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The Cuba Wars: Fidel Castro, the United States, and the Next Revolution

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“Terrific background, keen insight and an evenhanded critical distance distinguish Erikson’s fine work.”—Kirkus Reviews

There are few international relationships as intimate, as passionate—and as dysfunctional—as that of the United States and Cuba. In The Cuba Wars, Cuba expert Daniel Erikson draws on extensive visits and conversations with both Cuban government officials and opposition leaders—plus key players in Washington and Florida—to offer an unmatched portrait of a small ...

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The Cuba Wars: Fidel Castro, the United States, and the Next Revolution

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Overview

“Terrific background, keen insight and an evenhanded critical distance distinguish Erikson’s fine work.”—Kirkus Reviews

There are few international relationships as intimate, as passionate—and as dysfunctional—as that of the United States and Cuba. In The Cuba Wars, Cuba expert Daniel Erikson draws on extensive visits and conversations with both Cuban government officials and opposition leaders—plus key players in Washington and Florida—to offer an unmatched portrait of a small country with outsized importance to Americans and American policy.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“With this fresh, astute, and compassionate exploration of the past two decades of U .S.-Cuban relations, Erikson emerges as a valuable new voice in Washington foreign policy circles…The Cuba Wars is an eloquent cry for more realistic, decent responses that help—rather than further punish—the long-suffering Cuban people.”—Foreign Affairs

“An informative and important analysis.”—Booklist

Publishers Weekly

Erikson, a senior associate at the think tank Inter-American Dialogue, approaches his analysis of the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba with the verve of a journalist, filling the book with interviews with dissident leaders and civilians in Cuba and the Cuban-American community. He demonstrates how policy and politics intersect, especially in a U.S. presidential election year, when the voice of Cuban exiles in Miami's Little Havana, a community that has been pushing to keep the U.S. embargo against Cuba in place, sounds especially loud and influential. Erikson turns his attention to the intriguing and unknown future for the Cuban polity; since Castro formally ceded power to his brother Raul Castro Ruz in February 2008, both Cubans and Americans are watching for what comes next. There is a "revolution of expectations" underway, and Erikson presents the looming political and economic uncertainties, exploring the possibility that since Raul has already allowed for increased consumption and real estate privatization, Cuba-like China-might be gradually opening up to capitalism. (Nov.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Erikson (senior assoc., U.S. policy, Inter-American Dialogue) draws on his vast experience and knowledge of the Caribbean to form a cogent analysis of the geopolitical future of Cuba. Using historical sources and his access to American policymakers, Miami's Cuban American population, and Cuban insiders, he presents remarkable insight into the fate of Cuba after Fidel. Pointing to President Bush's Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, established in 2003 and chaired by Colin Powell, the author leaves no doubt that even in light of the Iraq War, Cuba occupies significant foreign policy attention in Washington. More than socialist doctrine, Cuba now reflects a generational divide, as many Cubans are concerned about access to resort hotels in Havana and travel freedoms, as well as Internet access. On the U.S. front, however, Cuba is now on the fringe for most of Miami's Cuban American population, and Erikson sees ongoing discussions about Guantánamo, coast guard activities, and weather forecasting as examples of U.S. cooperation with Cuba. His conclusion? Cuba's future will be decided by Cubans. Highly recommended for all libraries.
—Boyd Childress

