Consuming Cuba

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By EUGENIO BUCCI*

The Cuban tragedy, somewhat melancholic, is not explained by the collapse of production relations, but by the emptying of consumption relations

Havana regulars recognize that Fidel Castro's island is facing its worst crisis. Almost everything disappears. From the revolution that took power in 1959, when the Sierra Maestra guerrillas marched through the streets of the capital to the applause of a smiling and hopeful people, little remains beyond bureaucratic offices, widespread shortages and political surveillance offices.

The biggest enthusiasts of this long history of raptures know this. “It’s desperate. Nobody in Havana points out ways out”, declared Frei Betto to journalist Mario Sergio Conti (Folha de S. Paul, 1st. March). The Dominican friar, author of the bestseller Fidel and religion (Editora Brasiliense, 1985), translated in more than 30 countries, including Cuba, is a local celebrity.

He just leaves by the streets for someone to come and start the conversation. The affection is still the same, the warmth of the eyes and the hugs still warms, but the smiles have lost their shine, hope has diminished and applause has become scarce. In the words of Mario Sergio Conti, Cuba has “no future in sight”.

It's not just a star that fades in an uncertain sky, it's not just a sad sunset; The loss of vitality of the insurrectionary saga that shook the world six decades ago has the scope of a more dense historical event, which we cannot give up understanding. The slow and progressive agony has at least two dimensions: on the most immediate level, that of practical things, a regime and a way of governing fail; on a less tangible level, what comes below is a utopia the size of the world, a utopia disproportionately larger than the modest Caribbean land where it was once installed amidst cries of victory, limping jeeps, rebellious cigars and frayed backpacks. The defeat that is now expressed as a lack of future is the calcination of a dream.

Explanations will come. Some will say that the blockade and sanctions imposed by the United States caused the damage, and they will be right. Others will maintain that authoritarianism, dictatorial actions and the insensitivity of a power that isolated itself from its own people are responsible for the fiasco – they will also be right.

What few observers will notice is that Cuba was devoured and then disregarded by the entertainment industry or, more accurately, the tourism industry. If he dies little by little, he does not just die from starvation (a victim of the blockade) or from asphyxiation (a victim of an autocratic order), but mainly from a lack of charisma. Its charm, which enchanted visitors as distinguished as the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and the Brazilian journalist Ruy Mesquita, director of the newspaper The State of S. Paul, do not exist anymore. The Malecon It lost vigor because it lost its grace.

When it opened up to tourism without inhibitions, the island made the decision to enter the recreational travel market as if it were a theme park, a kind of socialist Disneyland. In part, the turnaround worked. Consumers flocked, thirsty for ideological adventures. Many enjoyed discussing the international situation with the waiter and questioning the taxi driver about the class struggle.

Spending holidays in those places and on those beaches was like practicing an extreme sport, like trying something underground without running the risk of going to jail. It was a heady vacation, like playing guerrilla with a mojito in one hand and one cohiba in the other.

Deep down, however, the supposedly militant frenzy was nothing more than a capricious form of consumption: self-described “left-wing” tourists voraciously swallowed the human dramas of the “special period”, the misfortunes of homosexuals who suffered persecution from the regime, the heroism of families who raised pigs inside apartments to have something to eat. They loved all of this, as it was all part of the struggle that would overcome the exploitation of man by man.

Combative tourists went to Varadero ou Key Largo and they left there with a renewed soul, filled with new fantasies, more or less like someone who goes to the NASA Kennedy Space Center to touch spaceships with his fingers or travel to India to undergo overdoses of transcendental meditation.

It was then that the country that dethroned Fulgencio Batista and his alcoholic casinos continued in the same business, just redecorated the windows. It worked, at least a little. Then, the commodity fetish fell apart and the competition got the better of it. Tourist Cuba was overtaken by other attractions that offered more adrenaline, such as exotic landscapes in China, perfect waves in Oceania or Vietnamese cuisine.

It may be cruel to say this, but it is what it is: if Cuba today slides towards failure, it slides less because it lost a political clash, and more because it has ceased to be the object of the desire of the masses – not the proletarian masses, but the masses international consumers. Its somewhat melancholy tragedy is not explained by the collapse of production relations, but by the emptying of consumption relations. The billboards of Che Guevara, Fidel and Camilo Cinfuegos faded.

* Eugene Bucci He is a professor at the School of Communications and Arts at USP. Author, among other books, of Uncertainty, an essay: how we think about the idea that disorients us (and orients the digital world) (authentic). https://amzn.to/3SytDKl

Originally published in the newspaper The State of S. Paul.


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