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Revelation and the Fashionable: Or Writing About Cuba

I want to reveal to you a secret: I was not supposed to be here, I am supposed to be sick. I am not sick but almost every capitalist newspaper, radio and television have told the world that Castro is gravely ill from a heart attack. How come? This is part of the intrigues of the capitalists. It is an old story. Possibly it reveals what the imperialists wish.

– Fidel Castro (June 7, 1972)

Advertising anything usually includes the message that you could have the secret to health, to youth, to sex, to success, to fortune, and so forth. When it comes to Cuba [Google offers 213,000,000 results (0.51 seconds) when you search “Cuba and secrets.” It seems that commentators, professors, exiles, CIA operatives and everyone else tell us that the island is a puzzle wrapped inside an enigma.

Since 1959 there has been a description- prediction – revelation industry telling us about the Cuban revolution. We no longer seem to remember how many times we were told about Fidel Castro’s health and near death experiences. The Central Intelligence Agency, the USIA, the US Congress, American Presidential press officers and many others were always in prediction mode.

A classic example was this headline: “Blue Jeans Will Win in the End” – this was an article by   Bob Shacochis in the Los Angeles Times, August 23, 1992. Yes, in those days, BLUE JEANS would do the trick of bringing the demise of communism in one island. Shacochis, at the time, was reviewing the book by Andres Oppenheimer, Castro’s Final Hour. Yes, the demise of the Cuban revolutionary leader has been a predicted “secret” for a long time.

The claim to have the power of political prediction asserts that the rest of us do not happen to know something. Thus, for example, Oppenheimer’s book had the subtitle: The Secret Story Behind The Coming Downfall of Communist Cuba. Anne Louise Bardach, as well, entitled one of her books – Cuba Confidential. Georgie Anne Geyer, in the same fashion, had a “biography” of Guerrilla Prince: The Untold Story of Fidel Castro.

Indeed, if one wants to sell books and articles you better claim that you have access to secrets and that you will reveal them, if someone pays for the hidden knowledge. The trend began with a purported CIA agent in 1976 when Carlos Alberto Montaner published in Spanish “Informe secreto sobre la revolución cubana”.

Cuba is the unknown. Yet, many seem able to have access to what supposedly is difficult to surmise or reach. Authors, consequently, claim to have inside knowledge and now the rest of us will learn the truth. The other side of the hidden is the “insider. Thus, accompanying one requires the services of the other. And there are many who claim to be insiders. Cuba is intriguing to Americans because US citizens have been denied the right to travel by their own government; but, as if by magic, most US citizens and journalists report that Cuba is the one that has been “opened” to the prying eyes of the norteamericanos. Actually, denying Americans the right to go to Cuba and see had two intentions: deny to Cuba the revenues from US tourism, and deny the Americans the right to look at an alternative social and economic model.

Here are some examples

1967: Journalist Lee Lockwood published his unique book of photos and interviews: Castro’s Cuba, Cuba’s Fidel: an American journalist’s inside look at today’s Cuba. (MacMillan Company).

1981: Rightwing Cuban exile Carlos A Montaner, Secret Report on the Cuban Revolution (Transaction Books).

1985: Jorge A Sanguinetty, The Secret Report from the Cuban National Bank (Cuban American National Foundation).

1988: Rafael A. Núñez Cedeño,   The Abakuá Secret Society in Cuba: Language and Culture   (Hispania, Hispania/University, 71:1, March 1988, p. 148-154)

1992: Andres Oppenheimer, Castro’s Final Hour: the Secret Story Behind the Coming Downfall of Communist Cuba (Touchstone).

Warren Hinckle, et al, Deadly Secrets: The CIA-Mafia War Against Castro and the Assassination of JFK, (Avalon Publishing, 1992)

1993: Vera M Kutzinski, Sugar’s Secrets: Race and the Erotics of Cuban Nationalism (University Press of Virginia, 1993)

The Cuba Commission Report: A Hidden History of the Chinese in Cuba (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993)

By 1995 authors in Cuba jumped into the secret revealed industry. “The Secret War” was published by former counter espionage officer Fabian Escalante and Mirta Muniz (Ocean Press, 1995).

During 1996 and 1997 the business slowed down. But the next year two monographs appeared. Gus Russo published Live By the Sword: How the Kennedy’s Secret War Against Castro Triggered JFK’s Assassination (Bancroft Press, 1998) and Peter Kornbluth edited Bay of Pigs Declassified: The Secret CIA Report on the Invasion of Cuba (New Press, 1998).

A year and a half later Bart Stuart Myers, et al, published The Secrets of Afro Cuban Divination (Inner Traditions International, 2000) and conservative Cuban exile Servando Gonzales wrote The Secret Fidel Castro: Deconstructing the Symbol (Intelibooks, 2001)

From the University of Miami the then director of Latin American Studies, Robert M Levine published Secret Missions to Cuba: Fidel Castro, Bernardo Benes and Cuban Miami (Palgrave, 2002). Two years later Jorge Masetti contributed to the trend with My Life as a Secret Agent for Castro (Encounter Books, 2004).

