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    Hemingway, Tourism, and the Contradictions of Revolutionary Cuba

    Hemingway, Tourism, and the Contradictions of Revolutionary Cuba
    Posted: 09/10/2014 3:33 pm EDT Updated: 09/10/2014 3:59 pm EDT

    At El Floridita bar in Old Havana, Ernest Hemingway drank in the
    afternoons and supposedly met his only Cuban love, Leopoldina (a sex
    worker). Hemingway, although he has been dead for over 50 years, is
    still hanging around the bar. Today a life-size bronze statue of the
    author stands in the corner, in his favorite drinking spot. On the walls
    behind him, black-and-white photos show an aged and bearded Hemingway
    talking closely with Fidel Castro and drinking with actors Errol Flynn
    and Spencer Tracy. The memorial, commissioned by the Cuban revolutionary
    government, has become a popular photo-stop for tourists. Large groups
    of foreigners order expensive daiquiris, listen to live music, and take
    pictures with a timeless Hemingway.

    Attractions like this one awkwardly neighbor the poverty of everyday
    life in Havana. The contradictions of the Cuban Revolution are a
    half-century in the making. But with the arrival of more and more
    tourists, they have become increasingly obvious. Last year, 2.85 million
    tourists visited the island. U.S. citizens are also joining the tourist
    crowds. Over 170,000 travelers from the U.S. arrived to Cuba in the
    first three months of 2014. The question is: what will this new 21st
    century boom in tourism mean for the Cuban people?

    The afternoon I visited El Floridita, a group of men and women lingered
    outside the bar’s only entrance, waiting for foreigners to exit with
    lubricated pockets. Hemingway’s favorite drink – a daiquiri – costs
    around $6.50, roughly one-third the average monthly salary ($20) of a
    Cuban worker. The bar, owned by the Cuban state, isn’t really for
    Cubans. Neither is the Hotel Habana Libre (Free Havana), nor many other
    tourist attractions in the city. Extreme economic inequality and state
    policing separate local and foreign access to food, entertainment, and
    certain “public” spaces.

    Tourism has become Cuba’s new enclave economy. The hotels, and the best
    restaurants and bars, are exclusive sites. Foreigners are allowed in and
    Cubans are physically kept out. The revolution (1953-1959) was supposed
    to end these social problems and the demoralizing divide between the
    majority of Cuban ‘have-nots’ and the exclusive foreign ‘haves.’ The
    decadence of tourism in 1950s Havana helped mobilize a nation against
    dictatorship and U.S. imperial arrogance. Today, though, the Cuban
    government offers international tourism as the nation’s best hope. The
    revolution’s leaders have decided to build a new contradiction on top of
    a very old one. As the state-owned Hotel Meliá-Cohiba tells its
    employees, “smile, always” for the tourists.

    Old problems are reemerging. As tourism grows, so does a culture of
    hustle. Male and female hustlers, locally called jinteros, use slick
    words, lies, quick friendship, and sex to get money, luxury, and
    mobility. Jinteros are willing to prostitute soul and sometimes body to
    economically survive and find diversion in the mundaneness of a
    restricted life. The reasoning goes: “If the tourists can have a drink,
    a fun night out, a good meal, a travel visa, a decent income, why can’t
    I?” The state has responded by harassing, and when it sees fit, jailing
    Cubans who talk too much with foreigners in the streets of downtown Havana.

    The boom in state-run luxury tourism undermines the revolution. The
    Ministry of Finance and Pricing is on the far end of Obispo Street, the
    same street where El Floridita and many other tourist bars and
    restaurants are located. Inside the ministry’s neocolonial building
    there is a huge banner, with a younger-looking Fidel dressed in green
    fatigues, explaining the meaning of Cuba’s ongoing struggle.
    “Revolution,” it declares, “is the feeling of an historical moment; it
    is to change everything that should be changed; it is plain equality and
    liberty; it is to treat everyone like human beings.” It concludes:
    “Revolution is unity, it is independence, it is to struggle for our
    dreams of justice for Cuba, for the world.”

    I empathize with and respect the 1959 Cuban Revolution. There was
    legitimate reason for revolt. A visit to the island, however, makes it
    impossible to morally accept what’s happened since. Rhetoric and action
    have long parted ways.

    There is not enough hope or basic necessities for the majority of
    Cubans. Healthy and affordable food, consistent and clean drinking
    water, uncensored news sources, the internet, sustained cross-cultural
    connections (not just at hotels with false smiles), a livable income…
    travel… freedom… these should be the fruits of revolution. Instead,
    they remain intangible possibilities for Cubans who stay on the island
    and follow the rules.

    Young people are trapped in a country run by old authoritarians talking
    about 1959 like it was yesterday and forever. The nation’s leaders keep
    looking to the past. In the face of material and existential
    uncertainty, the revolutionary government has in fact returned to
    develop one of its original enemies.

    At first I was confused how Hemingway could be a beloved figure for a
    state claiming to be so revolutionary. For all of Hemingway’s literary
    talent, and his sympathy for the downtrodden (fishermen, peasants, war
    veterans, bootleggers, and Indians), he was still by most accounts a
    bigoted white man who demanded that he be called “Papa.” People of color
    and women were always inferior to the risk-taking righteousness of
    Hemingway and his white-male characters. His image of himself was his
    favorite literary figure. He was the authority, the troubled explorer,
    looking out on the good, bad, ugly, and also the beauty of the world. He
    was “Papa.” The Cuban Revolution has created a similar narrative, and
    image, of itself. Fidel is still the island’s “Papa.” The revolution’s
    most revered characters continue to be virile white-men. Che, Camilo,
    Raul, even Martí. Everyone else is still in the backseat, or serving drinks.

    For travelers contemplating a trip to Cuba this shouldn’t mean stay home
    or visit somewhere else. Just the opposite. The embargo is also
    wrongheaded policy. It shares responsibility for the island’s troubles.
    There is both an external and internal embargo against Cubans.

    If you do travel to Cuba: engage, meet, and listen to local people, with
    love and humility; talk politics and history, and the uncertain meaning
    of freedom; share and exchange, and avoid the poison of apartheid
    luxury; learn and speak the truth about the troubles and advantages of
    the different political-economic systems in the U.S. and Cuba. Dialogue
    and cross-cultural exchange are the only hope for forging a respectful
    relationship between our two nations.

    Viva Cuba Libre!

    And don’t be a tourist.

    Source: Hemingway, Tourism, and the Contradictions of Revolutionary
    Cuba | Blake Scott –

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