Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Marc Frank's revelation

I’m glad to call him my friend.  But most people know Marc Frank, the best economics reporter in Cuba, as a Reuters guy who writes in his trade’s short, clipped style. 

The first thing he reveals in his new book, Cuba Revelations, is that he has another style at his disposal.  The book is beautifully written – with wire-service economy, abundant and interesting detail, affection for Cuba and its people, and the benefit of observations that stretch back 20 years and, frequently, to places as far away as Guantanamo, 600 miles from his Havana home. 

If the topics in this blog are remotely interesting to you, you should buy this book. 

Its central story has to do with the economic changes being wrought by the Raul Castro government, their impact on the society, their successes and failures, and the resistance they face from ideologues and the bureaucracy.  He writes about official documents and data that make their way to him – for example, outlining the 2008 balance of payments crunch that followed three hurricanes in that year of global financial crisis.  But it’s not a data-heavy economics book.  It’s more about the changes in society and the politics of the revolution that stem from a program that is remaking the economy, rewriting the social contract, and changing most everyone’s way of doing business.  Throughout, it benefits from quips, reflections, and anecdotes that come from provincial farm contacts that he developed as a commodity reporter 20 years ago, all the way to his daughter’s high school friends who crashed in his house. 

It’s a political leadership story that covers the Fidel-to-Raul succession.  It gives a cold-eyed assessment of the dissidents and U.S. policy under Presidents Bush and Obama.  It notes the importance of the Catholic church.  It explains what’s right and what’s lacking in Cuban health care and education.  It presents his explanation of why the Arab Spring is not coming to Cuba.  And lots more.

Marc returns time and again to the boat that the United States has missed, and often studiously avoided: the vast number of Cubans, many in positions of responsibility, that want change but don’t want regime change, that want their government fixed but not torn down and rebuilt, least of all by outsiders.  He calls this sector the “gray zone.”

He has insight into the Cuban character, but he also has the humility to stick with the century-old assessment of a writer whom he cites, which is that when it comes to figuring Cubans out, we often can’t even come close. 

A great read, available here on Amazon.

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