NOT QUITE ALIVE

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - FOUNDATION DISCONTINUES COMMONWEALTH WRITERS’ PRIZ -

sym­pa­thies lie with the five, as would those of his Win­nipeg-based pub­lisher, which is known for its left-of-cen­tre books.

Ap­par­ently this is the first book on the Cuban Five. Kim­ber ad­mits in his ac­knowl­edge­ments it would have been be a tough sell to a U.S.-based pub­lisher be­cause it’s sym­pa­thetic to Cuban spies.

How­ever, there’s a far greater prob­lem with lapsed ob­jec­tiv­ity: The book’s struc­ture isn’t user-friendly.

Af­ter crisply out­lin­ing his sub­ject in the pro­logue, the book de­volves into a se­ries of nearly 100 episodic en­tries, ti­tled by place and date — Ha­vana, Fe­bru­ary, 1991; Key West, May 18, 1993; Mi­ami, March 8, 1994.

The en­tries date all the way back to 1990 and of­ten don’t bear any read­ily gras­pable re­la­tion to the book’s os­ten­si­ble topic — the ac­tiv­i­ties, ar­rests and sub­se­quent con­vic­tions of the Cuban Five.

The episodic en­tries are ca­pa­bly writ­ten, but af­ter 100 pages of text we’re only up to 1996, and you’re still look­ing for a nar­ra­tive thread to tie all th­ese baf­flingly dis­parate sto­ries to­gether.

All th­ese di­ver­gent episodes and play­ers may be nec­es­sary back­ground to an un­der­stand­ing of the pol­i­tics of the ar­rest and pros­e­cu­tion of the five, but it would be far more prefer­able if they were wo­ven, as seam­lessly as pos­si­ble, into the body of a co­her­ent nar­ra­tive.

Worse, the sheer num­ber of per­son­al­i­ties in th­ese episodes is con­found­ing. At the very least, the book cries out for a cast of prin­ci­pal char­ac­ters at its out­set, so when some­one sur­faces in the text you have some con­text for his or her role in the larger events as they un­fold.

The hot-but­ton is­sue be­tween the U.S and Cuba is the Amer­i­cans ar­rested the five Cuban agents in the wake of meet­ings be­tween the FBI and Cuban State Se­cu­rity in Ha­vana in which Cuban in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers gave in­for­ma­tion about Cuban-ex­i­le­group-spon­sored bomb­ings of tourist ho­tels to the Amer­i­cans.

The Cubans see the five’s ar­rest as a be­trayal of their in-good-faith at­tempted co-op­er­a­tion be­tween national in­tel­li­gence ser­vices.

How­ever, this over­looks the fact the five were pre­cisely what the Amer­i­cans al­lege — spies — and that the U.S. was onto them long be­fore the meet­ings in Ha­vana. More­over, Kim­ber ac­knowl­edges noth­ing was dis­closed in the meet­ings that iden­ti­fied any of the five.

Where Kim­ber is on more solid ground is in his con­tention the Cubans’ sen­tences were un­duly harsh and long. They range from 15 years to life im­pris­on­ment, and mainly not for ac­tual crim­i­nal acts, but merely con­spir­ing to com­mit them.

He also rightly crit­i­cizes Amer­i­can au­thor­i­ties for chron­i­cally look­ing the other way when Cubanex­ile groups plot in­sur­rec­tions and as­sas­si­na­tions from Amer­i­can soil, thereby vi­o­lat­ing the U.S.’s own Neu­tral­ity Act.

Kim­ber’s ac­count of the Cuban Five comes with a bit of bias. How­ever, it’s ul­ti­mately a com­pelling read, but only af­ter you doggedly sur­mount its dif­fi­cult struc­ture.

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