This photo was taken on Obispo Street in Old Havana, Cuba. Dating from 1519, this street is only four years younger than Havana itself. Leading straight to Plaza de Armas, it is lined with shops, hotels, and government buildings. Extremely photogenic at any time of day or night, it is popular with locals and tourists.
Lights on Obispo Street
This photo was taken on May 12, 2016. It was converted to black and white using Silver Efx Pro. A little grain was added to increase the moodiness. Specs are:
At the corner of Amargura and San Ignacio in Old Havana, Cuba, is a health food store called Mercado Bethania. We didn’t go there. We stood on the corner to take a photo of the building across the street, because someone had hung their laundry on a second-story balcony to dry. The colors of the laundry items echo the colors of the window frames – blues and white – with just enough red accents for interest. The next time you are in Old Havana, take your eyes off the vintage cars and look up – to find ordinary everyday life.
When we visited Cuba last May, we had dinner one evening at Restaurant Moneda Cubana on the corner of Mercaderes and Empedrado Streets, near the Cathedral Square. We had a table for two on the rooftop, at the edge, with a beautiful view of the fort across the Bay of Havana and of the surrounding buildings and the small park below where boys were playing. Beside our building was another building being renovated, with signs all around the building showing what it would look like when completed. While we were in Old Havana for a week, we never saw any actual work in progress on that building, or any indication that the renovated building would look like the imagined building.
From our table in the restaurant, we had an excellent view inside one room of the building under renovation. The room, with bricks propping open the shutters on either side, was empty except for a man who stood in the window periodically, probably because it was cooler there. He was dressed too well to be a worker and it was too late in the day to be working. Was he a foreman, a squatter, or someone else? We never knew.
From his perch in that window, the man observed the tourists walking beneath him. They never looked up. From our higher perch at our table, we observed the man. He never looked up. We were in almost the same place but worlds apart.
In May, 2016, we visited Organoponico Vivaro Alamar (OVA), a community-based urban organic farm in Alamar just outside Old Havana, Cuba. Isis Salcines, the daughter of one of the founders, explained the work done by earthworms on this farm. In short, they make dirt.
Earthworms are used to create fertile soil from animal manure (pig, cattle, and oxen), rice husks, and sugar cake (left over from sugar cane processing). This mixture is matured in troughs shaded by netting and kept at an optimal humidity. The mixture is added to a trough in layers, with a new layer every few days. Each new layer is separated from the lower one by wire mesh that allows earthworms to migrate upward to the new layer. The topmost layer is then moved to a new trough to become the bottom layer, and the earthworms continue their journey upward. The layers left behind in the original trough are ready to be used in the gardens. Producing this rich soil requires hundred of thousands of earthworms. The earthworms here have long lives at 16 years, which is about two to four times the lifespan of ordinary earthworms.
This photo was taken on May 9, 2016. Specs are:
Olympus TG-4, ISO 100, f/3.2, 1/250 sec, 5.5 mm
Why is this post called “Terra Worma”? “Terra firma” means “solid earth” or “firm ground,” while earth that has been processed by these earthworms is aerated and loose.
This post summarizes information that would have been good to know before we visited Cuba. Perhaps a future visitor will find it useful.
We wanted to visit Cuba for a long time. With the warming of relations between the US and Cuba, the visit became possible. In brief, what we knew about Cuba was that (1) it is a communist country (2) ruled by Fidel Castro (3) located 90 miles from Key West (4) where cigars are made and (5) where Ernest Hemingway lived and wrote books. Our recent (post Revolution) history with Cuba includes (6) the Cuban Missile Crisis (Bay of Pigs), and (7) Guantanamo Bay (“Gitmo”). We now understand Cuba a little better.
To be clear, most of what is written in this post comes from sources found after our visit to Cuba, not from our guides in Cuba, although they answered any questions we put to them to the best of their ability (and knowledge). Also, to the best of our ability, only facts are presented, not beliefs or opinions, although, as US citizens, a dispassionate discussion of Cuba isn’t always easy.
An extremely brief history of Cuba up to 1961
Cuba was independently ruled by indigenous peoples, more or less, until colonized by Spain in the early 1500s. Cuba was conquered by the British in 1762, traded back to Spain (for Florida) in 1763, governed by the US (under the 1898 Treaty of Paris) from 1899 until handed over to a Cuban government in 1902, occupied again by the US from 1906 to 1909, and self-governed as a democracy until January, 1959, when Fidel Castro took control.
