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Tuesday, May 09, 2017

With Lacoste, Mont Blanc, Socialist Cuba Has 1st Luxury Mall

With Lacoste, Mont Blanc, Socialist Cuba Has 1st Luxury Mall
Cuba has its first luxury mall, thanks to the business arm of Cuba's
army transforming a century-old shopping arcade into a temple to
conspicuous capitalism, in the heart of the capital of a nation founded
on ideals of social equality.
May 9, 2017, at 12:05 a.m.
By MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN, Associated Press

HAVANA (AP) — The saleswomen in L'Occitane en Provence's new Havana
store make $12.50 a month. The acacia eau de toilette they sell costs
$95.20 a bottle. Rejuvenating face cream is $162.40 an ounce.

A few doors down, a Canon EOS camera goes for $7,542.01. A Bulgari
watch, $10,200.

In the heart of the capital of a nation founded on ideals of social
equality, the business arm of the Cuban military has transformed a
century-old shopping arcade into a temple to conspicuous capitalism.

With the first Cuban branches of L'Occitane, Mont Blanc and Lacoste, the
Manzana de Gomez mall has become a sociocultural phenomenon since its
opening a few weeks ago, with Cubans wandering wide-eyed through its
polished-stone passages.

Older Cubans are stunned at the sight of goods worth more than a
lifetime's state salary. Teenagers and young adults pose for Facebook
photos in front of store windows, throwing victory signs in echoes of
the images sent by relatives in Miami, who pose grinning alongside
50-inch TV sets and luxury convertibles.

On a recent weekday, Oswell Mendez and the members of his hip-hop dance
group De Freak posed for their Facebook page in the center of the
Manzana, on the spot where a bust of early 20th century Cuban Communist
leader Julio Antonio Mella sat before it was removed in the building's
multi-year renovation.

"This is a high-end spot, really nice," said Mendez, 24. "It's something
we haven't seen before."

The five-story Manzana sits off the Prado, the broad, tree-lined
boulevard that divides the colonial heart of the city. The upper floors
are a five-star hotel opening in early June that is owned by the
military's tourism arm, Gaviota, and run by Swiss luxury chain
Kempinski. Along the bisecting galleries of the Manzana's ground floor,
the military's retail arms — TRD Caribe and CIMEQ — host the luxury
brands along with Cuban stores selling lesser-known but still pricey
products aimed at Cuba's small but growing upper-middle class, like $6
mini-bottles of shampoo and sets of plates for more than $100.

A few blocks away, working-class Cubans live in decaying apartments on
streets clogged by uncollected trash. With state incomes devastated by
long-term stagnation and inflation, there's barely money for food, let
alone home repairs or indulgences.

"This hurts because I can't buy anything," said Rodolfo Hernandez
Torres, a 71-year-old retired electrical mechanic who lives on a salary
of $12.50 a month. "There are people who can come here to buy things but
it's maybe one in 10. Most of the country doesn't have the money."

With its economy in recession and longstanding oil aid from Venezuela in
doubt, the Cuban government appears torn between the need for
market-based reforms and the fear of social inequality that would spawn
popular dissatisfaction and calls for political change.

With other sectors declining, Cuba's increasingly important tourism
industry is under pressure to change its state-run hotels' reputation
for charging exorbitant prices for rooms and food far below
international standards. The Manzana de Gomez Kempinski bills itself as
Cuba's first real five-star hotel, and the brand-name shops around it
appear designed to reinforce that.

The hotel is earning positive early reviews but many tourists say they
find the luxury mall alongside it to be repulsive.

"I was very disappointed," said Jeannie Goldstein, who works in sports
marketing in Chicago and ended a six-day trip to Cuba, her first, on
Saturday.

"I came here to get away from this," she said. "This screams wealth and
America to us."

The Prado boulevard was the scene of Cuba's previous record for a
state-sponsored display of exorbitant consumerism. Last May, the
government closed the boulevard for a private runway show by French
luxury label Chanel for a crowd that included actors Tilda Swinton and
Vin Diesel and supermodel Gisele Bundchen.

The temporary privatization of a street for an international corporation
built on exclusivity and luxury generated widespread revulsion in Cuba
and an unusually angry reaction among writers and intellectuals. Cuba's
culture minister resigned two months later, with no reason given for his
departure.

Many other Cubans were delighted by Chanel and adore the Manzana de
Gomez, saying it's the sign the country knows its future depends on
opening itself to foreign wealth.

"These stores are for millionaires. Attracting tourists with money,
that's development, capitalism," said Maritza Garcia, a 55-year-old
airline office worker. "Everything that's development is good. Bit by
bit the country is lifting itself up. We're a socialist country but the
economy has to be a capitalist one."

___

Michael Weissenstein on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mweissenstein

Source: With Lacoste, Mont Blanc, Socialist Cuba Has 1st Luxury Mall |
Florida News | US News -
https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/florida/articles/2017-05-09/with-lacoste-mont-blanc-socialist-cuba-has-1st-luxury-mall
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