New & Noteworthy

February 25, 2009

The Cuban Connection: Drug Trafficking, Smuggling, and Gambling in Cuba From the 1920s to the Revolution by Eduardo Sáenz Rovner, University of North Carolina Press, 2009, 264 pp., $35 (hardcover)

This detailed history, originally published in Colombia in 2005, sets out to uncover the global connections and government corruption that allowed the drug trade to flourish in Cuba before the revolution. While attempting to dispel the notion that proximity to the United States was the determinant factor in the growth of Cuba’s narcotics trade, Sáenz explores in depth the relationship with the United States, framing the book in the period beginning with Prohibition and ending with the early years of the revolution, when the United States began to use the subject of drug trafficking as a tool in fighting Communism.

Cuba had long been integrated into global networks of migration and commerce, Sáenz argues, providing the necessary infrastructure for the business of international drug trafficking. He makes the somewhat surprising argument, in a detailed chapter about Lucky Luciano, that, contrary to popular representations, the U.S. mafia did not play a large role in the development of Cuba’s casino culture and drug trade, and demonstrates that while patterns of drug consumption in Cuba depended on class and ethnicity, the drug trade in general was not the domain of the poor, but of well-connected, cosmopolitan native Cubans and immigrants from around the world.

Cuban Revolution Reader: A Documentary History of Fidel Castro’s Revolution edited by Julio García Luis, Ocean Press, 2008, 392 pp., $21.95 (paperback)

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the 1959 Cuban Revolution, this collection brings together primary documents from some of its most important episodes. With a celebratory introduction from editor Julio García Luis, the collection opens with a highly detailed chronology that charts the course of Cuban history, from the first battle for independence from Spain in 1868 to Raúl Castro’s ascension to power in 2008.

The documents included range from world-renowned texts, such as Fidel Castro’s 1960 speech at the United Nations and Pope John Paul II’s 1998 denunciation of the U.S. embargo, to the policies and decrees that have marked the revolution’s progress and setbacks, such as the 1992 televised speech of Carlos Lage, secretary of the Executive Commitee of the Council of Ministers, explaining the economic realities of the “Special Period.” Also included are official government documents related to everything from Cuban support for Angolan rebels to the Mariel boatlift, from the law establishing the ration card to the case of Elián Gonzáles. The book is every bit a celebration of the achievements of the revolution, and will prove a useful resource for students seeking to understand how the revolution will now move forward.

United States–Cuban Relations: A Critical History by Esteban Morales Domínguez and Gary Prevost, Lexington Books, 2008, 168 pp., $24.95 (paperback)

Written jointly by two political scientists from Cuba and the United States, this slim volume takes the long view of U.S.–Cuban relations, beginning with Thomas Jefferson’s first presidential term, in 1801, and situates contemporary relations in the context of U.S. imperial control in the 19th century. Ultimately, the authors argue, changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba during the last 50 years have not been decided, as other authors have argued, by domestic considerations, but have followed on-the-ground realities on the island, mainly in attempts to destabilize the revolutionary government. By way of example, the authors detail the changes put in place in Cuba beginning in 1994 that allowed, among other things, foreign direct investment and some private enterprise, and go on to explain the subsequent establishment of the Helms-Burton act under President Clinton, which punished other nations for economic relations with Cuba.

Arguing that U.S. policy makers continue to view the last 50 years as an aberration in an the otherwise natural imperial relationship between the two countries, the authors hold out little hope for dramatic change in the relationship in the near future. “Today,” they write, “Cuba has more alternatives to a subservient relationships with the United States than at any point in its history.”


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