Havana, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, y Pinar del Rio ~ Cuba
Since it would technically be illegal for United States citizens and non-members of the press to personally venture to Cuba, our TACO-matically Immune Special Forces Team was dispatched to this giant tropical island of generous people, legendary rhythms, unmolested Caribbean country hideaways, heartbreaking defiance in the face of poverty, political oppression from dual fronts, and proud, beautiful spirit. Photos by Hadley & Silencer.
“Thank you Mr. Bush, but we’re already vaccinated.” Many Cubans will condemn and defend the socialist system in the same breath. Very few will say its broken, constantly pointing to the free health care that is heavily promoted by the government.
We think this is Luis Posada Carriles, a Cuban exile trained by the CIA. He blew up a jetliner full of innocent people in 1976 and despite being a terrorist by definition has lived without prosecution, harbored by the U.S., whose war on terror hasn’t made it to Miami apparently. This billboard says “We demand justice. Jail for the Terrorist!”
The above propaganda comes from Havana, but is seen everywhere. The billboards above flank the United States Interest Section of the Embassy of Switzerland (as we have no embassy of our own) at Anti-Imperialist Plaza…the only visible official U.S. presence outside Guantanamo. The images below come from the countryside outside of Havana, in Pinar del Rio. Cubans are very friendly to U.S. visitors, often verbalizing the clear distinction they make between us, the people, and the frustrating actions of our government.
This is Anti-Imperialist Plaza where 50,000 super-stoked Cubans massed to see Audioslave play, something people still talk about often with great excitement. The soldier seen above right is one of an entire circle of Cuban troops surrounding the USINT building in Havana…no Cubans or extranjeros are allowed to approach. Recently, the U.S. government installed an electronic scroll delivering messages to Havana like “You deserve to be free…,” the Cuban government set up multiple flag poles whose black sheets cover the propaganda.
This is a statue of anti-colonial scribe Jose Marti holding an Elian Gonzales-style baby in his arms while pointing accusingly at the U.S. Interests Section. This was erected during the Elian controversy.
This is Dr. Alberto Granados, companion to a young Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara traveling across South America by motorcycle, as detailed in Che’s Motorcycle Diaries. Though a proud Argentine, Dr. Granados chooses to live a comfortable life in Havana. He and his adorable wife spoke of Ernesto fondly, while a gleaming sparkle in the eyes and perpetual smile light up the Dr.’s face.
These are some memorials Dr. Granados has dedicated at his home to his friend Che. Unfortunately, the camera blurred over this original photo of the two on their ride.
The Infamous Hotel Nacional, Havana
Cubans share everything and have a knack for surviving with grace, a good symbol being the classic U.S. autos they not only keep running, but preserve in pristine condition. Despite great neighborly relations on the surface, the “socialist paradise” comes with oppressive and ugly constant surveillance. Spying neighbors, often secretly loyal to or official members of the CDR (Commitee for the Defense of the Revolution), live in ‘every neighborhood on the island,’ as their propaganda proudly proclaims, self-and sometimes state appointed to spy and report on those that live with, among, and around them so closely. While people constantly bad-mouth the CDR, they are also a community organization who sponsor barbecues, community and social events that are happily attended.
Hotel Karl Marx ~ Havana
Despite the socialist posturing that all Cubans are equal to Fidel Castro and his priviledged cronies, most Cubans are not allowed in the country’s hotels. Everyday Cubans, when really pressed or comfortable with you, reveal their hatred for the ubiquitous police and the sneaking around they have to do just to survive. There is random talk of widespread “redistribution” of government goods to the blackmarket and to feed families where possible. There is a general hatred of the police, who can often prove valuable allies when they are your friends.
When it comes to “Papa Fidel,” Cubans will express cynisicm and defense of him in the same breath. Sort of like how I can talk shit about my family, but you can’t. If a man wants to give a tourist a ride and is caught with no tourist-carrying license, his car can be seized by “The State” and he can go to jail. If a tourist stays with you and you’re not licensed to accommodate one, the same thing can happen to your house. If a Cuban is seen talking to a foreigner, they can be arrested for prostitution or harrassing a tourist, regardless of whether they are a friend or not.
Most Cuban people warmly embrace differing races and U.S. citizens too, not for financial gain, but out of genuine generosity and friendship. One young man in Cienfuegos could not believe his wide eyes that he was meeting ‘an American’ and made said Yank meet all of his friends on the rounds, supplied by frequent passings of a rum bottle. The only witnessed hatespeech was an Austrian woman’s attack on a TACO crew member for being ‘American.’ “The whole world sees what you’re doing,” she screamed over the noise of a crowded nightclub…
Cubans admit life is hard but they seem to be very happy on the surface. Along with great pride in the free health care, most Cuban people have heard news about the U.S. that’s sorta true, but sorta exaggerated. Some friends point out that in Cuba they have no crime, while they know you cannot walk in a U.S. city without someone shooting you. When the U.S. appears in the news, it’s not for anything good. Incidents like Columbine play big on Cuban TV sets when they happen. We’re not huge fans of U.S. policy but we sometimes found ourselves defending this country nonetheless, “well, you’re not going to be shot just for walking down the street…well, it could happen, but it’s no guarantee…er.”
