Carmel Valley author debuts 'Cuba Rising' with a talk in Monterey.
Thursday, February 18, 2010
Carmel Valley resident Jonathan Showe has been to Cuba close to 80 times. He understands the most populated island in the Caribbean, how it has resisted the tides of change – vintage American cars with large tailfins still cruise Havana’s cobblestone streets like sharks – how it still clings to communism, how it stuck with Fidel Castro for 49 years while its nearby northern neighbor the United States had 10 presidents. That familiarity with its timelessness, though, has bred anticipation for a transformation: he expects significant changes in the next few years, as he writes in the just-released Cuba Rising: An American Insider’s Perspective.
“It’s at a turning point,” Showe says. “I think the next few years will be very revealing.”
Cuba Rising is not a travel guide or a memoir but rather a book that explains the current nature of the island, how it became the way it is and where it is going. A former assistant to the president’s trade representative during the Nixon and Ford administrations, Showe seems most at home writing about Cuba’s economic situation. But he utilizes anecdotes to personalize Cuba Rising’s themes and help readers understand the human side of Cuba.
“I find that focusing on breadth rather than depth was consistent with my goal of sharing a general understanding of the country,” he says.
Since first visiting Cuba in 1998, Showe has discovered several ironies within Cuban society. He says one of his Cuban friends went to school with Fidel Castro and asked Showe to bring him tapes of movies like The Day the Earth Stood Still and Rebel Without a Cause to give to the Cuban leader.
“I was amused that this man who bedeviled the United States for nearly 50 years has a soft spot for these videos from the ’50s,” Showe says, “that may have somehow shaped his view of the United States as a young man.”
Another irony is that highly educated members of Cuba’s workforce have to frequently rely on service jobs for their income. Showe mentions a neurosurgeon he has hired several times as a driver during his Cuban visits, or his favorite bartender, who is also a trained jet pilot. In Cuba Rising, Showe says that this under-use of a highly trained workforce could become a gold mine of opportunity if the country’s economy is liberalized. The book’s final chapter predicts that Cuba could host a call center for a computer company rather than a shoe factory or a similar industry that would seem more at home in developing countries.
Still, Showe believes that even as economic changes occur, Cuba’s current powerbrokers will maintain political control.
“Within three to six years, I think you’ll see liberalization of the economy and an improved standard of living in Cuba,” he says. “I think this could proceed without there being a change in government.”