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1 Historical Overview Tracing Discontent 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 about contemporary difficulties is repeatedly circulated by Cubans in local discourse, paying particular attention to those political and economic details that most buffet urban and suburban citizen-consumers. Here, in summary and introductory form, I speak of “ordinary Cubans,” which is a variously defined and contested term. This is so particularly because ordinary Cubans are not a monolithic group that has formed a consensus about their country, although at times Havana’s overwhelming mood of collective frustration and its widely circulating discourse on problems can create this perception. Throughout the book I use the phrase ordinary Cubans to refer most generally to those Cubans without leadership roles in the Communist Party or a mass organization, and without special status as elite performing artists, musicians, entertainers, or athletes. Many times, ordinary Cubans also fit the definition of unsatisfied citizen-consumers, those with whom I spent my time and whom I think are overlooked and under-analyzed, and whom this book therefore features. Sources and Perspectives While the perspective I present is arguably both ordinary and important for understanding contemporary Cuba, I must emphasize that I also spent time with people who continue to heartily support the revolution, the Castros, and the Communist Party (see the appendix). Their crucially important minority point of view is woven into this book, as they remain essential to the makeup of Cuban national culture, although I argue that their numbers are dwindling and they are disproportionately composed of people over fifty years of age and those with close Party connections. 20 / Chapter 1 I draw surprisingly little on existing ethnographic texts, for the simple reason that so few exist. While Cuba is written about extensively—even excessively —if one judges by the number of journalists and travel writers who have been able to cobble together colorful stories about their visits in the last fifteen years, the informant pool of these authors draws heavily on people they meet on the street: hustlers and prostitutes and those related in some way to the tourist industry and Cuban’s salsa-rich nightlife (T. Miller 1992; Hunt 1998; Codrescu 1999; Corbett 2002; Chiang 2004; Aschkenas 2006).1 These narratives drown out more mundane, less flashy struggles taking place in residential areas, and the voices of families whose stories are harder to access if only because they perceive greater personal and financial risk in disclosing their stories to outsiders (such as having to pay fines or payoffs to officials to protect themselves and their families). Ethnographies by researchers entrenched in ordinary, everyday life in postrevolutionary Cuba, such as the Lewis, Lewis, and Rigdon trilogy (1977– 78) and Rosendahl (1997), are now outdated.2 Since that time, writing has focused on “safer” topics, highlighting revolutionary accomplishments and such aspects of Cuban culture as sports (Price 2002); medicine (Feinsilver 1993); Santería (Wedel 2003; M. Clark 2005; Wirtz 2004); or music, dance, and the arts (Daniels 1995; Kirk and Padura Fuentes 2001; Perna 2005; Fernandes 2006; R. Moore 2006)—although, increasingly, no topic is actually safe from penetration by issues related to the Special Period crisis, as most of these books reveal. Nevertheless, they do not focus on what I claim are ordinary Cuban citizens’ changing and increasingly negative relationship to the state, their unattainable aspirations, and their disappointments. Like any summary of a country’s history, the summary I present here is not disinterested. On the contrary, the information and tone I communicate are influenced by the interests and perspectives of my informants; I could not and would not have written this section in the same way prior to my fieldwork. As I am the filter of citizen-consumer dissatisfaction, this profile is not particularly promotional or even balanced when reporting the accomplishments of the Cuban state (though see Levinson and Brightman 1971; Randall 1974, 1981; Cole 1998; August 1999; Azicri 2000; Erisman 2000; Hernández 2003; Azicri and Deal 2004; for contrasting or supplementary views). I also recognize that opinions regarding Cuban politics and “structural adjustment,” are contested in Latin America and the Caribbean.3 Therefore, I write with the acute awareness that “gain for one group must be considered in the context of cost to another” and...


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