Philippe Sarfati


Cuba; Havana, La Habana, Cuba; Trinidad, Sancti Spíritus, Cuba

Cuba, April 2018.

With Raul Castro’s resignation around the corner, subjects of discussion that were usually avoided took a new importance in Havana. All of a sudden, locals were starting to open up about their hopes for the future... and their daily struggles. The rise of tourism in the country had led to an anomaly in the comunist system, a parasitic form of capitalism, due to the extreme value gap between the local currency, and the one introduced for tourists. It wasn’t rare to discover your host or taxi driver was actually an engineer or a doctor, led to a career change for profit. In the privacy of their home, cubans would often question the island’s socialist system, as the economic situation worsened. Certain ideas echoed through random conversations. “Going to the doctor is free, but our pharmacies have no medicine. Schools are free, but they have no books. Housing is free, but we don’t have enough money to repair anything, and hurricanes keep coming.”

In the international press, Miguel Diaz-Canel’s entrance as Cuba’s new leader was met with overwhelming attention. “The end of an era”. “A historic transition”. “A generational shift”. It was clear : change was coming. After nearly 60 years of Castro rule, on the anniversary of the victorious battle of Playa Giron, the appointed President vowed to keep the country on the path of the Revolution, but also on the road to this long awaited economic reform. One might rationally assume that such an event would be treated as a milestone, and expect to witness the crowds, grandiose political speeches and demonstrations that are typically associated with single-party states.

But nothing happened.

No crowds, no speeches, no popular displays of any kind. After a short appearance on television, life went on, undisturbed. The 19th of April was a day like any other in Cuba. A consensus seemingly took shape in the mind of many locals, who appeared to consider politics as a parallel dimension, a separate universe, fully dissociated from their daily lives. It’s as if a wall of certitudes had been slowly built over time, and change had become so unlikely it simply was perceived as impossible, out of reach. Discussing the subject with people I photographed, I could hear the echo of ideas repeating endlessly.

“Raul is still the head of the party”. “Speeches and headlines are written for foreigners”. “Nothing will change”.

How can hope subsist when you know tomorrow will be the same as today ?

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