The Cuba Reader: History, Culture, Politics / Edition 1

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Cuba is often perceived in starkly black and white terms—either as the site of one of Latin America’s most successful revolutions or as the bastion of the world’s last communist regime. The Cuba Reader multiplies perspectives on the nation many times over, presenting more than one hundred selections about Cuba’s history, culture, and politics. Beginning with the first written account of the island, penned by Christopher Columbus in 1492, the selections assembled here track Cuban history from the colonial period through the ascendancy of Fidel Castro to the present.

The Cuba Reader combines songs, paintings, photographs, poems, short stories, speeches, cartoons, government reports and proclamations, and pieces by historians, journalists, and others. Most of these are by Cubans, and many appear for the first time in English. The writings and speeches of José Martí, Fernando Ortiz, Fidel Castro, Alejo Carpentier, Che Guevera, and Reinaldo Arenas appear alongside the testimonies of slaves, prostitutes, doctors, travelers, and activists. Some selections examine health, education, Catholicism, and santería; others celebrate Cuba’s vibrant dance, music, film, and literary cultures. The pieces are grouped into chronological sections. Each section and individual selection is preceded by a brief introduction by the editors.

The volume presents a number of pieces about twentieth-century Cuba, including the events leading up to and following Castro’s January 1959 announcement of revolution. It provides a look at Cuba in relation to the rest of the world: the effect of its revolution on Latin America and the Caribbean, its alliance with the Soviet Union from the 1960s until the collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1989, and its tumultuous relationship with the United States. The Cuba Reader also describes life in the periodo especial following the cutoff of Soviet aid and the tightening of the U.S. embargo.

For students, travelers, and all those who want to know more about the island nation just ninety miles south of Florida, The Cuba Reader is an invaluable introduction.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“What a beautiful journey through five hundred years of Cuban history, culture, and politics! The Cuba Reader is a sumptuous medley of poetry, song, speeches, interviews, and vignettes from novels new and old. You’ll hear the voices of santeros and sugar workers, prostitutes and politicos, revolutionaries and reporters, dissidents and dancers. It’s the next best thing to being in Cuba, so sit back with a mojito and enjoy the masterfully guided tour.”—Medea Benjamin, activist and cofounder of Global Exchange

"The Cuba Reader offers a splendid overview of the Cuban experience, past and present, through a dazzling array of points of view. The voices of participants and observers and perspectives on the extraordinary and the commonplace—with imagery conveyed by way of photography and poetry, through the lyric of music and the nuance of the novel—make for a compelling collection of material. The very fullness of its vision makes The Cuba Reader an indispensable book for courses—of every academic discipline—on Cuba.”—Louis A. Pérez, Jr., author of On Becoming Cuban: Identity, Nationality, and Culture

The Latin American Review of Books - Gavin O'Toole

"[A] classic. The editors of this book and their many accomplices deserve nothing but praise for producing the best introduction to Cuba one can possibly find."
The Guardian - Julie Schwietert Collazo

"[A] crash course in Cuban history. If you’re looking for a single (hefty) volume to get you up to speed about the past 500 years of Cuban politics and culture, this is it."
The Miami Herald - Susan Fernandez

"[An] ambitious and impressive anthology, a sweeping collection of source materials by and about Cubans both on the island and living in other countries. The editors . . . have wisely chosen songs, paintings, photographs, short stories, essays, speeches, government reports, cartoons and newspaper articles that span Cuban history. . . . What The Cuba Reader does extraordinarily well is to reveal the nuances and complexity of the Cuban experience. All shades of politics are here, and they infuse Cuban dance, music, film and religion."
The Americas - John J. Dwyer

"[T]he editors should be congratulated for their Herculean effort. The reader will be most useful for undergraduate courses where it will provide students with an impressive overview of the Cuban experience over the last five centuries. In fact, anyone interested in obtaining a comprehensive and multifaceted firsthand account of Cuban history will benefit from this book."
Journal of Latin American Studies - Jonathan Curry-Machado

"This Reader provides a wonderfully eclectic selection of writings from and about Cuba. . . . [A] very useful resource for the teaching of courses relating to Cuba, providing a taster of many aspects of the island's history that should encourage those who dip into it to come away with a more nuanced understanding of an island that has been plagued by caricature."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822331971
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 12/1/2003
  • Series: The Latin America Readers Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 736
  • Sales rank: 271,778
  • Product dimensions: 6.36 (w) x 9.26 (h) x 1.72 (d)

Meet the Author

Aviva Chomsky is Professor of History and Coordinator of Latin American Studies at Salem State College. She is the author of West Indian Workers and the United Fruit Company in Costa Rica, 18701940 and coeditor of Identity and Struggle at the Margins of the Nation-State: The Laboring Peoples of Central America and the Hispanic Caribbean (published by Duke University Press).

Barry Carr is Director of the Institute of Latin American Studies at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. He is the author of Marxism and Communism in Twentieth-Century Mexico and coeditor of The Latin American Left: From the Fall of Allende to Perestroika.

