Los Angeles Times
The New Yorker
New York Times
The Posada Files
The Miami Herald
Michael Putney's Memories of Book Fairs Past
November 15, 2011
The Globe and Mail
Three Best Books of Fidel Castro and Cuba
August 11, 2006
Finalist for the New York Public Library Bernstein
Book Award for Excellence in Journalism Award for 2003
Los Angeles Times names CUBA CONFIDENTIAL the Best of the Best
FINALIST: Ann Louise Bardach - Cuba Confidential: Love and Vengeance
in Miami and Havana (Random House)
Praise for Cuba Confidential:
"An illuminating portrait, by a first-class investigative journalist, drawing on ten years of reporting of the half-century-long civil war that has divided Cuba against itself . . .Bardach (ed. Cuba: A Travelers Literary Companion) writes with an awareness of the Big Picture--two of her best moments come in deconstructing the Elian affair and in tracing the influence of Cuban exiles in all branches of the Bush family . . . Powerful, evenhanded, thoroughly edifying." -* starred Kirkus review
“Cuba Confidential is the work of a reporter at the top of her game. Ann Louise Bardach takes a fascinating new look at the case of Elian Gonzalez and then spins it into a compelling reexamination of the tortured relationship between the United States and Castro's Cuba. With Bardach's fresh take on the young boy and the old man, you'll never look at either one the same way again.” –Jeffrey Toobin
"Ann Louise Bardach is America's answer to Orianna Fallaci. This is a wonderful book - absolutely masterful at presenting both sides of the Cuba debate." –Gay Talese
"Ann Louise Bardach long ago established herself as America's most lucid, courageous, and well-informed observer of Cuban realities on both sides of the Florida Straits. Her new book is a tour de force, the definitive work on the still ongoing Cuban civil war that, whether it is being played out in Havana, Miami, or Washington, continues to ruin the future of Cubans and the politics of the United States." –David Rieff, author of The Exile
“As Cuba moves into a crisis of regime, and Cuban exiles and oppositionists debate the past as well as the future, it would be reassuring to think that all concerned had a copy of this illuminating book near to hand.”
“If our political Establishment knew a tenth as much about Cuba, or cared half as much about it, as does Ann Louise Bardach, both the United States and Cuba would be more open societies.” –
“Ann Louise Bardach expertly explores the troubled waters of U.S.-Cuban relations since Fidel Castro came to power. Whatever your views on Cuba, Cuba Confidential offers a valuable treasure of inside information and rich insights into an international controversy that has deep implications for American politics." –Lou Cannon, author of President Reagan
"Profound and provocative… Writing from the perspective of an outsider - but with the passion of someone trapped in the fascination of all things Cuban- Bardach's work offers the best of American investigative journalism along with a multi-layered history of baroque complexity. Her dramatization of the political intrigues on both sides of the Cuban divide make Cuba Confidential as absorbing as a thriller." –Uva de Aragon- Director of the Cuban Research Institute, Florida International University
“In all ways, Bardach is as passionate as a Cuban in her work- a task that has taken ten years. A woman of considerable charm, she is a 'aplatanada cubana’ - a transplanted Cuban...and many are anxiously awaiting Cuba Confidential ." –El Nuevo Herald
Cuba Confidential :Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana by Ann Louise Bardach September 1, 2001
Reviewed by Kenneth Maxwell,
Cuba Confidential: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana
By Ann Louise Bardach. New York: Random House, 2002, 384 pp. $25.95
A marvelous and evocative deconstruction of the incestuous relationships and hardball tactics that have kept Cuba firmly under Fidel Castro and U.S. policy toward Cuba paralyzed under the influence of Miami's Cuban Americans. Bardach pulls no punches here, making her book the most accessible account of this sorry tangle yet. She has talked to everyone: crooks, spooks, politicos, hired assassins, the inner circle of Florida Governor Jeb Bush, and even the garrulous and manipulative Castro himself. This is a story of betrayal, suspicion, and conspiracies, with agents and counteragents immersed in an ongoing Caribbean Cold War where John Le Carre would feel very much at home. Bardach also documents the exile community as it shifted from favoring paramilitary strikes against Castro to launching a brilliantly successful lobbying effort within the American political system in the early 1980s, modeled on the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. As one former Washington official put it, "The Israeli lobby buys Democrats and rents Republicans, the Cubans buy Republicans and rent Democrats." As Bardach makes clear, the power of this lobby in Congress and beyond remains very much alive for now -- as does Castro.
One Big, Unhappy Family
Cuba Confidential: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana
by Ann Louise Bardach
By Tom Gjelten,
a correspondent for National Public Radio who reports regularly from and about Cuba
Thursday, December 26, 2002; Page C04
CUBA CONFIDENTIAL: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana
By Ann Louise Bardach
Random House. 417 pp. $25.95
Imagine Fidel Castro getting an invitation to visit President Bush at his Texas ranch. Why not? Bush hosted Jiang Zemin there in October, serving the un-elected Chinese president fried catfish and potato salad and driving him around the ranch. And how about approaching Cuba with the delicacy and seriousness that characterize U.S. diplomacy toward Syria or even North Korea? It won't happen.
Cuba is a case by itself. Forget ideology and the relative possibilities of dialogue with left-wing dictatorships. To make sense of the unyielding U.S.-Cuba confrontation, Ann Louise Bardach argues, we have to see Cuba as a country torn by a 43-year-old civil war. It is a war over who has the right to fly the Cuban flag, to quote Cuban national heroes, to celebrate a Cuban heritage and ultimately to claim the country's diminishing treasure. It is a war that has divided the extended Cuban family and produced the enmity and intransigence that only family quarrels can generate.
Washington finds itself trapped in the conflict because the U.S. government is identified with one of the "warring parties" -- the Cuban exile community in South Florida. Readers of Bardach's book may wonder why Cuba matters here as much as it does. Disdain for the United States is a sentiment the protagonists in this civil war have sometimes shared. Fidel Castro, seen internationally as promoting revolutionary social change in Cuba and across the Third World, seems to have been inspired first by the rather meaner aim of waging war on "the Americans" whose influence in Cuba he detested. "I realize this is my true destiny," Castro wrote his confidant Celia Sanchez in 1958. Jorge Mas Canosa, the powerful leader of the Miami Cubans until his death in 1997, meanwhile boasted to an interviewer in 1992 that though he had lived in the United States since 1960, he had never assimilated. "I am a Cuban first," Mas Canosa said. "I live here only as an extension of Cuba." These men, ideology aside, may both be understood as stubborn, small-minded Cuban nationalists.
In "Cuba Confidential," the old story of the battle between Castro and his foes is refreshingly retold, stripped of its Cold War grandiosity and reduced to a narrative more characteristic of a Latin telenovela. Bardach organizes the book around the theme of the broken family, using the Elian Gonzalez custody dispute and the bitter splits within other Cuban families, including Fidel's, to illustrate how Cubans have been turned against one another.
As with any domestic squabble, the picture is not pretty. Bardach's portrayal of Castro is as unappealing as any ever drawn, showing him to be thoughtless and personally uncaring in the little ways that matter to us regular people. She tells the story of Castro standing with his elderly mother in a pouring rain at an outdoor rally, but not thinking to offer her his coat. When his son Fidelito is seriously injured in an automobile accident, he doesn't bother to visit him in the hospital. "He is by nature a singularly unsentimental man," Bardach notes with casual understatement. When one of Castro's longtime and devoted bodyguards suffers a heart attack and is forced to retire, the man is soon forgotten. "Two years later," Bardach writes, "he and his family were living on his $10-a-month pension and what his wife earned cleaning houses." Bardach reminds us of all the old comrades Castro has arbitrarily thrown into prison, including many who stood loyally by him during the revolution and even risked their lives to save his. But she does not find Castro's enemies in Miami to be much more endearing.
An investigative journalist specializing in Cuba, Bardach has been examining the activities of exile leaders in South Florida for years, and her book depicts them as a ruthless lot, intolerant of dissent and tacitly supportive of violence and even terrorism in service to the anti-Castro cause. Luis Posada Carriles, who acknowledges his involvement in bombing and assassination plots against Castro, remains a hero to many Cuban exile leaders, as does Orlando Bosch, who U.S. authorities believe was behind the 1976 bombing of a Cubana airliner, an act of sabotage that killed 73 people. Republican Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Cuban Americans from South Florida, have appealed to the Bush administration to show leniency to Cuban exiles convicted of terrorist acts, including murder.
Bardach's account of the hardball tactics of the exile leadership and the extremist views of some of the most esteemed Cuban American politicians in Miami is thoroughly documented, and it is a disturbing story. Yet as Bardach herself points out in her preface, "Cuban exiles are not a monolith." More than 100,000 Cuban Americans return to Cuba on visits each year; many Cuban families are divided, but they are not all broken. The Miami portion of this book, including the exhaustive retelling of the Elian story, goes on too long.
