My thanks as always to Ariana Hernandez-Reguant for her critical work in pulling this together.
Cuba’s population is ageing rapidly, a trend directly linked to the demographic character of international migration that includes an increasing number of both women and young migrants. This trend has accelerated since the 1990s. But how, exactly, has this happened? How is the growing feminization of migration related to an ageing population and how does it affect elderly care? The following explains the relationship between international migration patterns and both population ageing and the crisis of elderly care in Cuba.
An Ageing Population Strains Social Services
The world’s population is increasingly older on average. The World Health Organization has calculated that the population segment over sixty years of age is the fastest growing group. Many scholars have categorized this phenomenon as the most silent revolution in human history. On this hemisphere, Cuba leads this trend on what is known as population ageing.
In a span of about only thirty years, the ratio of individuals over sixty by comparison to the general population has increased from 11.3% in 1985 to 19.4% in 2015. This development has placed Cuba among the most ageing countries in the region (>15%).
Other demographic processes like fertility, mortality rates and migration contribute to the process. Fertility rates are below the replacement levels of thirty years ago, birth rates have considerably decreased, life expectancy has increased, and migration trends have expanded. As a result, the Cuban population has decreased in absolute numbers.
These trends predict a bleak future. While a longer life span resulting from universal welfare policies is good news, this presents a new problem: care for this growing group, predicted to reach 26% of the total population by 2025. There will be an increasing need for geriatric and gerontological medical care and social welfare. For example, 80% of older adults in Cuba today suffer from a chronical condition. Yet, there is a deficit of caretakers already.
In Cuba, budget cuts to social assistance programs have especially affected the elderly. The impact of these cuts is worrisome, considering that, according to the 2012 Census, 40% of Cuban households include at least one older adult. At the same time, the number of homes occupied by only one older adult has increased to 12.6%.
The crisis is more acute because, despite the socio-cultural transformations fostered by equality policies, Cuba continues to be a family-centered society, and elderly care is typically the woman’s responsibility.
When Women Migrate, Elderly Care Suffers
Various studies have shown that since the late 20th century, Cuban migration follows global patterns of feminization. A particularity of this process is that Cuban women are becoming the family’s breadwinner, as they increasingly view migration as the only option to survive the economic crisis and provide for their families. To this end, they delay having children, as reproduction becomes secondary to migration. As more women migrate during their reproductive years, fertility rates decrease, resulting in the shrinking of the youth population.
In a family-centered society like Cuba, the family reorganization is deeper when the woman migrates rather than the man. Since elderly care usually takes place within the family unit, and is usually the woman’s responsibility, it is the elderly who are most affected.
Interestingly, the responsibility over elderly care and childcare has marked the differential patterns of migration between men and women. Women tend to choose options that will permit family reunification, while men partake in more risky undertakings, such as the 1994 Rafters Exodus (about 70% were men that year).
A Longer Lifespan vs. Quality of Life
In Cuba, while a longer life span can be interpreted as a succes of the welfare state, there is also evidence that a significant portion of older adults lacks effective opportunities to enjoy a dignified old age. Ageing is not only an objective demographic trend . It implies aging, which is psycho-social phenomenon, with political, cultural, and economic aspects. Ageing accounts for the relative increase of older adults within the total population, but it also needs to take into consideration the different ways in which old age is lived and represented. Old age, as well as the conditions of care for that phase in a person’s life, is marked by many forms of inequality and exclusion.
Since the 1990s, international migration has become a family and personal strategy to address many social problems and to fulfill life goals. Consequently, the economic future is uncertain for an aging and minimally-industrialized nation that cannot regenerate its labor force.
Both the lack and unequal distribution of care services for older adults and the shrinking welfare services suggest an impending crisis. Additionally, the failure of social policy to anticipate these problems and plan accordingly further aggravates the situation. The result is an uneven landscape, particularly within a general context of social stratification, with some sectors and geographical areas facing greater hardships than others.
There is no doubt that an increasingly-feminized international emigration is leading to both a general population ageing and a crisis in elderly care. This demands further research as well as a social debate on the present and future social organization of elderly care and the responsibilities of the welfare state. Translated from the original Spanish by the Editors
B/w photograph, “A Lady in Old Havana,” by Mabel Llevat Soy.