This little boy was going straight into that pot…
The photos above are from in and around Havana. The city is by and large very safe and extremely friendly. Even so, two little boys were seen beating the shit out of each other on Calle Obispo with few people doing much but cheering them on. One of our reporters’ digital camera was snatched from under his nose on the Malecon, and the next day we saw a small mob chasing down a youth and bloodying him.
Another night, we saw a shitload of young men take to the streets and rumble, pounding the shit out of each other. the cops came and dispersed them and it began anew up the block, things being thrown and guys being chased down and beaten. A tiny black little girl came up and looked at us with huge eyes. “Ellos son de mi color…” she said with a tiny trace of shame.
Che’s image is everywhere. Che is used as Christ-like figure that is more beloved than their strongman. Fidel’s picture is not seen very commonly. Even schoolkids have sayings like “We want to be like Che” as part of their morning classroom recitations.
This is someone’s home Santeria/Yoruba shrine, it was often covered up with a burlap sack. Also, in the person’s room was a picture of his departed mother surrounded by tiny glasses of water. He would wake, give two shakes of a rattle, say a prayer, do something else ritualistic, and then start the day.
After dinner in another Cuban home outside of Havana, with several guests attending, the room got really quiet while people continued drinking and smoking cigars. Two people, a man and a woman, marked on the guests’ skin with white clay-like chalk, slashes on the arms and/or a cross or X on the forehead. Every once and a while, one of the two holy people would take a swig of rum and spray it with their mouths onto the altar.
A dove or pigeon was brought out , grabbed by the legs and rubbed, while flapping and squirming, all over peoples’ bodies, legs, pelvic area, head, everything, while the two continued chanting. Everyone was sitting down, it was casual, still drinking, smoking, rising only when called up seemingly at random to receive the molesting by fowl.
Our friend said ‘solo mis pies’ and we took that lead. Next the dove was brought before the altar, its neck was snapped, then it was put in a dish in front of the shrine. Next, a large rooster was brought out and carried to the shrine where it soon struggled to death.
There was a sleeping child and he was blessed with the bird, making us think maybe he was the beneficiary of this ritual. At other times, we thought maybe a certain young lady was the guest of honor here.
Next everyone grabbed a handful of dried beans or seeds, touched themselves with them, then threw them on the pigeon and sat again. A kid left came back with a big rooster, which had been locked for hours in the bathroom of this one-room apartment where four people live. Prayers were said over the cock, and the girl of honor was called up to bring it to the altar. There she held held its neck and legs on the shrine and she was encouraged to say prayers or wishes over it. Not only did she begin sobbing as her prayers intensifed, but the more she spoke, the more she bent the body of the bird over the altar until it was practically in a U shape. She got up and the rooster was really ailing. The gallo was then slaughtered with a knife that had been laying on the altar, its throat slit in a smooth gesture, then its blood drained on the altar, before his corpse was put back on the shelf of the shrine. One by one everyone went up and gave respect to the gallo.
Guests then sat down and partied…The lights and music came back on, people resumed socializing, never mentioning the ritual again, and dove back to the telenovelas they are obsessed with…Still, next came out a pig’s head in a huge metal pot that was placed in front of the shrine. It seemed to be the end of the ceremony, it took maybe an hour or 45 mins. in total.
Picking up hitchikers is a standard in Cuba. This woman was sweet but must have been deaf, as she screamed everything at the top of her lungs in a used and abused voice. She was a chatty one too. Cubans, for some reason, talk fucking LOUD…and talk a lot. Conversation is one of the national pasttimes, they say, along with sex and dancing, because they are free.
Here a TACO capo takes a cut with some dudes playing baseball in the absolute middle of nowhere. It was a groundball, quick out at first, proving Cubans are better than jive-azz gringos at our great pasttime. Animated debate rages over baseball, it is not just a love or passion, but an obsession here.
Cuban textbooks we saw were laced with pro-Cuban Revolution propaganda. Example to memorize from an English textbook: “John and Cindy are from Jamaica. They are in Cuba to study medicine. They appreciate the opportunities that the Cuban Revolution has provided them.” The media is all state-run of course. Still, as mentioned, no matter how much the U.S. government is demonized, Cubans make a clear distinction between us as people and the actions of our government.
Above are images mostly from Cienfuegos and country areas between there and Havana.
These are Los Bohemios who play nightly in Hotel La Union in Cienfuegos. Their playing is beyond beautiful and we’re convinced that if not for the blockade, they would be way more famous than Juanes.
People are pretty goddamn poor in Cuba, but take great pride in their fashion, and thus dress incredibly. This above image is from a fashion show.
This is a beautiful family, one daughter and one niece, that rode with TACO from outside Havana to somewhere in the country before Cienfuegos. And their home…
This was by far our favorite hitchhiker, cuz she was pretty hot and really cool, but her ride wasn’t very long. Some people (not this one) told us of the thousands of dollars they were saving for coyotes to risk their lives to take the dangerous 90-mile boat ride to Miami.
Above is Havana’s Chinatown
This is part of El Morro in Havana, where the Spanish, Cuba’s original Imperialist overlords, held their ground against pirates and invading colonists.
VIVA CUBA! This is an incredible country filled with passionate, friendly people, beautiful natural splendor, and a true heart of defiance and humanity.
The above text comes straight from our observations after many months living in Cuba, and not from research, propaganda, or outside opinion. Check out all information before taking it as fact.