Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know

In This Review

Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know
By Julia Sweig
Oxford University Press, 2009
304 pp. $16.95
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Quiz: During the Cold War, which pip-squeak country deployed hundreds of thousands of troops across the Atlantic Ocean, won three wars, beat the United States at baseball, and cut the infant mortality rate in its capital city below the level in Washington, D.C.? The answer, of course, is Cuba, and the answers to over 120 questions about the country are in this splendid primer. Answering each question in, on average, two pages, Sweig displays a talent for succinctness and clarity, as well as a subtle, deep knowledge of Cuban affairs. Her book covers Cuba before the 1959 revolution, during the Cold War, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and from 2006, when Fidel Castro was rushed to the hospital and transferred power to his brother Raúl, onward. The post-1959 questions cover Cuban domestic affairs, U.S.-Cuban relations, and Cuba's role in the world. There are, thankfully, more questions about Cuba's domestic matters than about U.S.-Cuban relations: How did Cuban schools come to outperform those of every other Latin American country? How did a country best known in the 1950s for song and dance create the most combat-effective military of any communist regime? Did Cuban leaders really think that they could turn homosexuals into heterosexuals by sending them to all-male labor camps? How could the transfer of power from Fidel to Raúl occur uneventfully despite Washington's and Miami's implacable hostility? As promised, Sweig tells readers what, indeed, everyone needs to know.