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  HOME | Opinion (Click here for more)

Beatrice Rangel: Karl Lagerfeld, Cuba's Raul Castro and the Law of Unintended Consequences
Former Venezuela Presidential Chief of Staff Beatrice Rangel on how Karl Lagerfeld's Chanel fashion show in Havana brought -- and continues to bring -- change to the Communist isle.

By Beatrice E. Rangel

As the top echelon of leaders in fashion and luxury and celebrities paraded to Nanterre to pay final respects to the Tsar of style and elegance, I could not help but think of Karl Lagerfeld's fashion display in Havana, Cuba on 2015.

Then his coterie of top models took over the Paseo del Prado in the Cuban capital wearing Chanel's trademark plied mini skirts with Che Guevara Ts and black berets.

As the standard bearers of taste and elegance jogged through Havana, the people of Cuba had a peek view of the world they had been denied while the sacred symbol of revolution was turned into an entertainment feature good enough to open a fashion display but not for much else.

And while Lagerfeld, the revered genius of sophistication and grace, destroyed the revolutionary myth, Mr Raul Castro deceived himself into thinking that the Chanel visit was yet another demonstration of the superiority of revolutionary principles over degenerated market democracies.

His people on the streets and in the balconies of the scruffy neighborhood harboring Paseo del Prado had other thoughts.

For them, the beauty of the models, the allure of the wardrobes and the display of luxury indicated the existence of a world outside that was full of promise and progress.

They also thought of the final catwalk supposedly resembling Cuban style showed an outdated country without vision or sense of future.

And none of the inhabitants of revolutionary Cuba liked the snapshot!!

According to local designer Idania del Rio the display was "too nostalgic. A lot of Cuban cigars; hats and colors from another era."

According to people on the balconies "the girls are beautiful and the dresses are magic. We are missing all this!!l"

Others indicated their desires to see more of these events in their country. Yet others decided to start copying the wardrobe style in their makeshift clothing repair shops.

And in these reactions is where the promise of change lies. Because thanks to Mr Lagerfeld, Cubans realized how deprived they were from the fruits of progress while their leaders comfortably sat in the front row of the event that portrayed the same progress they were denying to the people of Cuba. And the silent elves of dissent began to work harder ever since.

From the government view point -- as is usual in every totalitarian regime -- the line of thought was that the event was yet another tribute that capitalism was rendering to the superiority of socialism. And with this misinterpretation, the regime decided to forget about the hole in the dam.

But over the course of the last four years Cubans have engaged in silent exchanges with the industrious members of the diaspora that reside in Florida.

They quietly and constantly bring communications gear, cloth, sewing instruments, spices and other inputs for the cuenta propistas and other entrepreneurs.

These are beginning to earn income that is not tied at all to the government and thus know they can survive by themselves by force of their talents.

So, they decided to let President Diaz Canel know that his mandate so far is underperforming and that they do not approve of his policies.

Others have decided to go on strike thereby suspending transportation for tourists in Havana.

Yet others are failing to show up to work at the tourist destinations.

And the quality and intensity of this quiet dissent is bound to grow over time.

Given that the Cuban regime has already lost the oil subsidy from Venezuela, how long will it take for this growing wave of independent citizens to change the course of Cuban history?

No one really knows the answer to this question. All we do know is that it was Karl Lagerfeld who started this and must probably be enjoying the view from cloud 99. To be sure, for him this all started as means to play a heavy-handed joke on the Castro brothers.

Beatrice Rangel is President & CEO of the AMLA Consulting Group, which provides growth and partnership opportunities in US and Hispanic markets. AMLA identifies the best potential partner for businesses which are eager to exploit the growing buying power of the US Hispanic market and for US Corporations seeking to find investment partners in Latin America. Previously, she was Chief of Staff for Venezuela President Carlos Andres Perez as well as Chief Strategist for the Cisneros Group of Companies.

For her work throughout Latin America, Rangel has been honored with the Order of Merit of May from Argentina, the Condor of the Andes Order from Bolivia, the Bernardo O'Higgins Order by Chile, the Order of Boyaca from Colombia, and the National Order of Jose Matías Delgado from El Salvador.

You can follow her on twitter @BEPA2009 or contact her directly at BRangel@amlaconsulting.com.


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