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EthnoCuba featured on U. Chicago’s Center for Latin American Studies site

academic exchanges, Blogs, By Paul Ryer, News and Views 1 Comment »

In a new post, “The Past and Future of US_Cuba Academic Exchange,” the University of Chicago’s Center for Latin American Studies showcases EthnoCuba:

US-Cuba policy experts have likened the new regulations to Cuba travel policies under the administration of Bill Clinton. During this period, a generous grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation allowed CLAS to administer a program of scholarly exchange between Chicago faculty and graduate students, and scholars at the University of Havana, as well as other universities and cultural institutions in Cuba. Many of those who participated in the program went on to make significant contributions to the field, based on the research they conducted and scholarly connections that they formed as participants in the program.

Among them are cultural anthropologist Ariana Hernández-Reguant, now on the faculty of the School of Communications at UC San Diego, who writes on ideology, media, and cultural production in Cuba, and Paul Ryer, a professor in the Department of Anthropology at UC Riverside, who studies Cuban culture and the African migrant communities on the island. Today, Hernández-Reguant and Ryer co-edit a collective blog, Etnocuba, where Cuba scholars discuss research in the field, their experiences on the island, and the latest happenings in Cuba and in the international Cuban community.

The Plane Crash and Cuba’s Local Journalism

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, Images, media, News and Views 4 Comments »

My FBfr Tersites D. called our attention to the Granma paper’s front page, the morning after the plane crash of the Santiago-Havana AeroCaribbean flight that killed sixty-eight people. Where is the news?  This was one more instance of the Communist Party’s opacity. It is well known that rarely a news brief on someone’s death will detail the actual cause (e.g. dying after “a long and troublesome illness” is typically an euphemism for cancer). But this seems to top it all, and Tersites’ FBfrs rightfully shook their heads. The callousness of reducing such a catastrophe into an administrative technicality, removing any hint of human emotion, caused not so much surprise as sorrow; and sorrow not only for the victims of the plane but also for those of the paper (its readers).

Contrast that with the local Escambray paper of Sancti Spirtius, the nearest city to the crash. Like the Granma, it is also the voice of the Communist Party, but at the provincial level. Escambray was the first to twitter the news; by 9pm Eastern the bare information about the crash of the Santiago-Havana airliner had made it around the Twitter-world. Very soon after, the newspaper’s webpage begun to offer news as they trickled in.  Local papers of this kind typically carry local news that do not make it to the Granma, but their tone and approach is pretty much the same. In this case, the difference is dramatic, and it is not only a matter of aesthetics, which differentiate these two publications like night and day. While the national paper does not even include the news as news, Escambray paper gives it all, offering all available details, including graphic images occupying several pages.

That the Granma buries its head in the sand is not news. It is the voice of the bureaucracy, always removed from every day life. Its place seems to have been taken up by Cubadebate, which did keep web readers (therefore few Cubans) informed. The good news is that there is local reporting. That despite the crisis of journalism, particularly in printed form, this local paper, Escambray, displays a reporting that values “being there,” conveying to readers what is happening as is happening.

UPDATE (Nov. 8): For a very well narrated and very emotional account of what area residents heard and saw, including details about the activities in which various people were engaged in that very same moment and what they did immediately after, see today’s article in Escambray, “La Noche que Lloró Mayábuna,” which includes photos.

Shannon Lee Dawdy awarded MacArthur!

By Paul Ryer, News and Views, Notes & Queries 1 Comment »

Exciting news this morning, that Shannon Lee Dawdy has been awarded a MacArthur Foundation Grant.  As many of you know, Shannon is an archeologist and historical anthropologist whose work spans the Caribbean, focusing particularly on Louisiana and Cuba, and her publications include the pictured co-edited collection.   Please join us in wholeheartedly congratulating Shannon on this remarkable accomplishment!

Update: here is a link with more information about Shannon’s award and current projects.

Ultimate Chivichana – Cuba on Red Bull wheels!

