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Heritage Modern: Cityscape of the Late Socialist Political Economy in Trinidad, Cuba


The overall theme of this dissertation is to understand, through the heritage cityscape of Trinidad, aspects of the processes of the reconfiguration of political economy in today's Cuba. In late socialist Cuba, tourism is a key sector sustaining the revolution, and heritage cityscape constitutes one of the main tourist attractions. In this regard, the city of Trinidad provides a vantage point to analyze heritage practices and the tourism economy. I argue that the heritage cityscape of Trinidad manifests a tension between neoliberal and socialist rationalities, as the preservation office is converted into a cultural agency that depends on its own entrepreneurship.

In 1988, the historic urban center of Trinidad and the material remains of the sugar industry in the surrounding Sugar Mill Valley were declared a World Cultural Heritage site. The local agency in charge of its preservation is the Office of Conservation, the main site of this project. These local agencies and preservation professionals around the world produce and are produced by the global regime of heritage exemplified by UNESCO's World Heritage program. Although economic management is not the explicit end of heritage practices, to the extent that these agents are held morally accountable for the material conditions of the heritage sites, and that their insufficient performance is construed as unsuccessful entrepreneurship, the global regime of heritage operates by a neoliberal rationality. Maintaining a good cityscape signals good governance, and consequently success as a subject of the regime.

In Trinidad, where tourism is the single most important industry, the city's future depends exclusively on heritage commodification; maintaining and restoring the past urban form. I call this looking forward through looking backward "heritage modern." While the actual heritage cityscape is not materialized in the way that the Office imagines it to be the "good cityscape," signaling the precarious state of the Office as the subject in the global regime, the Office maintains a firm grip on the discursive landscape over Trinidad's heritage. Thus within the tension between neoliberal and socialist rationalities, the Office claims to be the appropriate guardian of the local specificity of heritage within the global regime.

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