Bardach's compelling portrait of Fidel Castro, meanwhile, leaves some questions unanswered, such as how this man with "a streak of lunacy," as a State Department analyst once put it, was able to build and hold together the totalitarian system he has directed for more than 40 years. Perhaps it has to do with his strong will. Bardach reports that as a young man, Fidel once rode his bicycle at full speed into a wall to collect on a $5 bet. But she does not use such tales to explain his dictatorial record. I would have preferred more analysis and fewer quotes from former Castro compatriots.
Still, "Cuba Confidential" is a good book for those whose curiosity about Cubans has only recently been awakened. The Elian saga prompted many Americans to think seriously about Cuba and Castro for the first time, and it makes sense to weave the tale of the Cuban civil war around that episode and the man at the center of it. The drama of Cuba is too often blown out of proportion by zealots on both sides; this book brings the story down to size.
>From Library Journal
The Washington Post
The Reliable Source
Where Are They Now?
Ann Louise Bardach. Listed on the masthead in 1984 as the Weekly's crime reporter, Bardach is now a contributing writer for Vanity Fair and is widely regarded as the foremost journalist writing about Cuba and U.S. policy toward Cuba. Just out is the paperback version of Cuba Confidential: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana. Christopher Hitchens commented: "If our political establishment knew a tenth as much about Cuba, or cared half as much about it, as does Ann Louise Bardach, both the United States and Cuba would be more open societies."
October 11 - 17, 2002
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 Líder Máximo seems 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 Elián González 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 Elián 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 thenpresidential candidates Bush and Gore speaks volumes.
Common sense in this case eventually prevailed, and Elián 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 thenAttorney General Janet Reno's federal troops -- who conducted the raid that restored Elián 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 Elián 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 Fair and 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.
This approach accounts for both the overwhelming strength and the nagging weakness of this book. Bardach doggedly tracks down, corners and interviews just about every major player in this half-century-old drama: Castro, his exiled sister, his brother-in-law (now a right-wing U.S. congressman), the father of one of Castro's once-most-trusted aides who was purged and executed a dozen years ago, the gangsters who monopolize exile politics, both sides of Elián González's family, dissidents here and in Havana, policymakers, the cronies of Jeb Bush, the self-congratulating terrorists who in the name of anti-Castroism blew up an airline two decades before anyone heard of Osama, and dozens of others who make up this schizophrenic historical mosaic.
She never hesitates to ask the most uncomfortable questions, and the end product is a steaming pot of curdled personal ambitions, rivalries, jealousies and betrayals stewed with the volatile intrigue of international geopolitics. It's hard to get any closer to either Fidel or his now-deceased arch rival Jorge Mas Canosa than Bardach does.
THE ONLY REAL FLAW IN THIS WORK IS THAT THIS decidedly non-political, non-ideological approach to matters tends to downplay, well . . . the politics. Plumbing the psyche of policymakers can give us valuable additional insight into their politics, but almost never serves as a full explanation. There are compelling economic, social and (in Cuba's case) security factors that also shape such tormented histories as that between the U.S. and Cuba over the last five decades, and many of these are simply overlooked in Cuba Confidential.
The Cuba specialist Saul Landau, upon returning from a recent visit to the island, remarked that Cuban society today is like a big airliner that circles and circles and circles some more. Can it find a way to safely land, and if so, where? Or will it simply and horribly crash? Bardach grabs our hands and ushers us right into a front-row first-class seat. To paraphrase Bette Davis: Fasten your seat belts -- it's going to be a bumpy flight.
CUBA CONFIDENTIAL: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana
By ANN LOUISE BARDACH | Random House | 417 pages | $26 hardcover
The Christian Science Monitor, May 1, 2003
Copyright 2003 The Christian Science Publishing Society
Both Sides of Miami and Havana Series: BOOKS
November 10, 2002
CUBA CONFIDENTIAL: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana.
By Ann Louise Bardach.
Random House . 384 pages. $25.95.
Opinionated journalist tackles Miami-Havana ‘family feud’
BY IKE SEAMANS
Cuban exiles began to emerge as Miami's dominant force in the mid-1970s. As they flexed their political muscles, WPLG-TV's former investigative reporter Clarence Jones predicted that within 20 years, Miami politics would be no different from the politics of pre-Castro Cuba.
Investigative journalist Ann Louise Bardach brings this prediction full circle in Cuba Confidential, an extraordinary examination -- and condemnation -- of Cuban Americans and their politics. She unleashes a barrage of charges against what she calls ''the roughest, toughest crowd this side of the mujahadeen [holy warriors]'' who have made Miami the ``capital of U.S. terrorism.''
Only one other book has tackled this terrain. By contrast, In the Land of Mirrors: Cuban Exile Politics in the United States by Maria de los Angeles Torres reads like a high-school term paper. Bardach's stinging indictment boils and erupts like a geyser:
• ''Corruption has been a growth industry in Miami'' since Cuban Americans ascended to power.
• Exiles who fled a tyrannical dictator created a ''mirror system'' to intimidate and stifle dissent.
• The Miami FBI (especially current top man Hector Pesquera) and police are ``paralyzed by conflicts of interest and unrelenting pressure from the exile leadership.''
• Prosecution of exile violence has been ``exceedingly rare or limp-wristed.''
• Most local media, including The Herald and El Nuevo Herald, fear retribution if they criticize powerful Cuban American leaders.
• Miami's politics and culture are products of “four decades of seething betrayal, suspicion, and conspiracies directed to and from Havana.''
Bardach has been sharpening her teeth on Cuban Americans for 10 years in The New York Times, Washington Post and several magazines including George, Talk and The New Republic. It would be easy to categorize her as a wild-eyed, biased basher except that she provides convincing evidence and sources for almost every accusation.
The impetus for this highly opinionated yet well-researched book was the Elián González ''circus'' two years ago, which Bardach says gave average Americans ``their first peek into the roiling ecosystem of Miami.''
Bardach savages some non-Cubans who joined in, awarding ''the coup de grace for self-aggrandizement'' to Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin, president of Barry University: ''. . . a disaster . . . an embarrassment . . . a vocal partisan . . .who evidently did not take the vow of poverty.'' O'Laughlin hosted Elián and his grandmothers in her Miami Beach mansion, a gift from a wealthy Catholic patron.
The passion and tenacity during the ''Elián War'' explains a lot about the Cuban psyche. The fight was so intense it left many non-Cubans baffled. ''For Fidel Castro and many Cubans,'' Bardach writes, ''the personal is the political. For them, the four-decade stalemate between Miami and Havana is the natural outcome of an extended broken family. In certain respects it is a huge family feud.'' A quote from former Broward assistant state attorney and radio host Alberto Milián appears to support the sentiment: ``We are sadly self-destructive.''
Within days of Elián's rescue at sea, the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) and a ''platoon of counselors and wise men'' began campaigning to keep the boy here, claiming it would be ''immoral and heresy'' to return him to his father. They created the mantra ''Elián's mother died for his freedom,'' although Bardach says family and friends in Cuba told her Elisa Brotón fled to be with her boyfriend. ''She left because she was in love,'' says Lisbeth Garcia, Broton's best friend.
Castro also quickly recognized a golden opportunity. ''He immersed himself in the Elián drama,'' writes Bardach, ``with an obsessive zeal similar to that which he had attended to the Cuban Missile Crisis.''
Bardach is despised by some in the Miami exile community, which brands her a communist and ''Castro lover.'' Neither accusation is evident in this book, which includes an old interview with the Cuban president. Although she dubs him the ''movie star dictator,'' she doesn't glorify his regime and frankly discusses his failures, brutal treatment of opponents and the curtailing of human and civil rights. She also has an interesting take on Castro's relationship with his estranged Miami in-laws, the Díaz-Balarts, calling their relationship ``the Cuban equivalent of the Hatfields and the McCoys.''
Bardach is much tougher on the late Jorge Mas Canosa, the iconoclastic, politically active founder of CANF ''cut from the same cloth as Fidel Castro'' who believed he was ''the emperor of Miami.'' He sued The New Republic for an article she wrote in 1994 headlined ''Clinton's Miami Mobster'' (the magazine's words, not hers, she writes). The suit was settled out of court, and there was no retraction. She also reveals testimony from the depositions charging Mas Canosa bribed numerous politicians, including the late Miami Mayor Steve Clark and Joe Gersten, the former county commissioner who fled to Australia in 1993. Mas Canosa denied it.
