Cuba Confidential

Film & Literature
March 11, 2010 11:28 am

Spring Break 2010: Cuba

In roughly a week and a half I will be in Cuba, and I am not slipping through Mexico to make it happen. In fact, I am part of a humanitarian aid trip bringing donated medicine and supplies to the island. About 30 of us Northwestern students will essentially function as (good, legal) drug mules and then spend a week in Cuba distributing the supplies, traveling around the island and volunteering at youth and Jewish community centers. (While the trip is organized through Hillel, non-Jewish students like myself can attend, too.)

I am beyond excited to see this country I have known so little about for so long, and to be able to help others at the same time. As with any place I’m living in or traveling to, I have been making an effort to read up on the history, culture, politics and customs of Cuba. Tara and I both firmly believe we — and anyone, really — get so much more out of a vacation, travel or adventure if we spend a little time learning about the destination beforehand. Whether that’s watching a film, reading recent articles about the country or calling up someone who knows more about it than you, it’s totally worth it. In this case, I borrowed the book Cuba Confidential: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana from one of my roommates who participated in the same Cuba trip two years prior.


Photo courtesy of


The dynamo reporter and in-house (American) expert on all things Cuba, Anne Louise Bardach, penned the book, which tells the stories of Elian Gonzalez and Fidel Castro. It also mixes in explanations and history of the strange, often childish relations between Cuba and the U.S., attitudes and activities of Cuban immigrants and those still living on the island, as well as the Cuban social fabric of Miami (which is so much more complex than I ever had imagined). Somehow, it manages to stay cohesive, too. Whether you’re an aspiring Cuba scholar or really don’t know much about any sort of Cuban revolution beyond Dirty Dancing Havana Nights, I highly recommend Bardach’s book. It’s entertaining, well written and extremely informative, thanks to Bardach’s thorough research and knowledge.

Below are some interesting, often surprising, bits of information I gleaned from reading Cuba Confidential:

  • Smugglers charge anywhere from $500 to $10,000 per person to travel from Miami to Florida. It is estimated that only about half those who try to cross make it alive.
  • A popular joke in Cuba in the 1990s was, “What are the triumphs of the Revolution?” “Education, health care and athletics.” “And what are the failures?” “Breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
  • Following the failure of the CIA’s Bay of Pigs invasion, some government intelligence high-ups developed Operation Northwoods, “the most corrupt plan ever developed by the U.S. government,” according to James Bamford, a journalist and author who writes about United States intelligence agencies. “The plan called for innocent people to be shot on American streets; for boats fleeing Cuba to be sunk on the high seas; for a wave of violent terrorism to be launched in Washington D.C., Miami and elsewhere… Using phony evidence, all of this would be blamed on Fidel Castro.” Then, as the motivation went, the government would have an excuse to launch a war.
  • Castro’s father was a guajiro (country rustic) who, under the United Fruit Company, worked his way to become one of the wealthiest landowners in the region.
  • Bardach’s blunt, direct quote: “Infidelity is the national sport in Cuba.”

-Karina for TKGO

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  • Karina, I’m so jealous of your upcoming trip! Please take lots of pictures. I just took a class on Cuba and am now dying to go. It sounds like it will be an amazing trip. What a great way to help the people on the island.

  • I definitely will take a ton of pictures and video, too. I still can’t believe I’m going, and so soon!

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