Photos for Tourists without a Clue

Maykel Paneque

Photo: Raul Canibano
Photo: Raul Canibano


HAVANA TIMES — In 50 years time, let’s hope it’s less than that, when somebody wants to know something about the multiple realities we live here in Cuba, the one that doesn’t appear on the TV, or in the newspapers, or in books, you know why, rebellious photography will take on the role of resistance, and by looking at these photos you’ll be able to see bleak scenes, like the ones we experience in our own daily lives.

Nowadays, we live in complete uncertainty while the Latin American Left is moving backwards, or better yet, staggering, and in Cuba panic is beginning to spread as we may return to the 18-hour blackouts that made the entire country go dark, and with them, a hint of the nightmare that we all still have living in our memories: shortages of absolutely everything. As well as the constant feeling of being suffocated, which is always present, because we’re breathing in a reality that is stifling us?

Now that the crisis in Venezuela has reached a foreseeable crossroads, future oil exports to Cuba are in danger of being reduced to disquieting figures. Therefore, the summer that the media announced was going to be hot and happy is being threatened by electricity cuts that are already taking place. They told us that the people wouldn’t be affected. It’s true, however, that under the power grid “adjustment” plan, they’ve cut the power from 8 am until 6 pm at least once a week.

Those blackouts that took place night and day and made history, such as the lack of food and our desperation, reminded me of 20 snapshots taken by photographer Raul Canibano (1961) at the Seis seis Gallery (74 Aguiar Street between Pena Pobre and Cuarteles Streets, Old Havana) which will be shown in an exhibition open to the public from July through September.


Photo by Raul Canibano
Photo by Raul Canibano


The selection of photos taken from four of his photo series (Tierra Guajira, Ciudad, Fe por San Lazaro and Ocaso) give us an insight into daily life at the time as they document survival, pain and the devastation that marked, and continues to mark, the existence of so many Cubans that we’ve seen drown in their hopes for living in a better society. A country where its leaders have made a memorial of disappointment out of its revolutionary utopia. A policed state where the government wants complete control of its citizens isn’t a delusion or paranoia. It’s as real as the suffocation we suffer.

The old lady with a hump in her back, who walks along the wet pavement using a walking stick for support, where is she going with a bag in her hand?  Solitude, anxiety and fatigue conspire against a person that has to go out, who has to “struggle” in order to eat, hoping to see a better world before she dies? In front of her, the Malecon watches her from a distance. The old man who hides his face in his coat, what reality is he trying to escape from? What would he rather not see? The woman who cries incosolably next to a crowd, what pains her so?

And the young man who bangs his head against a windowframe, what’s tormenting him? The old lady surrounded by cats with a TV in the background, you can see Fidel on the screen. Is he talking about Cuba’s energy revolution? Explaining the advantages of using an electric stove? The old woman avoids it, she’s looking somewhere else, tired? Lost her faith? The same thing as yesterday, today and tomorrow?

Sacred utopia, The new man, Invincible Party, Victorious Revolution. Crushed up words whose echoes now only name other realities such as disappointment, failure of hope and distrust of a social project which prioritizes its “unbreakable” image, while diversified opinions and individual initiatives are not. They’ve been blaming the US trade embargo for paralyzing the country for half a century now, and in adopting this strategy they’ve dismissed the Government’s inability to guide an economy which breathes through life support.

The Cuban poet Roberto Fernandez Retamar has written a verse that says: “We, the survivors, To whom do we owe our survival?” Like we don’t know? I’ve heard the many different versions that Cuban imaginations have conjured up to this verse. I really like the one that says: We, the survivors, owe our rebellious nature to the Cuban State.

Click on the thumbnails below to view all the photos in this gallery. On your PC or laptop, you can use the directional arrows on the keyboard to move within the gallery. On cell phones use the keys on the screen.

7 thoughts on “Photos for Tourists without a Clue

  • First, Canibano is a great photographer and a truly nice man. Second, the Embargo was, is and will always be a dumb US policy. Col. Lawrence Wilkerson described as the worst policy ever for the US. It has provided an excuse for Cuban leaders’ failures over the past 50 plus years. Not to excuse the embargo, but it helped Cuban political leaders more than it harmed them. It definitely did harm the Cuban people both directly as well as indirectly by becoming a straw man to blame by the Cuban politicos.

  • Beautiful, haunting photographs and tragic words. A very moving essay.

    “A country where its leaders have made a memorial of disappointment out of its revolutionary utopia. A policed state where the government wants complete control of its citizens isn’t a delusion or paranoia. It’s as real as the suffocation we suffer.”

    Who can excuse and defend the Castro regime?

  • …it wasn’t as if I was actually expecting an answer from him

  • Obama has exposed the central lie of the revolution. It will get worse as Americans move from curiosity to ignoring their neighbor as the embargo fades into history. Many worry about the impact of America reestablishing relations. They should worry about America not coming to Cuba. American business has many options. Cuba is a horrible regulatory state. No American business invasion coming. For most of the last 50 years Cuba had a patron to float it’s economy. First the Soviet Union and then Venezuela. With Venezuela now a failed state, do not look to America. Cuba needs to reform it’s economy to make it functional.

  • Whereas to Conrad Ermle the article “sounds like pure propaganda” to me it reads like reality.
    Conrad doesn’t know about Cuba as he has never visited the country. His knowledge of the Caribbean is related to the proselytizing of the Mennonite church.

  • Hi CErmle. Hope your doing well. ….I was interested in your take. How exactly is this propaganda? Was there something specifically you disagreed with? What’s your view on this?

  • Sounds like pure propaganda. Ridiculous.

Comments are closed.