Cuba: Antonio Castro's Golf Swing
May 28, 2013
Haroldo Dilla Alfonso
HAVANA TIMES — When I read the news about the trophy Antonio Castro had
won at an international golf tournament, I could not help but bring
Pierre Bourdieu to mind.
A requisite read, Bourdieu was a social scientist who wrote about a
broad range of topics and had something interesting to say about all of
them. One of the concepts he coined was that of the "distinction". For
Bourdieu, this was a kind of condensation of consumption habits and
behaviors which underpinned the lifestyle of a specific social class.
All elites cultivate their own distinction on the basis of their history
and power. When Cuba's Sierra Maestra rebels took power, they began to
At first, it drew from an austere, popular and anti-urban discourse
which found its supreme embodiment in the figure of Ernesto Che Guevara,
a man of undeniable stoicism and a known aversion to bathing.
Afterwards, following the demise of the epic-heroic age, the new
political class began to develop a taste for the abundance afforded by
Appearances, however, had to be kept, and such indulgences were carried
out at the expense of the State (no one had any private means of
accumulation), under the threat of a supreme authority that would
decapitate those who indulged in excess, drew too much attention to
themselves or proved disloyal.
In any event, these individuals had their own, inherit limitations in
this regard, a view of the world that often confounded prosperity with
what Marc Bloch called "obscene abundance."
They were people prone to lavish feasts and heavy drinking, who traveled
around the world with their own, personal gymnasiums, who filled up
planes with all sorts of worthless souvenirs from Madrid, who were
insatiable procurers of sex, of the cheap and expensive kind alike. They
were, however, incapable of grasping the elegance of an adagio or the
difference between the wines of the new and old continents.
I don't know whether this is an excessively cruel remark, but, whenever
I think about these people, I invariably bring to mind the image of
Cuba's last foreign minister [Felipe Perez Roque] to be defenestrated,
beer in hand and trousers rolled up, wiggling his blubbery physique to a
popular tune at that rural festivity, whose video is still being played
on the Internet.
The economic reforms Cuba undertook in the 1990s, and particularly those
implemented as of 2008, have been very shy, in more than one sense of
the word. We've seen no shortage of shyness, however, in the opening of
consumption spaces and the tolerance shown to material accumulation by
what appears to be the new social base of Cuba's coming capitalism:
black market lynchpins, the heirs of political fortunes, competitive
managers, salaried consultants and show business and art-world flaneurs.
This new, emerging elite sets itself apart from its predecessor through
its lifestyle. The previous elite were a class of blood-suckers that fed
on the body of producers like a mass of leeches.
Though dependent on State protection and assets (without which no one
can survive in Cuba), the economic prowess of this emerging economic
elite is derived, to a considerable degree, from the market itself.
They, and they alone, are the ones who benefit from the recent
liberalization which granted Cubans the right to stay at hotels,
purchase houses and cars, travel abroad (with visas that attest to hefty
bank accounts), and enjoy other services which can be secured in the
black market at exorbitant prices, Internet included.
Only they – and this is perhaps what is most important – can
continuously move between the private and public spheres, from the
regular Cuban peso economy to the Cuban Convertible Peso market, from
the realm of business to the world of politics – and to secure the
differential benefits derived from crossing the many borders that
characterize Cuba's current, fragmented reality.
Consequently, Cuba's new elite bears an incipient touch of bourgeois
distinction, visible in the glitter of galas held at select locations
around Havana, or the lush private banquets which were, formerly, the
luxury of consecrated officials and ambassadors.
Several chroniclers of our time, such as Lois Parsley and Sandra Weiss,
have written about the members of this new elite and their luxury-filled
nights. In a recent article, curiously entitled "Glamour is Back in
Havana", Weiss describes the sight of an orange Hummer, rolling noisily
down the city's pot-holed streets.
This is the world that Antonio Castro [son of Fidel Castro] belongs in.
The indignation over the likely costs of his golf hobby that many
readers have felt is understandable.
Cuba is a country where people quarrel over a dollar with the same
passion with which Robinson Crusoe guarded his corral of evasive goats.
The issue of money, however, is secondary, for any company could well
have paid for his training and even directed Antonio's golf balls, via
remote control, towards all of the 18 available holes.
A tournament winner as well-known as Antonio Castro is well worth the
trouble, hence the fact that his victory at a second-rate event has been
given so much coverage you would think he was Tiger Woods and the
tournament a major championship.
In contrast to his brothers – unremarkable in different ways – he plays
a visible, public role. And, unlike his cousins, Antonio Castro is an
apolitical creature. You don't see him launching anti-imperialist books
or leading conga-lines in favor of the LGTB movement. You see him,
rather, smoking fine cigars next to an international, nicotine-loving
He holds no high-sounding government positions. He is a mere
vice-chairman in Cuba's Baseball Federation. Though seemingly
insignificant, this places him in a good position to manage the opening
of the country to professional sports and, ultimately, become the owner
of a team, as many multi-millionaires around the world have done,
including Silvio Berlusconi and Sebastian Piñera.
Though undeniably a poster-boy for the regime, Antonio Castro is not an
insignificant man. He is a peculiar but key component of what we have
termed the Castro Dynasty. As such, between puts, Antonio Castro is
slowly becoming part of a de-facto elite that will have considerable
influence over Cuban politics for many years to come.