This blunt book's towering strength -- putting the spotlight on a serious political and cultural problem in Miami – is also its glaring weakness. In her quest to connect exile big-shots and politicians with countless nefarious schemes and plots, Bardach gives no credit to Cuban Americans for doing anything positive in a city filled with their notable achievements. She does admit that since Elián, ''The steamy climate in exile Miami has cooled by more than a few degrees'' as many Cuban Americans realize they must change their image. Unfortunately, what most people outside of South Florida know about them is skewed and overshadowed by the denunciation and criticism they received for the Elián spectacle. Cuba Confidential will only confirm and reinforce that negative view.
Ike Seamans is senior correspondent for WTVJ NBC6.
CUBA CONFIDENTIAL: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana
Ann Louise Bardach. Random, $25.95 (384p) ISBN 0-375-50489-3
The 2000 custody battle between little Elián González’s father, acting, according to Bardach, as the surrogate for the Cuban government, and his exiled Miami relatives, the surrogate anti-Castro forces, became a relentless media event and international affair. The PEN award–winning investigative journalist uses the Elián story as a starting place to examine the larger issues that have roiled Cuba-U.S. politics for four decades. Relying on interviews with Castro, U.S. and Cuban government officials, relatives from both sides of Elián’s family and members of the Cuban-exile community, she explores the sources of American enmity toward Cuba and the blood feuds (for example, the Florida congressman Lincoln Díaz-Balart is the nephew of Castro’s former wife) that inform anti-Castro sentiments among Cuban exiles. Along the way Bardach finds craven political opportunism (hoping to secure Cuban-exile support, Bush and Gore both backed keeping Elián in the U.S. during the 2000 presidential campaign), political corruption facilitated by the power of the Cuban-exile community in the Miami area, and a shocking tolerance, by post–September 11 standards at least, within the exile community and U.S. government for terrorism directed toward Cuba….All in all, though, Bardach’s muckraker is entertaining and disturbing, as it reflects on the power of the dubiously motivated Cuban-exile community. 16 pages of photos not seen by PW. Agent, Tina Bennett. (On sale Oct. 1)
15 de octubre 2003
En su proceso de investigacion y caracterizacion no le preocupo
Su presentacion de Cuba Confidential en Books & Books, en un dia
La tragedia del Nino Elian marco al exilio cubano frente al
Vio en sus multiples viajes la similitud entre los fenomenos que
Monday December 2, 2002
Duncan Campbell in Los Angeles
The Economist - November 21, 20002
Nov 21st 2002
THE Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain are long gone, but in Havana, Fidel Castro, gaunt and grey, has outlasted nine American presidents. Across the Florida straits, a million or so Cubans or their descendants now live in the United States. The exiles, mainly because of their geographical concentration in Florida—not just the fourth largest state, but a politically competitive one—have acquired an influence on American foreign policy second only to that of Israel. They have used it to sustain and even tighten a futile trade embargo, whose main achievement in its critics' eyes has been to help keep Mr Castro in power.
In “Cuba Confidential”, Ann Louise Bardach, a journalist whose work has appeared in Vanity Fair, New Republic and the New York Times, brings together the fruits of her reporting on Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits. She is keen to show how each side has moulded the other's behaviour. This approach generates some helpful insights.
She reminds us that the sterile stand-off between Cuba and Miami is partly one within and between broken families. For example, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a member of the House of Representatives, whom she credits with the dominant influence on the current administration's Cuba policy, is a nephew of Mr Castro's first wife. Ms Bardach is particularly sharp-eyed about Cuban families. She notes that on the island “more than half of all couples divorce, many never marry and infidelity is the national sport”.
She points out, too, that Mr Castro has set a poor example: she reckons he has had nine children with five different women.
But the author dwells more on a second thesis, that “the hijacking of the Cuban revolution” by Mr Castro has been mirrored in Miami, where “exiles seeking freedom have been shunted into silence by hardliners bent on revenge, retribution and power.” She details the rise of Jorge Mas Canosa, the late boss of the Cuban American National Foundation, who had links to the violent, terrorist fringe of exile politics and to Oliver North's 1980s contra operation in Central America.
On this, Ms Bardach, who is a tenacious reporter, scores some points. (Mas Canosa sued her for libel, but ended up settling with the New Republic.) She interviews Luis Posada Carriles, Mr Castro's most persistent would-be assassin. She is surely right to criticise George Bush senior for his ill-considered pardon of Orlando Bosch, who with Mr Posada was responsible for placing a bomb on a Cubana airliner in 1976, killing 73 civilians. She is right, too, that Mas Canosa was a caudillo, and not by instinct a democrat.
Yet in her desire to establish the equivalence of Mas Canosa and Mr Castro she overreaches, falling into conspiracy theory (“even when corruption is prosecuted in Miami, it may not be so much in the interests of the public as in the interest of certain members of the ruling elite”) or exaggeration. Exile politics are rarely pretty: the Miami Cubans are hardly alone in being riven by the desire for vengeance, sectarianism and the fear of treachery. And, as Ms Bardach acknowledges but explores only perfunctorily, Cuban exile opinion is plural, and becoming more so.
The book begins and ends with the case of Elian Gonzalez, the unfortunate six-year-old who survived shipwreck only to fall into the hands of the relatives from hell in Miami. Ms Bardach concludes that his case was “the single most transforming event for Cuba-US relations since the Bay of Pigs”, the CIA's hamfisted effort to remove Mr Castro from power in 1961. That judgment, too, looks exaggerated.
Certainly, most Americans outside Miami thought Elian should be returned to his father in Cuba. But most Americans, too, have long opposed the embargo against Cuba, which is slowly being pierced. As long as Florida politics remains finely poised and as long as Mr Castro rules in Havana, transformations will be off the agenda.
Santa Barbara News-Press Sunday - November 10, 2002
Los Angeles Times Book Review - Sunday - December 8, 2002
By Steve Wasserman
It is a pleasure to recommend to readers a clutch of books published in the last year that we found exemplary. Any such list is subjective, even idiosyncratic, of course, since it is impossible to read every worthy book that beckons. We are nonetheless promiscuous readers whose greatest delight is to happen upon a story or subject we had no idea we were interested in but which, in the hands of a gifted and graceful author, proves compelling and unforgettable. Or, alternatively, to have an author complicate a subject we thought we already knew, challenging us to think harder and more deeply. Here, in alphabetical order by author, are 10 works of fiction and 10 of nonfiction that are among the many works that afforded the greatest pleasure and helped us see the world with fresh eyes.
Cuba Confidential: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana Ann Louise Bardach, Random House
The Country Under My Skin: A Memoir of Love and War Gioconda Belli, Alfred A. Knopf
Selected Essays John Berger, Pantheon
Charles Darwin: The Power of Place Janet Browne, Alfred A. Knopf
War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning Chris Hedges, PublicAffairs
In the Devil's Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692 Mary Beth Norton, Alfred A. Knopf
A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis David Rieff, Simon & Schuster
The Truth About Babies Ian Sansom, Granta Books
Nonrequired Reading Wislawa Szymborska, Harcourt
Writing Los Angeles Edited by David L. Ulin, Library of America
Joe Conason's Journal
A few fine books. Plus: The night Trent Lott "did the right thing"; who is the Eli Lilly Bandit?
Dec. 19, 2002 | A Few Fine Books
As a writer, my personal inclination at this time of year is to give books as gifts -- a prejudice that I naturally hope others share. I don't believe in "10 best" lists but I want to recommend three important books I've been reading recently.
In addition to his other skills, Mark Green is a formidable investigator and lucid, engaging writer. "Selling Out: How Big Corporate Money Buys Elections, Rams Through Legislation, and Betrays Our Democracy" (HarperCollins) is the most insightful of many books on this vexing subject, filled with passion as well as prescription. Green has seen the problem from every side now, as citizen, advocate and politician. Now that everyone understands the limitations and problems of the McCain-Feingold law, he points toward deeper reform as the answer to popular cynicism -- and shows how such reforms are already working both here and abroad.
Another issue that seems certain to rise in salience is this country's foolish, destructive policy toward a certain island off the coast of Florida. The twisted history of that policy comes alive, with all its amazing characters and events, in "Cuba Confidential: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana" (Random House). There is simply no reporter who has worked this story with the talent, diligence and enterprise of author Ann Louise Bardach. She is fearless and funny -- and so is her book. But don't give it to the president or any of his relatives.
Many books have been written about Sept. 11. Several of them are quite good, but I have yet to read a book as comprehensive and timely as "The Age of Sacred Terror" (Random House). The authors, Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, both served on the counterterrorism staff of the National Security Council during the Clinton administration. This is the real story, based on what we know to date, of the origins of Islamist fascism, the slow response of the civilized world to its aggression, what was done and what wasn't done that might have prevented that movement's most horrific plot from succeeding. It is a useful corrective to many of the myths propagated for political advantage in the aftermath of that crime.
