Sarah Rainsford was the BBC’s correspondent in Cuba from 2011-14. Known as “Our woman in Havana” it feels like a throwback to a time when the UK 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 Cuba.
Life is not easy for Rainsford as she faces difficulties sending her reports back to the UK, government restrictions on her work and the self-censorship of local people as she goes around interviewing the Cuban woman and man on the street.
She uses Graham Greene’s 1958 novel “Our Man in Havana” to explore 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.
Rainsford also explores the life of another female correspondent 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: this is the challenge facing Raul 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 USA.
Likewise whilst 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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