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Elaine Acosta González is a Cuban sociologist with a PhD from the University of Deusto in Bilbao (Spain). She is co-director of the transnational research network and think tank "Family, Care and Well-Being Research Program."
“Even an egg, when charged with
ideology, can break a rock.”
Kim Jong-Un, Aphorisms
Much of what we read or see about the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) goes along these lines: it is a failed Stalinist state, unpredictable and irrational in its behavior, prone to playing nuclear roulette, fanatically anti-American—a militarized and regimented country whose actions can be viewed as deranged at best, almost psychotic at worst. North Korea scholar Andrei Lankov, a former Soviet exchange student in Pyongyang, cautions against these views:
“North Korea is not irrational, and nothing shows this better than its continuing survival against all odds…North Korea is a small country with few resources and a moribund economy. In spite of all this it has managed to survive and manipulate larger players, including an impressive number of great powers [USSR, China, U.S., Japan]. You simply cannot achieve this by being irrational. North Korea’s alleged penchant for irrational and erratic behavior is illusionary: the North Korean leaders actually know perfectly well what they are doing. They are neither madmen, nor ideological zealots, but rather remarkably efficient and cold-minded calculators, perhaps the best practitioners of Machiavellian politics that can be found in the modern world.”
These calculations have both domestic and international components, the former centered around the preservation of power, the latter on safeguarding national sovereignty.
Recently celebrating the 105th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung (1912-1994), the founder of the DPRK, Kim Jong-Un, the present ruler, rolled out an impressive military parade, bristling with tanks, missiles, anti-aircraft weapons, and thousands of high-stepping soldiers. Pyongyang seemed like a replay of similar displays of military might from Red Square under Stalin (and beyond), or Tiananmen Square under Mao, and perhaps it is no coincidence that much of the military matériel of the North Korean army is almost half a century old; some of it is even older.
To show its resolve, North Korea fired a test missile which failed miserably, exploding in the air soon after it was launched, and it promised to test a nuclear device, which has yet to happen. The heated exchanges between North Korea and the Trump administration have been disturbing; let us hope that it remains in the realm of the verbal shots and not missiles. Besides, none of these overheated exchanges are exactly new. Recall that President Bush placed the country as part of the “Axis of Evil” (2002) and called Kim Jong-Il a pigmy (he was the shortest of the three ruling Kims at five feet three inches).
Lankov suggests that the nuclear program is part of the country’s efforts to survive and that the country’s foreign policy is mainly geared to bring in financial resources. The current regime feels it cannot revamp its economic model like either China or Vietnam, because the system would collapse. Obviously, the nuclear program is part of the Military First strategy (adopted in the 1990s) to uphold North Korea’s sovereignty and defense, but more importantly, it is used as leverage to gain financial resources, and allows the North Korean elites and military to maintain order and stability.
In the past, North Korea had other sources for financial help such as aid agencies, multilateral organizations and NGOs, but these have been severely curtailed (if not eliminated) with the imposition of sanctions as per U.N. policy. Another source of foreign currency has been the country’s program of sending workers abroad to work on infrastructural projects, particularly in Africa and Asia. Foreign governments would pay the North Korean government the money and in turn its workers received a fraction of the wages, but these projects have also been cut back or ended due to sanctions. North Korea engages in the trade of counterfeit cigarettes and pharmaceuticals, counterfeit currency, and drugs, as well as precious stones, metals, and endangered species parts. They have also engaged in money laundering, and insurance fraud. Some of these illicit efforts have also suffered because of sanctions. In addition, North Korea has an energetic military-industrial complex that exports weaponry, including Scud missiles.
Finally, two important sources of revenue are South Korea and China. The North has received significant amounts of aid from the South, especially during the famine period (1995-1999) and overall up to 2009. In addition, the South and North worked out a deal to build the Mount Kumgang Tourist Zone, established in 2002. The idea was for South Korean tourists to enjoy the natural setting of the area but they would not be allowed to travel to other parts of the country. It had limited success and drew fewer tourists than expected. More significant has been the Kaesong Industrial Zone (KIZ), where more than 120 South Korean factories have been established, employing some 47,000 North Korean workers. However, because of nuclear tests, South Korea closed down the complex in February of 2016.
