08/21/13 - CUBA STANDARD (Tampa) - Book Review: What I Learned about Cuba by Going
Antonio R. Zamora What I Learned about Cuba by Going to Cuba 140 pages Cuba
Libre Publications Miami, 2013
By Johannes Werner
One-and-half million of close to 13 million Cubans live outside the island.
That's not particularly outstanding in the Caribbean context, where
emigration is a fact of life - just think Jamaica, the Dominican Republic,
or Puerto Rico, half of whose population lives in mainland USA.
What sets Cuba apart is the fact that the country went through a radical
revolution that expelled most of its elite. Tens of thousands of business
owners, executives, lawyers, doctors and other professionals left in the
1960s, intent on taking back their country as soon as possible.
That was more than half a century ago. Today, as the veterans of the
Revolution are handing power to the next generation, there are few signs of
such a re-taking.
That, not surprisingly, has triggered individual rethinking among elite
Cuban Americans over the course of the past 10 years. Obviously, most don't
have a lot of love left for the ruling system and are eager to see a very
different Cuba emerge in their lifetime. But what role do I want to take?
Will I stay intransigente, refuse to set foot on the island, battle Castro
from Miami, fight to maintain the U.S. embargo, and return as a victor once
the Revolution is overthrown? Or will I accept the fact that there has been
an authentic revolution on the island, travel to Cuba and try to play a
role in a transition, as many wealthy exile Chinese have done in Shanghai,
Beijing and Hong Kong during the Communist transition to more market?
Antonio Zamora, 72, chose the latter.
The son of a dean of the law school at the University of Havana, he spent
most of his youth walking a rather common path - enthusiastic support of
Batista's overthrow, disillusionment with the Revolution, resistance,
exile, participation in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, prisoner of war,
release to Miami, getting a law degree from the University of Florida,
successful law practice in Miami with some of the biggest law firms,
counsel for the anti-Castro Cuban American National Foundation.
But then, sometime in the early 1990s, Zamora gradually turned into a
"dissident." This shift culminated in a small ceremony in which the Cuban
government re-issued him and other exiles a passport.
What I learned about Cuba by Going to Cuba is the explanation of his
conversion from a Bay of Pigs fighter to a frequent Havana traveler. The
first four chapters are about this personal journey; having known Zamora
for one-and-half decades - we first met in Havana in 1999 - this was what I
was most curious about when I opened the book. Through our conversations, I
heard bits and pieces of his thinking, but this was the first time I got
the whole package. he does not disappoint. To be sure, if you expect
emotions from Zamora, you are in the wrong boat - in dry, factual prose,
the lawyer lays out the evidence to make the case for his change of mind.
But it's precisely this dispassionate approach that sets him apart from
most Cuban American actors. This, combined with patience and persistence,
is what makes Zamora so effective in prodding for a change in attitudes and
rhetoric among his Cuban American peers and a broader U.S. audience.
Another unique part of this book - and probably the most interesting aspect
for business readers - is Zamora's description of the Cuban legal system,
and his encounters with Cuban law practitioners. Unbeknownst to many
outsiders, in the Latin American context Cuba's judiciary is a fairly
What I learned about Cuba is not just a testimonial but also a carefully
framed manifesto; the last two chapters make the case for talks and
diplomacy. In The Possibility of Negotiations and Dialogue chapter, Zamora
wades into a historical reconstruction of two of the most successful
examples of U.S.-Cuban talks in the past half-century. Both happened in
circumstances that were much more difficult than today's. The first success
happened amid outrage and despair - the negotiations that eventually led to
the release of the failed Bay of Pigs invaders. The second - the dialogue
initiated under President Jimmy Carter 35 years ago - came about amid the
Cold War and acts of sometimes bloody terror in Miami against dialogueros.
Nevertheless, the dialogue laid the groundwork to the little diplomacy that
exists today between the United States and Cuba.
Zamora's book fits into the rising number of efforts among elite Cuban
Americans to insert themselves into the transition process that has begun
in Cuba - think along the lines of the return of Cambio Cubano leader Eloy
Gutiérrez Menoyo to Havana 10 years ago, or Cuba Study Group founder Carlos
Saladrigas' call for normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations four years ago.
For Cubanologists, this is a must-read; What I learned about Cuba is very
helpful to get insights into the changing mindset of Cuban American power
Johannes Werner is editor of Cuba Standard
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