Pleasure Island: Tourism and Temptation in Cuba; Waiting for Fidel; Inside the Revolution: Everyday Life in Socialist Cuba

In This Review

Pleasure Island: Tourism and Temptation in Cuba

By Rosalie Schwartz
University of Nebraska Press, 1997
239 pp. $45.00
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Waiting for Fidel

By Christopher Hunt
Houghton Mifflin, 1998
259 pp. $13.00
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Inside the Revolution: Everyday Life in Socialist Cuba

By Mona Rosendahl
Cornell University Press, 1997
197 pp. $37.50
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As Schwartz clearly demonstrates in her fascinating account of Cuba's tourist industry from the 1920s to Castro's takeover in 1959, tourism brings with it speculation, entrepreneurship, and corruption. Prostitution rackets are again providing members of the military and security establishment with extra off-the-book incomes. Schwartz is not surprised to see the Castro regime confronting in the 1990s some of the same dilemmas and temptations that tourism caused Castro's predecessor Fulgencio Batista in the 1950s.

A wry, hyped-up, and amusing insight to this curious new Cuba is provided in Christopher Hunt's travel account. This tale recounts his picaresque adventures in Cuba "from Havana's squalid alleys to its steamy nightclubs. From Cuba's endless expanses of sugar cane to the craggy peaks that once sheltered the bearded dictator." Hunt, a former reporter for The Economist, believes most Cubans have given up on socialism and turned to capitalism Cuban-style, with a thriving black market where sex is a major currency and hustlers and hacks rule the roost. Heady stuff this, but it is a nice change of tone from the gloomy statistics of the Cuba experts.

Away from the big city, however, the picture seems less cynical and Castro's ethos more permanent. Rosendahl, a Swedish anthropologist, has written a rare close-up analysis of how the ideology of the Cuban revolution translates itself into everyday experience. Her study of a municipality in Oriente province provides a nuanced antidote to those who would argue that the regime no longer enjoys grassroots support. Despite the hardships that have befallen all Cubans following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Rosendahl sees a more pragmatic discourse among both leaders and people. She also argues that the 1996 Helms-Burton Act only served to solidify the link between anti-American patriotism and the deterioration Cubans see around them in the real health and social benefits the revolution has achieved.