Socialite Revolution: Dynasties, Aristocratic Touches, and Surrogate Royalty in Havana

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Nearly two years ago, I showed my lefty credentials at a dinner party by talking about Cuba as a process of “passive revolution” (more on that in a later post).  Reflecting on political familialism and wealthy dynasties (Clintons, Kirchners, Castros, Bacardis, Fanjuls), I argued with too much confidence that the dynastic politics of Cuba and the United States would own the future.  Turning to me in wry agreement, the writer Antonio José Ponte said, ironically, that his most perverse professional desire  for the future would be to edit a Cuban edition of “Hola,” and to cover in detail the gossip and rumor, the behind the scenes drama, designer gowns, and exclusive fotos of a historic and romantic Castro-Fanjul wedding of 2025.

The recent pictures of Paris Hilton with Fidel Castro Díaz Balart taken while the socialite was in Havana visiting the Habana Hilton  (opened by Conrad Hilton but funded with the pension plan of the Cuban Catering Workers Union) somehow fulfills and annihilates Ponte’s fantasy.   Paris’ comments suggest that the Hiltons owned the property when in fact they merely ran it, and her return seems to mark a symbolic taking possession and elegant relinquishment. Smiling side by side, the selfie socialite and the socialist scion (a good photogenic surrogate for his father) seem to annul sixty years of history.  Here we are, it seems to say, the celebrity descendants of two famous dynasties (three if you count the Diaz Balarts), and isn’t all that other nonsense irrelevant when a good selfie is all you need to heal the world.  One can almost imagine Paris in the near future naming her new baby Havana Hilton.

Bacardis, Fanjuls, Hiltons:  the returning seigneurs will be in the news more and more, as will the nostalgia of possession amid great dispossession.  A year ago, Alfonso Fanjul spoke of his recent and increasing visits to Cuba, and told the Washington Post, “If there is some way the family flag could be taken back to Cuba, then I am happy to do that.” But the return/victory lap of Cuba’s old and new aristocratic “dueños” has been going on for a while now.   And there are pictures to record the fantasies and traces they leave behind. Read More