The Cuban Constitution was amended in late 1901 to include the Platt Amendment as a condition for withdrawal of US troops at the end of the Spanish-American War; among other conditions, this amendment gave the US the right to intervene militarily in Cuba. As a result, the 45 square mile Guantanamo Bay Naval Station (commonly called “Gitmo”) was leased to the US beginning in 1903 for $4,085 per year, although Cuba has not accepted this payment since 1959. The Cuban-American Treaty of Relations of 1903 contained the same provisions as the Platt Amendment and was used as justification for the Second Occupation of Cuba from 1906 to 1909. Most of the conditions of the 1903 Treaty were removed by the Cuban-American Treaty of Relations of 1934, although the long-term lease of Gitmo remains.
Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis
After the Cuban Revolution resulting in the Castro government, Cuba turned its allegiance from the US to the USSR, becoming an ally with the USSR in its Cold War with the US. Newly-elected US President Kennedy, approving the plans developed by outgoing US President Eisenhower, launched the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in April 1961 to remove Castro from power. The invasion failed and reinforced Castro’s negative views of the US. The USSR began to install silos in Cuba for (potentially) launching nuclear missiles at the US, to deter or to retaliate for any future US attacks against Cuba. The US observed these preparations from U2 aircraft overflights and blockaded the island. A US U2 aircraft was shot down from Cuban soil, most likely by USSR forces. The US did not retaliate but instead negotiated with the USSR to remove their weapons in exchange for a US agreement never to invade Cuba.
When the older generation in the US is asked for memories of the Cold War in general, and of the Cuban Missile Crisis in particular, what they remember is the film “Duck and Cover” and associated procedures taught them in elementary school to “survive” a nuclear attack.
Communism in Cuba
The Cuban Constitution, ratified in 1976, established the Communist Party as the ruling party in Cuba. (The Cuban Constitution, translated into English, can be found at Cuban Constitution.) The Cuban people are to be “GUIDED by the ideology of José Martí, and the sociopolitical ideas of Marx, Engels, and Lenin” (quoted from the Constitution).
Our guide explained to us that communism is the ideal toward which the socialist Cuba is heading. Periodically, adjustments must be made to continue progress toward this goal.
Two important changes under Fidel Castro, brought about by the economic crisis in 1993 following the collapse of the USSR, were tourism and the legalization of paladares (privately-owned small restaurants), that pay fees to the government.
In October, 1997, Fidel Castro officially named his younger brother Raúl Castro as his successor. After the Revolution, Raúl held many government posts, including head of the armed services, defense minister, and first deputy prime minister. In February 2008, Fidel Castro officially resigned, and Raúl was chosen as Cuba’s new president. As President, Raúl Castro has implemented many social, economic, and political reforms ( known as the “actualization of the Cuban social and economic model”) that seem inconsistent with Fidel’s communist policies of the Revolution.
In late May, 2016, the Communist Party stated that a category of around 200 types of small, mid-sized and “micro” private businesses has been approved for their master plan for social and economic development. This approval could make it possible for non-state businesses to legally import supplies and export products, thus growing private business in a communist state. The projected impact includes half a million jobs in Cuba’s private sector.
Raúl Castro plans to leave politics in 2018, at the end of his second term as President.
How Communism Affects Cuban Families
During our visit to Cuba, we became aware of several ways that communism impacts the individual and family. These are discussed below in reference to the relevant clauses in the Constitution:
ARTICLE 15: The following are the socialist State property of all the people:
a) the land that does not belong to small farmers or cooperatives comprised of them, the subsoil, mines, natural resources, both living and nonliving, within the maritime economic zone of the Republic, and the forests, waters, and routes of communication;
b) the sugar mills, factories, fundamental means of transportation, and all enterprises, banks, and installations that have been nationalized and expropriated from imperialists, large estate owners, and the bourgeoisie; as well as factories, economic installations, and scientific, social, cultural and sports centers constructed, promoted, or acquired by the State, including those that it may construct, promote, or acquire in the future.
Except for small farms and cooperatives, there is no privately-owned property in Cuba. The State owns all the fundamental means of production: factories, transportation, banks, natural resources, land, water, etc. The Communist party controls these state-owned means of production.
ARTICLE 45:…Work is remunerated according to its quality and quantity; when it is provided, the needs of the economy and of society, the decision of the worker and his skill and ability are taken into account; this is guaranteed by the socialist economic system, that facilitates social and economic development, without crises, and has thus eliminated unemployment and the “dead season.”
In 2012, Cuba’s National Statistics and Information Bureau (ONEI) reported that the average salary of Cubans was 466 National Cuban Peso (CUP) a month. At 24 CUP per Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), and assuming that the CUC is “on par” with the US dollar (USD), a monthly salary of 466 CUP is roughly $19.42 USD. We understood that the maids in our hotel were paid about 225 CUP per month, or less than $9.40 USD, while doctors might make the equivalent of $200 to $300 USD per month. Cubans who work in tourism do much better than average. Another job we saw in every hotel and restaurant was restroom attendant, almost always female. These ladies do not receive salaries, but “contract” for their jobs, providing all supplies from the tips they receive. A typical tip is 0.25 CUC per restroom visit.
