May 13, 2003 - 5:00 PM
La Trobe University
Todd Ramon Ochoa
This talk examines the trajectory of three recently established community development projects in Havana. The projects were founded as collaborations between local state authorities and community groups rooted in Afro-Cuban religions, and each has attempted to address emerging social problems such as drug use, prostitution, and the physical deterioration of local schools and clinics. The original goal of each project was to facilitate these social objectives by working through informal networks of community support and religious allegiance, but with time the projects became increasingly influenced by the expansion of tourism. Folkloric performances of Santería music and dance soon came to occupy a prominent place in project activities, leaving the social objectives of each neglected. Nevertheless, action taken by the State in one case, and by a local participant in another, eventually refocused two of the three projects on their original goals.
The talk frames these events in a critique of the development tactics of Cuban and foreign agencies operating in Havana and Santiago de Cuba. Strategies such as “popular participation” and “capacity building” convey the notion of locally directed, culturally sensitive projects, yet in practice these approaches often fall short of empowering target communities. Adrian Hearn suggests that one important reason for this is a lack of reflexivity on the part of many development agencies: while they are paying closer attention than ever before to the cultural values and priorities of local communities, they often overlook their own. As a result, models of development still tend follow utilitarian scripts, focusing on commercial growth at the expense of social relationships, which (as the case studies show) can recreate rather than resolve original problems.
Adrian Hearn is a doctoral candidate at La Trobe University, Melbourne, and a professional percussionist. His research in Senegal and Cuba has examined the capacity of community organizations to democratically deliver health and education services where official mechanisms are overwrought with demand. His Ph.D. thesis focuses on the interactions of Afro-Cuban religious groups with domestic and foreign development agencies in Havana and Santiago de Cuba. His forthcoming article, Afro-Cuban Religions and Social Welfare: Consequences of Commercial Development in Havana (in Human Organization) details this research.
Todd Ramon Ochoa is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Anthropology at Columbia University. He conducted fieldwork on underground markets in Havana throughout the 1990s and his doctoral dissertation is a treatment of Cuban Kongo religion in Havana and the Central Cuban countryside. His thesis is titled The Living and the Dead in a Cuban Kongo Sacred Society.