China is the country’s major economic benefactor, although recently it has stopped purchasing coal from North Korea. Trade between the two amounts to almost 6 billion dollars a year, which might sound impressive, except that trade between Chile and China is five times as much. Chinese businesses are now looking at North Korea as a point of outsourcing since wages are a quarter of what they are in China. China —along with Russia— has played a key role in the development of the Rason Special Economic Zone, which is considered North Korea’s experiment with capitalism; for China it offers ports for some of its landlocked northeastern provinces. Three-quarters of all the North’s trade is with China, and this dependency worries Pyongyang. Despite having a powerful economic neighbor, the country’s GDP is a third of Cuba’s, even though the island has half the population of North Korea. When compared to South Korea it is shocking: its economy is 100 times larger with twice the population of the North. It is both the relative poverty of the country and its underperforming economy that has made its nuclear program a rather blunt instrument of diplomacy.
The North Korean situation has often been described as a Cuban Missile Crisis in slow motion, presumably because it has been going on for about a quarter of a century. It is in slow motion because North Korea has developed its own fuels, rockets, and missiles, which takes time, not to mention substantial resources. Cuba simply brought missiles with warheads that were ready to be employed, even though the ultimate decision to use them was under the control of the Soviets. The Cuban crisis, once Kennedy made the news public, however, was resolved fairly quickly, even if there were moments when it seemed like the planet might be vaporized.
North Korea clearly sees nuclear devices not only as a show of military strength and scientific prowess, but as a deterrent to regime change. It never tires pointing out that when Gaddafi gave up his nukes in 2003 to ingratiate himself with Western powers, particularly with the U.S., it opened the door for his overthrow eight years later. They make a similar argument about Saddam Hussein and the invasion of Iraq for not having “true” WMD (a nuclear arsenal). And they are right. Even before Gaddafi’s overthrow, a North Korean diplomat said the following: “You attacked Afghanistan because they do not have nukes. You attacked Iraq because it did not have nukes. You will not attack us. And you will not attack Iran.”
A recent New York Times article points to four areas to consider in terms of nuclear programs: arsenal size, bomb strength, missile technology, and ability to elude detection. In all these areas North Korea has shown improvement. North Korea now has several nuclear bombs (but fewer than ten), but has enough uranium and plutonium to make between 20 and 25 bombs, possibly even fifty by 2020. In terms of bomb strength the first nuclear devices were under 1 kiloton, the most recent about 10 kilotons. As for missile technology, North Korea currently has the Pukguksong missile with a range of 600 miles, the Nodong (800 miles), and the Musudan (2,200 miles); they are planning to add the KN-14 (6,200 miles) and the KN-08 (7,200 miles). The latter two could reach the U.S. but are still in the development stage. The problem is that Musudan so far has a failure rate of 88% so both the KN-14 and the KN-08 are not even close to being tested though most experts agree that North Korea could have ICBMs that can strike the U.S. by 2026. Finally, the North Koreans have placed missiles and warheads on vehicles and underground facilities that make them difficult to take out even with presumably surgical strikes.
When scholars and experts discuss North Korean nukes, usually three scenarios are put forth: do nothing, do too little, or do too much. The first implies exactly that, along with waiting for the North Korean regime to collapse. This approach has its advantages: you don’t have to expend much diplomatic energy or military resources, or engage in the risk of losing life and blood. Unfortunately, it is a fantasy. Despite its stagnant economy, its political rigidity, and its international isolation, North Korea is not about to implode. Many predicted, like with Cuba, that after the collapse of the USSR, North Korea would tumble. They, too, had their own “Periodo Especial,” compounded by a famine (1995-1999), and somehow managed to survive. Conditions now, while certainly not ideal, are far better than they were in the late nineties, and Kim Jong-Un’s transition into power (since 2011), though certainly more fraught with danger than his father’s (Kim Jong-Il, 1994-2011), seems to be proceeding quite smoothly, although not without incidents.
The second scenario (doing too little) is what is known as the Chinese option—that is, relying on China to impose harsher sanctions on its neighbor. This option is also flawed, for several reasons. First of all, China is not interested in regime change in Pyongyang. True, the Chinese are often upset with or embarrassed by their neighbor, but they see any political instability as problematic and likely to cause a flood of refugees across their borders. China is not interested in a unified Korea, either. North Korea functions as a key buffer vis-à-vis South Korea and Japan. China’s economic involvement with the DPRK is significant, but despite this they have very little leverage with North Korea. Moscow (when it was socialist), Washington, South Korea, and Japan have all found out over the years that substantial economic involvement —be it trade, humanitarian assistance, or aid—with North Korea does not translate into political leverage.
