Monday, January 08, 2007

Cuban paper warns against consumerism

Cuban paper warns against consumerism

By VANESSA ARRINGTON, Associated Press WriterSun Jan 7, 2:10 PM ET

Cuba's official youth newspaper on Sunday reported an increase in sales of children's toys this year but warned against a rise in consumerism on the communist-run island.

In a two-page spread, the Juventud Rebelde reported on the revival of "Three Kings Day," a Latin American tradition of giving gifts to children on Jan. 6, commemorating the arrival of three wise men who offered the newborn Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

"A tradition that seemed extinct in Cuban society rises again," the state-run newspaper said. "Although no one sees celebrating the millennial festivity of the Three Kings as heresy, the danger could be in (the holiday) accentuating consumerist habits and social differences."

Christmas is a low-key affair in Cuba. The government discouraged holiday celebrations for religious and consumerist reasons for decades following Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution, but made Christmas a holiday in 1997 ahead of a visit by Pope John Paul II in 1998.

Christmas was declared a permanent holiday at the end of 1998, a decision religious leaders embraced while also echoing concerns that it would succumb to Western-style commercialization.

State-run department stores offer no special promotions or sales on toys this time of year. Those interviewed for the Juventud Rebelde article attributed the increase of gift-giving in Cuba to the influence of globalization and visits by Cuban-Americans and other natives living abroad.

"During these days one can hardly move around the toy department of stores ... in the capital," the article said.

The newspaper spread showed photographs of shoppers holding several bags and children playing with toys. Raisa Vazquez, a manager of Havana's La Epoca department store, was quoted as saying toy sales were the highest this year since the store reopened in 1998.

"The enormous demand has forced us to spread out the toys to other departments, like the hardware section or the area with school supplies, so that the customer doesn't have to wait in such an immense line," Vazquez told the newspaper.

No specific sales numbers were reported, however.

Some of those interviewed by Juventud Rebelde expressed disdain for the resurgence of the holiday, calling it "a tradition of capitalist countries." University professors also warned that gift-giving can highlight economic differences.

"What should worry us is the social connotation that this could have, making it an objective of families to buy the most ostentatious gift," Teresa Munoz, a sociology professor at the University of Havana, told the newspaper. "The solution is not to prohibit (the celebration) but rather to be conscientious of the consequences we could face creating consumerist habits that deform little ones and make them feel superior to their companions."

The Three Kings Day tradition comes from Spain. While not actively promoted by the communist government, the newspaper said rebels led by Castro in the 1950s also gave toys on the holiday to children in the mountains where they were fighting the Cuban revolution.

On Monday, the office of Havana's city historian will distribute 100,000 toys to children to celebrate the holiday but also to honor Castro's Jan. 8 entrance in Havana after the triumph of his revolution in 1959.

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