Photo Blog

Hangng Out, Plaza Vieja

Posted by on Jun 5, 2013 in Cuba, Recent | 0 comments

Hangng Out, Plaza Vieja

Mom and Baby

Posted by on Jun 5, 2013 in Cuba, Recent | 0 comments

Mom and Baby

Operation Pedro Pan

Posted by on Jun 5, 2013 in Cuba, Recent | 0 comments

Operation Pedro Pan

Met a very pleasant Cuban woman who lives here in Fearrington at the Art Festival this past week end. She came to the US as a child, during the Operation Peter Pan days. She was not involved in that and did not go through the placement process that most children did, but she certainly wants to return to Cuba to see relatives and how it is now. Her interest provoked me into thinking about Operation Peter Pan. This was a controversial program in the early 1960s in which the US State Department and the Catholic Church worked together to send about 14,000 children to the United States. One of the controversies surrounding this program was the role of the CIA in the operation. It seems likely that the CIA played a major role in this undertaking, but no one will admit it. David Atlee Phillips who eventually ran anti-Cuban operations out of the busy Mexico City Station was a fervent anti-communist and anti-Castro agent who also had close ties with Lee Harvey Oswald. The CIA likely fomented much of the fear that lead to parents sending their children away and facilitated the flights from José Marti Airport to Miami. Radio Swan, a CIA station in Cuba, spread the information that children would be conscripted and sent to the country side farms where they would be schooled in communism. revolution, and agricultural techniques. They would then work for the state. The CIA alleged that they had stolen a copy of a new law that would establish this policy in Cuba. Phillips under the alias of Maurice Bishop or Harry Benson, one or the other, worked with the Catholic church to make this program a reality. It seems Phillips/Bishop’s intent was not one of best interests of the child but to create such distress in the families that they would quickly lose faith and confidence in the revolutionary government and revolt against Castro and his government. This was a callous effort to destabilize the government.

Now to speak from my experience. I have visited and photographed at the “Escuelas en Campos” (schools in fields), where at one time most Cuban teens spent 9-12 months going to school and working in the fields. Apparently the academic work was not rigorous, but the physical work was. Another benefit was rather extensive experiential sex education. These schools were not as awful as made to sound, but they were a reality. I have not seen any children homeless on the street in the 12 years I have been going to Cuba. Cuba in fact treats its children especially well. There are extra food allowances, free health care, visiting nurses and doctors, and every child goes to school. There are no children begging as one encounters in Mexico. The infant mortality rate is lower than in the US. The good treatment of children was a point of pride for the revolution. Cuban parents adore their children. In the afternoons the streets are full of parents walking their children home from school. Kids play in the parks, in the streets and seem quite healthy. They are simply not being oppressed. This is not some Potemkin village impression, I have lived in these neighborhoods with children in the family in the same house.
This story is interesting in that there are so many various interpretations and political slants on it. It is just another strange thing the bizarre arena of Cuban-American relations. (see Elian Gonzalez)! Over the next week I will post some photos of Cuban children.

Older Cubans Go to the Head of the Line

Posted by on Apr 29, 2013 in Cuba, Recent | 0 comments

Older Cubans Go to the Head of the Line

I’m trying to get everything caught up today. Tomorrow, I have to get my right hand fixed. The thumb joint has just about had it, so I get to have an arthroplasty. It’s a small operation in terms of area involved, but it sounds complicated and tedious. I am fortunate to be at one of the better hand surgery centers around, UNC Hospitals, and I am optimistic. Arthritis is just another one of the unpleasant aspects of getting old. I’m discovering these “aspects” on a more and more regular basis.

When we visited Cuba last year one of our excursions was to an elder day care center. Here the elderly members of a family could come for the day, be safe, get food, socialize, and then go home for the evening. This allowed the younger family members to work, gave the elders some social out of the home experience and was a generally win-win situation. There were probably twenty-five people in the home we visited in Regla. There weren’t any sick individuals, and the woman in charge of the facility had no special medical training. She was like most Cubans, simply a kind person with great respect for older people.

