A photographer's walk through the streets of Cuba's capital.
Thursday, September 11, 2003
I have always been fascinated by Cuba. Some of my earliest memories of world politics are of the events surrounding the 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion and the following year''s Cuban Missile Crisis. It was the first time I became aware of how even the smallest and seemingly unimportant nations could have a profound impact on my own country and the world-at-large. Later events in Vietnam would bear out this truth.
From its role in the conquest of Mexico and Peru to its influence on Latin American and world revolutionary movements, Cuba has cast a significant shadow over world events in ways that belie its small size. I had long-dreamed of visiting Cuba, to see and experience for myself a people and country that remain an hysterical obsession with the powers-that-be here in the US.
My first opportunity to visit the country came last January by way of an assignment to photograph and write a feature article on Cuban photography for Black and White Magazine, where I am a senior contributing editor.
Limited to spending all my time in Havana, I divided my days between interviewing Cuban photographers and walking the streets of what is an historically fascinating city, photographing for my own pleasure.
I had no specific political interest in the great "Cuban experiment" in communism, an experiment that largely failed not so much because of ideology but because of the difficulties of supporting a large population with an island economy. (Those of us in Monterey County know the problems of relying on agriculture and tourism as the primary economic support system). My main interest in visiting Havana was to immerse myself in Cuba''s rich cultural heritage and traditions that predate the revolution by 450 years.
In considering the beauty that once was Havana, and which is slowly being restored, it is useful to remember that all the great monuments of world culture were built with the sacrifice of lives and labor of the lowest classes. In the case of Cuba, it was black slaves who bore the heaviest burden in creating the wealth of Havana''s aristocracy.
From a socio-political perspective, what stood out most noticeably from my visit to Havana was the city''s large black population and its significant influence on Cuban culture and society. While we can debate the merits and motives of the Cuban Revolution, it did bring a degree of justice to those who never shared in the riches of Cuban society. From this perspective, it is important to remember that at the time of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, civil rights legislation had yet to pass in the United State. Black Americans were being victimized and deprived of their own well-deserved share of American prosperity.
Economic hardship remains the rule in Cuba, but there is dignity and pride in the country''s culture and accomplishments. In the waning days of Castro''s caudillo-like rule over the small Caribbean nation, history will hopefully bring further justice, freedom and prosperity to the Cuban people.
Richard Pitnick, a former Weekly staff writer and photographer, will be exhibiting his photos of Havana in June 2004 at the Pacific Grove Art Center.