The Multinational Monitor


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Cuba In Perspective

The Cuba Reader: The Making of a Revolutionary Society
Edited by Philip Brenner, William M. Leogrande,
Donna Rich and Daniel Siegel
1989, Grove Press: New York
564 pp., $14.95
Reviewed By Stuart Gold

During Mikhail Gorbachev's recent visit to Havana, Fidel Castro only did what comes naturally to him: he took center stage and stole the spotlight from the Soviet leader. Gorbachev was hoping to inject Cuba with some of his own reformist zeal, only to be reminded of Cuba's adherence to an aggressive, revolutionary agenda. Even as the socialist world is undergoing its most significant transformation in the last 40 years, Cuba is insistent on maintaining its role as antagonist even if it means antagonizing the Soviet Union, as well as the United States. For the two superpowers Cuba is an enigma. The Cuban revolution has haunted U.S. policy in Latin America and the Caribbean for 30 years. The changes taking place in Cuba's relationship with the Soviet Union, as well as the transformation of the superpower relationship, present opportunities for ending the impasse between Cuba and the United States.

Perceptions of Cuba are shaped by certain indelible images of the last 30 years: the Bay of Pigs fiasco; the perilous brinkmanship of the Cuban missile crisis; the bearded, cigar smoking Fidel Castro; and the mass exodus of the Mariel boat people. These images, however, preclude a thoughtful analysis, not only about the U.S. relationship with Cuba, but also about U.S. policy toward Latin America in general.

This state of affairs is dangerous, according to the editors of The Cuba Reader: The Making of a Revolutionary Society. Their stated purpose is to "provide information that addresses the prevailing myths about Cuba ... in the hope of reducing Cuba's phantasmagoric proportions." The book attempts to debunk the myths by presenting an extensive compilation of documents and essays dealing with several key aspects of the Cuban experience: the setting of the revolution; the economy; the political situation; foreign policy; and culture.

The Cuba Reader includes scholarly writings, journalistic accounts, government documents and writings from some of the key participants in the revolution and the post-revolutionary development of Cuba.

The writers try to place Cuba in a proper historical context, devoid of the hyperbole normally associated with this Caribbean island. The first part of the book traces the revolutionary development of Cuba back to the 1890s, through the revolution of 1933, and into the watershed 1950s, emphasizing the relationship between Jose Marti's call for independence and Castro's move to break Cuba's economic dependence on the United States. As presented in the introduction to the book, "The question for Cuba was not capitalism or socialism, but how to forge its own economy. Castro's actions are shown as part of a well established revolutionary heritage, instead of as a niolent aberation. In short, The Cuba Reader presents Cuba's revolution from a Cuban perspective.

he essays on the economy, politics and foreign policy are particularly strong. The theme running through all three topics is the importance of the revolution in defining the parameters and substance of debate. Castro captured this feature of Cuban life when he said, "Within the revolution, everything; outside the revolution, nothing."

This axiom is particularly relevant to the section on the economy, which contains a chronological overview of economic developments as well as interpretive pieces by Ernesto "Che" Guevara and Fidel Castro. Guevara's "Man and Socialism in Cuba" is an exposition on the creation of a new revolutionary political consciousness. He writes that the inherited "economic base has under-mined the development of consciousness. To build communism, a new man must be created simultaneously with the material base."

Cuba's revolutionary transformation radically altered her relationships with the two superpowers and the Third World. The revolution brought Cuba into direct conflict with the United States and into the arms of the Soviet Union. Cuba became a prominent stage upon which Cold War antagonisms were played out. The foreign policy

section looks at the Marxist underpinnings of Cuba's foreign relations to provide a rationale for Cuba's actions over the years. Philip Brenner's essay on Cuba's relations with the United States illuminates the U.S. failure to appreciate the impact of pre-revolutionary subservience to the United States on the Cuban national psyche. As Brenner notes, "Cuban national pride is fierce, and for the better part of a hundred years the United States under-mined, disparaged, and ignored Cuban sovereignty." The situation was exacerbated in 1959 with Castro's rise to power. Since then the United States has waged an international campaign to discredit Castro and destroy communist Cuba.

Though The Cuba Reader is critical of U.S. policy, it does not simply extol the virtues of Cuba. Among The Readers documents are reports by Amnesty International on human rights abuses and prison conditions, as well as other articles which hold Cuba accountable for its failures in creating a democratic socialist state.

The Cuba Reader goes a long way toward providing a solid foundation for those interested in the country and the authors have done an admirable job of putting Cuba into perspective.

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