, at least for the next generation. In Miami, there are important -- if not yet dominant -- dissident voices that want to ratchet down the screechy rhetoric and elaborate some sort of U.S.-Cuban policy that goes beyond the simple vilification of Castro. Bardach digs them all up and brings them provocatively to life on the page. And in Cuba itself, as more and more foreign tourists flock in, with the U.S. dollar now completing a decade as the official currency, and with a tenuous and uneven cultural opening under way, more and more Cubans can dare to dream of some sort of "normalization" of their lives. And once again, Bardach, with a from-the-ground approach, transmits to us a number of compelling first-person accounts of hope and disillusionment.
But in the twin Cuban capitals of Havana and Miami, that search for common ground is still impeded by hard-line leaderships that cling to a blind, blood enmity that -- as Bardach rightfully claims -- threatens to make the shattering of Cuban families the prime legacy of the revolution.
The overwhelmingly white exile community of Miami continues to be lorded over by a group of thuggish extremists that -- with strong links to succeeding American presidents and with a firm foothold in the U.S. Congress -- sabotages any move to bridge the 43-year-old gap opened up by the victory of Castro's revolution. As recently as two weeks ago we were all witness to the feverish denunciations by this faction of an agricultural trade fair that brought 300 American companies into Havana, all anxious to sell food to some fairly hungry Cubans.
On the other side, the 76-year-old L√≠der M√°ximoseems intent on taking his tenure right to the grave. And for a guy who boasts of knowing so darn much about just about everything (I once heard Castro give a three-hour talk on the artificial insemination of livestock), Fidel is obstinately and conspicuously mum on how his beloved Cuba should make the transition out of a system that is collapsing -- if not already collapsed -- all around him.
BARDACH DEFTLY UNPACKS ALL THE DETAILS, nuances, contradictions and surreal juxtapositions of the Eli√°n Gonz√°lez psychodrama of two years ago and distributes them among several long chapters of the book as her way of highlighting the dysfunctions and divisions within this Cuban family (and its often-loony Uncle Sam). And for the most part, this device works to get her points across. That the wacky Miami relatives of the shipwrecked youngster -- and their feverish hordes of supporters who would come out nightly into the street, sweating, panting, screaming, throwing themselves in front of police, swearing that to return Eli√°n to his own loving father in Cuba was akin to sending him off to Dachau -- got such reverential initial consideration from the U.S. government and from then¬≠presidential candidates Bush and Gore speaks volumes.
Common sense in this case eventually prevailed, and Eli√°n was sent back home where he belonged. It was a distasteful, and unprecedented, defeat for the big-mouth bullies who dominate exile politics. Their humiliation at the hands of then¬≠Attorney General Janet Reno's federal troops -- who conducted the raid that restored Eli√°n to his dad -- for a brief historic moment threatened to provoke a major thaw with Cuba.
But only for a moment. For no sooner had Eli√°n been rescued from his cousins' clutches than the exile leadership zealously recommitted itself to vengeance by redoubling its efforts to give Florida to Dubya Bush. We all know how that turned out. And for their successful efforts in helping him win office, Dubya has returned the favor by packing his foreign-policy apparatus with the most twitchingly anti-Castro claque of Cuban-Americans. (Veritable werewolves like Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs Otto Reich, whose eyes roll back into his head with the very mention of Fidel Castro.)
Bardach made her journalistic name not as a foreign-policy wonk or button-down diplomatic correspondent, but rather as a gritty true-crime reporter turning out a sometimes-lurid string of murder stories -- including some for this publication back in the 1980s. First sent to Cuba a decade ago, she tenaciously made the island her territory, returning a dozen times and interviewing Castro at length on two occasions and churning out glossy profiles for Vanity Fairand other national publications. But throughout she has maintained her unflinching police reporter's view of things. And rather than emitting gassy lightweight essays, Bardach does things the old-fashioned way; she reports the hell out of her subjects, filling what are no doubt countless notebooks and then sorting it out and reassembling it all in entertaining narratives that daringly and shamelessly flirt with the tabloid.