Paul Stafford

Galería fotográfica de Paul Stafford sobre el tema cubano.

BACKGROUND TO CUBA

Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean with a rural landscape of sugar plantations, forest swamp and rolling hillsides. Today, little remains of its original Indian population. Most Cubans are of mixed race: Creoles are Cubans born of European descent and Mullatos, a mixture of European and African. There is large population of pure African descent - one in eight Cubans are black, descended mainly from West African slaves.

The island has endured a turbulent history and external influence dating back to its "discovery" by Columbus in 1492. For the next four hundred years, both Spain and the USA retained a strong colonial interest in Cuba, mainly for its sugar. The Spanish finally left in 1899 and self-rule of a kind was established, but in 1902 the Americans passed a law giving them the right to invade Cuba at any time to "preserve its independence". The naval base of Guantanamo was developed on a 99 year lease.

Under the corrupt dictatorship of Batista in the 1950's, Cuba became the playground of the American rich and famous with the US Mafia controlling gambling, prostitution and organised crime. However, government corruption, a pitiful standard of living, no health care or education led eventually to a popular revolt against the US backed government.

Fidel Castro and "Che" Guevara led the Cuban Revolution in 1959 and despite attempted invasions (most famously at the Bay of Pigs in 1961) and numerous assassination attempts on his life, Castro is still very much the leader and Cuba remains a one-party communist state.

The loss of the huge financial support from the Soviet Union following the collapse of communism in Europe and the ever increasingly tight US economic embargo (before the Revolution, 60% of Cuba's trade was with the US) has meant that life for the Cuban people has become much harder. Prostitution has returned to Havana and the main tourist areas.

Las fotografías de Paul Stafford

15 imágenes
Todas las fotografías © Paul Stafford

Today, the government is trying its best to earn foreign currency (mainly US dollars) heavily promoting tourism, principally to the resorts of Veradero, Cayo Largo,and Cayo Coco. The recent influx of tourists has meant that a parallel economy has developed, allowing some Cubans with access to dollars to buy a small amount of goods from the special dollar shops rather than almost empty state shops.

Cuba is now a country in transition.

Although Cuba has suffered a difficult history and is currently "in a special period", Cuban people remain extremely friendly, proud and curious about foreigners.

They were very generous given their modest belongings, unquestionable honest, hard working, fun loving, passionate and proud even under the most difficult of times. Never once did we feel unsafe or "watched." Strangers, almost without exception, would go out of their way to help. From giving us directions, to getting off their bicycles and helping when our car broke down on a country road. They welcomed us into their homes, invited us to share their tiny rations, offered a room in their homes for the night.

Renting a car as opposed to being part of an organised trip has its advantages. Being able to offer a lift to ordinary people was a great way to meet and talk with ordinary people (without any fear of being overheard). With local transport stretched to its absolute limits, there are always hundreds of Cubans waiting by the side of the road, often for a bus that never arrives. Although often a little surprised at being offered a ride by foreigners, they willingly accepted and it took no time to strike up a conversation.

Our knowledge of Cuba here in the UK is limited to news reports (often from the US) of narrow scope usually presented with a political twist. We know little of its people and their struggles or their pride and zest for life.

The images that follow explore everyday life of Cuba's People - beyond all of the political rhetoric. They do not attempt to make a political statement, nor do they intentionally seek out the bleakness and the undeniable poverty, rather they aim to convey in a simple way the joy and vitality of a wonderful people

Paul Stafford - August 98

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