Fidel Castro is dead. I can’t say RIP. Coincidentally, I just finished reading Lights Out: A Cuban Memoir of Betrayal and Survival by Dania Rosa Nasca. Dania spent her childhood in Cuba under Castro and despises him for what he did to her homeland and her family. Her parents supported Castro’s revolution to depose Fulgencio Batista’s harsh rule and supposedly end dictatorship. Batista may have been a controlling dictator, but life was still good for the people, although it is likely things were going downhill due to corruption.
A charismatic Castro promised to bring back “the rule of law established by the republic’s constitution,” and became the people’s savior. Instead, he imposed a totalitarian government. Dania’s mother was traumatized by this betrayal and its effects and then by leaving her beloved elderly mother and other family behind to escape in 1970 on a US-sponsored Freedom Flight. She gave her children a better life, but was left mourning the past, “Mi Cubita, mi Cubita, how I loved you and how I lost you.”
I wanted to read Lights Out because I didn’t know much about Cuba, and the country is in the news these days due to renewing relations with the US after years of embargo to punish Castro. Of course, Castro wasn’t hurt by the embargo but his people were. Dictators and their henchmen always live well while the regular people suffer. Ms. Nasca details how a diverse population and thriving economy (based on sugar cane) spiraled down under Castro, while he touted to the world Cuba’s healthcare improvements and racial harmony. According to Ms. Nasca, the healthcare improvements were for the elite followers while already good healthcare for the masses disintegrated. And racial harmony had existed before, but now “Judas goats” were spying on others regardless of race and reporting “bad” behavior to the authorities in return for favors.
Lights Out was a fast read for me, fascinating and unpleasant to learn how Castro fooled his followers and how communism works—or doesn’t. How more people might have escaped on Freedom Flights except they didn’t want to abandon their young male relatives who were all forbidden to leave. Dania combines her own childhood experiences with stories from her family and friends and with lots of research (sources documented in the end notes). She is definitely bitter at the loss of what Cuba once was, before Castro’s takeover in 1959. I did a little research of my own to find complicated Cuba was not all rosy before, but Castro definitely turned things dark. He won’t be forgotten, but now there is a light of hope as his brother Raul may feel more free to implement more changes to unburden his people.
“Soon there will be no one to remember the character of our street or of Cuba before Castro.” With her memoir, Lights Out, Dania has done her part to capture the lived history and culture of a country she and her family loved long ago. I highly recommend reading this book.