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Cuba in the Shadow of Change

Daily Life in the Twilight of the Revolution

Amelia Rosenberg Weinreb

Publication Year: 2009

Amelia Weinreb takes readers deep inside the everyday life of middle-class Cubans--arguably the majority of citizens on the island. Un-theorized and under-described, it is a group that is portrayed honestly, accurately, and empathetically.

The political and economic systems of Cuba in the post-Soviet period pose ongoing challenges to ordinary Cubans as they struggle in the waning years of the Castro regime. Weinreb demonstrates that the major reason they have been ignored in the scholarly literature is because remaining obscure is one of their strategies for coping with these challenges.

Weinreb has made repeated visits to the island, frequently living in local communities along with her family. Thus her ethnography of this "shadow public" is based upon traditional participant-observer methodology. Her experiences--from the clothesline, the back bedroom, the kitchen table, and the living room sofa--allow her an unprecedented opportunity to bring to outside readers the reality of daily life in Cuba, and she includes an epilogue that addresses citizen and consumer changes that have taken place since Raúl Castro became president in February 2008.

No other book reveals so much about the anxieties and clandestine plans that have shaped Cubans' lives during the final years of the Fidel Castro era.

Published by: University Press of Florida

Title Page, Copyright

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List of Figures

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pp. ix

List of Tables

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pp. xi

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pp. xiii

For their encouragement and critical comments on earlier drafts, I am indebted to Asif Agha, Sheldon Garon, Peggy Reeves Sanday, Deborah Thomas, Greg Urban, a hawk-eyed anonymous reviewer for the University Press of Florida, and my husband, Alex Weinreb, who also provided never-ending company...

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pp. 1-18

Garments dry quickly in the morning sun, and are best brought indoors by midday to avoid the daily frenzy of unpegging at the first roll of afternoon thunder. This is when women call out, announcing the arrival of rain and, as a neighborly gesture, yank down all nearby laundry from...

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1. Historical Overview: Tracing Discontent

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pp. 19-34

How did citizen-consumer dissatisfaction emerge, and when? In this chapter, I describe relevant contemporary history and national conditions in Cuba, particularly its role as a welfare state and its transition from Special Period to late socialism in the last fifteen years. I emphasize the way that information...

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Part I. Private

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pp. 35-37

“Can I ask you something?” inquired Elena, a divorced, middle-aged mother of three and a practicing Catholic. It was just a few days after we had met in a leafy side street in Havana, and I was visiting her apartment. Lowering her voice, she then added, “come into the bedroom.” Cubans...

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2. Private Space

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pp. 39-51

In defining private space in Cuba, I must first recognize some contrasting attributes of public space, and what important private, citizen-consumer details do not register on the radar in public space and the official domain. Some official buildings are the lumbering, gray, Soviet-headquarters kind. Others...

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3. Private Experience

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pp. 52-61

When I first met her on a residential side street, Elena handed me a something from a short stack of photocopies she was carrying under her arm. It was a pastoral newsletter entitled “No hay patria sin virtud” (There Is No Country without Virtue), published by the Cuban Conference of Catholic Bishops. It...

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Part II. Means

As expressed in the lyrics to this song from the locally popular film and soundtrack Habana Blues (2005), there is a hidden Havana, behind the tourist façade, one that “people never see.” These are the neighborhoods in a fix, where people are struggling and where the black market provides the means to make...

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4. Words and Means: The Special Period Lexicon

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pp. 65-82

Talking about, fretting about, and figuring out means to earn income and obtain commodities have become fundamental to how Cuban citizens characterize daily life within the confines of their country when describing it to outsiders—whether tourists, journalists, or researchers. It has also become...

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5. What Goods Mean in Cuba

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pp. 83-97

I have spoken of Cuban “means” and the words that signify such means, but it is often the phenomenological, concrete, material goods themselves that hold special significance for Cubans in the late-socialist era. Material frustrations and shortages add consumer insult to citizen injury, but unlike political...

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6. Dollars, Means, and the New Cuban Class System

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pp. 98-113

Offering me a parting gift, a dusty little tacita (espresso demitasse) from her own kitchen set, the elderly mother of my landlady, a pensioner, apologized for what she considered too small a gesture, “But I can’t offer you something nicer, because I don’t have access to dollars.” No longer do people describe...

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Part III. Free

This melancholy moment, in which Petra was contemplating a lifetime of separation from her son and his family due to politics and geography, represents culturally shared questions of feeling trapped and finding happiness in late-socialist Cuba. It is also a place to start in considering the Cuban meaning...

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7. Un-migration

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pp. 117-141

Late-socialist bureaucracy, and the current ideology behind it, have made it difficult—some claim nearly impossible in recent years—for an ordinary citizen to obtain an exit permit (permiso de salir) to travel—far less emigrate— outside of the island. Moreover, if a permit is denied, there is no opportunity...

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8. Freedom Offstage

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pp. 142-159

If migration is the shadow public’s exit from a crumbling state, as I described in chapter 7, quiet, offstage forms of criticism are a form of voice in that same system. Members of the shadow public are not notable citizens. In other words, they do not try to stand out or make their voices heard. Again, they are...

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9. Conclusion: Citizens, Consumers, and Shadow Publics in Time and Space

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pp. 160-179

In conclusion, I expand my argument in order to consider two larger political categories that encompass the shadow public, and that the category of shadow public shapes in turn: citizens and publics. Specifically, I distinguish real versus ideal types of citizens, a model that can be mapped onto...

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pp. 180-189

I revisited Cuba in February–March 2008, wanting to see what had changed in the two years between my completing my research and this book going to press. Serendipitously, I landed in Havana on the quiet, humid evening following the historic announcement that, after Cubans had experienced nearly...

Appendix: Informant Profiles

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pp. 191-195


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pp. 197-218

Literature Cited

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pp. 219-243


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pp. 245-254

E-ISBN-13: 9780813045399
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813036984
Print-ISBN-10: 0813036984

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 10 b&w photos, 2 figures, 5 tables
Publication Year: 2009