A Look at the Whole Picture: Havana’s Lights and Shadows

October 09, 2016

Curated by Katarina Hall

From far away, Havana looks like a beautiful, tropical city. When you take a closer look, however, it is impossible to ignore its crumbling buildings and poor living conditions.

The view from my rooftop in Havana’s Chinatown. The ramshackle buildings make up the city that you don’t see in postcards—the Havana full of broken spirits and washed-out dreams.

Of course, the old 1950s cars are real! However, these mint-condition vintage cars are specifically catered to tourists. Most Cubans are not lucky enough to own one.

Most people in Cuba do not own a car—car purchases were only recently permitted, and prices are exorbitant. As a result, there are an unusually high number of horse-drawn carts using Cuba’s main highways alongside cars and buses.

Modeled on the US Capitol, Havana’s Capitolio housed the island’s government until the 1959 Revolution. The building is now being renovated to house the National Assembly of People’s Power, where 612 representatives out of 612 are members of the Communist Party of Cuba.

As soon as you are a block away from the Capitolio, the postcard image of people’s democracy is spoiled by dilapidated buildings and abandoned lots.

The streets in old Havana look like something out of a movie set. Colorful renovated buildings and perfectly laid out streets offer a variety of services: hotels, restaurants, and souvenir shops for tourists.

On the other hand, ordinary streets in Havana lack pavements, are full of trash and dirt, are lined with run-down houses. These are the conditions most people in Havana live in.

These mansions were expropriated from their original owners after the revolution. Now they house six to ten families each and are known as “solares.” The streets of Cuba’s neighborhood El Vedado are filled with houses like these.