Ignorance or apathy may have Norah Jones thinking she’ll be sharing her music with the Cuban people next February, but typical Cubans can’t afford her concert package, priced at roughly 1,500% of their average annual salary. In fact, for the cost of a package for her concert event in Havana, a Cuban can buy a house on the island. The concert, however, will be a wonderful propaganda opportunity for the Cuban dictatorship and its business partners and a fun excursion for foreign tourists who have no qualms enjoying another apartheid performance on the island prison.
In this editorial by Cuban writer Ernesto Perez Chang, he explains how Jones’ concert event only serves the Cuban regime and its business partners.
Norah Jones will be selling beans in Havana
Buying a good house in Havana costs less than a tourist package to be part of the “select public” attending Norah Jones’ “cultural exchange.” In fact, for the price of one of those packages, even the cheapest one, anyone could buy several small houses, perhaps even a score of those on the verge of collapse not far from Teatro Martí where, probably, the sound of another collapse will “harmonically” blend with the notes of a singer who comes to “experience” — just for a couple of nights — the Cuba of her dreams.
With the cost of experiencing Norah Jones live, any Cuban dreaming of leaving — meaning almost everyone, including even the most “loyal” to the regime — could afford a journey from Nicaragua to Mexico, and still have money left over. Even with half the minimum amount, any family would have enough to escape the nightmare of knowing that, at any moment, with the next rains, the roof of their house might come crashing down.
When a Cuban mother or father, an average person, hears the colossal amounts that some wealthy people — wealthy in the style of Madonna disguised as Che Guevara — will pay, they don’t think about Norah Jones but rather about the load of chicken they could buy and the sacks of rice and beans. Even the ones Hugo Cancio will sell, he claims, at prices “affordable for everyone,” but in reality, they will be affordable only for those who can pay in dollars, not in the pitiful “national currency.”
Hugo Cancio’s “luxury cart” will never be approached by government inspectors to fine him for high prices or demand he sell with capped prices. Nor will even that “abusive” street bean vendor, whom the police harass for “unjust enrichment” but who really doesn’t make as much profit from a sack of beans brought from Alquízar as Hugo Cancio will make from a single kilo package brought from Miami. But the word “abuse” in Cuba is as “relative” as the term “cultural exchange,” and, like these, there is a whole glossary of “relativities.”
Norah Jones won’t sing for the street bean vendor, no matter how much money he seems to have (or has), because the crux of the matter is not so much the concerts she will offer but the grand image-cleaning spectacle in which she is framed. It is much more than a simple strategy to attract tourists. In any case, Norah Jones will sing to help the good street vendor Hugo Cancio sell his beans at caviar prices in a country where eating a chicken egg is a chimera.
Not coincidentally, the announcement was made in the context of the Havana International Fair FIHAV 2023, shortly after a tourism convention and while the Cuban prime minister was on a tour of China, once again seeking to attract Asian tourists to a place they don’t want to travel to for a simple reason: communism is not attractive, not even for communists. Thus, the Russians don’t come anymore because the experience is more traumatic than satisfying, as Cuba revives traumas they have not yet overcome.
Not even Norah Jones’s promise to stroll around Havana in a classic car will break that “spell” — more than the “enchantment” — emanating from a system whose nature is to repel, even its own citizens, along with their most authentic traditions. Because everything they do, besides being annihilating, is merely cosmetic makeup. No matter how much rouge we apply to a corpse, even from a distance, we will smell the stench of death.
Norah Jones may come, sing, and ride in a classic car, but she would be very naive if, like the Chinese, Russians, and even Cubans themselves, she doesn’t realize all the “beauty” around her is pure set decoration and pyrotechnics. Even the audience she will have will be the one already on rigorously reviewed and previously prepared lists to ensure that no one shows up there shouting “Patria y Vida.” Much less to promote beans at two dollars a pound when they already have a luxury cart vendor and announcer who will sell them “affordable for everyone” in the most authentic “cultural exchange.”