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  • Shifting Realities in Special Period Cuba
  • Archibald R. M. Ritter (bio)
Che's Afterlife: The Legacy of an Image. By Michael Casey. New York: Vintage Books, 2009. Pp. 388. $15.95 paper.
The Cuba Wars: Fidel Castro, the United States, and the Next Revolution. By Daniel P. Erikson. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2008. Pp. xiii + 352. $28.00 cloth.
Political Disaffection in Cuba's Revolution and Exodus. By Sylvia Pedraza. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Pp. xix + 359. $28.99 paper.
Looking Forward: Comparative Perspectives on Cuba's Transition. Edited by Marifeli Pérez-Stable. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007. Pp. xx + 332. $27.00 paper.
Cuba in the Shadow of Change: Daily Life in the Twilight of the Revolution. By Amelia Rosenberg Weinreb. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2009. Pp. 272. $69.95 cloth.
Cuban Currency: The Dollar and Special Period Fiction. By Esther Whitfield. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008. Pp. 217. $22.50 paper.

Revolutionary Cuba's golden age ended in 1988–1990, when the former Soviet Union adopted world prices in its trade with Cuba, ceased new lending, and discontinued its subsidization of the Cuban economy. The result was the economic meltdown of 1989–1994. In 1992, President Fidel Castro labeled the new époque the "Special Period in Time of Peace," a title that has, in 2010, lasted almost two decades. Many outside observers have imagined that Cuba would in time follow Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union in making a transition toward a more market-oriented economic system and perhaps a Western style of pluralistic democracy. This has not happened. The modest economic changes of the early 1990s have not led to sustained reform. Political reform has been almost undetectable. At times, rapid change has seemed inevitable and imminent. But at others, it has appeared that gerontocratic paralysis might endure well into the 2010s. Change will undoubtedly occur, but its trajectory, timing, [End Page 229] and character are difficult, if not impossible, to predict. When a process of transition does arrive, it will likely be unexpected, confused, and erratic, and it will probably not fit the patterns of Eastern Europe, China, or Vietnam.

The books included in this review focus mainly on changing realities during the Special Period and on the nature of prospective change, thus contributing valuably to the understanding of a range of issues in Cuba's existence in this era, which is in fact not special but instead the real world. The collection edited by Marifeli Pérez-Stable assumes that a transition will occur and asks what useful insights may be gleaned from the experiences of other Latin American, Eastern European, Asian, and Western European countries. These analyses constitute the best exploration to date of key aspects of the alternatives possibly available to Cuba in the future. Daniel P. Erikson's Cuba Wars examines U.S. domestic policies and relations with Cuba during the Special Period and concludes with the chapter "The Next Revolution." His historical yet popular treatment of this tragically dysfunctional relationship is probably the best and most readable available. The culture of Cuba's silent majority, or shadow public, is the focus of Amelia Weinreb. She fills a major vacuum in scholarship of the past twenty years by applying sociological-anthropological analysis to the character, aspirations, and behavior of a group that has been almost ignored, even though it probably constitutes a majority of Cuba's population. Sylvia Pedraza examines Cuba's evolving domestic political situation and the consequences for emigration in the past half century, including the two decades of the Special Period. Her analyses of immigrants' motivations and the patterns of immigration are likely to be seminal. Although perhaps outside the common purview of social science, Michael Casey provides a novel and convincing examination of how Cuba's government has capitalized on Che Guevara's brand—epitomized by Alberto Korda's iconic photograph—and how Che's image has been commercialized for political and financial ends, through property and trademark law, as well as the marketing mechanisms of international capitalism. Finally, Esther Whitfield explores cultural and literary changes in Cuban fiction in the Special Period, examining the impact of a two...


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