China, of course, could cause serious economic damage if it stopped aid and trade, perhaps causing another crisis similar to what North Korea went through in the nineties when the Soviet Union collapsed. Lankov quotes a South Korean diplomat: “China doesn’t have leverage when it comes to dealing with North Korea. What it has is not a lever, but rather a hammer. China can knock North Korea unconscious if it wishes, but it cannot really manage its behavior.” Using the hammer could cause a collapse of the regime which would eventually lead to reunification, neither outcome being palatable to them.
The third option (doing too much) would be disastrous as it would imply a military strategy of some kind. Given the proximity of Seoul, South Korea’s capital, to the DMZ (barely 35 miles), any military action would not only be devastating for North Korea but also inflict considerable damage (including civilian deaths) on South Korea. North Korea’s Scud missiles —of which they have several hundred— can easily reach Seoul, whose metropolitan area contains half the population of the country. Even the option of limited or “surgical” strikes are a dangerous option: first, it would not be able to entirely knock out the North’s nuclear capability, and second, it would invite a full retaliation by its military.
Both North and South Korea have large standing armies, although per capita North Korea’s is much higher. The North spends between 25%-30% of its budget on the military; the South, even though it spends triple the amount North does, only amounts to about 3%. The DPRK also has four and a half million (some estimate go as high as 7 million) in active reserve personnel compared to South Korea’s three million. North Korea has twice as many tanks as the South (5,025 to 2,654). And the DPRK has an impressive artillery (21,000) with the capability of firing 500,000 artillery rounds per hour. Of course, the South Korean armed forces are better equipped and trained (and also have 30,000 U.S. military personnel), but if hostilities did not go nuclear, the damage would be horrific. Commander Gary Luck told President Clinton that a Second Korean War would kill 1 million, would cost the U.S. $100 billion, and cause $1 trillion in industrial damage. Other estimates say it would imply 2 million Korean dead, and 50,000 U.S. casualties; and the U.S. costs possibly $200-300 billion.
North Korea also has chemical and biological weapons, between 2,500 and 5,000 metric tons, with the capacity to add 4,500 more tons per annum. In desperation or simply as a way to intimidate their enemies, would they use them in a direct military confrontation? Very likely.
Some observers would say that there is a fourth option that might be called “creative engagement” with North Korea, implying some financial incentives for them if they halt their program, since completely abandoning their nuclear program at this point seems unlikely. But a deal like this would likely entail the following: at least tacit acknowledgment that the DPRK can at least have a nuclear program for peaceful purposes and keep some of their nuclear weapons as well. It would also imply a partial (if not complete) lifting of sanctions, as well as some kind of statement that the DPRK is a legitimate government and that the U.S. would not seek to overthrew it. And it would probably imply some kind of reduction of U.S. troops in South Korea, as well as withdrawing the anti-missile system that is currently being installed in South Korea.
The fourth option sounds somewhat reasonable, but it is doubtful North Korea will submit to total de-nuclearization. If it is allowed to keep the nuclear weapons it has, but stop making any in the future, and if sanctions are lifted, there might be an opening for some type of negotiation. But it is unlikely that North Korea will allow U.N. inspectors to verify whether or not they are complying with terms of non-proliferation.
What about the Trump administration? The most significant challenge they face, aside from the reality and progress of North Korea’s nuclear program, is making sure that everyone is on the same page, since Tillerson, Pence, the President and McMaster have been sending out different messages. For example, President Trump, aside from “losing” an aircraft carrier that was supposed to be headed towards the Sea of Japan, said that the South Koreans had to pay for the anti-missile defense (THAAD) currently being installed. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster then reassured South Korea that the installation and cost would be assumed by the U.S. In a politically charged situation like the Korean peninsula, it is important to avoid what Victor Cha calls “spiraling miscalculations,” because they can have disastrous consequences. Hopefully, the ten-minute history lesson that Chinese President Xi Jinping gave to Trump at Mar-a-Lago will give the U.S. president some insight into the complexity of the Korean situation that involves Cold War history, superpower politics, Asian nationalism, DPRK internal politics, and the dilemmas of economic reform and trade.
