Cuba 13 Sep 2013 06:00
The People of Havana
In September 2013, I photographed almost 100 people inside their homes in Havana. The inside of a person’s home says as much about their personality as their portrait does, and most of the homes I visited were filled with personal, social, cultural, economic and religious clues about their Cuban occupants. These interiors testified to the many hardships the people of Havana endure and the Cuban people’s resilience and resourcefulness.
Despite the years of international isolation, economic sanctions and general hardship, the people of Havana are warm, welcoming and positive. They are determined to enjoy life. There’s a strong sense of community in every neighborhood. Vulnerable people are supported by their community and no one is isolated.
Cubans make do with what they have. When something breaks, it’s fixed with whatever material that can be found. Nothing is wasted. Frequently it seems that nothing is thrown away. Despite the poor state of the buildings and the cramped conditions, most of the homes I visited were also filled with vibrant colours, mementos, belongings, beloved pets and human warmth and spirit.
The poor housing situation in Havana contrasts sharply with the many positive changes to society that the Communist Party has bought about. The housing in Havana lags far behind all the other indicators of development. Although the government still struggles to provide citizens with safe and comfortable housing, Cuba has a high life expectancy (79 years is the average), a 99.8 percent literacy rate, free education at every level and free health care for all its citizens.
These discrepancies between the housing conditions and the level of education and health care create a situation that is unique to Cuba. This is a country where a highly specialized doctor, for example, has no other option but to live in a cramped and humid room, in a dangerously unstable building.
There are however inconsistencies between the living standards of certain people. Not everyone is in the same situation and some people are able to live in better homes. This is often due to government connections. Residents who have family members working abroad and who send money to them and residents who are paid directly by tourists also have the means to improve their housing situation.