Kirkus Reviews
Cogent summary of decades of Cuban-American animus, plus speculation about future detente. When an ailing Fidel Castro handed over the presidency to his younger brother Raul in February 2008, a U.S. State Department spokesperson dismissed it as "a transfer of authority and power from one dictator to a dictator-lite." Nor was anyone celebrating in Dade County, Fla., epicenter of the expatriate Cuban community. Washington and the expats shared long-cherished assumptions about Cuba: that Fidel's death would finally trigger major changes, that Raul would be unable to remain in power unless he embraced reforms, that a democratic revolution would burst forth from the disgruntled populace, ushering the exiles back in triumph. None of these assumptions have been borne out. Erikson, a senior associate for U.S. policy at Washington think tank Inter-American Dialogue, has traveled frequently to Cuba and is evidently well versed in its history and culture. He skillfully assesses both sides as he chronicles the "war of nerves" between America and Cuba since the Bay of Pigs invasion and President Kennedy's 1962 embargo, in effect to this day. Subsequent U.S. presidents only hardened this stance, even after the collapse of the Soviet Union threw the island's economy into a tailspin and removed a principal justification for hostilities. Politicians trolling for votes deferred to exile groups' insistence that stronger sanctions were needed to bring Castro down. Democrats played that game too, but lost the Cuban-American community's support after Attorney General Janet Reno facilitated Elian Gonzalez's return to Cuba and his father in June 2000, with dire results for Al Gore's Florida vote count inNovember. Erikson marvels at Castro's resiliency, interviews dissenters who loathe his repressive methods but admire his anti-imperialist ideals, explores the political clout of Little Havana in Miami, visits prisoners, comments on propaganda and reports on the curious alliance between Castro and Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, providing an invaluable snapshot of a nation poised to ignite on the eve of the revolution's 50th anniversary. Terrific background, keen insight and an evenhanded critical distance distinguish Erikson's fine work. Agent: Will Lippincott/Lippincott Massie McQuilkin
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781608190126
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 11/10/2009
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel P . Erikson is senior associate for U .S. policy at the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington, D.C. He has published more than fifty scholarly articles and essays and in publications including the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and the Miami Herald. He is co-editor of Transforming Socialist Economies: Lessons for Cuba and Beyond, and recipient of a Fulbright scholarship.

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Read an Excerpt


The Cuba Wars

Fidel Castro, the United States, and the Next Revolution


By Daniel P. Erikson
BLOOMSBURY PRESS
Copyright © 2008

Daniel P. Erikson
All right reserved.



ISBN: 978-1-59691-434-6



Chapter One Die Another Day

Fidel Castro was accustomed to keeping his country immersed in a state of feverish speculation, but now the time for a decision loomed. Nearly nineteen months had passed while he tried to battle back from the illness that had forced him to relinquish power in July 2006. His health had collapsed during the early months, leaving him at death's door, but he had been gradually gaining strength and weight, and it was possible that he would live for some time more. His brother Raúl, who had assumed the provisional powers of government in Fidel's absence, had proved to be a competent administrator, but he was also growing restless. Moreover, Fidel was aware that his precarious health had ushered his nation into a strange twilight zone that had left him at the mercy of his successors, not the other way around.

Fidel had not been seen publicly in Cuba since his health crisis began, but he remained a prominent voice by writing periodic "reflections" in the national press about international issues that grabbed his attention. His first essay, published on March 28, 2007, attacked a new ethanol initiative planned by President George W. Bush and Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, which Fidel decried as a "sinister plan for turning foodstuffs into fuel" that would leave "more than three billion people condemned to premature death from hunger and thirst." A steady stream of more than fifty op-eds followed, pondering topics including global warming, the price of oil, the political travails of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, the recent death of Raúl's wife, Vilma Espín, and the complicated legal dramas of Luis Posada Carriles and the Cuban Five. The most important function of these "reflections," however, was to signal that Fidel Castro was still alive.

In the waning weeks of 2007, though, Fidel began to drop hints that his days as the formal president of Cuba were drawing to a close. On December 17, he sent a message to be read aloud on Cuban television by the host of the political discussion show Mesa Redonda (Round Table). "My deepest conviction is that the answers to current problems in Cuban society," Fidel wrote, "require more varied responses for each concrete problem than the contents of a chessboard." He then added, "My essential duty is to not cling to posts, much less block the way for younger people, but to contribute experiences and ideas whose modest value comes from the exceptional era in which it was my destiny to live. I think ... that one must be consistent until the end."

Eleven days later, Fidel conveyed a similar message at the ritual year-end session of Cuba's National Assembly, even though the Cuban leader himself was nowhere to be seen. It was December 28, 2007, and Raúl presided over the meeting while seated next to a chair left empty in honor of his ailing brother. He read aloud from a letter Fidel had written to clarify his position further. Referring to his past as a "utopian socialist," Fidel reflected on the fact that "what the foreign press in Cuba have most reported in recent days has been the phrase where I expressed ... that I am not a person who clings to power. I could add that I was once, for the excesses of youth and lack of conscience. What changed me? Life itself." When Raúl finished reading the letter, the more than five hundred Communist Party delegates present rose and burst into applause. Still, Raúl insisted that his brother remained politically viable, noting that Fidel had been exercising, gaining weight, and meditating and writing regularly. "His powerful mind is healthier," Raúl said as he scoffed at the chances of political reform. "We could say in Cuba we have two parties: one led by Fidel and one led by Raúl. What would be the difference?" he asked. "That's the same thing that happens in the United States ... both are the same. Fidel is a little taller than me; he has a beard and I don't." It had long been thought that Raúl Castro would be a short-lived transitional leader in Cuba-a simple man who played "checkers" whereas his brother, the master strategist, played "chess." In those terms, Fidel Castro was now paradoxically both one move away from being checkmated and still in full control of the chessboard.