[2:32 p.m. PST, Dec. 19, 2002]
SALON January 28, 2003
Ann Louise Bardach talks about the fading of Fidel, the end of the embargo, and the drive for democracy -- and why exile leaders aren't happy about any of it.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Damien Cave
Jan. 28, 2003 | Ann Louise Bardach calls her obsession with Cuba "un enfermidad," a sickness. Checking the wire-service news every day, exchanging gossip with friends in Havana and Miami, devouring each year's harvest of Cuba-related books and movies -- these are just a few of the illness' symptoms. And while it's true that others have been equally stricken -- Ernest Hemingway being the most prominent casualty -- few of history's Cuba-philes have managed to contribute as much as Bardach has to today's ongoing Cuba debate.
For the past decade, Bardach, now a columnist for Newsweek's international edition, has been the most vigorous reporter on the Cuban scene. Everything from Cuba's post-Soviet lunatic paradoxes to Miami's tolerance for terrorism has been the subject of her investigative attention. In the midst of a world filled with intrigue and polarization, she's always managed to be an equal opportunity critic. Leaders on both sides of the Florida Straits have learned to fear her efforts.
"Cuba Confidential: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana," Bardach's latest book, will likely continue that trend. Much of the reporting comes from Bardach's old assignments, and scholars of Fidel Castro will probably find few new insights that haven't already been discussed at length elsewhere. But the book is nonetheless fascinating and important. A family portrait of Cuban and Cuban-American dysfunction, "Cuba Confidential" offers both a scathing profile of Fidel Castro's cold, cruel psyche and a comprehensive behind-the-scenes account of how exile leaders have ruled Miami with an iron fist. Even the section on the Elián González saga -- a tawdry affair that few of us would like to revisit -- comes alive again thanks to Bardach's extensive reporting and critical insight.
With the advent of the increasingly popular Proyecto Varela referendum, how close is Cuba to democratic reform? Why are some leaders of the Cuban exile community so dead-set against change? How long will the U.S. embargo, or for that matter Fidel himself, last? And what will the future of a Cuba without Castro look like? Salon spoke to Bardach about her present feelings on the Cuba condition.
Oswaldo Payá, Cuba's most famous dissident, visited Miami last week and received a mixed welcome. Exile leaders denounced him for legitimizing the regime while polls showed that 68 percent of Miami exiles support him. What do you make of Payá and his visit?
Let's put it this way. The first person to make a dent into Fidel Castro, successfully, is Oswaldo Payá. This is the first successful organized opposition -- but I don't think you ever want to forget that Elizardo Sanchez and many other dissidents have paid big dues. But Payá has really gone to the mat with this one.
Jimmy Carter also hit one out of the ballpark. When he gave that speech on live Cuban TV in Spanish, he gave legitimacy to the Proyecto Varela [a peaceful opposition movement that has collected more than the 10,000 signatures required for a referendum on democratic reform in Cuba]. Remember, before Carter, the only people who knew about it were the people who signed it. After Carter, everyone on the island knows about it. It went from 11,000 people who knew about it to 11 million.
That speech totally trumped the Bush administration. To a Cuba watcher like me, the Carter speech was a really big event because it trumped the hardliners in the White House. They tried to sabotage Carter's visit with that whole thing about Cuba having biological and chemical weapons. That was done to discredit him. They let Carter go [to Cuba] thinking, what could Jimmy Carter do? He's a pathetic little peanut farmer from Georgia?
Who knew he was going to transform the Cuba debate? And on top of that, it gets Jimmy Carter the Nobel Prize. It gets Payá the Sakharov Prize [Europe's most prestigious human rights award] -- and I think Havel has nominated him for the Nobel. Now that's not bad for 20 minutes in Havana. It just tells you what can happen with constructive engagement.
I've yet to hear, however, that more people are signing on to Varela now that it's better known. Have you heard anything about the effects of Carter's speech in Cuba?
Everybody knows about it. Let me give you a story. I wrote an editorial about a person involved in this. It talks in veiled terms about a friend of mine who was going to sign it. This is a person who was very involved in the government, at the very top. And you have a person like this saying that the Varela Project is the most important thing to happen in the last decade and [this person] is desperate to support it. This is such a telling anecdote. This is a person who was making explosives to export the Cuban Revolution around the world. When people like that, on this level, are ready to support it, then discontent, at varying degrees, exists from top to bottom.
What do you make of the exile leadership's decision not to support Payá?
Well, in fact some of the leadership did support him, and it really shows the split that I talk about in the last chapter of "Cuba Confidential": how serious this is going to get. The fact that you now have the [Cuban American National] Foundation supporting Payá and the polls show that 70 percent of Cubans in Miami support him, but then you have Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen [South Florida's Republican representatives, both of them Cuban exiles] saying he's illegitimate because he's part of the whole Castro government deal.
I don't know if you know this, but they were pressuring the administration to disavow Payá and actually criticize him when he went down to Miami on May 20 last year. But Bush didn't do that; he in fact embraced [the project], which stunned me. He gave a thunderous anti-Castro speech down there, but he embraced the Proyecto Varela. This must be what they call a knife in the heart -- un puñal en el corazón, as they like to say dramatically -- for Lincoln and Ileana. And you can see that this is a big problem. Even the famously cowardly publisher of the Miami Herald has embraced Proyecto Varela.
Remember that the Varela Project is Catholic based. So you have a lot of the tradition of Augustine and a lot of the Jesuit liberation theology in this. And of course, that's a great way to deal with Castro because it's hard for him to get a handle on that one. It's very brilliant. And I really think that Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Ileana, they shot themselves in the foot this time.
The problem with Lincoln and Ileana is this: They are both mentored by their fathers -- two men who are deeply embittered hard-liners who basically will not be happy unless Fidel is hanging by his heels à la Mussolini in Calle Ocho. That is their bottom line. It's about vengeance, which is why I wanted that subtitle on my book -- "Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana." It's all about vengeance. It's not about, let's get this over with, let's get this moving, let's get a good solution, let's get as much as we can. It's about, we must achieve some level of vengeance here.
And Fidel, as you point out, is the same way.
Absolutely. Because they're all coming out of this machista ethic. That's the whole tragedy of the Cuban debate: Cubans leave Cuba but they take Fidel Castro with them. The politics of denunciation, which were to a large extent created in the revolution with CDRs [Committees for the Defense of the Revolution] and snitching and such, was exported to Miami. You have the same process. You have the big three radio stations doing the same thing, denouncing people to keep them straight, functioning as Big Brother of Miami.
One of the reasons that vengeance is the response you get from so many older hard-liner Cubans is that Fidel Castro has a way of emasculating people. His policies, particularly in a machista culture like Cuba's, make people feel emasculated and humiliated. That's why they want a pound of flesh afterwards.
If you stay in Cuba a long time and hang out with Cuban friends, you see that what they go through on a daily basis is humiliation: to have to beg for this, to beg for that. You try to get in this hotel or that one -- it's a humiliating cycle and it's never really been explained, even though they do not have the privations of, say, Guatemala or the atrocities we saw in Chile or Argentina even.
Castro has kind of institutionalized begging. Even though you don't have the death squads and the disappearances and the torture, when you make people feel like they're beggars, that's where you get that kind of rage. I wish I had spent a bit more time writing about that.
The level of rage in Miami, however, seems to be diminishing. Polls show that an increasingly high percentage of Cuban-Americans, for example, no longer support the U.S. embargo. And as you mentioned, there's been a split in opinion over Payá. When did this shift get its start?
You cannot underestimate how things unraveled after Jorge Mas [Canosa, the head of the Cuban American National Foundation] died. You basically had Mas holding things together with the force of his personality. Of course, he had a huge amount of charisma and no one crossed him. From the minute he died, it's been a free-for-all.
I actually think that Jorge Mas never would have gambled on Elián González. He would have right away sized that one up and walked away from it. Trying to tell the American public that a father should have his son taken away because he lives in Cuba is not really winnable. I don't think Mas would have done this out of any virtue or anything. I think he would have looked at it and said, what would it take to take the kid away from the father? And he'd say, we're not going there.
I think that Jorge Mas Santos, the son, doesn't get nearly as much credit as he should. It takes no courage, no bravery, to rail against Fidel Castro in Miami. That takes nothing. But it takes a lot of guts to say, let's try this a different way. Jorge Mas Santos has been willing to do that, even in the shadow of his father. People forget that he fought very hard to bring the Latin Grammys and all that it meant to Miami.
How do you think the Bush administration will handle this shift, given the importance of Florida to national politics?
Somebody who is very close to this White House said to me at a party recently, "OK, you're the expert on Cuba: What do I tell this administration about how to get rid of this turkey?" How do we get rid of this embargo and get it over with?
This is from an ideologue on the right. This is before the 2002 election in October. And I said, if I were George Bush and I were thinking about this, I guess I would do whatever I had to do to get my brother elected and hold on to my base for the next election. Then I would cut them loose.
