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Open Access ‘Fascinans’ or ‘tremendum’? Permutations of the state, the body, and the divine in late-twentieth-century Havana

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‘Fascinans’ or ‘tremendum’? Permutations of the state, the body, and the divine in late-twentieth-century Havana

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image of New West Indian Guide / Nieuwe West-Indische Gids

Focuses on the introduction of capitalist elements, such as the use of the dollar as currency, in Cuba in the 1990s, and discusses survival strategies among the Cuban people, during the "special period" since 1989. Based on fieldwork and experiences in Havana, the author pays particular attention to the important role of (obtaining) dollars instead of the less valuable peso currency for Cubans in response to deprivations, and how this occurs through different forms of hustling people with money, including offering sexual favours to tourists, as well as to an increased focus on own interests instead of on courteous sharing among Cubans, and increased racial cleavages. He finds that the introduction of the dollar in Cuba, as well as tourism's growth, garnered income, but also stimulated inequalities in access to dollars and to dollar-prized commodities, and had morally problematic effects, because working formally for the state with wages in pesos generally paid less than informal work to obtain dollars. He describes how this increased instrumental thinking and made hustling widespread, and also stimulated shams and secular intentionality within the practice of Afro-Cuban religions, e.g. fake possessions to obtain dollar offerings to deities from foreigners at ceremonies. In addition, he refers to the ending of the circulation of the US dollar as currency in Cuba as decreed by the Cuban government in November 2004, making the dollar's role in practice historical.

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