By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Empty Money

Lobby of the Hotel Nacional de Cuba in Havana 
This book is about Julio Lobo, an extremely intelligent Cuban sugar tycoon and speculator during the decades before Castro. Lobo had Sephardic roots, but his family had apparently long been Roman Catholic. He was wildly wealthy in pre-revolutionary Havana and had a long list of expensive luxuries and assets, including, according to this book, the largest collection of artifacts, outside of France, relating to Napoleon. You get the picture: for many years, this man fulfilled his every whim. Yet, by 1950, even before he lost virtually everything because of the Castro revolution and ended up comparatively poor and lonely in Madrid, Lobo wrote to one of his daughters:

Money not only does not bring happiness, sometimes it destroys it, and I sometimes even think it is no less than the devil's invention . . . . The only way money can bring happiness is if it is used to do good and to help the lot of the less fortunate . . . That's why I take such a great interest in the problems and well-being of the people at the [sugar] mills, their education, their health.

Kindle 2382-87.

Inevitably, the book also has some interesting insights into the economics and politics of the era, especially interesting for Cuban-Americans like myself. But the central message should interest all readers of all backgrounds: in the end, a life devoted to multiplying money ends with much loneliness, while the money often just disappears in the same way that life and health inevitably do. If that sounds sad (triste, in Spanish), it is because it is sad. For an NPR book review, click this link.