I think of a speech that Winston Churchill gave in the House of Commons when Neville Chamberlain died in 1940. The great British wartime prime minister - who first saw action in Cuba as a young man, where he began to smoke large cigars - described to Parliament how history, "with its flickering lamp, stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days." So it is that my concern here is with the flickering myths, untold stories, and simple facts that surround the life and businesses of Cuba's once-richest man, and the Cuba in which he lived. Sometimes I have turned to my mother's family to help reveal these half-hidden times. This is not out of any sense of vanity. Rather it is because they also formed part of a prerevolutionary way of life that supposedly heaped so many inequities on the island that civil war, the exile of a tenth of the population, and the enduring struggle of those who remained were somehow inevitable. Shrunken, their stories form part of a calumnious revolutionary narrative that diminishes Cuba's past - sometimes inglorious, but not always. Expanded and brought back to life, they also suggest happier futures.
Excerpted from The Sugar King of Havana by John Paul Rathbone. Reprinted by arrangement with The Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. Copyright (c) John Paul Rathbone, 2010.
Blood at the Root
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