Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause

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Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause

By Tom Gjelten
Viking, 2008
480 pp. $27.95
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In this powerful tragedy, a famed business family remarkable for its progressive social policies and passionate nationalism is deprived of its hard-earned assets by a rapacious, double-crossing Fidel Castro -- and its very Cuban soul is then compromised in an embittered, unending exile. In the veteran journalist Gjelten's skillful recounting of Cuban history, the most brutal and corrupt politicians repeatedly crush patriots who have more tolerance and integrity, such that the numerous "lost opportunities" for democratic progress appear to have had little chance. In pre-1959 Cuba, civic-minded entrepreneurs such as the Bacardis, who paid their workers well and invested in their communities, were too few to have branded capitalism with a sustainable reputation. Conceptually, Gjelten's book typifies an emerging liberal revisionism that, although contemptuous of U.S. policy toward Cuba, grants Castro no quarter, painting him as a pistol-toting tyrant wantonly ignorant of economics who has impoverished and tragically divided his beautiful island nation. But Gjelten is equally ill at ease with the bare-knuckle, spiteful tactics embraced by the Bacardis in exile, even as their liquor business has become a global empire. With its fabulous triumphs and poignant defeats, this stirring tale of rum, money, and revolutions has all the markings of a great epic movie.