HAVANA TIMES, Feb 25 — Apparently, taking a simple photo in a public place in Cuba represents a threat to state security, as if it were a bomb or a massive riot.
This leads me to pose some problems. The first is that of freedom, and its unequal interpretation with respect to the rights of citizens and foreigners.
Tourism is one of the three mainstays of the Cuban economy, discounting of course remittances, which contribute the largest amount of the net revenue to the government treasury.
However, no tourist in the world — except in North Korea — is ever told when they come to a country that it’s forbidden to take photographs in any institution or property or environment relating to the state.
It appears to be like a curfew or a perpetual ban on information which could originate from independent media.
It means that taking a photo in a hotel or on a city street could be considered a subversive act, unless it’s inferred that you took it for your personal recollection, or that you state its purpose (sometimes this is done indirectly, if it’s known you’re are a “simple tourist,” for example, or a government approved reporter, a painter, a photographic artist or an architect).
Where Are the Prohibitions Stated?
They sell cameras in Cuba, but nowhere are there instructions — not in the store or in the manual for the camera (which of course isn’t made in Cuba) — as to which places or objects of photos are or aren’t allowed, except perhaps after they’ve been snapped.
Suspicion and fear of the truth spread like shadows in the minds of the pursuers. Likewise, the paranoia that’s so intrinsic to the police system begins to sink into the mind of the photographer, as if they were a spy who was endeavoring to steal some military or industrial secret tucked away in some remote office.
I know Cubans who have been forced to delete their photos simply for photographing a police officer or a “strategic location” (the outside of a bus terminal or a bank), and even for taking photos of street performers who were being photographed by other tourists – foreigners, of course.
So why do people take pictures? First, a photo is a testimony – as once were sculptures, paintings and engravings. It’s a story frozen in time and preserved for our memory.
If concentration camps had not been photographed after the end of World War II, revealing the skeletal bodies of those who existed in them and the piles of corpses dumped in mass graves, many people today might have doubted the gravity and scale of the genocide, even its very existence.
Thanks to the thousands of photographs taken during and after the war, there now remains tangible evidence for future generations who may have a better idea of it, beyond subjective reports of the magnitude of the crime. Without them, there would not have been a Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Hiding such a profound story, like now trying to hide a reality that is so evident, to me seems like committing fraud against the future, like giving people a massive dose of amnesia.
In addition, photographs can be art, even when they capture those sordid and sad images of life, as demonstrated by Che Guevara himself.
The Public Domain in Cuba
The second problem is that of property, the connotation acquired by the so-called “public domain.” In Cuba there’s a role reversal: public space serves as the private domain of ??the state (“the street belong to the revolutionaries”), and the individual domain (one’s home) is more like a public space, in the eyes of one’s neighbors.
Until there is recognition, through legislation, of the right to own individual property, the whole country will behave like a private area of ??the state. The state is the owner of a huge company, a huge monopoly called the state, which administers through capricious, draconian and unilateral laws, and sometimes through none at all.
The ban that doesn’t allow the photographing of state institutions comes from a directive of the Communist Party, which claims that photos could be used for what it calls “counter-revolution” or the “bad-mouthing of the government.”
Conducting counter-revolution would be not only be making an objective analysis of the Cuban environment, but simply showing it. This is especially the case when and where reality has been silenced and banished from the official media, at least when it’s not used for demagoguery.
In addition, the fear of the repercussion that their publication could have is obvious. They must feel deep shame; they don’t want to admit that they were wrong.
They sanctified a state and a system that has let them down, one which they cling to only for fear of seeing the little they have being taken away. In exchange for a few crumbs, their loyalty hardened.
Today, December 14, 2011, they told me that because of my taking those pictures I was already (with a file). So I can now expect that at any time I’ll be called in to be told that they didn’t like one of my photos very much. What’s funny is that what I’d tell them is…I don’t like them either.