North Korea has a nuclear program and devices that are already operational. The situation is not like the Agreed Framework (1994), or the Six-Party Talks in 2003. In 2006, North Korea held its first nuclear test and it has advanced quite significantly since then, as well as performing other tests as well (2009, 2013, 2016). There are no easy or good solutions. To paraphrase and modify Kim Jong-Un’s aphorism, with nuclear proliferation we are all eggs without ideology, crushed by the rock of intransigence.
Cover Image: North Korea propaganda poster. Photo taken by Tormod Sandtorv (2012).
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Alan West-Durán is Associate Professor of Cultures, Societies and Global Studies at Northeastern University. He was born in Havana and was raised in Puerto Rico. He is a poet, critic, translator, and essayist. Although popularly known for his writings on Cuban rap, he is also the author of Tropics of History: Cuba Imagined (1997) as well as many articles on literature, religion, and music. He is also the editor of the two-volume reference work Cuba (2011). He is the editor of Cuba Counterpoints’ Planet Red, and a member of its advisory board.
In her article “Regla de Ocha in the Hospital,” anthropologist Eugenia Rainey presents a long-standing problem in the relationship between the Lukumí religious community and U.S. medical care that requires attention not only from the medical profession, but also from the Lukumí.
The dichotomy between modern medicine and Lukumí religious practice presents a challenge to health care systems. The medical doctor (onishegun in Lukumí) is viewed as a complement to the Lukumí adahunshe, who specializes in natural and spiritual approaches. These complementary diagnostic systems mean that the medical doctor and the adahunshe should work together. But the Lukumí patient has the greater burden in American hospitals. For example, if Lukumí beliefs are a hidden factor, a patient’s anxiety may lead the physician to misdiagnose. I believe a long-term education process can produce a reconciliation that balances the interest of both sides.
Health is a very important concern to all Lukumí. Hospitals are secular institutions that follow their own complex cultural and professional protocols. Yet in the United States, they must adhere to Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, known as ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), as well as the Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS), which address culturally-specific care. In general, they follow what anthropologist Madelein Leninger has termed “transcultural nursing,” leading to inclusive practices.
Although many Lukumí people work in hospitals, thus contributing to their understanding of diversity with regard to patient care, my decades-long work training hospital staff in Miami have provided me with first-hand knowledge of the current situation. Even though culturally-specific care is generally addressed in hospital policies and taught at nursing schools, there are still barriers that need to be overcome by Lukumí patients as well as providers.
The first barrier is the lack of sensitivity training among some hospital staff.
The author training nurses at Barry University.
A lack of intercultural training in terms of Eurocentric biases in some instances triggers Lukumí psychological defensiveness and a poor communication among providers and patients. In my lectures at nursing schools, I often encounter cultural biases, which lead to a reluctance to accommodate cultural and religious demands. In some cases, nurse practitioners have articulated a rigid belief that a patient must abide by staff commands at all times. They believe that they have full authority over the patient. The manner in which nurses project themselves leads patients to believe that they do not have any room for negotiation. At the same time, many Lukumí patients lack knowledge of their civil rights and therefore fail to demand reasonable accommodations for medical protocols.
A recurrent theme in my lectures is explaining to nurses that Lukumí, unlike mainstream religions, has a holistic health method of diagnosis and treatment. In most instances, western medicine is viewed as the alternative. The patient primarily relies on spiritual divination diagnosis and seeks affirmation of medical treatment. Rituals are performed to ensure a positive outcome. Nurses with a one-sided rigid western view seem to struggle with the notion that religion may override or affirm a medical procedure or treatment. Some nurses take the position that the patient is relying on superstitious beliefs.
Language usage seems to be a frequent point of tension encountered by health providers. Many lay people refer to Lukumí religion as “la Regla de Ocha,” a term popularized by well-known writers-scholars like Lydia Cabrera. Ifa-Ocha is a competing term, increasingly used. At the same time, the pejorative Santería, of colonialist overtones, continues to be widely used as an identifier. Do hospital staff nationwide need to learn multiple names for the same religion in order to provide culturally-specific care? In areas where the Lukumí population is significant, hospitals can take practical approaches to training, in order to familiarize staff with multiple identifiers, while also providing culturally-specific accommodations. A greater challenge would be faced by hospitals in areas where the Lukumí population is insignificant.
