Not A Love Story, But Better

What Lies Across the Water
The Real Story of the Cuban Five

By Stephen Kimber  

Without wanting to brag, I must say that four or five months is an unusually long time for me to read a book, especially one that’s less than 300 pages long. After all, my Grade 6 teacher assigned me to read the massive “Gone With the Wind” because she knew I could breeze through it in less than a week and still manage to retain important information about plot development – despite the “cast of thousands” that novel’s Hollywood adaptation boasted of possessing.

“What Lies Across the Water” also has a large cast, but otherwise it has few things in common with “Gone With the Wind,” except they both started as love stories.

“This is not the book I intended to write,” Kimber begins his prologue. “That book was to be a novel, a love story set partly in Cuba. In the spring of 2009, I travelled to Havana to do some preliminary research for it, and got sideswiped by the truth-is-stranger-but-way-more-interesting story of the Cuban Five.”

If Kimber had not gotten sidetracked, his book would no doubt have been a much quicker read, but instead he launched into an enormously complicated subject – a subject that needed a considerable amount of time to digest. To have rushed through the book without taking the time to fully understand what was happening would not have done justice to the people involved – and justice is what “What Lies Across the Water” is all about. Or rather, the apparent lack of justice in today’s world.

The Cuban Five, as Kimber points out, are not as well known as they should be outside of Cuba and Miami, Florida. They’re hardly known at all, despite the fact their case largely governs relations between Cuba and the United States.

“After you read that speech,” one of Kimber’s sources told him, referring to Fidel Castro describing co-operation between the FBI and Cuban State Security in order to prevent acts of terrorism prepared on American soil (co-operation ultimately squandered by the Americans), “you’ll begin to understand why the Five matter so much here and why nothing can really be resolved between Havana and Washington until they are returned to Cuba. But you’ll only begin to understand.… It’s complicated.”

What makes it so is not just the many characters involved, but the truly labyrinthine machinations of American politics that turned what could have been an improvement in Cuban-American relations into an even worse situation, with the Americans working against their own best interests solely to satisfy a decades-old obsession of Florida’s influential community of exiled Cubans.

In short, the Cuban Five (and others) were sent to the United States to prevent terrorist attacks launched by the exiles against Cuba from Florida – attacks mostly ignored by American authorities. Those arrested and imprisoned (following a trial in Miami, where the jury could not help but be composed of people who were fully indoctrinated against anything to do with the current Cuban regime) had more to do with outdated ideology and winning votes than with law and justice.

Fortunately, it’s not the job of a columnist and occasional book reviewer to divulge all the mind-boggling complications, to expose them and explain them to the world. Fortunately, it was Stephen Kimber who took on the task and spent almost four years researching every detail, tracking every lead and interviewing every character he could reach. He approached the story as the talented veteran journalist he is and he produced a book worthy of its important subject matter – a subject that should be of interest to anyone concerned, not only with the history of North American politics, but with its future as well.

Kimber began his book explaining his intention to write a love story, saying that in the end he did not. He’s wrong. That’s exactly what he wrote, but it’s not a love story between a man and a woman. It’s about his own love affair with justice.

–Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.

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