New book eloquently describes tragedy of Cuban exile

Book Review
Love, Loss and Longing: The Impact of U.S. Travel Policy on Cuban-American Families
By Jeanne Parr Lemkau and David L. Strug
Latin American Working Group Fund/Washington Office on Latin America, 2007
Softcover, 49 pages, $20

For people you know who are impervious to what you tell them about the triumphs of the Cuban Revolution or the evils of U.S. Cuba policy, but who have good hearts and can be moved by stories of human tragedy and triumph, here is an excellent holiday present.

‘Love, Loss and Longing,” written by Jeanne Parr Lemkau and David L. Strug and copiously illustrated with photographs by Nestor Hernandez Jr. and Juan E. Gonzalez Lopez, is neither a compendium of statistics nor a dry narrative of events, but a series of short, colorful accounts of what U.S. Cuba policy does to Cuban immigrants in the USA and their relatives, both here and back on the island.

Supporters of the Cuban Revolution, like this reviewer, will not agree with some of the critical comments made about Cuba’s socialist government, especially in letters from various politicians that are reproduced in the book.

But the book has a worthy didactic and tactical political purpose, which is to show Americans very vividly how the U.S.-imposed blockade and travel restrictions, and especially new restrictions on Cuban-American travel to see relatives in Cuba that Bush imposed in 2004, are hurting perfectly innocent people. And it speaks well of the majority of the people of the USA that the government can only sell them on its anti-Cuba policies by claiming to be ‘helping’ the very people it is harming.

A concise introduction by Wayne Smith, President Jimmy Carter’s former envoy to Havana (and someone who is now working to end the blockade), deftly sets out the legal and political issues surrounding the restrictions on Cuban-Americans visiting their relatives in Cuba. The book then continues as a series of illustrated vignettes about how families in Cuba and the United States are hurt by this intransigent and vicious policy.

The material was gathered through interviews with 53 Cuban immigrants and Cuban-Americans in the United States. Each of them tells a story of blocked or restricted opportunities to visit loved ones in Cuba, or to send old or sick relatives needed supplies. Some of the stories are heartbreaking.

A soldier who fought at Falluja in Iraq is not allowed by the Bush administration to go to Cuba to visit his young sons, and asks what would happen if he were to now be killed in battle after this cruel denial.

Marisela, age 54, is not allowed to visit her elderly, sick father in Cuba, and can not send him a supply of adult diapers because our government in Washington has decided that these are not ‘medicine,’ or to send money to the people who were giving him round-the-clock nursing care because they are not ‘family.’

Cuba has a good system for caring for the elderly and infirm, but that is not the point. Marisela wanted to help her father as an expression of love, not because he was lying unattended in Cuba, but our government would not let her. Her father became despondent and died.

Marlene, 39, of Miami, is the single mother of a 4-year-old. Her 74-year-old mother in the city of Guantanamo needs an operation but is afraid to undergo it unless her daughter can be with her. Again, I would trust the Cuban health care system in such a situation more than I would trust the U.S. system, but any elderly person undergoing surgery with full anesthesia is at risk.

So why can’t the old woman have her daughter with her holding her hand? Because U.S. law now does not allow Marlene to visit her mother more than once in three years. She would go anyway, in violation of the law, but she is afraid that if she were prosecuted her child would be taken away from her. What a horrible situation to put a loving daughter and mother into!

The attitudes of the interviewees toward the Cuban Revolution are varied, but that is not the point. All of them feel they are now being oppressed not by the Cuban government, but by Washington.

For us on the left, these stories are also a reminder that the ‘Cuban exile’ community is not monolithic. It also shows the Miami hard-liners are less and less representative of the people for whom they claim to speak, but whose real interests they so cynically betray.

The book can be ordered at .