Pamela Maria Smorkaloff is Director of Latin American and Latino Studies and Assistant Professor of Spanish at Montclair State University. She is the author of Cuban Writers on and off the Island: Contemporary Narrative Fiction and Readers and Writers in Cuba: A Social History of Print Culture, 1830s1990s and editor of If I Could Write This in Fire: An Anthology of Literature from the Caribbean.

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Read an Excerpt

The Cuba reader

History, culture, politics
By Aviva Chomsky

Duke University Press

ISBN: 0-8223-3197-7

Chapter One

Christopher Columbus "Discovers" Cuba Christopher Columbus

When Christopher Columbus arrived in the Caribbean in 1492, he was convinced that he was near the coast of Japan and China. Europeans termed his landfall a "discovery," though in recent years those more critical of Europe's endeavor have pointed out that while it was a discovery for Europe, the terms encounter or even invasion more accurately capture the nature of the event for the inhabitants of the Americas.

The natives Columbus encountered in the Bahamas indicated that a large island lay to the south, and he concluded that it must be Japan (which he called Chipangu) they were talking about. Although there may be some wishful thinking in his comment about Cuba's trade and wealth, it does indicate that the Caribbean natives had a good knowledge of the region's geography and were less isolated than some accounts have suggested. The following excerpts from Columbus's logbook constitute the first written accounts of Cuba and give the first European impressions of the island.

Wednesday, 24 October

Last night at midnight I raised anchor from Cabo del Isleo on the north side of the island of Isabela, where I had lain, and set sail for the island of Colba, which these people tell me is very large and has much trade. They say that itcontains gold and spices and large ships and merchandize and have told me by signs that I should steer west-southwest to find it, and I think this is right, for if I am to believe the indications of all these Indians and those I have on board-I do not know their language-this is the island of Chipangu of which such marvelous tales are told, and which in the globes that I have seen and on the painted map of the world appears to lie in this region.

So I steered west-southwest till day, and at dawn the wind dropped and it rained, as it had done almost all night, and I lay there with very little wind until after midday and then it began to blow very gently. I then raised all sail, the mainsail and two bonnets, and the foresail and spritsail, the mizzen, main topsail, and the boat's sail on the poop. I continued on my course till nightfall and then Cabo Verde at the western end of the south coast of Fernandina lay to the northwest seven leagues away. It was now blowing hard and I did not know what course to follow for the island of Colba.

I did not want to go looking for it at night, for these islands lie in very deep water and no soundings can be taken at more than two lombard [an early high-powered cannon] shots from the shore. The bottom is patchy, with rocks in some parts and sand in others, and so it is not possible to anchor safely except where you can see. I therefore decided to lower all sails, except the foresail, and to proceed under it. After a while the wind became much stronger and I made a considerable distance, which disturbed me as the clouds were thick and it was raining. I ordered the foresail to be furled and that night we went less than two leagues....

Sunday, 28 October

They sailed on south-southwest in search of the nearest point in Colba and he entered a very beautiful river, very free from shoals and other dangers. And all along the coast the water was very deep up to the shore. The mouth of the river was twelve fathoms and wide enough for ships to beat about. He anchored as he says a lombard shot upstream. The Admiral says he had never seen a more beautiful country. It was covered with trees right down to the river and these were lovely and green and different from ours, and each bore its own fruit or flowers. There were many birds, large and small, which sung sweetly, and there were a great number of palms of a different kind from those of Guinea and from ours. They were of moderate height with no bark at the foot, and the Indians cover their houses with them. The land is very flat.

The Admiral got into the boat and went ashore, where he found two houses which he believed to belong to fishermen who had fled in terror. In one of these he found a dog that did not bark, and in both houses there were nets of palm fiber and lines and horn fishhooks and bone harpoons and other fishing tackle, and there were many hearths. He believed that many people lived in each house. He gave orders that nothing should be touched in either, and his order was obeyed. The vegetation was as abundant as in April and May in Andalusia. He found much purslane and wild amaranth. He returned to the boat and went some distance up the river. He said that it was such a great joy to see the plants and trees and to hear the birds singing that he could not leave them and return. He says that this island is the most beautiful that eyes have ever seen. It has many good harbors and deep rivers, and it seems that the seas are never rough because the vegetation on the shore grows almost to the sea's edge, which is unusual where the seas are rough. So far, he had not encountered rough seas anywhere in these islands. He says that the island contains very lovely mountains, which do not form long chains but are very high. All the rest of the land is high also, like Sicily. It has plenty of water, as he gathered from the Indians from Guanahani whom he had with him, who told him by signs that it was ten large rivers and that they cannot go round it in their canoes in twenty days.

When he brought the ships close to shores two boats or canoes came out, but on seeing the sailors entering the boat and rowing about to take soundings for an anchorage, they fled. The Indians said that there are gold fields and pearls in the island and the Admiral saw that this was a likely place for pearls, since there were mussels, which are a sign of them. The Admiral understood that the Grand Khan's ships come there and that they are large and that the mainland is a ten days' journey away. The Admiral called this river and harbor San Salvador.