Because if you don't cut loose on this embargo, you're hemorrhaging every day. Every day you're losing people in the Senate and the House. If they keep going against this, they're going to drag this turkey to the next election. And how much time and how much capital and how much money do you want to use to hold on to this thing that there's no support for among the general population, or our allies? There's even an erosion of support every day in South Florida.
Let me be clear: I'm not against embargoes. I think sometimes embargoes work. We have to thank an embargo for the shift in South Africa that gave the disenfranchised the right to vote. Sometimes embargoes work. I think you can give an embargo around 10 years; if you're really patient, you give it 15 to 20 years. You don't give an embargo or any policy 43 years without meeting your goals or at least some of your goals. All we keep doing is tightening it and we're getting less and less and less.
At some point you say, this is insane, we're not achieving anything. The U.S. has to step back and say, OK, we lost, he won, how do we shift this? There has to be strategic, cool-headed thinking about how to bring democratic reform to Cuba and not about achieving vengeance and getting a pound of flesh.
But given the circumstances, do you think it will ever happen? Do you think we'll see an end to the embargo, say before the next election?
They've got their hands really filled with North Korea and Iraq. How can they waste capital and time on Latin America and Cuba?
I think what they'll do is give lip service to the [old guard]. They'll say, "Oh God, in our heart we feel for you," and they'll keep pushing them to the side, giving a wink and a nod to the Republican free-traders who are the majority and who just in principle want to trade with Cuba. They'll let them put together a veto-proof thing and they're going to attach it to some bill and be over with it. Remember, it was Kissinger in 1976 -- a Republican -- who was ready to toss our Cuba policy out.
What do you predict for the next decade in Cuba?
The central player remains Fidel Castro. But Fidel Castro is nothing if not a survivor. He's eaten 10 American presidents for breakfast. He's chewing on his 10th president. He will give ground only based on what he needs to give ground. He can only save his bacon with tourism. And the nature of tourism is that you have to let foreigners come in. So he has to graduate tolerance and openness -- a loosening of the belt.
0n the other hand, I must say, I thought I'd seen and heard it all in Cuba. But when Jimmy Carter left after that big speech and everyone knows about Varela and suddenly Fidel Castro smashes through that referendum to make [socialism] permanent: That was such spectacularly bad behavior even by his standards. I just thought, the sheer insult to Carter! I just thought he would wait awhile and do it in a less obvious way. It just showed that he so desperately needed to show who was in charge.
I remember the first time I met Fidel Castro, I said to him, why don't you do something like Holland and Sweden and just do some kind of socialism? You lost the Russians; why not can the hardcore communism? You don't have the money to pay for it anyway, so make it a mixed economy, which of course it is now.
But he's afraid of losing control. What he lives and breathes is the fear of what happened to Gorbachev, who he -- actually in the film I just saw ["Comandante," Oliver Stone's new documentary] -- describes as this well-intentioned man who destroyed his country. That's what he believes; that perestroika before glasnost is what doomed Russia. He was in there until the bitter end trying to convince Gorbachev not to open it up.
The collapse of Russia haunts Fidel Castro. It just made him become more convinced that he couldn't yield. But as we see, he yields every day, as needed.
When I first started doing this 10 years ago, all the smart people, the really smart disenchanted nomenklatura, the dissidents, all said, you don't understand: It's really simple, Fidel can't stay in power without the embargo. I said, don't be ridiculous, all he does is rant every day about the imperialistas. And they said, you don't understand.
And then sure enough, as I tried to show in my book, at every critical juncture, he pulled the plug on ending it. Just look at it: Who is the winner from the U.S. embargo? There's only one winner here, and it's him.
What about after Castro? What do you think will happen?
I don't see anyone having an appetite for bloodshed. The only people who have an appetite for bloodshed are a few people in Miami. And the thing about them is, it's never going to be their blood. I think it's very interesting that Lincoln Diaz-Balart criticizes Oswaldo Payá for selling out to the regime, but he's not willing to be in Cuba and go to prison. I love how they like to criticize people from their nice homes in Miami -- people who have been in solitary confinement. It's amazing to me. The hubris! They're sitting there in Miami Beach and criticizing people who have really made a difference, like Elizardo Sanchez, who spent 11 years in prison. It's outrageous.
In Castro’s Kingdom
An American Housewife in Havana
ANY WRITER who has tried to sell a book proposal about Latin America to a New York publisher is familiar with the reaction—boredom, indifference, contempt, a gaze out the window to check on the weather . . . unless, of course, the subject is Cuba. Why this should be so is not hard to understand. Cuba may be among Latin America’s smallest, poorest, and most rapidly decaying nations, but it is also the source of one of the longest-running engagements in our own culture wars. As two new books demonstrate, Cuba remains the stage for larger ideological battles, and even for the occasional second thought.
The central idea of Cuba Confidential is that, cold-war posturing aside, the Castro regime and the community of anti-Castro Cuban exiles in South Florida are best understood as the violently estranged branches of a single family. As the journalist Ann Louise Bardach explains, it is not just politics but bad blood that separates Fidel Castro from his former brother-in-law, Rafael Díaz-Balart, an eminence grise of the exile community, or from his one-time nephew, Lincoln Díaz-Balart, a Republican congressman from Miami and the point man for anti-Castro forces on Capitol Hill.
Another emblematic family quarrel of this relationship revolved around a five-year old boy by the name of Elián González, who in 1998 was fished out of the waters between Cuba and Florida after his mother and her boyfriend, along with several other adults, perished on a raft while making their way to the U.S. The boy’s father, divorced from his mother but by all accounts involved with his son, demanded his return to Cuba, unleashing the most intense passion play between Miami and Havana since the revolution itself. Bardach emphasizes that such cases are far from unique; few Cuban-American families have escaped unscathed from the tragic events of the last forty years.
A regular contributor to the celebrity-mad Vanity Fair, Bardach is vaguely left-wing in her views but in no way an apologist for the Castro regime. As a matter of fact, some of her comments about today’s Cuba are among the most devastating I have ever read. As she aptly writes of the octogenarian ballet diva Alisia Alonso, the woman can “barely walk” but, “like her country, she insists she can dance.” Bardach points out that Castro has deliberately turned aside many opportunities to normalize relations with the U.S., and she even claims to have confronted him with the remark that if the greatest “achievements” of his revolution are “education, health, and sports,” its signal failures have been “breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”
At the same time, however, Bardach subscribes to the regnant ideology of American journalism: that Communism may be bad, but anti-Communism is much, much worse. Her argument, such as it is, is that the leadership of the Cuban exile community has turned Miami into a kind of fascist state, enjoying a strange impunity from American justice, especially with the Bush dynasty in the saddle. Her indictment—a pastiche of baroque details—is rich in half-truths, near-truths, and untruths, as well as the occasional fact. She speaks pejoratively of those—Jeb Bush, Jeane Kirkpatrick—with whom she disagrees, while treating apologists for Castro, like the U.S. National Council of Churches, as neutral arbiters.
Bardach freely admits—indeed, she emphasizes—that Castro’s revolution has been a monumental disaster for Cubans on both sides of the divide. But, having demonized those who have escaped his grip, she cannot say what their attitude should be toward a regime that has sundered families, destroyed careers, and sent unnumbered thousands to their deaths, either in the shark-infested waters of the Florida Straits or on foreign battlefields fighting for world Communism. As her own account demonstrates, as long as Castro is in charge, and as long as the U.S. continues to take roughly 30,000 dissatisfied Cubans off his hands each year, the festering resentments of the exile community will not die.
What both these rather different books confirm is that, having destroyed Cuba’s sugar industry, lost its Soviet patron, cast thousands of its most productive citizens into prison or exile, and embraced an economic system that does not and cannot work, Castro has been reduced to living on residuals from the domestic and foreign branches of the hate-America club. But how much longer?
MARK FALCOFF is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. His new book, Cuba the Morning After, will be published early next year.
Fighting Castro from Florida
Love and Vengeance
in Miami and Havana
By Ann Louise Bardach
RANDOM HOUSE; 417 PAGES; $25.95
In 1991, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Andres Oppenheimer, wrote a book titled "Castro's Final Hour." In the preface, Oppenheimer noted that he wasn't predicting an exact date for that hour because "it may be a matter of weeks or, like Winston Churchill's finest hour, which lasted beyond what anybody expected, a few years." But as usual, that report of Castro's demise was greatly exaggerated. This patriarch's autumn seems as if it will never end.
The persistence of the "maximum leader," not only in defiance of the hemisphere's greatest power but also in defiance of the discontent arising out of some 40 years of gross misrule, is a problem that all Cuba watchers must wrestle with. Ann Louise Bardach, journalist and editor at Vanity Fair, has come up in "Cuba Confidential" with an answer that is consonant with her magazine's weltanschauung: Cuba and its exiles form one big dysfunctional family.