In February 2008, the National Assembly was scheduled to meet to ratify a new Council of State, which is the island's highest governing body. The president of the Council of State is the top role in Cuba's government-and the person who holds the position is also the president of Cuba-although it is arguably a less powerful post than the head of the Cuban Communist Party, which is described in the constitution as "the highest directing force of the society and state." The meeting to choose a new Council of State takes place every five years, and in the past Fidel's selection as president was a foregone conclusion. The Cuban leader's poor health and cryptic writings had raised the possibility that he would seize the opportunity to formally pass the presidency to his brother and end the provisional arrangement that had endured since the summer of 2006. Still, many doubted that Fidel Castro, the most Machiavellian leader in Cuban history, would relinquish his grip on power before he drew his last breath.

On February 19, 2008, he delivered his verdict. The Cuban newspaper Granma published a message from Fidel that rendered his decision in no uncertain terms. "There were those overseas who, aware of my critical health condition, thought that my provisional resignation, on July 31, 2006, to the position of President of the State Council, which I left to First Vice-President Raúl Castro Ruz, was final," Fidel wrote. "Later, in my necessary retreat, I was able to recover the full command of my mind as well as the possibility for much reading and meditation. I had enough physical strength to write for many hours, which I shared with the corresponding rehabilitation and recovery programs ... When referring to my health I was extremely careful to avoid raising expectations since I felt that an adverse ending would bring traumatic news to our people in the midst of the battle. Thus, my first duty was to prepare our people both politically and psychologically for my absence after so many years of struggle. I kept saying that my recovery 'was not without risks.' My wishes have always been to discharge my duties to my last breath. That's all I can offer." Fidel concluded with the words that, after forty-nine years, brought his tenure as Cuba's unrivaled leader to its much-anticipated end. "I will neither aspire to nor accept, I repeat, I will neither aspire to nor accept the positions of President of the State Council and Commander in Chief." Fidel Castro's long reign as Cuba's supreme ruler was over.

Five days later, on February 24, the National Assembly confirmed Raúl Castro as the president of Cuba. The awkward provisional arrangement that had been speedily implemented in the summer of 2006 was no more. Cuba had a new leader, but also a familiar one, who had been joined at the hip with his older brother since their initial triumph in the Cuban Revolution in 1959. It was both a historic moment and a strangely anticlimactic one. Raúl's ascension merely finalized the transfer of power that had occurred many months earlier. Not only was Fidel still alive, defying the gloomiest predictions about his health, but he even retained his seat in the assembly and the powerful post of executive secretary of the Communist Party. While the event received significant media attention overseas, there were no celebrations in Miami, as had occurred when Fidel's sickness was first reported. A spokesman for the U.S. State Department merely dismissed the change as "a transfer of authority and power from one dictator to a dictator-lite, from Fidel to Raúl." Bush, who was caught off guard by the news while on a stop in Rwanda during a tour through Africa, announced that "the United States will help the people of Cuba realize the blessings of liberty" and voiced his support for the U.S. embargo. Even without Fidel Castro at the helm, the struggle between the United States and Cuba showed few signs of fading.

"I die just about every day," Fidel Castro told a television interviewer several weeks before reaching his eightieth birthday in 2006. "But it's really a lot of fun for me, and it makes me feel healthier." Indeed, the aging bearded leader who had ruled Cuba for decades appeared to be in fighting form during that long, hot summer. Hundreds of thousands of Cubans gathered in Havana's Plaza of the Revolution to see him speak at the country's annual May Day celebrations, where he peppered his remarks with statistics about Cuba's health, education, and energy programs and sarcastically thanked the United States for its long-standing embargo of Cuba. After more than forty-seven years in power, Castro still provoked deep and conflicting emotions within the Cuban population, where he was adored, feared, and despised-sometimes all at once. But no one doubted that he remained fully in charge of his country, a picturesque island just off the coast of the United States that was one of the world's last remaining communist regimes.

