Yenisel Rodriguez Perez
The number of international tourists visiting the island had been on the rise, prompting the renowned Cuban troubadour Carlos Varela to compose a song criticizing the idyllic image of Cuba that’s constructed for the pleasure of these foreign guests.
In that same sense, the song came to question that supposed “naiveté” that prevents foreign visitors from realizing the deception being pulled on them. By being left unaware of the true everyday-life experienced by the average Cuban, this understanding “slips out of their hands.”
“Tropicola” was the title chosen for this song by Varela. This title refers to a Cuban brand of beverage sold internationally since the second half of the twentieth century: the popular cola-based soft drink charged with carbon dioxide.
“Tropicola” is an attempt to identify one of the possible symbols that herald the “return” of Cuba to capitalism, a synonym for Cuban capitalism or capitalism in Cuba. And so it was, though for a long time this brand of soft drink has ceased being any radical symbol of our state economy’s flirting with the market economy.
Today we have everything “Western,” not just Tropicola. We have Cuban copies of some of the most sacred products of globalized consumerism. We have foreign (Chinese) copies of super-prestigious brands, and we also have those same super-prestigious brands themselves.
In this sea of promiscuity, Tropicola is no more than a long-running and exotic brand of soft drink that was reborn with renewed vigor trying to participate (compete) in this tenacious battle in which domestic products aim to seduce national and international consumers who pay in hard currency.
During the time that the catchy song by Carlos Varela became popular, Cuban products held a certain advantage over imported products in the market directed at tourism. This made the errors committed in the grottos of brutal capitalism — which threatened our fragile social equality achieved in the 1980s — leave us a certain amount of dignity.
At least we had a carbonated soda produced in the country. We might end up with capitalism, but it would be “sovereign” capitalism: with cola produced in Cuba, with sugars and flavors arising from origins of independence and anti-imperialism.
Perhaps that’s why I sense a naive optimism in the song by Carlos Varela. Perhaps in Tropicola he discovered an incipient but sovereign form of capitalist marketing, conceding competitive advantages to domestic products so that they could lead the process of the consumerist alienation of the Cuban people.
But there’s nothing Carlitos. Not even in times of complicity with neoliberalism and imperial nations has our economy managed to preserve or create business wealth – neither the heirs of capitalist epochs nor the founders of “socialism.”
Today we can’t even complain of being stubborn mono-producers of sugar, since we import thousands of tons of it from South America.
Today tourists leave Havana without ever having met it, as Carlos Varela tells us in his song “Tropicola.” Moreover, today they leave without having tasted it in their deserts or their soft drinks, or in their vegetables or meats served in Cuban hotels and markets.
Today, the logistics of tourism in Cuba have as much to do with Cuba as “Coca-Cola” has to do with coca.
And if I were to tell them that the taste of our cola is purchased from the subsidiary of Coca-Cola in Mexico, there’s no doubt what I would tell them. The situation is the worst of the worse.