The idea that history is a family affair is a synthesis of a vulgar Tory feeling for hereditary power and the modern myth of psychoanalysis, preserving and magnifying the kitschy aspect of both schools. However, if the Elian Gonzalez case proved nothing else, it showed that kitsch, like war, is politics by other means. Bardach's book uses a finely grained report on the ins and outs of Elian's rescue, the child's quasi-adoption by the publicity- loving Miami Gonzalez family and his return to the bosom of his father to drive home her two themes: one, that caudillo politics, as it is practiced in Havana and Miami, has deadlocked Cuba's political alternatives; and two, that the Cuban diaspora, which has resulted in the geographic division of families, is an inducement to family psychodramas that embody the political discourse of both the Castroite and the anti-Castroite sides.
Bardach's story travels between two poles, Cuba and Miami, just as Bardach herself has done in the past 10 years. The more unexpected side, for the U.S. reader, is the story of how Miami's anti-Castro leadership became a malevolent cyst in U.S. politics. If
Bardach's account of southern Florida politics is right, Miami is the biggest loss to U.S. democracy since Capone moved his operation to Cicero, Ill. Bardach's profile of Jorge Mas Canosa, who, until his death in 1996, was the great jefe of Miami's ultras, portrays a man who has touched all areas of U.S. politics. You can tell by his dirty fingerprints.
Mas Canosa was, successively, a Cuban refugee, a CIA trainee, an adroit businessman, probably a secret financier of the anti-Castro terrorist network (which intermingled, in the '80s, with the secret Iran-Contra network) and a Republican Party boss. It is both alarming and unsurprising that Mas kept pictures of Somoza and Pinochet in his office; the peculation of the former and the murderousness of the latter were his lodestars.
Bardach includes enough information about the way the Cuban exile leadership operates since Mas' death to leave us in no doubt that we are dealing with a pure strain of the authoritarian tradition. From using the radio to create nonstop invective against "communists" (defined as anybody who supports, for instance, lifting the U.S. embargo on Cuba), to the bombings and assassinations, the corruption of public officials, the physical assaults on dissidents and the gathering of spontaneous "mobs" to interrupt targeted speakers, the exile leadership displays all the marks of the tin-pot dictator, without quite having the sway.
Among Bardach's juicier stories is that of the entanglement of the Bush family with some of the more unsavory members of this crew. Jeb Bush, for instance, who was the Dade County Republican Party chairman in the heady '80s (that era when the destinies of freedom fighters and drug smugglers crossed, to the apparent satisfaction of all concerned). His associates then included Camilo Padreda, who pleaded guilty to defrauding HUD in 1989, and Miguel Recarey, an old friend of Tampa's Mafia boss, Sam Traficante, who has been an FBI fugitive since 1987.
Bardach implies that Bush further ingratiated himself with the hard-line exile leadership by successfully lobbying his father, George, for a pardon for Orlando Bosch, a notorious anti-Castro terrorist convicted of numerous bombings and murders. When President Bush made a speech (with its rote denunciation of Castro) at Miami's Cuban Liberty Council in May of this year, Bosch was to be given a seat in the front row for a rare photo op. Bush's handlers, however, realized that capturing the president on film with a man connected with blowing up a civilian airliner might not be a good idea, post- Sept. 11, so the potential Bush-Bosch encounter was scotched.
Bardach is less interesting about the "movie star dictator," Castro. Her interview with him is, like many similar journalist enterprises, oddly unrevealing, as the glamour of having captured the exotic tyrant seems to overwhelm the critical faculty. Others have written more to the point about the bleak island Castro has made, a Club Med for lefty Swedes, to which the average Cuban is invited only as a service employee or a prostitute. Meanwhile, out in the countryside, running water is still a luxury. The boast of literacy is vitiated by the lack of literature: Castro has systematically harassed the best Cuban writers, most of whom have long fled. Bardach's intensive travels in Cuba make her a
witness to the island's squalor.
Oddly, for a book that attempts to cover the current state of Cuban-U.S. relations, she does not report in depth about Jimmy Carter's recent visit. Carter's promotion of the Varela Project, which calls for a plebiscite, is probably the freshest event in Cuban-U.S. relations in decades. Predictably, the Varela Project has aroused the opposition of both Castro and Miami's anti- Castro leadership.
Cuba libre, indeed. Someday, it will happen, but only if it is organized in tandem with another, equally difficult liberation: Miami's.
Roger Gathman is a writer in Austin, Texas.
©2002 San Francisco Chronicle.
FRONT JACKET QUOTE:
"Bardach knows Miami and Cuba from the inside out. Her contacts are wide-ranging in both places, her research is thorough and meticulous, her access to key figures is impressive. This highly engrossing collection of narratives is perhaps as close to an inside view of the Cuban mess as one can hope for from an outsider." Los Angeles Times
The Los Angeles Times names CUBA CONFIDENTIAL the Best of the Best -
one of the 10 Best Books of 2002
"An extraordinary examination...a well researched book." Miami Herald
In Cuba Confidential, the old story of the battle between Castro and his foes is refreshingly retold, stripped of its Cold War grandiosity…. An investigative journalist specializing in Cuba, Bardach has been examining the activities of exile leaders in South Florida for years …Bardach's portrayal of Castro is as unappealing as any ever drawn." The Washington Post
A marvelous and evocative deconstruction of the incestuous relationships and hardball tactics that have kept Cuba firmly under Fidel Castro and U.S. policy toward Cuba paralyzed under the influence of Miami's Cuban Americans. Bardach pulls no punches here, making her book the most accessible account of this sorry tangle yet.
Cuba Confidential is a long overdue examination of what lies behind the long-running feud between Fidel Castro's Cuba and Miami's Cuban-American exiles.…Bardach is the first author who has tried to look at the rift from both sides. St Petersburg Times
Inside Jacket Quotes:
Finalist for the New york Public Library Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism Award for 2003
"An illuminating portrait, by a first-class investigative journalist, drawing on ten years of reporting of the half-century-long civil war that has divided Cuba against itself . . . Powerful, evenhanded, thoroughly edifying." -* starred Kirkus review
"Bardach's interviews with Castro, his family members, and his inner circle challenge some of the conventional wisdom about the indefatigable communist and his confidants. Her portrayal of Castro's brother, Raul, is particularly revealing." Christian Science Monitor
"For the past decade, Bardach, now a columnist for Newsweek's international edition, has been the most vigorous reporter on the Cuban scene. Everything from Cuba's post-Soviet lunatic paradoxes to Miami's tolerance for terrorism has been the subject of her investigative attention. In the midst of a world filled with intrigue and polarization, she's always managed to be an equal opportunity critic. Leaders on both sides of the Florida Straits have learned to fear her efforts. "Cuba Confidential: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana," Bardach's latest book, will likely continue that trend." SALON
"Ms Bardach…a tenacious reporter…is particularly sharp-eyed about Cuban families."
"The twisted history of [U.S.-Cuba} policy comes alive, with all its amazing characters and events, in "Cuba Confidential: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana". There is simply no reporter who has worked this story with the talent, diligence and enterprise of author Ann Louise Bardach. She is fearless and funny -- and so is her book.'" Joe Conason, New York Observer
Bardach's muckraker is entertaining and disturbing." Publishers Weekly
"Bardach's book uses a finely grained report ... to drive home her two themes: one, that caudillo politics, as it is practiced in Havana and Miami, has deadlocked Cuba's political alternatives; and two, that the Cuban diaspora, which has resulted in the geographic division of families, is an inducement to family psychodramas that embody the political discourse of both the Castroite and the anti-Castroite sides. Bardach's story travels between two poles, Cuba and Miami, just as Bardach herself has done in the past 10 years. " San Francisco Chronicle
"Ann Louise Bardach, has enjoyed a distinguished journalistic career (and) for the last 10 years, has taken as her personal work the chronicling...Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits. The result is "Cuba Confidential," which comes at you like a freight train and is part muckraking expos and part intimate examination of the people and the cultural sensibilities that make up the ongoing telenova of Cuban life."
Santa Barbara News-Press
"For excellent background on the Diaz-Balart family, which now holds two seats in Congress, see Ann Louise Bardach's Cuba Confidential." Mickey Kaus - SLATE
"[Bardach's] comments about today's Cuba are among the most devastating I have ever read. Mark Falcoff, Commentary
"In all ways, Bardach is as passionate as a Cuban in her work- a task that has taken ten years. A woman of considerable charm, she is a 'aplatanada cubana' - a transplanted Cuban." -El Nuevo Herald
"Ann Louise Bardach is America's answer to Orianna Fallaci. This is a wonderful book - absolutely masterful at presenting both sides of the Cuba debate." -Gay Talese
"Ann Louise Bardach long ago established herself as America's most lucid, courageous, and well-informed observer of Cuban realities on both sides of the Florida Straits. Her new book is a tour de force, the definitive work on the still ongoing Cuban civil war that, whether it is being played out in Havana, Miami, or Washington, continues to ruin the future of Cubans and the politics of the United States."