Castro loved to bask in the limelight, and controversy followed him throughout the spring and summer. In May, he became entangled in a surreal sparring match with Forbes magazine, which featured him in a special survey of the world's richest "Kings, Queens and Dictators" and ranked him as the seventh richest, with an estimated wealth of nine hundred million dollars, nearly double the estimated wealth of the queen of England. The claim sent Castro into a state of apoplexy, prompting him to make a special appearance on Cuban television in which he pounded the table and denounced his presence on the Forbes list as "repugnant slander." The magazine admitted its back-of-the-envelope calculations were "more art than science," but Castro was incensed. Accusations of illicit wealth threatened to undermine his carefully cultivated image as an international defender of the downtrodden and dispossessed, and he dismissed the Forbes statistic as a smear campaign engineered by the Bush administration and the Central Intelligence Agency. Castro then issued a challenge: "If they can prove that I have one single dollar, I will resign from all my responsibilities and the duties I am carrying out. They won't need any more plans of transitions!"

In July, Castro remained an active force in Cuba, presiding over high-level government discussions, approving a series of new joint ventures with Canadian and Spanish companies, and overseeing plans to celebrate his eightieth birthday on August 13. Toward the end of the month, Castro made a snap decision to attend a South American summit meeting in Argentina at the invitation of his close friend and ally Hugo Chávez. Castro always enjoyed the element of surprise, and it was his custom to leave his travel plans unannounced until the last minute, in part for security reasons. Some of the most brazen assassination attempts against him had occurred at international gatherings in Latin America, and this trip marked his first overseas venture since a short visit to Barbados the previous December.

Besides, Castro was a popular figure in Argentina, a country still suffering from the scars of a brutal economic collapse in 2001 triggered in part by the "neoliberal" economic policies that the Cuban leader never tired of railing against. Castro had been greeted like a rock star during a visit three years earlier, and cries of "Viva Fidel!" followed him as he arrived in the country anew on July 21. "Sometimes I have to misinform even my own friends. Not even I knew I was going to come," he told a crowd at an "anti-imperialist" rally in Argentina's second city, Córdoba. He joined with Hugo Chávez the next day to visit the boyhood home of Ernesto "Che" Guevara, the Argentine medical student who went on to become one of the most iconic figures of the Cuban Revolution. It was an emotional event for the two leaders, especially Chávez, who explained, "Fidel invited me to come and get to know the house. For me, it's a real honor being here." Their celebrity tour left some nearby neighbors reeling from the experience, including one Argentine housewife who commented that the uproar "has thrown the whole city into a state of shock."

Castro's Argentine tour ended on a sour note, however, when an enterprising journalist provoked him into an angry tirade by asking about a sensitive case involving one of Cuba's most noted dissidents. Hilda Molina was one of Cuba's top neurosurgeons and had been a medical superstar until the island's economy started to unravel following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. During the resulting crisis, Cuban medical care facilities were ordered to turn away needy Cubans and instead set aside beds for foreign patients who could pay in hard currency. Molina protested the new policies, which ended her glittering career in the communist system. In 1994, her son fled abroad to Argentina, but the Cuban government refused to allow her to leave, arguing that "your brain is the patrimony of the nation." Molina was unable to even meet her grandchildren, who were later born in Argentina, a situation she decried as "supreme cruelty." The plight of a grandmother separated from her grandchildren turned the case into a cause cé1èbre, and Argentine president Néstor Kirchner had repeatedly tried to use his cordial relationship with Castro to help Molina gain her coveted exit visa, to no avail.

In Argentina, Juan Manuel Cao, a Cuban American television reporter from Miami, dogged the official Cuban delegation with questions about Molina. When Castro joined the South American presidents at the summit for an official photo ceremony, the scene consisted of barely constrained chaos as photographers, journalists, and spectators jockeyed for the best view of the Cuban leader. Sensing his opportunity, the Miami reporter cried out to Castro, "Why don't you free Dr. Hilda Molina? Why don't you let her come see her grandchildren?" Fidel Castro immediately fixated on the journalist, asking, "What's your name? Who is paying you to come and ask questions like this?" The reporter volunteered that he was from Cuba, and Castro nearly flipped with rage. "I already asked you who paid you," he shouted. "Why don't you look for Bush and ask him about Posada Carriles and the crimes they have committed in his country? Cuban?! You are not Cuban. Che is Cuban. You are an intruder that is living like a mercenary. That's what you are." Most of the exchange was captured on videotape, with photographers' flashbulbs erupting in rapid succession. The stray question had clearly provoked Castro. The fearsome Cuban dictator was getting pretty thin-skinned in his old age.