Hospital intake forms need to allow for Lukumí religious identification, rather than expecting patients to fill the “other” box, or their nominal religious affiliation, be Catholic or Protestant. The expectation should not be that Lukumí, as a minority religion, falls in the category of otherness. In my research, I have found instances where hospital staff has inappropriately inquired about religious affiliation. However, the Lukumí patient should not expect medical staff to possess religious expertise. For instance, it is the responsibility of the Lukumí patient to state that her or his wrist bracelet and necklaces are not jewelry. Typically, personal items containing metal are temporarily removed because it may interfere with electrical instruments used by the first respondent or hospitals. Emergency room personnel need to be informed that the items have religious significance and should not be treated as jewelry because they fall under the religious exception.
A feeling of embarrassment or religious discrimination can be easily provoked by the health provider or patients. Lukumí patients should be prepared to identify as a contact person a Lukumí priest or priestess. When a patient declares his or her Catholic faith, or other denomination, pastoral services at the hospital know to send a minister to visit the patient in the room, should the patient request it or need it. Lukumí patients need to fill out intake forms correctly, so that they are afforded the same visiting rights. As patients, they have the right to request religious services at any time, and they should exert those rights without fear of embarrassment or discrimination.
Hospitals can do more to accommodate patients. The lessons can be found in Caribbean hospitals where staff has a good understanding of the culture. Executives in American hospitals and nursing schools could place more emphasis on culture-specific training and integrate Lukumí and other similar Afro-Caribbean religions into the curriculum. It is my experience that when both sides enter a professional dialogue with an open mind, the healthcare delivery and patient outcome significantly improves.
Cover Image by Lynn Friedman: “Milwaukee Doctor’s Office.”
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Oba Ernesto Pichardo is a priest in the Lukumi religion and the president of the Church of the Lukumi Babalú Ayé, in Miami.
The week kicked off in Viñales—an outing organized for my eleven graduate students from Pennsylvania. Viñales is one of several points of eco-tourism being developed to draw tourism (and its revenue potential) from Havana to outlying regions. A very smart move, indeed, as the revenue potential of a World Heritage Site designation is too good to resist, and there is a strong correlation between site designation and tourism center.
Beyond the beauty of the Viñales Valley and the hospitality of its people, our students were able to learn about and experience a number of things. First, infrastructure can make a difference; the road to Viñales suggests an application of planning that is as uneven as the road itself. Second, tourism in Cuba is about managing flows of people—foreigners—to direct and concentrate their visit within designated spaces. This is not a criticism so much as an observation of choices. In a state that remains wary of foreigners, especially those who visit from states that have until recently been viewed as adversaries, it may well make sense to figure out ways to both invite tourism, but also to manage its insertion into the island. The creation of tourist “safe spaces”—where interactions are anticipated and take place within rural areas and outside the Havana metropolis—is one strategy.
Just a few hours from Viñales, Havana afforded our group the experience of a tourist sector built around a set of constructed experiences. Like a historically connected Disneyland, Havana’s tourist attractions offer the visitor everything from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” (at the Morro) to “The Godfather Part II” (La Tropicana) and its 1950s Cuban social culture, along with the experiences of the post-Revolutionary state.
At the center of these experiential adventures sits Havana harbor, which is the basis of the organizing geography of this living theme park. Standing at the Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Moro and the lighthouse at the mouth of Havana Harbor, one can see the ways Cuba organizes its tourist sector on the ground; that is, the way that the Cuban state manages the flows of people and their experiences to extract maximum benefit with a minimum of disruption to the island’s socialist state, while providing the right mix of fantasy that caters to the tourist-market expectations of foreigners.
Havana harbor no longer serves well its intended original purpose as a major working port and center of international commerce in Cuba. It makes sense to abandon it as a principal working port for the nation; Mariel, along with Cienfuegos and Santiago, may serve the state better (and more profitably) to that end. What is left for Habana harbor but to profit from its own history in a world whose tourists increasingly understand pleasure as global living museums? Its history and beauty suggest an equally appealing use, one consonant with market demand—as a travel destination.
