While it’s not a story with major hemispheric implications, it’s certainly an interesting case study in the increasing autonomy of state-run companies in Cuba, as well as their limits.
At a convention in Havana last week, Cuban cosmetic manufacturer Labiofam announced it had -- with the help of a French perfume company -- developed two new colognes named after revolutionary figures Che Guevara and Hugo Chavez. According to the Associated Press, “Ernesto” features a “woodsy and refreshing citric scent,” while “Hugo” offers “hints of mango and papaya.”
(In a humorous aside, The Guardian highlights the irony in naming a cologne after Guevara, who apparently had a legendary aversion to taking showers and baths.)
While this is hardly the first time that Guevara’s image has been used as a marketing tool, the developers told reporters that they had obtained permission from his and Chavez’s relatives to use their names in association with the scents. Still, the branding amounts to a striking display of consumerism by a state-managed company in a socialist country.
Perhaps because of this contradiction, the colognes have raised the ire of Cuban authorities. On Friday, state newspaper Granma featured a front-page rebuke of Labiofam by the Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers, solemnly titled “Los Símbolos son Sagrados” (Symbols Are Sacred). The decision to market the scents, according to the committee headed by President Raul Castro, was an “irresponsible act” and those responsible for it will face “corresponding disciplinary measures.”
The nature of this ominous-sounding punishment is unclear, as it is a term that the AP notes could describe anything from “a chiding by a supervisor to criminal prosecution.”
This kind of public clash between the state and the (semi-)private sector is a fascinating development, and points to an emerging lack of central planning on the island. Yes, the blatant display of consumerism was ultimately quashed by Communist officials, but not before state company representatives publicly pitched their products to the international press, uncensored.
This is part of a trend in Cuba. In the latest reform package approved by the government in April, state companies were given more autonomy and greater control of their own profits, as well as permission to experiment with side businesses. As officials continue to roll back restrictions on private enterprise, it will become increasingly difficult to avoid similar confrontations between state-sanctioned ideology and commercial interests.
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