Castro arrived back in Havana on July 23, and several days later he traveled down to Bayamo, a sleepy provincial capital located about seventy miles west of Santiago de Cuba, his hometown and the city where his initial assault on the established order of Cuba unfolded on July 26, 1953. On that date, Castro led a group of 150 rebels in a surprise attack on a military garrison in Santiago with the intention of igniting a movement to unseat the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. The attack was a military debacle that resulted in the deaths of dozens of rebels, but it succeeded in launching Castro as a major national figure at the tender age of twenty-six, and he later defended himself in a famous speech titled "History Will Absolve Me." He spent nearly two years in a Cuban prison before winning early release in 1955 and leaving for exile in Mexico, and in December 1956, he captained a barely seaworthy vessel named the Granma from Mexico to the southern shore of Cuba to relaunch the revolution that would eventually bring him to power on January 1, 1959. Castro christened his revolutionary organization the 26th of July Movement, in honor of the date that marked his first military excursion. As president, he made that date a national holiday in Cuba, and he commemorated it with a major speech annually.

On July 26, 2006, Castro arrived in Bayamo, which is located in the province of Granma, named after the boat he piloted back from exile. The two-lane road to the city is marked by a billboard featuring a sketch of his beloved boat next to the words WHO COULD WRITE THE HISTORY OF CUBA WITHOUT THE HISTORY OF GRANMA? That day marked the fifty-third anniversary of his first attempt to seize power, and Castro's rousing address lasted nearly three hours before one hundred thousand flag-waving Cubans. Dressed in his trademark olive uniform, he boasted of how Cuba's health care system resulted in long life expectancy. "I don't know how many thousands of citizens of this nation have even reached their one hundredth birthday," Castro declared, "but our little northern neighbors shouldn't get scared: I'm not thinking of working at that age." Castro meant it as a joke, but he was in fact delivering his final public speech.

(Continues...)




Excerpted from The Cuba Wars by Daniel P. Erikson Copyright © 2008 by Daniel P. Erikson. 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

Contents Map....................viii
Preface....................ix
1. Die Another Day....................1
2. War of Nerves....................27
3. The Dissenters....................54
4. The Empire Strikes Back....................78
5. The Community....................106
6. Capitol Punishment....................136
7. Spy Versus Spy....................162
8. The Least Worst Place....................186
9. Through the Looking Glass....................209
10. The Capitalist Temptation....................231
11. Chasing Chávez....................254
12. The Next Revolution....................277
Acknowledgments....................315
A Note on Sources....................317
Notes....................321
Selected Bibliography....................335
Index....................339
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  • Posted January 19, 2009

    Something for Everyone

    The Cuba Wars has something for everyone. If you are an avid follower of the island, the book will bring you up to date on the latest travails to promote democratic change to Cuba. While author Daniel Erikson¿s position is quite clear (and few could argue with the logic his analysis), he does not caricaturize those who support and shape U.S. policy, particularly the embargo. If you are a recent student of Latin America, this book will provide you with a quick, but entertaining, review of the Revolution and its aftermath, both in Cuba and the United States. <BR/> <BR/>Erikson¿s chapters shift from Cuba, Miami and Washington, D.C., as he interviews average citizens, military officials, political leaders and opinion makers in the polarized world of Cuban politics. Erickson shows the folly of U.S. policy, but does not pull any punches in describing the political contradictions and economical distortions of the Revolution, which has fallen short of its rhetoric on almost all accounts. He weaves a nice narrative and conveys an acute sense of observation and humor.<BR/><BR/>A case in point is the chapter on Guatanamo Bay, "The Least Worst Place," Donald Rumsfeld¿s characterization of the U.S. naval base as a holding place for enemy combatants from Afghanistan. Erikson links the war on terror with the politics of the island and in the process uncovers an unlikely dialogue taking place between the militaries of the United States and Cuba. Bimonthly ¿fence meetings,¿ address local, military-to-military issues in an attempt to avoid any misunderstandings that could exacerbate a tense situation. <BR/><BR/>Unfortunately, these little known encounters constitute one of only three areas of sustained official communications between the two countries. According to the author, it is this lack of communication that has sustained the ¿Cuban Wars,¿ his encapsulation of policies from both sides of the Florida Strait, which ¿have endured far too long, damaged the lives of too many people and achieved far too little to justify making this conflict the inheritance of future generations.¿ I have no doubt that The Cuba Wars will soon find the wide audience it deserves.

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