Will Social Media Absolve Him?

On his first voyage in 1492, Christopher Columbus “discovered” what he

described as the fairest island human eyes have yet beheld. This fair island was known by

many names: Juana, Cubanacan, Cubao, The Pearl of the Antilles, Cuba. Centuries later,

a young lawyer turned revolutionary overturned 500 years of colonization and outside

influence, and on January 1, 1959, Fidel Castro declared victory in the city of Santiago de

Cuba, forever making Cuba synonymous with a new word: revolución. However, like

most revolutions, things got complicated, in Cuba’s case, an ideological clash against

imperialism meets Communism meets, well, a 50-year embargo imposed by the United

States. In 1961, after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, Fidel communicated to his people

through his state-run Radio Rebelde broadcast, saying,“And do they think they can hide

this from the world? No! Cuba has a radio station that is already transmitting throughout

Latin America … We are no longer in the age of stage-coaches. We are in the age of

radio and the truth can travel far and wide!” Cuba was on the cutting edge of social

media. How could Fidel have ever predicted the Kardashian selfies of 2016?

Whether he likes it or not, a lot has changed in the world during the decades Fidel

has kept his people locked under state-run media. And while the vast majority of Cubans

have not had free access to social media, or, Internet for that matter, the world has, and

now, with Cuba in the middle of a historic thaw with the United States and being the top

destination on every American mind, Americans had the unique opportunity to

experience Fidel’s island from two unlikely lenses: the Kardashians and Chanel. To put it

simply, it was a weird trip. Chanel showcased his Resort collection on Havana’s famous

avenue, Paseo del Prado, a collection that was inspired by the heyday of glamorous,

wealthy Americans travelling to the Caribbean for vacation. To make this painful irony

worse, the show was opened strictly to VIPs, leaving Cuban citizens frustrated, isolated

and held behind police lines, separating the have and the have-nots, the bourgeoisie from

the proletariat.

Meanwhile the Kardashian sisters, Kanye and North West in tow, who were there

expressly for the Chanel show, gallivanted around Havana, fetishizing it all over social

media as most tourists are prone to do. However, not everyone was happy with the posts

on Instagram. Khloe Kardashian particularly stirred up her followers with one photo of

her against a wall with “Fidel” written behind her, followers commenting that her photo

was like “posting a Hitler banner.” Meanwhile, in a second photo, Khloe posted against

another wall, but this time, Photoshopped the graffiti that read, “Viva la Revolución,”

reducing it to a blur, prompting her followers to comment, “Why did you Photoshop the

“viva la revolucion” away? That’s what Cuba stands for.” Talk about ideological divides.

Kim’s photo of a street lined with vintage cars was captioned, “…Being away and living

in the moment having no phone service was so amazing! We felt like we stepped back

into a different time period … Thank you Cuba!” Kim’s post sparked controversy with

South Florida Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a staunch opponent of the Castro

regime, who exclaimed, “Now, the Kardashians are parachuting into the island to tape

their vapid TV show … haven’t the Cuban people suffered enough?”

As more and more Americans hit the Cuban scene and more and more Cubans

gain access to the outside world through social media, the contradictions and

controversies will continue to run deep. During Obama’s visit to Cuba in March, Raúl

Castro made a rare show of answering questions at a press conference, in which he

denied Cuba’s detention of political prisoners. During the press conference, Raúl Castro

declared, “After this meeting is over, you can give me a list of political prisoners, and if

we have those political prisoners, they will be released before tonight ends,” which was

quickly followed by a flood of names being listed on Twitter by journalists from Cuba

and overseas. Between Chanel, the Kardashians, and the names of political prisoners

being openly listed on Twitter, Raúl has to wonder whether opening his island to free,

limitless Internet and the warming relations with the United States will work in favor of

his revolution. I just hope that when he figures it out, he shares his thoughts with us with

a quick tweet.

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Works Cited

Corinthios, Brittany. “The Kardashians Arrive in Cuba as South Florida Rep Criticizes

Their 'Vapid' Visit: 'Haven't the Cuban People Suffered Enough?” People. 04

May 2016. Web. <http://www.people.com/article/kardashians-arrive- cuba-

receive-backlash- florida-representive>

Kardashian, Kim. Instagram. May 2016. Web.

<https://www.instagram.com/kimkardashian/>

Marsh, Sarah. “Chanel brings glamor back to Cuba in catwalk extravaganza.” Reuters. 04

May 2016. Web. <http://www.reuters.com/article/us-cuba- chanel-

idUSKCN0XU1LT>

The New York Times. “Obama says embargo would end; Castro denies there are political

prisoners.” The New York Times. 21 Mar. 2016. Web.

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/cp/international/obama-in-

cuba/cuba-video- obama-and- raul-castro

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