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Can only a Cuban write about Cuba?

November 03, 2002

How does one begin to respond to Carlos Eire's review of my book "Cuba Confidential: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana," a misinformed polemic that seamlessly demonstrates the central argument of my book? Eire's contention that Cuban loss and suffering is so unique, so special, that only Cubans should write about the subject is, well, preposterous -- and unacceptable.

Eire's blindness leads him to a willful misreading of my book. He posits several arguments based on statements that he claims to have read in my book, but these statements or sentiments are not to be found in my book. For example, Eire states that the premise of my book is that "the Cuban Revolution should be seen as a family feud," when what I wrote was that the subsequent 43-year-old standoff "has proven so intractable, so immune to resolution" because "in part, with no diminishment intended, it is a huge family feud filled with the corresponding heartbreak, rancor and bitterness."

Indeed, it was my hope that the metaphor of the shattered family would humanize the exile struggle during the post-Elian period when exiles have been, at times, demonized. Nevertheless, only the first two chapters specifically reference the broken Cuban family; the next 10 chapters deal with the political and ideological factions of the Cuban Revolution and those that exist today within the diaspora, in Cuba and in Washington.

Eire also mistakenly claims that I wrote that "being subjected to the Pedro Pan exodus counts as a privilege." This is a fabrication. The book variously described the Pedro Pan airlift as a "painful experience" and "a wrenching estrangement" for the children it sought "to save from being raised in a communist country." My book quotes Nelson Valdes, an exile historian, who like Eire endured the Pedro Pan airlift, as enumerating some of the benefits particular to Cuban exiles. However, Valdes does not suggest that being uprooted from one's family was one of them. Curiously, Eire entirely ignores the comments of Valdes and other Pedro Pans quoted in my book -- perhaps because their belief that Elian Gonzalez should have been reunited with his father is inconveniently at odds with his strongly felt views.

While my book goes to pains to document the repressive and suffocating nature of Cuban life under Fidel Castro, along with the stunning achievements of Cuban Americans ("and the breadth of their successes"), it also points out that Cuban exiles are the most privileged immigrants ever to come to the U.S. Indeed, exiles have even successfully crafted an immigration policy that favors them over all other immigrants. Eire views these facts as prejudicial but offers nothing to dispute them.

A more grievous error is Eire's claim that my book contends that repression and fear in Miami were "perhaps more profound" than that in Cuba when in fact, I have gone to considerable lengths to distinguish between state-sponsored repression and that generated by a community. My point, which Eire contorts himself to duck at all times, is that the erosion of free expression and democratic ideals in exile Miami has been considerable and worthy of our attention.

While Eire asks that attention be paid to his own traumatic story, he is keen to dismiss the sufferings of Cubans who disagree with his convictions. Focusing his criticism on me as an uncomprehending "outsider," he simply ignores the fact that my book is entirely sourced by Cubans -- an estimated 300 interviews from both sides of the Florida Straits. And while his narrative oozes with postured condescension and sarcasm, he produces no documentation to dispute anything in my book.

What informs every line of Eire's writing is his disappointment in reading a book that does not address his personal saga as a Pedro Pan refugee. Certainly, this is worthy material, but it is not the basis of this book. Woefully, Eire's review informs the reader about his own story but very little about my book.

Eire struggles to make the case that I am an insensitive clinician probing at the wound of the Cuban soul. But never could I have endured these 10 years in the war zone of the Cuban debate without a nagging, ceaseless empathy for the tragedy of the Cuban people.

Ann Louise Bardach

Santa Barbara


I am appalled that the reviewer chosen to comment on "Cuba Confidential" by Ann Louise Bardach is himself a Cuban emigre and one whose life was shattered, by his own admission, when his parents sent him off to the United States alone and unprotected in the early '60s. How anyone could expect an unbiased view from a person with such a history is beyond me.

Phyllis Spiva

Pacific Palisades


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