On Saturday I watched a show “The Secret Side of Cuba” on UNC-EX. It described the impoverished side of Cuban life and the difficulties encountered by most of the people. I had not thought about this as secret, but I guess it is. The gist of things was that the people are very poor, still oppressed, and in spite of this they remain optimistic, positive, and happy. The elderly people who are unable to work in the tourist industry or the black market suffer the most. Some sell newspapers; they make 2 cents a paper, typically 40 cents a day. Everyone stands in line; I’ve done this many times myself. One general practice is that the disabled and elderly go to the head of the line no matter if in line to get some government food or at Coppelia to get ice cream! The man in the back of the photo above was born in Cuba. He moved to Michigan as a young man to work in the auto industry. He regularly sent money back to his family, and when he retired, he moved back to Havana to spend the last phase of his life with his family. Family is extremely important in Cuba. He said that he was happy to be back, that his life had been ideal. His friend, in the front, had begun to suffer from dementia. He required closer observation which the Cuban-America-Cuban happily contributed.

More on Racism in Cuba–The Importance of a Few Words

Posted by on Apr 6, 2013 in Cuba, Recent | 0 comments

More on Racism in Cuba–The Importance of a Few Words

This past Sunday I wrote about my black Cuban friend Roberto. I referenced an article published in the NYTimes. In this morning’s times there is a follow-up article detailing the circumstances of how the journalist who wrote that article lost his job. According to the Times this AM, “The author, Roberto Zurbano, in an article published March 23, described a long history of racial discrimination against blacks on the island and said ‘racial exclusion continued after Cuba became independent in 1902, and a half century of revolution since 1959 has been unable to overcome it’.” He was later removed from his position as editor at publishing arm of the Casa de Las Americas Cultural Center.

Mr. Zurbano states that the NYTimes editorial staff changed the title of his article from “For Blacks in Cuba, the Revolution Has Not Yet Finished” to “For Blacks in Cuba, the Revolution Hasn’t Begun.” According to Mr Zurbano this change was made without his approval and makes a considerable difference in the intent and weight of the article. The Times defends its translation and says it is sorry for Mr. Zurbano’s troubles, but it feels that it did nothing wrong. That stance is not substantiated by the fall out on the Cuban side of the issue.

Support for Mr. Zurbano’s position can be found in a follow-up article in Havana Times by Esteban Morales, a leading thinker, writer, and scholar in Cuba considered one of the go-to authorities on matters of race relations. He opens his discussion with the article’s headline. Morales states “Claiming that “For Blacks in Cuba, the Revolution Hasn’t Begun,” his (Zurbano’s) argument doesn’t hold up, not even within the complex reality of Cuba today.” On the website for UNEAC, the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba, there are at least eight essays and opinion pieces about the article and almost each one starts with the headline as being to extreme and absolutist.

Certainly there is no intentional harm done by the NYTimes. The point of this post is how carefully words must be chosen when writing about such sensitive topics. It is also the case that not understanding the situation the writer of the article was in can cause it to worsen. Again not an intentional fault, but a common one. Most of the world does not think like the US nor does it share our can do attitudes. I observed first hand how these differences worked when I took college students to Cuba and we would meet with Cuban students, artists, and photographers. The cultural differences can be substantial.

Critiques or No Critiques, Getting Better Painlessly

Posted by on Apr 1, 2013 in Cuba, Recent | 0 comments

Critiques or No Critiques, Getting Better Painlessly

In the photo accompanying this article one sees Raul Corrales, famous Cuban photographer, Fidel’s personal photographer for many years, showing some of his famous images to a group of students from Appalachian State University. A trip arranged through ASU’s outstanding Overseas Education Program. A visit with Raul was always a part of our visit at each annual workshop. We would take him a fifth of good scotch whiskey. He would show his iconic prints and discuss them giving his own personal critique
When I was teaching photography II, the second course our students took in photography, we had several critiques a semester. I always dreaded these exercises because the students were intimidated, would not speak up and it was left to me, the teacher to do most of the talking. About all I could get out of a student was some comment like,”I like it.” I secured a copy of ˆTeaching Photography,” a small pamphlet by Phillip Perkis containing observations and practices during his successful career as a photography teacher. There was a section on the Critique in the book, and it was so enlightening,so simple and straightforward, and now that I am out of the academic world seems so common, it’s shocking. Perkis did not use critiques for grading purposes so that took a lot of the stress out of it. Secondly, no one was forced to take part. The idea was that students should want to participate because the benefit was so great. The critique was not a negative experience, it should be arranged and expressed in a positive fashion. The work shown if outstanding could gain praise and maybe a bit of tweaking. If it was rough in some spots, that would be pointed out with some suggested technique or strategy for improvement. No one should get their feelings hurt by colleagues who are working to help them improve. Another aspect of the critiques was that they be honest. Nothing is more cruel than telling someone whose work is marginal that you think they do terrific work and to just keep it up. Especially when you want to say there is a workshop coming up that the student definitely needs to take.

