90 Miles, but a world away… CUBA
People here in the USA say they want to go to Cuba before it changes because of the American impact of tourist. To that, I would say you are eight years too late. In 2008 Fidel signed over the presidency to his brother Raul Castro. Raul started immediately to ease up the restrictions of building permits and tourist. I last visited Havana, Cuba in 2007, it was a city of broken windows and almost every building in need of paint. During my recent visit over Thanksgiving 2016, the transition was colossal from new construction to the expansion of restaurants. The country was 100% occupied with people from every continent, but miniscule United States citizens visible. This is high season, but the five star hotels were over $450 per night. Once we left Havana we stayed in private homes. A unique experience, but not my idea of a first class trip, “C’est la vie”. Understand, I was there for the photography, not comfort, and the photo opportunities were around every corner.
To understand Cuba, you need to understand Communism. The one party system has been in control for over fifty eight years. A famous quote of Fidel Castro, "I find capitalism repugnant. It is filthy, it is gross, it is alienating... because it causes war, hypocrisy and competition." Communism is the only mindset of the past several generations. When I went to the library and one could readily see the dominance of Communist books. With this concept in mind, I started to understand the reality of where I was. So, let’s move on to the people of Cuba.
I can’t say enough positive things about the Cuban people. They are energetic, proud, honest, beautiful, fun loving and most of all very caring people. Their culture is like no other Latin country. Havana gives you the feeling of traveling in back in history surrounded by opulence of roaring affluence. I just missed it by several decades. The homes and buildings are a tribute to architecture and grandeur. You can almost picture the old cars as new. We had the opportunity to photograph professional ballerinas in such a grand home. Never one to pass up a photo shot, I snapped a model in old town Havana siting with the old structures as a backdrop. I could have stayed in Havana for the whole trip.
Upon leaving Havana we traveled to Viñales, Cienfuegos, and Trinidad. Here we saw the local towns encompassing the essence of street photography, a Sanitaria ceremony, gas blowers, cowboys, cigar/tobacco farms, cock fights and salsa discos. The frame of mind is different than in the big city. In the countryside, you are not as visually connected to the steep history of Cuba. It is similar to slice of life in the slow lane surrounded by quaint shops and churches. For the purpose of photography you can’t miss this remote section of Cuba, but you don’t need more than a few days.
Each time I return to Cuba, I think I understand Communism more and this was no exception. Briefly, almost all the old classic cars are owned by the government and leased to the drivers. Last year, 2016, I went to many new and great restaurants. Almost all were closed down because they were making too much personal money and this is not allowed. The elections for the new Cuban president is happening in one month. The person is selected by the Party and obviously with only one Party... they know the results already.