Friday, May 24, 2013

Why is playing golf a revolutionary pursuit in Cuba?

The Economist explains

Why is playing golf a revolutionary pursuit in Cuba?
May 23rd 2013, 23:50 by T.W.

AFTER the 1959 revolution, Fidel Castro denounced golf as a "bourgeois"
hobby. Though he once played a round with Che Guevara, the comandante
preferred ordinary Cubans to participate in earthier sports, such as
baseball. Despite demand from visiting foreigners, no new golf course
has been built in Cuba since the revolution. The island has only one
rather shabby nine-hole course in Havana, as well as a full-size course
in Varadero, a tourist town. But the government has just given
developers permission to build an enormous new golf resort, promising "a
whole new policy to increase the presence of golf in Cuba". Why has the
frivolous hobby of the bourgeoisie suddenly become permissible to

Cuba has gradually come to accept various Western fads that were
previously outlawed for one reason or another. The Beatles were banned
in Cuba in their heyday; now a bronze statue of John Lennon sits on a
bench in a park in Havana. Nearby a nightclub called "Submarino
Amarillo" (Yellow Submarine) belts out Beatles covers. Even those
closest to the government have fallen for some Western pleasures:
Antonio Castro, one of Fidel's sons, won a golf tournament on the island
last month.

But the main reason for the sudden enthusiasm for pitching and putting
is a need to attract more tourists. The island pulled in 2.8m visitors
last year, far fewer than the 4.6m who flocked to the Dominican
Republic, its smaller neighbour. Cuba faces the disadvantage that
America, which lies only 100 miles away, makes it very difficult for its
own citizens to holiday on the island (try searching for flights to
Havana on an American website and you will have no luck, wherever you
are from). Now, unstable regional politics make it more crucial than
ever for Cuba to pep up income from tourism. Venezuela, whose
petrodollars have propped up the Cuban economy for years, is ploughing
into an economic crisis. Its new president, Nicolás Maduro, has pledged
loyalty to the Castros but is far less popular at home than his
predecessor, Hugo Chávez. Meanwhile, recent attempts to find oil in
Cuban waters have drawn a blank.

The revolution therefore needs golfers. The $350m Carbonera Club, to be
developed by Esencia, a British firm, is the first project to get the
go-ahead; another course is expected to be complete by the end of the
year. A 1,300-berth marina, the largest in the Caribbean, is to be built
in Varadero. And the island's airports are to be upgraded, with help
from Brazil's development bank. At the same time, the government has
signalled that several foreign businessmen who have been held on
suspicion of corruption for nearly two years will soon face trial. Their
hearings are due to begin this month, in what some believe may be a
first step towards eventually freeing them. Cuba's politics remain as
opaque as ever, but it looks as if the island is gradually opening for

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