On the site of the Nieman Reorts for Winter 13 there are several articles about criticism, reviewing and curation of art. One that I thought quite interesting was titled “Select, Shape, and Celebrate.” The subtitle is The critic’s calling is to elevate the good and ignore the bad. The author is Maria Popova, a Bulgarian writer, blogger, and critic known for her blog Brain Pickings. By pointing out the good, the writer-critic lacerates a sense of the good and thereby omitting a head-on confrontation with the bad, simply leaves a negative space to be explored by the artist. According to the writer, what emerges is an osmosis of positive reinforcement and negative space through which the celebration of the worthy spurs a richer understanding of how to recognize and shield against the unworthy.

There are other equally worthwhile articles in this issue,so you might like to bookmark the site and return a few times over the month.

Roberto and Racism in Cuba

Posted by on Mar 25, 2013 in Cuba | 0 comments

Roberto and Racism in Cuba

Roberto is one of the best friends I have. I met him in 2000 while at a photography workshop in Havana. He was hanging around the Ambos Mundos Hotel where most of the participants were staying and getting jobs as a guide and translator. We stayed another week after the workshop and secured his services during that week. Turns out he was an officially licensed guide, spoke four languages, was working on his fifth, and was a graduate of the University of Havana. During that first year he was also spending his year of reflection and denial to become a Santeria priest. He wore all white, did not drink alcohol, and prayed frequently.
Over the next few years I depended on him to help with student workshops and other things when visiting Cuba. He was a very capable fixer. He could arrange most anything we wanted to do in the context of education and photography. He had only a few rigidly fixed guidelines; these were: he did not supply or arrange for drugs or women. The first few times that we were walking down the street together and were stopped by the police I wondered what was going on. Roberto would say it was nothing. Then I realized that he was being stopped to check papers and to see if he was a hustler or less savory character trying to exploit some naive tourist. These were sort of like the controversial stop and frisk activities that are presently causing so much consternation in New York City. The issue was that he was black and I was white. I later came to realize that even some of my light skinned Cuban friends did not like him because of his blackness. On the other hand, there were some of them that Roberto did not care for because of their gay-ness. Although I did not agree with much of this, I learned a lot about race relations and social attitudes even in what was supposed to be an idealistic society of equality and acceptance.
I would get this in much larger dose several years later when escorting several Cuban friends around the UNC campus in Chapel Hill in the summer and several college students walked past. The wife of the Cuban couple loudly exclaimed. “Oh, look, they have n*****s here.” She was stroking her forearm with two fingers, the Cuban sign of colored skin. Subsequently I have had to deal with Roberto not being able to get a room in houses where we were sleeping, not eating at the same table the rest of us were sharing, being stopped while driving our rental car from its garage to the house where we were lodging, and being treated with disdain by lighter skinned mulatto or white Cubans, mostly Cuban intellectuals or artists. Now that the government is more seriously promoting tourism his independent free lance business has suffered. Most people with a tourist visa have to arrange their tours through the government’s tourist agencies that have their own guides. It is not clear what will happen to him but it is of interest that the first effect of capitalism Roberto experienced came from his socialist government. Roberto is too stubborn and independent to go to work for the government Tourism company. This is just another of the many paradoxes that are Cuba. For those interested, there is a nice article in NYTimes today re: the issue of race in Cuba.

Black Madonna

Posted by on Mar 19, 2013 in Cuba | 0 comments

Black Madonna

The photo here was made in the Cathedral at Regla known as Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Regla in Havana. This small cathedral across the Bahia Habana from Havana Vieja is a fascinating place, here there are statues of many of the Roman Catholic saints who were worshipped by the African slaves in previous times. There are always some people there sitting and meditating. In a small chapel off of the main sanctuary there is the Black Madonna. This is La Santisima Virgen de Regla, venerated in the Catholic faith and associated in the Santeria religion with Yemayá, the orisha of the sea and the patron of Sailors. Legend has it that the image was carved by St. Augustine “the African” in the 5th century. Those attempting a raft crossing to the US these days try to get to the Cathedral to evoke the protection of the Black Virgin.

