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

By Daniel P. Erikson
November 1, 2008

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Here's what reviewers have to say about The Cuba Wars: Fidel Castro, the United States, and the Next Revolution.

CURRENT HISTORY
February 2009

How to make sense of this organized hypocrisy is at the heart of Daniel Erikson’s The Cuba Wars.  Erikson, an analyst at the Washington think tank Inter-American Dialogue, diligently and dispassionately crafts a textured portrait of Cuba today in which the country’s drama-and tension-filled relationship with the United States frames nearly every aspect of economic and political life on the island.  This does not mean that Erikson rationalizes  the Castro regime’s autocratic tendencies or the country’s vexing underdevelopment, or that he attributes all of Cuba’s ills to the United States. His
analysis of Cuba, and of Washington’s approach to Cuba, is far more sophisticated
and subtle than that.  He writes intelligently and fluently about the personalities, policies, and history of the US-Cuba relationship; in doing so, he displays an ideal combination of the detached journalist’s perspective and the scholar’s intimate knowledge.  He has written the most important book on Cuba in a generation.


FOREIGN AFFAIRS

November/December 2008

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. An analyst at the Inter-American Dialogue, Erikson conducted research that took him to Cuba (including Guantánamo Bay) 14 times, and he also gained access to leading players in Caracas, Miami, and Washington. This fair-minded author allows the contending actors to speak for themselves, expertly guiding readers through the increasingly splintered yet still powerful Cuban-American exile community, the world of the courageous opposition figures remaining on the island, and, most sharply, the tumultuous U.S. Congress. Erikson blasts both the Bush administration, for its counterproductive pugnacious hostility, which handed Fidel Castro a ready excuse to brutally squash dissent, and the congressional Democrats, for being cowardly, confused, distracted, and divided. Although the transition to a more open Cuba is likely to be gradual, Erikson suggests, the United States could accelerate the "revolution of expectations" among Cuban youth with a policy of engagement: of more open travel, cultural contacts, and economic exchange. The Cuba Wars is an eloquent cry for more realistic, decent responses that help -- rather than further punish -- the long-suffering Cuban people.

Reviewed by Richard Feinberg, Foreign Affairs


KIRKUS REVIEWS
September 1, 2008

Cogent summary of decades of Cuban-American animus, plus speculation about future détente. 

When an ailing Fidel Castro handed over the presidency to his younger brother Raúl 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 Raúl 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 Elián González’s return to Cuba and his father in June 2000, with dire results for Al Gore’s Florida vote count in November. 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.


LIBRARY JOURNAL
September 1, 2008

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.

Reviewed by Boyd Childress, Auburn Univ. Libs., AL