Waiting for the Revolution
Cuba for me– and many Latin Americans– is a pilgrimage of sorts that at one point represented our most hopeful desires for our burgeoning American republics; sadly, we realized that it came at the cost of autonomy and personal development. Furthermore, Cuba continues to surprise economists, politicians and intellectuals as some observations fall foul to reason. The country enjoys a health care system that is among the best for industrialized countries as measured by parameters such as infant mortality under the age of 5 and life expectancy. This is contrary to common sense as Cuba economically does not have the same economic power to invest in health as other more developed countries, and they continuously suffer from a shortage of essential health related goods such as antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs and intravenous saline.
In addition, Cuba also has the highest literacy rates in the world because of the strength of their public school systems edging most countries out in UNICEF ranking with its 100% literacy rate. This is despite the fact that it doesn’t invest as much as other countries and the decaying infrastructure that plagues many of its public buildings. Another example is the repression of free speech institutionalized by the government, which at the same time has dampened but not silenced the voices of intellectuals such as Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo or Yoani Sánchez. They have been able to use the internet via blogging to express their scathing critiques of the government, and although they have faced some backlash , they still are expressing their opinions through the web. Couple these internet bloggers with voices sympathetic of the ruling government such Silvio Rodriguez and Pablo Milanés, whom also reveal their frustrations with the Castro regime, and we see that there is a clear resentment towards the government and its vile practices.
This series of photos aims to capture many frustrations Cubans have as they await for the changes the revolution had promised. They are now settling for an incognito “something” that they hope will auger drastic changes to the island. This “something” I interpret as the refreshing breeze that emanates from the brief meeting between the imagination and the boundless possibilities for the future: a future without Fidel, Raúl or Granma dogmatically inculcating what to believe; a world with free access to goods, information and the internet; the dismal possibility of a Cuban Perestroika; dealing with absolute poverty without any government support or subsidies; but above all, reclaiming one’s destiny and recovering the autonomy many Cubans have lost after decades of mistreatment and abuse. Until then, many Cubans live a difficult reality knowing that today, tomorrow and the next day, there really is no incentive to continue struggling. They live the present as best they can. It is this reality that I try to capture as I traveled Cuba and tried to deconstruct what the revolution meant in the Cuban psyche. Because despite all their difficulties– impossible for us imagine– Cubans have a “joie de vivre” incommensurable with their reality, looking ahead at the future with reticence but always with a smile in their soul.
Carnival commences with a small fireworks display that attracts the awe of a handful of onlookers.
A Cuban flag adorns the Museum of the Revolution in Havana, a building that is a testament to how institutionalized the revolution has become in Cuba. Inside the museum, wax figures of Camilo Cienfuegos and Ernesto Guevara ascend a partial reconstruction of Sierra Maestra carrying what remains of the expired dreams and effervescent hopes of upending capitalism.
Two men walking on the desolate Carretera Central near the Interprovincial bus stop in Santa Clara, a city that perspires images of Ernesto “el Che” Guevara everywhere one goes.
One of the better-stocked pharmacies around Consulado and Neptuno in Havana.
Julio approaches his rusty 1951 red Chevrolet Fleetline barely held together by improvised fix-ups and funded by what is left over from his earnings as a taxicab driver.
Bahía de Miel near the southern end of the Malecón in Baracoa. A dog snoops around the debris engulfing parts of the Ciudad Primera, the first Spanish settlement established in Cuba nearly 500 years ago.
A group of men playing a lively game of dominoes in the Parque Serrano in Santiago de Cuba.
A grandmother watches a group assembling around a sandwich stand offering ham and cheese sandwiches for 10 Cuban pesos (35¢). awe of a handful of onlookers.
One of the three times José had to stop his Soviet car to cool down the radiator as we climbed the steep foothills of Sierra Maestra. An electrical engineer by training, he now works as a taxicab driver for tourists which he says, “ allows me to have a decent living and help provide my family with more options than what I would be able to afford with what was my salary of 400 Cuban pesos ($16) a month.”
Adjacent to the glass-encased “Granma” and in front of SA-2 Guideline surface-to-air missile, we find the Eternal Flame dedicated to the heroes of the Cuban revolution in Havana.
A young boy peeking out into the courtyard of a school.
The beatific sunset contrasts with the wanly expression of the men standing on the ledge awaiting that slight tug from their improvised fishing poles.
Signatures of tourists overlay the walls of the popular restaurant Bodeguita del Medio while the rhythms of Cuban legends such as Compay Segundo or Faustino Oramas accentuates the feeling of going back to a foregone time.
A woman has donned her best costume and smile for Carnival, also known as Mamarrachos, which overwhelms Santiago de Cuba towards the end of July to celebrate life, Afro-Cuban culture, and Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement.
Two farm workers resting near the Alejandro de Humboldt National Park.
The bust of Julio Antonio Mella— one of the founding members of the first Marxist-Leninist political party in Cuba—graces the center of the first shopping mall in Cuba, Manzana de Gómez.
Carnival revelers carry signs asking people to dream and hope.
A boy walking down Empedrado Street near Bodeguita del medio in Havana.
The Cuartel Moncada is where the revolution began as Fidel Castro and company launched their first failed attempt to overthrow Batista on July 26th 1953. Some of the bullet holes are the vestiges of that fateful day while Fidel had the other bullet holes hollowed after they had undergone repair by Batista’s regime.