Don Bohning who worked for many years as a foreign correspondent for the Miami Herald wrote The Castro Obsession: US Covert Operations Against Cuba, 1959-1965 (Potomac Books, 2006). Bohning, however, did not reveal a secret of his own: he was a CIA confidential informant. [1]

A somewhat similar situation is found with Bradley Ayers who – the following year – published a book with the same word twice in the title of his book – The Zenith Secret: A CIA Insider Exposes the Secret War Against Cuba (Drench Kiss Media, 2007). Mr Ayers had a secret of his own too. He had an undercover assignment from the Pentagon to kill Fidel Castro. [2]

The year 2009 had a bumper crop of books dealing with the island’s secrets:

Jim Hunt and Bob Risch published Cuba on My Mind: The Secret Lives of Watergate Burglar Frank Sturgis (Xlibris Corporation, 2009). Sturgis, also known as Frank Fiorini had been a CIA asset.

Those who could not come up with high level government intrigue, nonetheless, made references to secrets of another kind. A case in point: Carlos Frias’ Take Me With You: A Secret Search for Family in a Forbidden Cuba (Atria Books, 2009). The secret and the forbidden fruit image when it comes to a tropical island certainly has an added sex appeal. And Harry Collingwood offered us The Rover’s Secret: A Tale of Pirate Cays and Lagoons of Cuba (Samizdat Press, 2009). Margarita Engle dealt with another form of migration into the island in the book Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba (Henry Holt, 2009). Ivor Miller produced a historical work entitled Voice of the Leopard: African Secret Societies in Cuba (University Press of Mississippi, 2009). This was indeed, a book that dealt with real secrets.

When the reference is not to secrets, there is a close approximation. Thus, Yoani Sanchez has a book published with the title Havana Real: One Woman Fights To Tell the Truth about Cuba Today (Translated by M. J. Porter.   Brooklyn, N.Y.: Melville House, 2011). In the same fashion, another term for secrets will be that which is not seen because it might be hidden. Jack Watson, Hidden Cuba: A Photojournalist’s Unauthorized Journey to Cuba to Capture Daily Life: 50 Years After Castro’s Revolution (Atlantic Publishing Group Inc. 2011).

The publishing market might be reaching the point of saturation as far as Cuba and secrets, but the assembly line continues. In 2012 David Barrett, et al, came out with Blind Over Cuba: The Photo Gap and the Missile Crisis (Texas A&M University Press, 2012). And Brian Latell – formerly a CIA analyst – published Castro’s Secrets: the CIA and Cuba’s Intelligence Machine (Palgrave, 2012).

If we were to review the academic as well as popular press, there are literally hundreds of articles telling us about the real or purported island’s secrets. The secrecy claim crossed over into other arenas – such as tours to the island under the “People to People” licenses issued by the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the US Treasury Department.

By 2013 every major tour operator promised to reveal to us a hidden Havana or Cuba. Thus the company InsightCuba advertises: “Live from Cuba: Hidden Havana” [3]. And an English tour agency advertised “Hidden Destinations” from England offers Cuba [4] And the discerning traveler can go with Esencia travel to “Hidden Havana” which happens to be: ” The grand dame of Cuba seduces with her fading elegance. Delve behind the facades of Havana’s decaying urban veneer and the street stereotypes to experience life with habaneros. Esencia Experiences can introduce you to artists, writers, musicians, coleccionistas and historians who can spotlight the capital’s growing cultural life. Capture the permanent and witness the ephemeral with Esencia’s guides on the ultimate insider tours.” [5] The English Guardian on 29 Nov 2013 reports on Cuba’s hidden treasure: La Isla de la Juventud. [6] Educational tours can purchase DVDs such as Cuba’s Secret Side. [7] The Annenberg School of journalism advertises: ” Journey to Cuba reveals a hidden world of beauty, contradictions.” [8] But while some might see “contradictions” others find Paradise Lost! [9] And the papers in Miami certainly see hidden threats. [10]

The literature on Cuba as a secret or as beckoning island waiting to be “discovered” is highly USA-centric. Only the American people and its institutions have been denied – by US policy – the normal interaction and contact that other people around the world have enjoyed. In a sense, Americans are not “discovering” Cuba – they are simply discovering what they have been denied as US citizens: a right that the rest of the world enjoyed. Canadians, Mexicans, and Europeans have all been able to travel to Cuba and don’t find many secrets there. US corporate media and publishing, in trying to “sell” information about Cuba, have fallen into a boring trap of repeating the same tired clichés about “secrets” and “discovery.”

* I would like to thank Robert Sandels and Alisa Valdés for the commentaries and suggestions they provided.

Notes.

[1] http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/JFKbohning.htm

[2] http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/JFKayers.htm

[3]http://insightcuba.com/blog/2013/03/11/live-from-cuba-hidden-havana

[4]http://www.exploration-online.co.uk/article.php?id=547

[5] http://www.esenciaexperiences.com/cuba-travel-advice-cuban-experiences/hidden-havana.php

[6] http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2013/nov/29/cuba-isla-de-la-juventud-diving

[7] http://www.cubassecretside.com/

[8] http://annenberg.usc.edu/News%20and%20Events/News/120904CubaClass.aspx

[9] http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P3-1215117691.html

[10] http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/10/13/3049063/secret-nukes-the-untold-story.html#storylink=cpy

 

More articles by:

Nelson P. Valdes is Professor Emeritus at the University of New Mexico.

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