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Playboy Cuban Photos Signal Country’s New Interest in Tourism, Scholars Say

January 23, 1991 GMT

CHICAGO (AP) _ Cuba is sticking with its conservative brand of communism, but it’s done something that would have been unthinkable in the past. It let some citizens pose for that symbol of capitalistic decadence - Playboy.

It won’t make Cuba popular with feminists. But it’s an indication of the impoverished country’s desire to build its tourism industry, observers of the Caribbean country said Wednesday.

Getting permission to visit the island nation was no problem, said Jeff Cohen, author of the article accompanying the photos in the magazine’s March issue. But photographer Patrick Magaud spent weeks waiting for government permission to shoot the pictures, Cohen said.


The photographs, of professional Cuban models, reveal nothing below the waist.

Cohen said Cuban officials had predicted no women would agree to nude photographs. His article says officials told him 92 percent of Cuban women belong to a feminist organization.

But, Cohen said, the models readily agreed to pose last year once the photographer showed them samples of his work and explained what pictures he wanted.

Arturo Valenzuela, head of Georgetown University’s Center for Latin American Studies, said the Cuban government permission was quite unusual.

″I think it would go against the grain of the early, more puritanical standards of the revolution,″ he said. ″It might be considered somewhat decadent.″

Valenzuela attributed the change to the Cuba’s desire to build its tourism industry and avoid being ostracized by other nations.

″I think it’s a sign of how far they’re willing to go to say, ’Hey, we’re a little different,‴ Valenzuela said. ″Cuba is trying very hard not to be put in the position of being the last pariah state.″

Jorge Salazar, director of the Center for Economic Research at Miami’s Florida International University, said Cuban leader Fidel Castro has pushed for more publicity about the country.

But getting that publicity with pictures of semi-nude women could be unpopular with feminists and Cuban refugees in America.

″I think it will be tremendously criticized,″ Salazar said.

Cuba has made a strong effort to bolster its economy with money from tourists. The government is building or renovating hotels across the island, hoping to regain a fraction of the $400 million tourists spent on the island before the 1959 revolution that brought Castro to power.


The island will also host the Olympic-style Pan American Games this summer.

Valenzuela said he doubts tourism will make a big difference in the country’s economy.

″They have some really serious problems,″ he said. ″They’ve been overly reliant on the Eastern Bloc.″

Cohen said the Chicago-based magazine’s article and pictures should help get Cuba more visitors. Playboy has about 15 million readers, with 35 percent of them overseas, he said.