If the history of Cuba is, as one observer remarked, the history of sugar, it is also a chronicle of relentless struggle against slavery, racism, injustice and, above all, domination by foreign powers, most notably Spain and the United States. Based on nearly two decades of research, Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution offers a sweeping history of this all-important island, ranging from the Ciboney Indians, who settled in Cuba around 1,000 B.C., to the Cuba Libre movement led by Jose Marti, to the tenure of Fidel Castro's government. Although Castro's overthrow of Batista and his subsequent alliance with the Soviet Union shocked many observers in the United States, Louis Perez reveals that the antecedents of revolution run deep and wide through the Cuban past. He describes the vegueros rebellion against the Bourbons in the mid 18th century, the slave rebellion of 1843, called "La Escalera" after the ladder used to torture many of the rebels, and the improbable "Sergeants Revolt" of 1933 (where a group of sergeants presented a list of grievances to their commanding officers, who refused to read the list and then abandoned their posts, leaving the surprised sergeants at the head of a mutiny that soon overthrew the government). Perez is particularly skillful at tracing the development of two competing strands of Cubanidad and explaining how this dualism has been one of the principal sources of tension in Cuban history, between political solutions and armed struggle, between reform and revolution. This vividly written volume concludes with two extensive chapters on Castro's rise to power and communism in Cuba. Perez provides an even-handed assessment of the Castro years, highlighting the achievements in education (universities have increased tenfold) and health care (life expectancy has gone from 57 to 74 years of age), and the marked economic failures, including the disastrous attempt to wean the country from its dependence on sugar exports. An authoritative history of the largest and most important island in the Caribbean, Cuba will be essential reading for anyone trying to understand the present turmoil in Latin America.
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