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Book Review Dubious dispatches from ‘our woman in Havana’

Our Woman in Havana: Reporting from Castro’s Cuba
by Sarah Rainsford
(Oneworld Publications, £18.99)


KNOWN as “Our woman in Havana,” Sarah Rainsford was the BBC’s correspondent in Cuba from 2011-14 and the title of her book feels like a throwback to a time when Britain was a world power that needed to send out foreign correspondents like missionaries — an irony probably not lost on Raul Castro as he did not grant her an interview during her tenure.


She arrives in Cuba as the country is once again having to reboot the revolution. Raul Castro unveils a new economic agenda, opening up markets for citizens to buy and sell houses and cars, set up businesses and travel in and out of the island


Life, according to Rainsford, is not easy. She faces difficulties sending her reports back to Britain, there are government restrictions on her work and self-censorship from local people as she goes around interviewing the Cuban woman and man on the street.


She references Graham Greene’s 1958 novel Our Man in Havana as she explores the last days of the Batista regime, linking it to present-day Cuba. At first, Greene wallowed in the licentiousness of Havana but was quickly revolted by it and went over to the revolution and a lifetime commitment to the socialist state.


And she explores the life of another female correspondent, the American Ruby Hart Phillips who reported from Cuba from 1937 to 1961.


In her interviews, Rainsford does show how Cubans, particularly the younger generation, are looking for a lifestyle similar to what they see on the internet, a challenge facing Castro and his successors.


The Cuban revolution is still alive but the constant assaults on it have led to the rise of new forces — including Christianity — which Rainsford highlights, although she fails to explore the ways in which it is being funded by the US.


Likewise, while interviewing Cubans who want to leave the country — and then do— she does not follow them abroad to see if the American dream has become a reality for them.


Rainsford’s reporting is at its best when she puts aside her own personal prejudices and allows the reader to experience the uniqueness of the history and beauty of Cuba.


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