Excerpted from The Cuba reader by Aviva Chomsky Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
I Indigenous Society and Conquest
Christopher Columbus "Discovers" Cuba 9
The Devastation of the Indies 12
Spanish Officials and Indigenous Resistance 15
A World Destroyed 20
"Transculturation" and Cuba 26
Survival Stories 28
II Sugar, Slavery, and Colonialism
A Physician's Notes on Cuba 39
The Death of the Forest 44
Autobiography of a Slave 49
Biography of a Runaway Slave 58
Fleeing Slavery 65
Santiago de Cuba's Fugitive Slaves 69
Rumba 74
The Trade in Chinese Laborers 79
Life on a Coffee Plantation 83
Cuba's First Railroad 88
The Color Line 91
Abolition! 94
Cecilia Valdes 97
Sab 103
An Afro-Cuban Poet 110
III The Struggle for Independence
Freedom and Slavery 115
Memories of a Cuban Girl 118
Jose Marti's "Our America" 122
Guantanamera 128
The Explosion of the Maine 130
U.S. Cartoonists Portray Cuba 135
The Devastation of Counterinsurgency 139
IV Neocolonialism
The Platt Amendment 147
Imperialism and Sanitation 150
A Child of the Platt Amendment 154
Spain in Cuba 157
The Independent Party of Color 163
A Survivor 167
Rachel's Song 171
Honest Women 180
Generals and Doctors 186
A Crucial Decade 189
Afrocubanismo and Son 192
Drums in My Eyes 201
Abakua 212
The First Wave of Cuban Feminism 219
Life at the Mill 226
Migrant Workers in the Sugar Industry 234
The Cuban Counterpoint 239
The Invasion of the Tourists 244
Waiting Tables in Havana 253
The Brothel of the Caribbean 257
A Prostitute Remembers 260
Sugarcane 264
Where Is Cuba Headed? 265
The Chase 270
The Fall of Machado 274
Sugar Mills and Soviets 281
The United States Confronts the 1933 Revolution 283
The Political Gangster 287
The United Fruit Company in Cuba 290
Cuba's Largest Inheritance 296
The Last Call 298
For Us, It Is Always the 26th of July 300
Three Comandantes Talk It Over 302
History Will Absolve Me 306
Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War 315
The United States Rules Cuba, 1952-1958 321
The Cuban Story in the New York Times 326
V Building a New Society
And Then Fidel Arrived 337
Tornado 340
Castro Announces the Revolution 341
How the Poor Got More 344
Fish a la Grande Jardiniere 354
Women in the Swamps 363
Man and Socialism 370
In the Fist of the Revolution 375
The Agrarian Revolution 378
1961: The Year of Education 386
The Literacy Campaign 389
The "Rehabilitation" of Prostitutes 395
The Family Code 399
Homosexuality, Creativity, Dissidence 406
The Original Sin 412
Where the Island Sleeps Like a Wing 414
Silence on Black Cuba 419
Black Man in Red Cuba 424
Post-modern Maroon in the Ultimate Palenque 427
From Utopianism to Institutionalization 433
Carlos Puebla Sings about the Economy 443
VI Culture and Revolution
Caliban 451
For an Imperfect Cinema 458
Dance and Social Change 466
Revolutionary Sport 475
Mea Cuba 481
In Hard Times 488
The Virgin of Charity of Cobre, Cuba's Patron Saint 490
A Conversation on Santeria and Palo Monte 498
The Catholic Church and the Revolution 505
Havana's Jewish Community 509
VII The Cuban Revolution and the World
The Venceremos Brigades 517
The Cuban Revolution and the New Left 526
The U.S. Government Responds to Revolution 530
Castro Calls on Cubans to Resist the Counterrevolution 536
Operation Mongoose 540
Offensive Missiles on That Imprisoned Island 544
Inconsolable Memories: A Cuban View of the Missile Crisis 547
The Assassination Plots 552
Cuban Refugee Children 557
From Welcomed Exiles to Illegal Immigrants 561
Wrong Channel 566
We Came All the Way from Cuba So You Could Dress Like This? 568
City on the Edge 581
Singing for Nicaragua 588
Cuban Medical Diplomacy 590
VIII The "Periodo Especial" and the Future of the Revolution
Silvio Rodriguez Sings of the Special Period 599
From Communist Solidarity to Communist Solitary 611
The Revolution Turns Forty 623
Colonizing the Cuban Body 628
Pope John Paul II Speaks in Cuba 635
Emigration in the Special Period 640
The Old Man and the Boy 644
Civil Society 650
Forty Years Later 660
A Dissident Speaks Out 664
One More Assassination Plot 666
An Errand in Havana 671
No Turning Back for Johnny 678
Suggestions for Further Reading 691
Acknowledgment of Copyrights 701
Index 713
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