Almost lost from our collective memory is New York Times correspondent Ruby Hart Phillips, who wrote Cuba, Island of Paradox, available through your better local public libraries.
Hers is a “personal story” with a peculiar point of view not open to the “ugly reality” of Cuban history. For example, a 100-plus page section on Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista fails to mention American gangster Meyer Lansky, a known Batista collaborator.
If you were to read only one book on Cuban history, this would definitely not be the one I’d recommend. In some areas, the book shows the author’s desire to see what Americans want to see, and she seems to not understand the ambivalence that Cubans feel about their mammoth neighbor.
This is how she describes Batista (on page 260); “One of the finest qualities of Batista is a natural warmth that is quite independent of his political status or his strategy. His friendliness was absolutely sincere, not only to me, but to everyone he spoke with. For exactly this reason few people could resist his charm. Foreigners, especially Americans, always left his presence favorably impressed and convinced that he was doing everything possible for his country. He must have believed this himself.”
On the next page she puts on a reporter’s hat. “He managed Cuba by means of counterpoint, sometimes in the interest of the nation, and sometimes to perpetuate his own regime. He was a master at playing his enemies against each other, keeping them busy quarreling among themselves. During his regime, despite the tremendous opposition that grew up against him, the opposing political parties could never unite into a solid front against him. Only an armed rebellion could have ever overthrown Batista.”
Ruby’s seeming lack of experience was one of the factors that got Matthews sent to Cuba in early 1957 to investigate whether Castro was dead (as the Batista government implied) and there seems to have been some differences of opinion between the two correspondents.
Unlike what many claim to this day, however, I didn’t for once think that she was blatantly rubber-stamping everything the government said and did (a la Fox News), and consider that her criticisms of the Batista regime were just too subtle and subdued to be effective, perhaps out of personal fear, perhaps out of political innocence and lack of investigative experience. She was obviously not a Batista supporter, even if she rubbed elbows with the Batistianos and had doubts about Castro.
Such levels of subtleties are no longer part of the political landscape, as opponents are “evil” and God is “our side.” I’m not making a reference to President Bush’s rhetoric about countries he’d like to invade militarily, but about the way Republicans and Democrats seem to be conducting themselves of late.
Perhaps, like Cuba, the U.S. will one day function under a one-party system, but that’s a political change I do not look forward to. Peace.