Fidel Castro; Cuba After the Cold War

In This Review

Fidel Castro

by Robert E. Quirk
W. W. Norton and Company, 1993
800 pp. $35.00

Cuba After the Cold War

by Edited by Carmelo Mesa-Lago
University of Pittsburgh Press, 1993
352 pp. $39.95

Robert Quirk, a professor of history emeritus at Indiana University, concludes his very long and well-written book on Cuba with the observation that Fidel Castro has ". . . become irrelevant. He had stayed too long . . . history had passed him by." But Fulgencio Batista said much the same thing in 1957, and Quirk, like Castro, seems at a loss to know how to conclude his work as it marches self-confidently toward the late 1980s, only to confront what Quirk sees as a mortal crisis caused by the collapse of the communist regimes in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Quirk's book is very much a narrative history of the old school and as such provides a useful summary of Castro's rise to power and actions in government. But, as is characteristic of this genre, it presumes too much and delivers too little. Despite the title, this book is more the history of a regime than of an individual. Based almost exclusively on secondary sources, combined with the uneven and arbitrary snapshots that can be obtained from the occasional declassified document and a first-hand experience of Cuba that seems limited to watching Fidel Castro on television in the lobby of a tourist hotel in Havana, Quirk's book is almost totally devoid of explanatory analysis. For anyone seeking the sources of Castro's longevity in power or an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of his regime, Quirk has next to nothing to offer.

For a sober and detailed examination of the immediate background of the current situation in Cuba there is no better place to begin than with the new volume edited by Carmelo Mesa-Lago. This outstanding contribution looks systematically at the impact on Cuba of the collapse of the island's most important alliances and examines the reasons Cuba escaped the domino effect that led to the rapid demise of communism in Eastern Europe. As to the survival of the Castro regime, Mesa-Lago and Horst Fabian review several political and economic scenarios in the final chapter. All the authors agree that Cuba's current political-economic model is not viable in the long run. Mesa-Lago foresees a shift toward militarization and repression without significant economic change. But he also believes that if there is no peaceful transition to democracy, there will be a violent end to socialism in Cuba. Given the immobility of Washington's policy on Cuba, this is not a happy prediction for the future.