Since the Castros brought the communist revolution to the state of Cuba in 1959, things have been less than ideal for the common Cuban citizen. Sure, the Soviet Union hung around to help them out, but with the demise of the Cold War there wasn’t much investment left to help maintain the vanishing sights of Sinatra’s Cuba from the ’50s. When you pull back the curtains on Habana and see past Hemingway’s former haunts and the state-run tourist traps like La Floridita, Ambos Mundos, and Dos Hermanos, you’ll find street after street of dilapidated buildings and people whose morale has carried the burden for over fifty years.
Records At Habana Flea Market With President Obama improving relations over the past five years, including the lifting of various travel restrictions in the past several months, Cuba has become the hipster hangout for Americans that want to get a look under the hood before the W opens up in central Habana. But before that happens, a lot has to change, and as one local told me, Cuba tiene que cambiar por adentro, no d’esde afuera: “Cuba has to change from the inside, not from the outside.” Of course person-to-person and cultural trips, music festivals, and tourism will help the Cuban economy, but currently that mainly just helps the Castros and their communist state keep control over their already defeated citizens. Being a lawyer or a doctor and making $20 a month with a ration of three eggs a week won’t cut it, so it’s better be a tour guide or taxi driver for the state.
The Internet recently landed on the island, but if you’re a local good luck exploring much of anything when a wifi card costs an entire week’s earnings. However, there is a dynamic shift between the past generations and the millennials that are coming up, buoyed by the hope that Obama’s changes will bring a significant paradigm shift and increased outside interest in Cuban culture. From the Taller Experimental de Lithografia (Habana’s longtime silkscreen shop serving many underground artists) to la Fabrica de Arte (which has hosted shows with musicians ranging from Questlove to Diplo to Old 97’s Rhett Miller), Habana is slowly seeing change happen from the inside. Of course, this being Cuba, many question whether the change is real or if it’s another round of state-funded propaganda to keep control of the conversation. Only time will tell...
This piece was written and photographed by Nala Sart during a recent trip to Cuba