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, Consumption & material culture, Cultural production, News and Views, Sport, traditions and folklore, youth cultures 2 Comments »

Since 2004, Red Bull has been sponsoring in Cuba ultimate sports on wheels. They first built a skating park in the Parque Almendares, with ramps for skate boarding, and this year they have taken to convert a quintessential guajiro activity into an ultimate sport, what we might call “Ultimate Chivichana”!  A Chivichana competition just took place the day before yesterday in Playas del Este, and some pics were sent via cable to various papers [thanks AA].

Red Bull, as you know, is an Austrian maker of power drinks, whose marketing strategy revolves around the sponsorship of ultimate sports. Here’s their Cuba promo:

And here is a video of a June 2010 Chivichana competition that took place in Paseo de Cojímar, in Havana. Watch the home-made board devices because you will soon see them in museums. The chivichanas are going to go the way of the surf boards, new materials, new designs… can’t wait!

For comparison purposes, you might want to watch Cuban filmmaker Waldo Ramírez‘s documentary La Chivichana on the use of this “thing” as a mode of transportation in Oriente. The video won a Coral award in 2000.

Hair Salons and Barber Shops Going Coop (Updated)

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, By Grete Viddal, News and Views, Tales from the field 2 Comments »

Vedado (Havana) state-owned hair salon. ©AHR

According to recent news, selected hair salons and barber shops in Havana are undergoing an experiment in management and administration. Unlike in the 1990s, these are not self-employed professionals who are allowed to run small businesses out of their home. These are tiny state shops (sitting three max) that are being turned to their employees who then run them autonomously. They must pay a rent (in hard currency) to the state as well as taxes, and obtain their supplies on their own, presumably at free market prices. They can then set prices according to supply and demand. Apparently, participation in this pilot program has been voluntary, and workers who did not want to be autonomous have been able to switch jobs with those who did at other salons. You can read a detailed account in this report of the Spanish news agency EFE.

Up until now (and still in most of the island) the choices were a state-run hair salon or a self-employed hair dresser. The state salon had fixed prices in Cuban pesos, while the independent professional was free to set prices and has to pay income taxes. In practical terms, however, the state shops lacked supplies, which the employees then obtained on their own and charged customers for under the table. While state hair salons and barber shops were technically inexpensive, the were really not, as one had to purchase products and services directly from the employees at bargained prices. My hunch is that this new system is designed to address (and tax) a de facto situation.

In Havana, this pilot project only affects a handful of Salons in two neighborhoods, none of which can handle more than three clients at a time. On the other extreme of the island, in Santiago de Cuba, it is doubtful that many peluqueros will sign up for this experiment, should it be an option there some time soon. According to Grete Viddal’s own hair stylist and salon owner Raúl, the cost of “cooperativizing” is prohibitive anywhere but in Havana. In response to Grete’s inquiry, Raul said that if the potential independent contractors of a salon will have to pay about 1000 MN per chair, this is a lot of money in Santiago – even if this covers the costs of doing business, the chair, electricity, etc. Raul says hairdressers wouldn’t be able to charge enough for their haircuts to cover expenses. Grete’s assessment is that “many services (they do manicures, pedicures, waxing, all manner of hair coloring and straightening, and more) at Quisqueya, the big salon in Calle Enramadas, the main shopping street of Santiago, cost a peso, two, three. Many haircuts (cost of haircuts depends on length of your hair) less than 5 pesos MN. If you have to pay 1000 MN a month, that’s a LOT of haircuts before you begin to make a profit!”

Below, see a picture of the entrepreneurial Raúl – a self-employed hair dresser- working on his most simpática client a few weeks ago.

© Grete Viddal

Thanks to A. Armengol for the news’ heads up.

Update to Travel Insurance Requirements to Enter Cuba

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, Health, News and Views, travel 7 Comments »

Cuban consulates have publicized today the details about the new health insurance requirement to enter Cuba as of May 1st. I translate selectively from the e-mail text:

The policy should be purchased prior to traveling but policies will be offered at Cuba’s ports of entry as well.  Only those with valid policies for the entire duration of their stay will be allowed into the country. Valid policies are those by companies represented in Cuba by ASISTUR. Those who are residents of the United States, and travel from the U.S., will have to buy a policy prior to traveling from HAVANATUR-CELIMAR, through one of their affiliated agencies. There are three different policies with different levels of coverage and their respective cost is between 2 and 3 CUCs a day (roughly USD 3-5).

