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Reviewed by:
  • The Revolution from Within: Cuba, 1959–1980 ed. by Michael J. Bustamante and Jennifer L. Lambe
  • William O. Deaver Jr.*
Bustamante, Michael J., and Jennifer L. Lambe, The Revolution from Within: Cuba, 1959–1980. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2019.

The editors of this ambitious volume, history professors at Florida International University and Brown University, respectively, have compiled essays by twelve historians from Mexico, Cuba, the United States, and the United Kingdom to give a balanced perspective on the first two decades of the Cuban Revolution. The essays are well-crafted analyses that are devoid of propagandistic conclusions or platitudes since the historians have assumed the roles of "both critic and philosopher" (33). The book's three sections smoothly transition and overlap in an enjoyable and informative format. The scholars overcame the obstacles of bilateral travel restrictions and the lack of readily available source material in Cuba due to "bureaucratic, financial, or procedural matters" (48). They emphasize that these hurdles have often led to a unilateral perspective, since "Cuban histories written through and exclusively in reference to the United States risk hyperbolizing and even reifying that power." As such, "U.S.-centrism, even when critical and well-intentioned, has sometimes run dangerously close to rewriting Cuban history in its own political and ideological image" (307). By including Cuban scholars in the discourse, history becomes a collaborative field of play rather than an ideological competition. [End Page 431]

The essayists explore such diverse topics as deterministic geography, which limits human development, versus "possibilist" geography, which seeks to transform the environment to benefit humanity. The chapter on this topic evaluates the efforts to increase potable water reservoirs, reclaim wetlands, and prevent deforestation or erosion. These efforts met with varied levels of success and failure. Another historian explores the effective use of media to lionize Fidel Castro while undermining the Fulgencio Batista dictatorship by contrasting the former's public benevolence with the latter's tyranny. Another scholar illustrates the dichotomy between state-sanctioned activities such as ballet, which was taught by instructors in battle fatigues complemented by a sidearm to signal masculinity and militancy, and more subversive forms of dance such as cabaret, which recalls the profligate lifestyle that was rampant prior to the revolution that had to evolve in order to survive under new political constraints. The author concludes that "cabaret embodied a liberated revolutionary spirit, while ballet represented a disciplined revolutionary consciousness" (147).

Another essay explores how name-brand commodities that had previously been available disappeared as Cuba turned to socialism. Consequently, products merely bore the name of the item rather than the name of the manufacturers who produced them. For instance, a picture of an advertisement depicts an iron as simply an iron with its technical specifications. While this effort to eliminate the whims of consumer society was an attempt to make household objects accessible to people with limited finances, it led to youths sewing or drawing logos and US flags on their clothing. The essayist asks, "How can we reconcile these two faces of Soviet influence—economic pragmatism and consumption, on the one hand, and cultural narrowing, on the other?" (190).

Another chapter evaluates the creation of museums and holidays to celebrate the revolution as a static fait accompli instead of a dynamic movement. "Commemoration, in other words, was everywhere, but few new domestic milestones appeared worthy of state-sanctioned remembrance in the future" (235). The essayist emphasizes that the hyperbolic celebration of past achievements becomes ludicrous when they become ubiquitous and new achievements worth celebrating are noticeably absent.

Poignant illustrations punctuate the essays, such as the editorial comic strips in 1980 that depicted some of the 125,000 Marielitos who sought asylum in the Peruvian embassy before fleeing the island. The effects of this mass exodus led to persecution of those seeking exit visas through "acts of repudiation" that [End Page 432] labeled them as degenerates, criminals, vagrants, prostitutes, homosexuals, and animals. The rhetorical strategy that presented them as undesirables sought to "prove that the mass exodus was not at all connected with a failure of the socialist model" (262–263). Such rhetoric cast refugees who left the island as pariahs in order to diminish their...


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