David Rieff, author of The Exile
"Cuba Confidential is the work of a reporter at the top of her game. Ann Louise Bardach takes a fascinating new look at the case of Elian Gonzalez and then spins it into a compelling reexamination of the tortured relationship between the United States and Castro's Cuba. With Bardach's fresh take on the young boy and the old man, you'll never look at either one the same way again." -Jeffrey Toobin
"Since 1959, Fidel Castro has played the anti-Christ for the United States and vice versa. In Cuba Confidential, Ann Louise Bardach has brilliantly chronicled and examined why the policy has not worked for Castro or for the United States. She has also prepared us for what we must face when Castro is gone." -Sander Vanocur, veteran NBC and ABC anchor
"If our political Establishment knew a tenth as much about Cuba, or cared half as much about it, as does Ann Louise Bardach, both the United States and Cuba would be more open societies." -Christopher Hitchens
"Ann Louise Bardach expertly explores the troubled waters of U.S.-Cuban relations since Fidel Castro came to power. Whatever your views on Cuba, Cuba Confidential offers a valuable treasure of inside information and rich insights into an international controversy that has deep implications for American politics."
-Lou Cannon, author of President Reagan
"Profound and provocative… Writing from the perspective of an outsider - but with the passion of someone trapped in the fascination of all things Cuban- Bardach's work offers the best of American investigative journalism along with a multi-layered history of baroque complexity. Her dramatization of the political intrigues on both sides of the Cuban divide make Cuba Confidential as absorbing as a thriller." –
Uva de Aragon- Assistant Director of the Cuban Research Institute,
Florida International University
May 16, 2003, Friday
AMAZON Spotlight Reviews
12 of 18 people found the following review helpful:
Banana Republic Politics and South Florida, March 26, 2003
Cuba Confidential: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana is a definitive look at the two very different communities of the Cuban exiles in Florida and New Jersey and that of the nation of Cuba. Ann Louise Bardach provides an clear and primarily unbiased look at how the Cuban Revolution of 1959 caused a rift not only between America, which used the island as a sin city playground, and Cuba but between families who choose to support Castro and those who opposed communism. Bardach's book is part history and part sociology. Thoroughly researched and written with style of writing that keeps the reader highly interested chapter after chapter, "Cuba Confidential" hits many topics ranging from politcal corruption and terrorism to family values and race relations. Three of the most interesting and intriguing chapters are those of "Calle Ocho Politics", "An Assassin's Tale in Three Acts" and "The Third Rail". I found them the most interesting because they focused on the political climate of South Florida and the overwhelming influence of the Cuban exile community on the government of the state of Florida. As a history and political science major in college, I read about the strength of the primarily conservative Cuban Americans in South Florida but I never researched how pervasive and corrupt it was and still is. "Cuba Confidential" details the long list of injustices committed by some cuban officals in Florida and the Tammany Hall political machines that they run. Even the federal government through such agencies as the FBI are found to be influenced by the power and cohersion of Cuban politicos.
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Disturbing! But a Great Read!!!, March 19, 2004
My Dad was a balsero, who eventually made it to Phila. where I was born, he went back to fight against Castro and we have never seen or heard from him again!I never got an opportunity to talk with him about all the politics involved in this Castro-Cuba thing but this answered so many questions. YOu're reading history but its not dull or stilted at all. Thank you Ms Bardach for a great book and although I know you lost many contacts, for writing this way. I applaud you, for your honesty and courage!!!
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Loving Cuba is hard love, March 9, 2004
Yes, the Cubans have suffered under Castro. I agree and understand their pain. So? The Cuban American millionaires and terrorists (Bosch for example) in Bardach's book suffered and then triumphed by bringing their ideas, ideology, and conniving ways to the US under the guise of seeking freedom--Freedom to do what? Toss bombs and acid at other exiled Cubans exercising Constitutional rights? Become another demagogue like Jorge Mas Canosa, rip off the Americans, create an ethic Cuban ghetto that excludes other Latinos, spit on concert goers trying to see Cuban musicians, bribe and other wise nefariously influence Florida politics? All this and heaven too.
Well, you detractors of the book have called it disgusting and other things but the truth hurts doesn't it? I have spent time in Cuba as a US diplomat (1987-89)in the US Interests Section and know many of the people mentioned by Bardach. Her descriptions are right on the money, e.g. Elizardo Sanchez, a real hero in the Cuban human rights movement. That the Miami right wingers are against the Varela Plan is truth not fiction, and as for checking sources and reliability nothing in Havana or Miami is what it appears to be so what's the use trying to verify what's not on the record? Her book names names, dates, countries, files, memos, etc enough to satsfy me and the general reader. Of course, if you have an Anti-Castro agenda this book will infuriate you, and obviously has by the looks of some of the reviews. All I have to do is put the screwed up, angry, menacing looks we saw on TV in Miami during the Elian debacle and fit those faces to the irate reviewers. And so it goes. Perhaps one should just read Samuel Huntington's latest screed on Hispanics (Foreign Policy Magazine, March 2004) to know the Cubans want to turn South Florida into their own Banana Republic. Lord have mercy, and will the last American leaving Miami please bring the flag. Thanks Ms. Bardach for exposing this ugly under belly on both sides of the drink. Watch out for the bombers.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Best Book on Cuban Miami Politics Ever, January 26, 2004
I am a Cuban who lived in Miami all my life and just moved to New jersey; if I were to acknowledge to the Cuban community I left behind that I agree with this book, I could be hurt. Thank you, author, for bringing to light what it's like to live in a world surrounded by the Cuban "Mafia" who wants Cuba back to being in the monstrous hands of Corporate America. I lived close to where the Elian saga occured, and MIami became too opressive for me to continue living there. Every word in this book is factual.On a brighter and lighter note, if you Cubanfiles out there have children or grandchildren and want to get them the greatest little bilingual Cuban picturebook around (all Cuban characters, set in Cuban Little Havana's Calle Ocho Festival, written by a Cuban and illustrated by a Cuban), find, DRUM, CHAVI, DRUM!/TOCA, CHAVI, TOCA! This Cuban book isn't about politics, but it depicts the livlier and more beautiful side of Miami Cubans (we are not all monsters as the media sometimes loves to portray us!)
This book is a must. I applaud the author for the impeccable research. I wish a Cuban would write a book like this, but she might be hurt...
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Honesty May Not be Popular, December 9, 2003
Bardach's honesty about American foreign policy regarding Cuba and the power that the corrupt Miami Mafia have on Florida, and after the last presidential election, national, politics has not won her many friends in the Miami Cuban population. Elian was used and manipulated by Marisleysis and her father, two people who shouldn't be entrusted with the life of a roach, much less a little boy. But the Miami Mafia was willing to sacrifice him to these two pathological personalities in order to score one against Castro. Then there is Orlando Bosch, a convicted terrorist who was paroled into the United States by Bush the First against the orders of his acting assistant attorney general. In the Banana Republic regimes of Little Havana and the White House, it doesn't matter how many innocent civilians you kill nor how many children's lives you throw away as long as you do it in the name of fighting communism. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition
Great Book!, November 14, 2003
What a great book!! I used to live in Miami and can tell you that everything she writes about is TRUE. A large group of the exiled community (especially the older ones) dream of a renewed regime a la Batista, where they were able to take advantage of people. I experienced the Elian saga first hand, these people are a bunch of fakes, ungrateful and demanding and ard are portrat perfect in the book!
Friday April 25, 2003
Monday January 31, 2005
By Geoff Bottoms
USING the Elian Gonzalez affair as a starting point to relate the ever-simmering stand-off between Miami and Havana, Ann Louise Bardach attempts an even-handed account of relations between Cuba and its exiles that has kept the disastrous US policy of blockade in place, divided families with tragic consequences and provoked crises by encouraging waves of illegal emigres across the Florida Straits.
According to the author, her book seeks to chronicle the parallel tragedies of "the hijacking of the Cuban Revolution by Fidel Castro and a similar phenomenon, albeit modified, in Miami - as exiles seeking freedom have been shunted into silence by hard-liners bent on revenge, retribution and power."
True, she castigates both Castro and Jorge Mas Canosa alike and exposes the ebb and flow of the fortunes of the Bush family in relation to their dealings with the Cuban exiles while accusing the revolutionary leadership of exploiting the genocidal US blockade, yet a bias can still be detected.
Describing Castro as "the movie star dictator, the ham actor who has steadfastly refused to leave the stage," Bardach reserves no such comment for US presidents of all shapes and sizes or their administrations who merely "trade off sensible and enduring solutions for short-term electoral gains in one or two counties in south Florida and in Union City, New Jersey."
