Capitalism, God, and a Good Cigar

Cuba Enters the Twenty-first Century

Capitalism, God, and a Good Cigar

Book Pages: 264 Illustrations: 75 b&w photos Published: May 2005

Caribbean Studies, General Interest > Travel, Media Studies

When the Soviet Union dissolved, so did the easy credit, cheap oil, and subsidies it had provided to Cuba. The bottom fell out of the Cuban economy, and many expected that Castro’s revolution—the one that had inspired the Left throughout Latin America and elsewhere—would soon be gone as well. More than a decade later, the revolution lives on, albeit in a modified form. Following the collapse of Soviet communism, Castro legalized the dollar, opened the island to tourism, and allowed foreign investment, small-scale private enterprise, and remittances from exiles in Miami. Capitalism, God, and a Good Cigar describes what the changes implemented since the early 1990s have meant for ordinary Cubans: hotel workers, teachers, priests, factory workers, rap artists, writers, homemakers, and others.

Based on reporting by journalists, writers, and documentary filmmakers since 2001, each of the essays collected here covers a particular dimension of contemporary Cuban society, revealing what it is like to have lived, for more than a decade, suspended between communism and capitalism. There are pieces on hip hop musicians, fiction writing and censorship, the state of ballet and the performing arts, and the role of computers and the Internet. Other essays address the shrinking yet still sizeable numbers of true believers in the promise of socialist revolution, the legendary cigar industry, the changing state of religion, the significance of the recent influx of money and people from Spain, and the tensions between recent Cuban emigrants and previous generations of exiles. Including more than seventy striking documentary photographs of Cuba’s people, countryside, and city streets, this richly illustrated collection offers keen, even-handed insights into the abundant ironies of life in Cuba today.

Contributors. Juliana Barbassa, Ana Campoy, Mimi Chakarova, Lydia Chávez, John Coté, Julian Foley, Angel González, Megan Lardner, Ezequiel Minaya, Daniela Mohor, Archana Pyati, Alicia Roca, Olga R. Rodríguez, Bret Sigler, Annelise Wunderlich


“[R]evealing and compelling journalism. . . . Read it, then, for its often delicately penned portraits of an interesting, if unrepresentative, group of Cubans living in a period that now seems to be passing.” — Steve Ludlam, Bulletin of Latin American Research

“[T]his is an excellent—albeit impressionistic—introduction to Cuban reality.” — John M. Kirk, The Americas

“For those who have visited Cuba during the last decade, this volume will confirm their views. For those who have not gone to the island, this book will provide interesting human insights about a nation lost in a time warp.” — Thomas M. Leonard, The Historian

“Readers of Capitalism, God, and a Good Cigar come away with a sense of this island as complex and ever-changing, and an appreciation for the process through which Cuba enters the twenty-first century. Highly recommended for anyone who has spent time in Cuba, and essential for anyone who has not—particularly readers who have been relying on U.S. media accounts to shape their impressions of life on the island.” — Ann Marie Stock, k New West Indian Guide

“Uniformly well-written and even handed, these essays are highly recommended for undergraduates as well as scholars.” — Jane M. Rausch, Journal of Third World Studies

"[A] sense of immediacy, of whispered truths, of possible spies permeate this round-up of voices. . . . Lydia Chavez's reporters and assistants have amassed plenty of evidence, in vivid journalese, that lets the reader work out what will happen when Castro lets go of the tight reins." — Jason Wilson, TLS

"Accented by beautifully evocative photographs by Mimi Chakarova of this most photogenic of lands, the book is a collection of first-person investigations into a terrifically wide array of social strata on the island and in its diaspora. The earnest essays included . . . all share the virtue of putting individual Cubans at the center of the story, in letting the voices, stories and lives of their subjects determine their content and conclusions. . . . One of the most useful and nuanced portraits of contemporary life on the island in years." — Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, San Francisco Chronicle

"[Chavez] skillfully weaves a lively and detailed tapestry of narrative and journalistic essays by a dozen different contributors. Enriched by marvelous documentary photographs that capture the mood and ambiance of daily experience, each essay provides a keen insight into a particular aspect of Cuban society. . . . Anyone interested in penetrating the fog of what Cuba is all about today-professionals, college students, general readers-will find this book a rich source of delightful vignettes and a refreshing close-up of the country." — Primo Vannicelli, Perspectives on Political Science

"[For] people who want to see today's Cuba, vicariously and legally. . . . One cannot help but be inspired." — Jerry V. Haines, Washington Post

"Without question, this is the most revealing book available on Cuba today. . . . Covering every aspect of Cuban life, from capitalism to literature to contemporary hip-hop culture, these vivid essays bring Cuban society into focus. . . . Highly recommended for academic and larger public libraries." — Library Journal

Capitalism, God, and a Good Cigar addresses in an original and insightful way the question so many have asked themselves for so long: how is it that Fidel Castro and his regime are approaching half a century in power under extremely adverse conditions, many of them of their own making? This book may not provide the answer, but it offers many answers, all of them intelligent and imaginative.” — Jorge Castañeda, Global Distinguished Professor of Politics and Latin American and Caribbean Studies at New York University and former foreign minister of Mexico

Capitalism, God, and a Good Cigar is engagingly written, nuanced, sensitive in political perspective, and innovative and broad-ranging in its choice of subject matter. This freewheeling and intimate account of life in Cuba today gives a close-up view of the rapid-fire changes overtaking the island, from the new economy to Internet access to issues of freedom of speech to Cuban ballet. It provides a welcome, fresh perspective that goes far beyond what American audiences tend to hear about Cuba.” — Aviva Chomsky, Professor of History and Coordinator of Latin American Studies at Salem State College and coeditor of The Cuba Reader: History, Culture, Politics


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Lydia Chávez is an associate professor in the Graduate School of Journalism and Chair of the Executive Committee for the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. She is a former reporter for the New York Times in Latin America, where she served as bureau chief in San Salvador and Buenos Aires. She has written for the New York Times Sunday Magazine and the Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine and contributed op-ed pieces to the New York Times and San Francisco Examiner. She is the author of The Color Bind: California's Battle to End Affirmative Action.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Adrift: An Introduction to Contemporary Cuba / Lydia Chavez 1

Part I: Inventing

The New Cuban Capitalist / Juliana Barbassa 17

The Old Cuban Cadre: Four Women Survive Manzanillo / Alicia Roca 31

Trinidad: Life on the Margins / Julian Foley 45

Part 2: Breathing

Hip Hop Pushes the Limits / Annelise Wunderlich 65

Authors Who Knew or Know the Limits / Ezequiel Minaya 78

Dancers Who Stretch the Limits / Ana Campoy 95

Interlude: A Photo Essay / Mimi Chakarova 110

Part 3: Surviving

True Believers / Olga R. Rodriguez 131

Socialism and the Cigar / Daniela Mohor 147

Cubans Log On behind Castro's Back / John Cote 160

Part 4: Searching

The New Immigrants Don't Hate Fidel / Archana Pyati 177

The Spanish Are Back / Megan Lardner 191

God, Babalawos, and Castro / Bret Sigler 207

Son de Camaguey / Angel Gonzalez 222

Suggested Reading 235

Contributors 241

Index 243
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3494-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3482-8
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