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Actor Vin Diesel flashes a heart-in-hand to the crowd ahead of the presentation of fashion designer...

Vin Diesel, Chanel Spark Cultural Backlash in Cuba

By 18:14:00

Actor Vin Diesel flashes a heart-in-hand to the crowd ahead of the presentation of fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld’s “cruise” line for fashion house Chanel, along Paseo del Prado street in Havana, Cuba. The mostly foreign audience arrived in specially hired classic American cars. Havana residents had to watch from behind police lines more than a block away. (Photo: Ramon Espinosa/AP)

Fast and Furious. U.S. cruise ships. A star-studded private celebration of Chanel.

The triple tsunami of global capitalism that pounded socialist Cuba this month has spawned a fierce debate about the downside of detente with the United States. Artists, writers and intellectuals who believe deeply in Cuba’s opening to the world are questioning their government’s management of an onslaught of big-money pop culture.

On an island that prides itself on egalitarianism, sovereignty and its long record of outsize accomplishments in the arts, many are openly critiquing opaque deals with multinational corporations seeking picturesque backdrops for car chases and summer frocks.

“The essence of the thing is that we’re a country with a particular history that has a particular culture. We have to be conscious of those values and keep them in mind when it’s time to negotiate,” said Graziella Pogolotti, an 84-year-old cultural critic who wrote a long editorial in state media calling for deeper thinking about Cuba’s dealing with international entertainment brands.

Cubans began complaining soon after the eighth installment of the hugely profitable action movie franchise Fast and Furious began filming in Havana. On street corners and in living rooms, working men and women questioned how they would benefit from a production that was causing seemingly endless traffic jams — a new phenomenon in a city where relatively few people own cars.

Then came the arrival of the Adonia, the first U.S. cruise ship in Cuba in nearly 40 years. Around the world, television viewers watched prosperous-looking Americans greeted by trays of rum drinks and Afro-Cuban dancers in skimpy Cuban flag-patterned bathing suits. For many Cubans, it was a spectacle uniting the worst exotic stereotypes about their country with disrespect for a symbol of independence.

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