Her underlying message is that the kind of change that the US wishes to impose on Cuba can only come with the death of Castro eerily echoes the recent report of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba providing a blueprint for "regime change" and the annexation of Cuba to the US.
Yet Bardach is the most celebrated journalist in the US with respect to the Cuban-US mafia and this book represents 10 years of interviews with 11 trips to Cuba and more than a dozen to Miami, Union City, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.
Her reporting straight from the hip has cost her a press visa to Cuba on several occasions.
Recognising that the exile community in Miami is not monolithic and even claiming that it is predominantly liberal, she attributes affiliation to the Republican cause simply to its hard-line policy towards Cuba, quoting a member of the terrorist 2506 Brigade as saying that many of them were "left-wingers fighting Batista ... now we're right-wingers fighting Castro."
Perhaps the most significant revelation in the context of the release of four convicted Cuban-US terrorists by the outgoing president of Panama last year is the conclusion of the chapter devoted to Luis Posada Carriles, which describes him as a habitue of Miami's terrorist circles and explicitly predicts that he would soon be strolling through the streets of Miami.
Having interviewed him in 1998, Posada admitted receiving funds from the Cuban-US National Foundation and being in possession of four different passports from different countries bearing false identities.
"I have a lot of passports," Posada told the journalist. "If I want to go to Miami, I have different ways to go. No problem."
As an account of the ongoing battle between Havana and Miami, this is a lucid, informative and entertaining piece of investigative journalism that is all too rare in the US, with family trees, timelines and comprehensive notes placing everything in context.
Calling it civil war or a family feud, as Bardach does, emphasises the human cost of this tragedy, yet there is no escaping the fact that Cuba remains the apple of annexationist dreams going back 200 years.
With or without Castro, the struggle for the right to self-determination will continue.
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THE ENIGMATIC COMANDANTE
Even had Fidel not handed Raúl the reins, the pundits would still have been out in force this month, pondering the post-Castro future. That is because Fidel Castro turns 80 tomorrow. At least, that is what his birth certificate says. But historians now accept as probable that he was actually born in 1927, not 1926 as Castro himself claims, and that his father doctored his birth records to get him into prep school a year early.
The mysterious circumstances of Castro's birth are part of the larger enigma: The man has ruled Cuba for almost half a century, yet he remains virtually unknown to his own people and to the outside world. Fidel has always known the advantages of being a man of mystery, which is why he has so assiduously cultivated his own mystique. (A curious mix of respect and fear prevents most ordinary Cubans from even referring to El Jefe by name.) It is not known, for example, how many children he has (estimates range from eight to 15), nor with how many women, nor whether he remarried after his divorce from Mírta Díaz-Balart in 1948. No one knows for certain whether Fidel's own birth was illegitimate, nor even whether Raúl is a brother or a half-brother.
Demystifying this enigmatic world figure begins, for me, with Fidel: A Critical Portrait (William Morrow, 1986), by the late New York Times reporter Tad Szulc. Szulc is the only English-language biographer of the intensely private Castro to have enjoyed unfettered access to him. Despite their "absolute" ideological differences -- Szulc was a Kennedy liberal through and through -- the Commandante agreed to be interviewed on one condition: "You may paint me as a devil so long as you remain objective and you let my voice be heard." Szulc researched and wrote the book in Havana, with Castro dropping in on him and his wife from time to time, but the book was not "authorized" and neither the Commandante nor anyone in his entourage ever vetted it.
In contrast with the seemingly endless parade of books that superficially deify or demonize Castro, Szulc's Portrait offers a three-dimensional picture of the man over the first 25 years of his rule. Szulc's Castro is a complex figure: mischievous, prudish, secretive, self-important, vain, courageous and extremely lucky. Never fawning, Szulc is nonetheless capable of praising Castro's gifts as a great world leader. He is "immensely attractive and contagiously energetic," Szulc writes. He is a man of great intellect and "prodigious memory."
He is also a "perfectionist to the point of pedantry," spending hours and hours rewriting the lengthy speeches that seem so spontaneous when spoken. On the matter of Castro's iron-fisted grip on Cuba, Szulc observes that the Commandante "bristles at any suggestion that he is a dictator." But this does not prevent Szulc from offering his own poignant diagnosis of Cuba's political and economic ills: Castro's "psychological inability, rather than conscious refusal, to let go of any power."
Szulc's book remains the best biography of Fidel Castro, for my money, but it has recently acquired another claim on my affections. As the intrepid New Yorker journalist Seymour Hersh discovered when conducting interviews for The Dark Side of Camelot (Little, Brown, 1997) -- my second Castro pick -- it was Szulc, of all people, who first came up with the idea for Operation Mongoose, a covert program of paramilitary operations against Cuba launched by the Kennedy administration in 1961. Mongoose actions included hotel bombings, the sabotage of industrial and agricultural sites, the contamination of Cuba's sugar crop and, most infamously, all manner of hare-brained schemes to murder Castro, including poisoned milkshakes and exploding cigars.
Szulc, Hersh reveals, not only suggested to Kennedy staffers that the United States embark on an aggressive policy of regime-change in Cuba, he discussed the matter privately with attorney-general Robert Kennedy and later acted as "the linchpin" in a long-running CIA operation designed to foment discontent within Castro's military. (For Castro, the CIA has always been Public Enemy Number One. Presumably, Szulc's history as a CIA operative was not known to Castro when they were collaborating on his biography.)
The secret life of Tad Szulc is but one of the extraordinary revelations unearthed by Hersh as he began shaking the skeletons out of the Kennedy closet. Predictably, some of Hersh's more salacious discoveries in The Dark Side of Camelot concern president Kennedy's social proclivities, including his connections to the mob and his extramarital liaisons.
But the most interesting political revelations are those concerning the Kennedy brothers' fixation on Fidel Castro. Jack and Bobby were not merely aware of the CIA's plotting against the Cuban leader, Hersh writes, "they were its strongest advocates." In a short chapter, Trapping Nixon, Hersh explains how JFK used classified intelligence about the Bay of Pigs invasion against Richard Nixon during the 1960 presidential race.
A chapter on Operation Mongoose, Target Castro, describes the Kennedys' obsession with eliminating the Cuban leader. Hersh, a writer not given to overstatement, writes bluntly of attorney-general Robert Kennedy that his "enthusiasm for the assignment" of murdering Castro made him "the most feared, and despised, official in the government -- especially at the Central Intelligence Agency." Fidel Castro may have been an unusually paranoid leader but, as Hersh demonstrates, it was for the best of reasons.
My third pick is Cuba Confidential: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana (Random House, 2002), by Vanity Fair journalist Ann Louise Bardach, which chronicles the decades-old blood feud between Fidel Castro and his enemies in Cuban Miami. It is no secret that the Cuban-American émigré community has served as the wellspring of anti-Castro passion in the United States since at least 1981, when Jorge Mas Canosa founded the Cuban American National Foundation.
What makes Bardach's book so engrossing is that her approach to the Havana-Miami story is not merely political, but deeply personal. "The Cuban Revolution has ravaged the Cuban family much as the Civil War in the United States ravaged American families," Bardach writes. To cite only the most prominent of the many family breaches to occur after 1959, Fidel Castro's erstwhile in-laws, the Díaz-Balarts, fled the Revolution and became his arch-enemies in Miami-Dade. The late Rafael Díaz-Balart, Castro's one-time brother-in-law, became a leading figure in anti-Castro political circles, and two of his sons, Lincoln and Mario, are today serving as U.S. congressmen.
Equally fascinating is Bardach's description of the non-Cuban family ties to this drama, which extend to the Bush family, the two Georges and current Florida governor Jeb. In 1999, five-year-old Elián González precipitated a war of words that struck everybody outside of Havana and Miami as inexplicably vicious. Few observers could imagine why Castro spent the better part of a year obsessing over this little boy. Bardach offers a convincing explanation: The struggle over custody of Elián tapped the decades-old reservoir of animus between Castro and the exile community, turning it into one of "the most transforming events in Cuban-U.S. relations since the Bay of Pigs."
Castro's convalescence continues to stoke the rumour mill but, in truth, there has been talk of the "post-Castro future" of Cuba since at least the 1970s. Speculation of this sort peaked after 1989, when the subsidy-dependent Cuban economy collapsed along with the former Soviet Union. Even Castro's apologists conceded at that time that his reign could not survive without the Soviets. But, of course, they were wrong. Castro not only persisted but found a new ally -- and benefactor -- in Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. The hope among anti-Castro types that the Commandante would be deposed by impoverished and disgruntled Cubans has once again given way to resignation to what they call the "biological solution" -- the death of Fidel.
And so, the world continues to watch and wait.
Robert Wright teaches history at Trent University in Oshawa, Ont. His Three Nights in Havana: Pierre Trudeau, Fidel Castro and the Cold War World will be published next year.
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