Book Essay: Havana Two Faces Of The Antillean Metropolis

1436 words - 6 pages

For those who have not studied Cuba, it is simply ‘that socialist island in the Caribbean’, reducing a fascinating history to one label. The book ‘Havana: Two faces of the Antillean Metropolis’ by Scarpaci, Segre and Coyula helps to debunk this myth through the story of its capital city and its citizens proving that Havana, and by extension Cuba, is a complex, contradictory country where “history has left its handprint on every street corner” (back cover). The general theme in Cuban studies is that Cuba is a country of many contradictions and dichotomies; the book perpetuates this idea through its exploration of Havana emphasizing dichotomies such as those between the Spanish and American ...view middle of the document...

Personally, I found the book an engaging and necessary read for those travelling to Havana, a city which seems to be so embedded in history. Much of the charm of the city would be lost if one could not understand and appreciate the full history and circumstances surrounding the city of Havana. A particular strength of the novel is the use of statistics and images to support claims about the city especially in the chapters concerning the economy and social situation. At times the overwhelming amount of evidence presented made for a bit of a dry read, the high level of granular detail in certain areas goes further than the reader needs to illustrate the point.
As the title suggests and the foreword further explains the main themes of the text surround the various dichotomies that exist within Havana such as those between pre and post revolution, Spanish and American influence, old and new, capitalist and socialist and many more. However, the foreword cautions that the underlying theme of dichotomies was not meant to reduce Havana to the sum of its dichotomies but rather to allow the reader to experience “the many facets of Havana” (xx preface). This theme of dichotomies is presented in multiple ways throughout the book whether referring to earlier history in the form of the Spanish and American influence imprinted on the architecture and layout of the city or the difference in the Havana experience for tourists and locals today: “a social leveler in that everyone must wait his or her respective turn in the ice cream line.’ But this has changed by the late 1990’s foreigners paying in dollars get quick access to the premises.” (306). Perhaps the most striking dichotomy is that between the socialist principles and the capitalism needed in Cuba for it to survive in today’s increasingly globalized capitalist economy. The best example of this was in chapter eight regarding the world-renowned Cuban healthcare system, a recognized socialist principle, and how it can be used by foreigners if they pay with hard currency, the capitalist infiltration: “Havana is home to several international tourist hospitals in Vedado, Miramar, and Centro Habana districts of the city…Cuba also promotes other specialized medical procedures under the label turismo de salud.” (297). The championed socialist principle of healthcare is contrasted by the capitalist nature of healthcare tourism. Of course, examples of contradictions in Cuban society are everywhere as we have learned in lectures this semester, whether it is in the layout of Habana Vieja and its narrow streets contrasted with the wide Quinta Avenida in Miramar, or between laws and attitudes towards racism and gender roles. More than other cities in the Western World, Havana is unique because it was spared many natural disasters such as earthquakes (126) and it was not ‘overbuilt’. As a result of this the imprints left by its various ruling regimes, and inhabitants are visible for all to see today perpetuating the...

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