“El periódico ha de estar siempre como los correos antiguos, con el caballo enjaezado, la fusta en la mano y la espuela en el tacón.  Debe desobedecer los apetitos del bien personal y atender imparcialmente al bien público”.
José Martí

Culture is Cuba’s Greatest Attraction

Niños bailarines en la Habana Vieja. Foto: Raquel Pérez Díaz

Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

Last weekend I went out with little Lucia to walk the streets of Old Havana, attracted by the children’s dance show performed in its plazas. It was fascinating to witness the quality of the groups, the environment and the large number of children among the audience.

We sat on the ground of the Plaza de Armas, on wooden paving stones, part of a “scenery” that moved us in time. The children danced with a grace and mastery that can only be achieved with the combination of school and genetics.

The audio was flawed and the children’s wardrobe very austere but the magic of the culture engulfed us all. When I say everyone I also refer to the dozens of tourists who made videos and photos and expressed their appreciation of the show with their applause.

Walking around the Old Quarter we ran into a group of US citizens standing in front of a churros peddler, a Latin American family waiting to enter the Casa del Chocolate and a pair of Asian grandparents taking pictures with an old trumpeter.

They all seem fascinated with Old Havana, its restored mansions, inner courtyards, parks and squares, cobbled streets. The guides, surrounded by tourists, explain in different languages the stories of buildings and people through the centuries.

Lucía recorriendo su ciudad y su cultura. Foto: Raquel Pérez Díaz

Lucia walking through her city and her culture. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

This scenery made me think that something has been changing during recent years in the type of tourism that comes to Cuba. And it also seems to have transformed the social landscape of the Cuban who “welcomes” them when they leave their rooms to travel the country.

A friend with a long history of working with tourists says that “before, many men came alone and the first thing they asked was where is the House of Music. Today more couples, families and groups arrive, whose main interest is getting to know Old Havana, Varadero or Viñales.

Visitors are struck by the sociocultural visits, Fusterlandia in Jaimanitas, Hamel alley in Centro Habana, hairdressers in Old Havana or Fernando Funes organic farm on the way out of the capital.

It would seem that there is a conjunction between what tourists are looking for and what Cuba can and wants to offer them. The gigantic investment the nation made in education and culture could be financially profitable if the current tourist boom is well used.

It is essential, for example, to have a serious entertainment guide that allows visitors to be aware of concerts, dance functions, art galleries and their exhibitions, theater, film festivals, and a very long etc.

Los grupos de turistas escuchan fascinados las historias que cuentan sus guías. Foto: Raquel Pérez Díaz

Groups of tourists listen fascinated the stories told by their guides. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

It isn’t wrong to sell the Tropicana club but to limit ourselves to offering only a cabaret show is to reduce Cuban culture to the cliché of the 1950s. It would be very foolish to hide the rich cultural mosaic built by the nation from before even being one.

Eusebio Leal and the team that restored Old Havana deserve an ongoing tribute not only for rescuing the Old Town, but also for pointing out one of the roads that lead to the self-financing of culture, putting the market at its service.

The locomotive of tourism can pull many wagons of the economy, but culture is the soul of the train. Handled with intelligence, without becoming too commercial and without ideological prejudices, it could even become self-financing.

It is not a question of multiplying the musical groups that today play the same songs in all the restaurants. Jazz bands and classical music, for example, should also have a space, just as you can hear the instrumental Guantanamera in Piazza San Marcos in Venice.

It is imperative that strategies are coordinated and feedback encouraged. Cuban culture could become an inexhaustible source of tourist attraction, while at the same time we are sowing in the soul of little Lucia the spirit of her nation.

La cultura de las McDonald's rendida ante el encanto de los churros. Foto: Raquel Pérez Díaz

The McDonald’s culture surrendered to the charm of churros. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

Translation: Havana Times

About Fernando Ravsberg

Nacido en Uruguay, corresponsal de Público en Cuba y profesor del post grado de “Información internacional y países del Sur” de la Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Fue periodista de BBC Mundo, Telemundo de EEUU, Radio Nacional de Suecia y TV Azteca de México. Autor de 3 libros, El Rompecabezas Cubano, Reportajes de Guerra y Retratos.


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