This past week Good Friday was declared an official holiday in Cuba. This is the second year that this has happened. It signifies a closer relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and the State than has existed in the past, since before the Revolution. Pope John Paul II made an historic visit to the island nation in 1998 and Benedict XVI visited fourteen years later, coming to a changed country where the Roman Catholic Church occupies a role of increasing influence and popularity. This growth in the role of they church has come about due to the tireless and careful diplomacy of Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the political ascension of Raul Castro, and the declining fortunes of the revolution.

There are also Protestant churches, especially in the cities of Havana and Santiago. In 2000 I attended Sunday services at the National Episcopal Church of Cuba with the recently retired Bishop of Cuba. It was an extraordinary experience, not only did they have a church, there was a large collection of classrooms and they had a vibrant youth program. There were also several posters expressing support of Elian Gomez at that time.

In spite of the growth of the church most Cubans still hedge their bets and are believers in both Catholicism as well as Santeria. The religious practice is thus a syncretic belief that contains much of both Roman Catholicism and the older African Yoruba pantheistic religion.

Old Gives Way to New in Havana

Posted by on Mar 1, 2013 in Cuba, Recent | 0 comments

Old Gives Way to New in Havana

The photo illustrates the changes and the conflicts that Cuba faces. The new modern double bus in front of the shabby, run down buildings with tattered clothes hanging out to dry. This contrast of the old with the new was made even more dramatic this past Sunday when Raul Castro announced that this term would be his last. It is a five yer term and it is not clear that he will survive until 2018 or that he will not have to join Pope Benedict in cloistered retirement.

Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez was named second in command and presumably first in line of succession as leader. Already the Cuban American contingent is complaining that this is not democracy but a perpetuation of the dictatorial socialist regime. That seems fairly obvious and also predictable. There will be many firsts though-a middle aged leader-not a wet behind the ears amateur as there was post Revolution, and not some old stodgy Revolutionary as there has been mostly ever since. Canel Bermúdez is an engineer, presumably he understands how to make things work, he has served his obligatory time in the military, and he is from an area of Cuba that was a hot bed of the resistance to the status quo during the Revolution. This will be the first time since 1959 that a Castro has not been in charge! Raul has shown that he is more moderate than Fidel although not so much or so fast as to satisfy the impatience of the anti-Castro contingent. Remember this group is well represented in the more rightward wings of our own Republican party which seems dedicated to nothing changing, ever. So they are already leading a confusing life (see Rubio, Marco). Still when you see the nice new Chinese bus that has replaced the noxious, uncomfortable camellos of the recent past, there is a less than subtle sign of forward movement.

American Senators Meet with Castro!

Posted by on Feb 20, 2013 in Cuba, Recent | 0 comments

American Senators Meet with Castro!

Big news this week! US senators visit Cuba and meet with President Raul Castro. The ostensible goal raul_webh_bwis to work for the release of Alan Gross, American citizen who was arrested in Cuba when discovered to be bringing in sensitive electronic communications equipment to assist a democracy promoting program of USAID. In short he broke Cuban law and was arrested. The senators ate at an “upscale restaurant in Old Havana,” always a dicey thing to do. In spite of all the difficulties with Cuba and our relationship with the country, the US is now the second largest source of tourists ranking just behind Canada. Food sales to Cuba increased by $100 million, making the US one of Cuba’s top ten trading partners. Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s assistant Secretary of State once referred to the economic blockade of Cuba as America’s dumbest foreign policy ever. So much of the issue with Cuba has to do with angling to get the Cuban Vote in America, a small part of the Latino vote that has traditionally gone to the Republicans until recently. Raul has been more open to allowing Cubans to purchase homes and cars and things like that. Last hear when I was in Havana a good friend of mine bought her first house. It was a huge step up for her and her family, all of whom had been living in a one room efficiency apartment for years. Working as a photographic assistant and guide she had amassed $15,000 dollars to make the purchase. That’s a veritable fortune for the average Cuban citizen.

Further evidence of the foolishness toward Cuba was contained in a statement from Cuban diplomats who pointed out that “even North Korea, which earned global condemnation when it conducted an underground nuclear test earlier this month, is not on the terror sponsor list.”(Paul Haven, Associated Press) The most dangerous thing in Cuba are the piles of rotting mangoes on the corners when they fail to collect the garbage on time! With large enough catapults they could wreak havoc on South Beach!mangoes