The Spirit of Devel­op­ment: San­tería and Social Wel­fare in Havana

May 13, 2003 - 5:00 PM

Adrian Hearn

La Trobe University

Todd Ramon Ochoa
Colum­bia University

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.