CubaCargo/Cult is written to reflect on certain tangles and possibilities in thinking Cuba beyond the market, beyond the nation, beyond charismatic leaders and millenarian epochs. To think Cuba, too, beyond and before empire and the state. By invoking the term, I am putting into play an idea that can help us to think many aspects of Cuba’s modernity, to break the frames of development, democracy, socialism, empire, and cold war. Cuba is a long way from Melanesia, with a history at the heart of empire, capital, and material and human cargo. But the economies, dynamics, and narrative force of Cargo Cults are well suited to thinking about its modernization, its revolutions and its present. Thinking Cuba with Cargo Cults helps us rethink cults of political, critical, and theoretical desire that have interpreted this process. And, in many ways, Cuba has been narrated as a Cargo Cult for a long time now. The U.S. story for Cuba is a Cargo Cult story: the tropes of native desire for modernity and its cargo, like the tropes of the childlike logic, primitive ingenuity, or the calculating affect and transactional spirituality of Cubans haunts our hegemonic misunderstanding of what Cuba means.
Certainly the developmental and political narratives of Cuba are punctuated by the logic of the cargo cult: for a nation-state framed by the spectral plenty of empire and by real economies of scarcity, the desperate desire for the “cargo” of modernity, technology, and progress is a constant and a commonplace. Neo-colonial relationships, a monoculture economy, Soviet clientelism, and then its collapse, all this made more desperate the desire around that modern and hard-won cargo (meat, dolls, rice, cars, refrigerators, bicycles, jeans, flatscreens, air-conditioners, laptops). The U.S. embargo and Soviet clientelism created new cargo and renewed the fetish for the old: it literally turned into cargo what would otherwise have been a more or less “normal,” or normalized flow of commodities in uneven development. Read More