The Port is ideally suited to this purpose, providing a ready-made system for the easy containment and direction of tourists for short-burst visits. What could be better for a state that perhaps ought to be suspicious of tourists roaming around than a system in which tourists can be injected directly into tourist sectors and then bused to other tourist sectors using the state’s own transport systems? Tourists are indulged, the state makes money, and it is easy to monitor and adjust the entire process. Again, this is not a criticism, but rather a recognition that the trends inherent in market-based Western tourism may find a most efficient expression in Cuba.
Hybridized tourist sector experiences were nicely illustrated by our visit to the Organopónico de Alamar. One of Havana’s largest and most successful urban gardens, the Organopónico offered an opportunity to consider urban gardening and the way it is embedded in the social programs of economic development under conditions of Cuban Marxism. In fact, it appears to be a very popular site for tourists.
On its grounds, visitors are able to experience sustainable organic urban farming on the island, a movement that has had some success in feeding local communities. Urban gardens such as the Organopónico nourish the tourist sector in two ways. Firstly, they increasingly supply tourist-sector hotels with excess production through state intermediaries who will take a cut of the profit. Secondly, they serve as sites of tourism in their own right. Drawing in tourists eager to learn about organic farming and the history of Cuban urban agriculture serves two useful objectives: it provides tourists with a diversion, and it provides cooperative gardens with income. A fair exchange, I suspect; but one can wonder about the extent to which this sort of tourism is healthy for agricultural co-ops.
To some extent, such visits—when lucrative, in particular—can also serve as a trap. One can image urban gardens becoming hostages to the expectations of tourists, even when those expectations become a burden to the co-ops and make it harder for them to meet their objectives to the people they serve. Tourists expect a “show” that lives up to their need for consuming “experience.” In the worst case, co-ops can become specimens—circus acts in the global circus that is international experience tourism. The co-ops die as vibrant social institutions and re-emerge as sideshows to a weeklong vacation for the consumption of tourists.
Finally, we found ourselves on the beaches in Varadero, the jewel of Cuba’s dreams for a vibrant and profitable tourist sector. As a peninsula, Varadero is easily groomed and protected from substantial integration with the rest of the area. It also provides a physical manifestation of the way in which tourism is viewed as both central to the economy and marginal to the society that surrounds it.
What makes Varadero even more interesting is the way in which the Cuban authorities have taken models at the heart of capitalist markets-based tourism—with their inherent notions of containment, management and controlled experiences generating maximum revenue and minimum risk (think all inclusive resorts in the Bahamas and historically the Club Med model)—and put them to the service of the social and political aims and requirements of a European-style, Marxist-Leninist state with respect to its program of class struggle and resource mobilization in the service of the state. And, of course, with that comes irony.
The Cuban authorities tend to criticize Chinese Marxist-Leninist projects for borrowing the mechanics of the markets, yet here the Cuban authorities have also borrowed heavily from the mechanics of the West. In this case, the Cubans engage in market behavior; they are competing for beach-based tourist dollars in a market that no amount of central planning can avoid. Moreover, they have also embraced the core business practices of Western capitalist enterprises. Joint ventures extend the life cycle of moneymaking for the Cuban state.
The state makes money in the planning and construction of these joint ventures. It directs and approves operating plans, and to some extent, their pricing. The state takes a cut of the profits and provides services, like food, entertainment, maintenance, etc. The state-owned tour companies and the state-owned buses that ferry travelers to and from the resorts bring in revenues as well. And of course, the tour operations that take people from the tourist zones for day trips to other points of interest on the island also provide multiple points for value-added state revenues, for the employment of labor, and for the managed planning of the development of tourist-related resources throughout the island.
Having segmented the operations of these compounds, the Cuban state has been able to take a cut of value added everywhere. Bravo. As the sole capitalist on the island and the owner of all of the means of production, it makes sense—and is certainly deeply embedded within Leninist notions of Marxism—that the state exploits its capital. Of course, that exploitation is meant to serve the social projects at the heart of Cuban socialism. In the absence of transparency, it is not easy to see where or how these profits are used. And this produces the greatest irony—as the sole owner of productive capital in Cuba, it may be hard for the Cuban state to avoid the habits of the capitalist in world markets.
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Larry Catá Backer
Larry Catá Backer is the W. Richard and Mary Eshelman Faculty Scholar and Professor of Law & International Affairs at the Pennsylvania State University. He is a member of the American Law Institute (ALI), the European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI), and a founding director of the Consortium for Peace and Ethics.