You can download the specific “tabla de beneficios” or coverage table, by clicking HERE.

You can read the original post about this new policy HERE.

About Amistad, Academia and U.S. Cuban travel policies

academic exchanges, By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, Licensing & visas, News and Views, Opinion, travel 4 Comments »

ENCASA‘s Ruben Rumbaut informs us of their involvement with the Amistad Project: The Amistad slave ship replica is on its way to Cuba. With permission from both the Cuban and the U.S. governments, it will dock in Matanzas on the 22nd to visit the Slavery Museum there, then sail to Havana for the celebration of the U.N.’s Day of Remembrance for the Victims of the Atlantic Slave Trade. The ship will stay in Havana for a week. Here is the  LINK to the press release.

This past week has been momentous in terms of support for increased cultural and academic exchanges with Cuba. An opinion piece that appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education a few days ago argued for a modification in U.S. Cuban policy to allow for lifting restrictions (severely worsened by the Bush administration), so that U.S. academics can conduct research in Cuba without U.S. government interference. On the other side of the academic aisle, so to speak, others have argued that without a political opening in Cuba, these pro-travel academics are only playing into Cuba’s window dressing game, for real research is impossible while the Cuban government does not allow U.S. scholars’ unrestricted access to research sites. Their position is that to press for academic exchanges in the U.S. without simultaneously demanding change in Cuba is hypocritical. Our CUNY colleague and El Yuma blogger Ted Henken has taken issue with this counter argument (made mostly by, in turn, a colleague of his, economist Jorge Sanguinetty). According to Ted Henken, it is possible to do real research in Cuba even if one does not have proper research authorization from the Cuban government. Furthermore, some research is better than no research, and students will still benefit from the opportunity.

While I agree with Ted and with the spirit of the Chronicle’s letter on the need for a radical change in U.S. policy toward Cuba, I would also like a situation in which research would be facilitated also on the Cuban end. A tourist visa is not enough. Not all research projects are created equal. Some of them are impossible to carry out without explicit on-site permission and facilitation (I am aware that this is not unique to Cuba; there are plenty of research arenas in the United States that are off limits to foreign, and at times also native, scholars).  To wit: Without a proper research affiliation in Cuba, there are archives, survey populations and marine reefs, among many other possibilities, that are off limits.  While some might be able to carry out their investigation without any extravagant need for additional support and collaboration (say someone conducting research on Cuban street slang), others (say someone wishing to study the garbage disposal system and its ecological impact) might have a harder time with only a tourist visa and no institutional support. Furthermore, ethnographic research (which is after all the inspiration for this blog project) requires a lengthy stay. I am of the old fashioned opinion that proper ethnographic fieldwork cannot be bypassed and substituted by a few short trips; much less if such research is the basis of a dissertation-type project.  Since the opening of academic relations in the 1990s,  such research has typically been conducted under a student visa; which by its very definition is not fit for a post-graduate scholar. And only very exceptionally have post-graduate scholars been able to obtain a research visa: the process is long and cumbersome, to say the least. Their alternative has been, precisely, short trips as tourists; trips that in a couple of unfortunate cases had no happy ending precisely because the person overstepped the boundaries set by the tourist visa.

Henken seems to be advocating complete freedom of research, and I do agree in principle with that position, but in a world of international states and borders it is unfortunately a utopia.  In the end it comes down to whether the ends justify the means. For as long as a specific research or student visa is required by the Cuban government as a prerequisite to conduct bona fide academic research on the island, as responsible university professors we cannot advocate the breaking of that country’s laws.  I, for one, would very much like to see U.S. roadblocks disappear, and subsequently, I would also like to see the parallel Cuban bureaucratic process  eased.  Let’s hope that the Amistad journey will stand as a symbol not only of the past but also of the future.

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