#InstaCuba: Viewing Cuban Identity through the Tourist Filter
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Throughout history, Western tourists have fetishized the people and cultures of their nonWestern destinations. Tourists have traveled to Latin America imagining scenes of tropical beaches and “exotic-looking” women. Although tourism in Cuba has its specific history and complexities, it is a part of this broader narrative of tourism across Latin America. Prior to 1959, Cuba attracted more tourists than any other Caribbean island, as the Cuban government and travel agencies presented the island as a paradise for tourists’ self-indulgent pleasures. However, the Cuban Revolution in 1959 put an end to the gambling and prostitution that attracted many tourists. After several marginally successful attempts to harbor a tourism industry within the constraints of the socialist ideals, it was not until the fall of the Soviet bloc in the 1990s that the government returned to tourism as a main economic pillar to generate capital and attract hard currency quickly. Realizing tourists’ desires to see a romanticized ideal of the “last socialist country”, the Cuban government promotes celebratory images of the Revolution alongside the capitalist excesses of sex from the 1950s and tropical paradise that once characterized the tourist attractions on the island. American cars and street murals of Che Guevara are common appearances in the images that tourists post on the social media platform, Instagram. While tourists post pictures of destinations throughout Latin America on social media, the case of tourist social media in Cuba is vastly different from other destinations. A lack of infrastructure and government restrictions makes consistent access to the Internet difficult for Cubans. On the island, tourist hotels have Internet service available for purchase, but the service is too costly for the majority of Cuban nationals. Most Cubans remain without the ability to use and contribute to new interactive web spaces, such as Instagram. Therefore, foreigners and the State control the Cuban presence on this social media platform. The images that tourists choose to share perpetuate the idea of Cuba as the last socialist paradise: a representation the Cuban state desires in order to continue to attract tourists and to preserve the image of the survival of socialist ideals, despite an increasingly capitalistic reality. There is an abundance of research regarding tourism and its images, as well as investigation of social networks like Twitter and Facebook’s impact on the tourist industry, but the role of Instagram in the industry has not had the same attention. This paper will explore the intricacies of the identity of Cuba and its people on Instagram.