Model of Fidel Castro


Materials: Clay or plaster, paint, wood, fabric, varnish
Dimensions: 6 centimeters high
Place acquired: Havana, Cuba
Place of manufacture: Cuba

The law of supply and demand is one of the mantras of market economics. It’s usually taken as a model for how prices fluctuate. But its underlying implication is that in a free market, a demand for something by consumers will inevitably produce a supply of that something from manufactures. And the supplier will always adjust the product (and how many to produce) to best meet what is being demanded (and how many are demanding it).

This little caricature figure of Fidel Castro was bought on a street stall in a touristy area of Havana. It is an interesting case of supply and demand, but in this case it is worth remembering just what a delicate political balancing act has been made, albeit unconsciously, in order for this supply to reach its demand. Consider the relevant factors:

1. As a communist country, with a command economy, Cuba is not a ‘free market’ in the capitalist sense.

2. Fidel Castro, although now retired from political life, was the leader of a one-party state where his status, image and influence was effectively unchallenged.

3. Despite this Castro’s Cuba is often seen as a long-lived beacon of revolutionary socialist idealism struggling against the bullying hostility of America with its sweeping trade embargoes and CIA assassination and invasion attempts. As a result Fidel’s (and Cuba’s) status amongst left-leaning governments and individuals around the world is high.

4. The collapse of the Soviet bloc in the late 1980s created a massive economic crisis for Cuba, which forced it to loosen some of its controls on private enterprise and tourism.

5. An influx of tourists with a broadly sympathetic attitude to the Cuban regime was one result.

6. A new breed of informal private entrepreneurs in Cuba was another.

All this we can sense in this little tourist souvenir. It is an affectionate and patriotic depiction of Cuba’s famous revolutionary leader with his beard and green fatigues. It’s jokey, but not disrespectful, perfectly judged for the left(ish) tourists who it’s aimed at, and the state authorities that have to sanction it. For it is not an ‘official’ souvenir. It is clearly home made, possibly the product of a small cottage industry. It’s an opportunistic product designed to generate much needed income for the ordinary Cubans who made and sold it. Someone must have spotted a demand, and found themselves suddenly free to create a supply.