Michael Weissenstein, Associated Press
Posted on November 23, 2019 at 10:11.
Last updated Saturday, November 23, 2019 11:25
HAVANA – Thousands of young Cubans packed into an arena in Havana to witness a small step forward in the tumultuous relationship between one of the world's last communist states and its small but vibrant private sector.
The four-year-old Clandestina brand debuted a new collection on Friday night, based on Cuba's legacy of international athletic achievements, in the Ramon Fonst arena at Revolution Plaza in Havana, home to the most powerful Cuban state institutions.
The runway models included stars of Cuban amateur sports glory days, including world record jumper Javier Sotomayor, Olympic champion Ana Fidelia Quirot and Regla Torres, considered by many to be the best volleyball player in history.
The Cuban private sector is legal but highly restricted by law, entangled with bureaucracy and official views of private enterprise as a necessary evil, a potential threat to the socialist system or both.
Nonetheless, Clandestina has secured permission to debut its "Glories of Sports" collection in 2020 at the 4,000-seat Fonst Arena, with the participation of athletes seen as national heroes, in a sign that at least some members of the Cuban authority are each increasingly accept the legitimacy of private enterprise. Admission to the public was free.
"This could not have been done in the past in Cuba," said Clandestina designer Gabriel Lara. "It's all a process that comes out of entrepreneurship in Cuba and this is very favorable for us and our customers today. This is a breakthrough today."
Cuban First Lady Lis Cuesta has become a discreet, high-profile promoter of Cuba's private sector. When Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, visited Cuba, Cuesta tasted offerings at private restaurants.
During a visit by the Spanish royal family this month, she wore a dress made by Dador, another small private Cuban fashion brand.
The theme of the Clandestine collection seemed wisely chosen – pride in the country's sporting glory is common to virtually all Cubans, regardless of their attitudes toward government or political beliefs.
"Even though it's a private business, they are doing work that shows the dignity of our nation and being private or state is not relevant," said Quiros. "It doesn't matter. They represent Cuba and the Cuban people."
Associated Press correspondent Andrea Rodriguez contributed to this report.