Development Encounters: Cuba, Social Development and NGO Tours
Cuba is a country of beguiling beauty which attracts many tourists. It is also a poor country suffering the combined effects of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the constraints of the US embargo. However, the only crises most tourists will confront are a barman who runs out of the hierba buena variety of mint that makes for a perfect mojito; or a driver whose 1950s Chevrolet maquina (taxi) chugs and bounces along Havana’s heavily potholed roads. Some tourists visit Cuba expressly to learn about development challenges and accomplishments of its tenacious communist revolution. Tours operated by NGOs comprise small groups travelling through the provinces visiting community organisations and projects to discuss local development issues. In providing participants with an insight into daily life in Cuba, they aim to show the positive development initiatives being undertaken by ordinary people. Subsequently, NGO tours often inspire participants to become more engaged and active in regards to Cuba and/or international development on their return to their own countries. Focusing on development, these tours discuss the merits, failures and challenges of Cuban socialism in this age of globalization and neo-liberalism, offering very particular insights into alternative models. By looking at the moral imperatives underpinning the conjunction between this particular form of tourism and development, I discuss how an educational engagement, which embodies a particularly powerful experience for tourists, leads to a process whereby tourists become actual agents of development. This culture of concern and notion of ‘moral responsibility’ resonates with rights-based development and social movement theory in the ways the tours facilitate mobilisation efforts and networks. NGO tours in Cuba shed light on the instrumental outcomes of tourism as a tool for development and they forecast an increasing interest between globalized social movements, tourist engagement in social change, and endogenous development.
Keywords: Development, Tourism, Applied Anthropology, Global Networks and Solidarity, Transformative Learning, Cuba
Dr. Rochelle Spencer
Australian Research Council Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Centre for Research on Social Inclusion, Macquarie University