Che, Chevys and Hemingway´s: Cuban Tourism in a Time of Globalization HTML version

Bulletin of Latin American Research, Vol. 30, No. 1, pp. 50–63, 2011
Che, Chevys, and Hemingway’s
Daiquiris: Cuban Tourism in a Time
of Globalisation
University of Florida, USA
In Cuba over the past two decades, diverse and apparently contradictory
aspects of tourism have emerged along with state-led development and
market-driven initiatives. This ethnographic account examines the com-
plex ways in which Cubans and international visitors experience tourism
as an economic and cultural force. Despite the unintended consequences
of tourism, which has produced growing social inequality and illicit trade,
tourism has met surprising success in appealing to desires for both pre-
revolutionary pleasures and enduring revolutionary culture and politics.
Keywords: Cuba, globalisation, nationhood, nostalgia, revolution, tourism.
In Havana’s Museum of the Revolution, housed in a former presidential palace, a
section is devoted to the ‘Special Period in Peacetime’, a time of economic crisis in Cuba
after the fall of the Soviet Union. A display case in this space quotes Fidel Castro in the
early 1990s as he set forth three areas of development intended to resolve the state’s
economic problems:
[Our] development efforts during the Special Period are based on three
pillars: the food programme, which has to be among the first priorities [...]
the tourism programme, which is developing well [...] the biotechnology
programme [...]
Following this quotation are several images – cruise ship, hotel and dancing girls – that
appear to underscore the primary importance of the tourism component of Cuba’s devel-
opment plan. Indeed, since the tourism programme was introduced in 1991, tourism
has become a leading industry in Cuba and the state has become a key competitor in
Caribbean tourism (Espino, 2000: 360). Despite a slight decline in 2006 and 2007, the
number of foreign visitors to the island rose to 2.35 million in 2008 (USA Today,13
January 2009).
The return of tourism to this Caribbean island where it famously thrived as a tropical
destination before the revolution has brought about a series of cataclysmic changes in
Cuban society (Schwartz, 1997; Perez, 1999). It has become de rigueur to describe the
clash of socialist and market economies and desires on the island fostered by the growth
of tourism, and to ask whether tourism will bolster the enduring socialist economy
or destabilise it and bring a full-fledged capitalist economy in its wake. Likewise, it is
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