“Revolutions usually replace one group of incompetent autocratic [pigs] with another, and the real losers are everyone else.” So believes “Mac” McCormick, the cynical protagonist of Nelson DeMille’s new bestselling thriller, The Cuban Affair. Up to a point, it seems to be a fair representation of the author’s own perspective on Cuba, the setting of this cleverly conceived adventure story. Mac steadfastly professes to be indifferent to politics, but elsewhere he betrays his own, and the author’s, comfortable acceptance of the one-sided views of the Cuban American activists who enlist him in a harebrained scheme to sabotage the thaw in relations between the two countries.
Doubtless, there are a great many things very wrong about the way the Castro brothers have run Cuba over the past half-century and more. The country is, in fact, a police state. In every neighborhood, there is a local “Committee for the Defense of the Revolution,” or CDR, which reports suspicious views and activities to the police. Journalists whose reports depart from the government line are arrested and jailed. Dissent is quickly crushed. Cuban prisons currently hold dozens of political prisoners, according to Human Rights Watch, although far from the hundreds that were imprisoned in years past. (Frequently, dissidents are jailed but soon released, making it easier for the government to insist there are “no political prisoners.”) Yet by far the worst outcome of the Cuban Revolution is the nearly ubiquitous poverty created by the inefficiency and incompetence of the country’s state socialist system. Half the population survives on less than $1 a day.
The Cuban Affair by Nelson DeMille @@@@ (4 out of 5)
It’s important to recognize all those problems—but they are by no means the whole story. In Cuba, literacy is universal. Healthcare is free and available to all, provided by a state-run healthcare system that is widely recognized as excellent. (Cubans live as long as Americans at less than a tenth the cost, and infant mortality is lower than America’s.) Cuba’s free, universal educational system puts school systems in the rest of Latin America to shame: “pupils in Cuba’s lowest income schools outperformed most upper middle class students in the rest of the region.” And there is very little serious crime. Yet none of these facts are acknowledged in The Cuban Affair. The picture presented of Cuba today is unrelievedly bleak.
Nelson DeMille‘s new novel is essentially a conventional adventure story—another bestselling thriller in a long line of such books from DeMille. Mac McCormick is a decorated former US Army captain who now operates a charter boat out of Key West who believes such things as “Honesty is the best policy, unless you could lie and get away with it” and “I spent most of my money on booze and broads and I wasted the rest of it.” He is recruited by a group of Cuban Americans from Miami with a promise of a $3 million payoff. Their plan is to enter Cuba with a Yale University educational tour, desert the tour group, and make their way hundreds of miles from Havana to recover $60 million in cash hidden away there in 1959 when a banker fled to the US. As I’ve noted, it’s a harebrained scheme. Nobody should be surprised when it all goes awry.
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