Foreword of Habana Libre
By William Westbrook
The Malecon, after midnight. Hundreds of lovers on the wall, as if the night wasn’t steamy enough. Below them the sea, breathing slowly. Beyond them the nightlife of Havana. Not Old Havana, not those postcards. The real city, two million strong, most of which are awake.
At Turf, Dj.Joy making the music. So much smoke that it ﬁlls the small spaces between the ﬁbers in your clothes. Drinks and cigarettes. Connections to be conﬁrmed later. Maybe 50 people outside the club by the velvet rope, awaiting a nod to enter that may not come.
Avenida de los Presidentes, dense with teenagers. Small groups hang together. Skateboarders rolling around monuments to revolutionary heroes. Girls with a look, flitting and flirting. The clothing of choice seems to be heavy metal black. Everyone finds their place, their circles, their friends, and it is surprisingly quiet. Maybe 1000 kids by 3am.
One night. One square mile of Havana.
Surprise to many in the world, and most in the United States: there is happiness in Cuba. The US policy is crushing, socialism is an empty closet and the country seems held together by average families masterfully adept at jerry-rigging their day- to- day existence. Really, Cubans may be the most ingenious people on the planet.
Yet, despite the negative wire-service photographs imprinted on the world’s brain, there’s a pretty good life here for many. To name a few: artists and directors and actors and models and musicians. The creative class.
Soon after Fidel Castro came to power in 1959 he signaled his intent to promote Cuban culture. Other decrees promoted education and medicine. Today the culture is rich and proud. Literacy is almost unequalled in the world. Medical knowledge and care are superior.
And the country is broke.
Here, on an island of survivors, there are those who survive better than others. Some are embarrassed about it. Others are afraid to draw attention to it for fear the socialist government will punish them for having a good life.
Here’s the t-shirt: Cuba. It’s complicated.
Yari, bangs and beautiful, part of the life. A member of several farandulas, small circles of friends intersecting like Olympic rings. Each ring an interest: music, or fashion, or clubs or art. One farandula even alerts her to the party-of-the-night, the letters PMM chirped to her cell phone: Por Mejor Mundo, For A Better World. With directions.
Actual money, she proves, is not always necessary for the above-average life. But farandulas, that’s different. Social connection trumps politics, status or wealth. A model dates a photographer who is friends with a musician whose song is chosen by a director for a film with an actor who admires the work of an artist who uses the model for a model.
Here are the other photographs, then, of the other faces of Cuba. They are international, yet travel is difficult if not impossible. They are fashionable, though Cuban couture is an oxymoron and anyway there are no stores. They are socialists who would be lost without capitalism to sell their creative wares in the world’s markets. They are the privileged class in a classless society.
Their lives are complicated. But that’s Cuba.