ARTICLE 36: Marriage is the voluntary established union between a man and a woman, who are legally fit to marry, in order to live together. It is based on full equality of rights and duties for the partners, who must see to the support of the home and the integral education of their children through a joint effort compatible with the social activities of both.
ARTICLE 37: All children have the same rights, regardless of being born in or out of wedlock.
The equal duties of marriage are taught to all Cubans, but women carry the burden of housework and childcare in addition to their paid jobs. For this reason, the childbirth rate in Cuba is just above 1 child per family, since women understand that the work required for each child will fall on their shoulders. Abortion is a right and a common form of birth control in Cuba.
Marriage is not required in order to create a family, and illegitimacy is not really a recognized concept in Cuba.
ARTICLE 43: The State establishes the right, won by the Revolution, of its citizens, without distinction based on race, color, sex, religious creeds, national origin, or any other type offending human dignity to:…have a right to education at all national educational institutions, ranging from elementary schools to the universities, which are the same for all;…be given medical care in all medical institutions
As school children explained to our group, education and health care are free. The state also provides free dental care (Article 50).
The Cuban Food Basket (Rationing)
Under the new Communist state, incomes increased and expenses decreased (e.g., the state provided housing and electricity), while food production decreased with changes in the ownership and organization of farming. The result was an increased demand for a decreased supply.
Compulsory rationing of some items (e.g., meat and animal fats) began in July, 1961, expanding to official food rationing established by Law No.1015 on March 12, 1962 under Che Guevara, then Minister of Economy. Each household received one 28-page rationing booklet (libreta) to cover the multiple individuals or families residing there. Initially, almost all food items were included in the booklet. Over time, items (e.g., eggs) move in and out of the booklet as their supply changes. During the worst times, the booklet rations provide only about 1/5 of the amounts (calories) needed; during the best times, the booklet provides about two weeks of what is needed for a month. Supplementing these food quotas are subsidized lunches in the workplace, free school lunches, buying food on the black market, and other alternatives. Paladares are too expensive for the typical Cuban citizen.
During the 1990s (called the “skinny period” because of the lack of food), the average Cuban lost 20 pounds in weight.
In late 2000, US firms were allowed to sell food and agricultural products to Cuba, but Cuba did not buy any products until the next year, following the devastation caused by Hurricane Michelle. Cuban purchases of US products, which must be paid for by cash, not credit, have increased since then.
Cubans with low incomes spend about 75% of their salary on food. The rationing booklet, now at 20 pages, is colloquially known as the “food basket.” For less than $2 USD a month, about 12% of the real value of the food basket, each Cuban (man, woman, and child) acquires 7 pounds of rice, one pound of beans, one cup of cooking oil, a bread roll each day, five eggs, 4 pounds of meat (usually chicken), sugar, salt, and spaghetti. (Note: these amounts are difficult to verify; different sources of information list different amounts.) Only pregnant women and children under seven years old can buy milk. Extra rations are available for special occasions and special needs. Cubans must shop at several outlets over several days to find all the products in the ration booklet. Eggs are especially hard to find.
Tourists eat much better than Cubans, and pay the equivalent of US prices for the privilege.
Cuba’s International Trade
Urban agriculture is essential to Cuba’s economy. Cuba’s main agricultural products for export are sugar, tobacco, coffee, and citrus (mainly oranges and grapefruit). Sugarcane by-products are the main ingredients in Cuban rum; some popular brands are Havana Club, Santiago de Cuba, and Ron Cubay. The two main varieties of tobacco grown in Cuba are Corojo and Criollo; most Cuban cigars are exported. Coffee varieties include arabica and robusta. Domestic Cuban citizens are rationed to two ounces of coffee every 15 days; the rest is exported.
Other crops grown in Cuba for domestic consumption are cassava (a root vegetable), potatoes, rice, and tropical fruits such as plantains, bananas, mango, papaya, pineapple, avocado, guava, coconut, and apples. Cuba also imports potatoes and rice. Under Spanish rule, the cultivation of cotton, wheat, and rice had been forbidden, which could help explain their lesser importance in Cuban agriculture now.
Refined petroleum and raw nickel are the second and fifth most valuable Cuban exports, respectively. The other three exports in the top five, in order, are raw sugar, rolled tobacco, and hard liquor. However, with the reduction in crude oil imports (see below under Venezuela), Cuban refineries operate at less than full capacity. For example, the Ñico Lopez oil refinery in Havana harbor is currently operating at 40% capacity.
Economic Impacts of Cuba’s Revolution and the Collapse of the USSR
Before the Revolution, Cuba was the world’s largest sugar exporter, with the US as its largest consumer, accounting for 60% of the US sugar imports. After the Embargo, the USSR paid inflated prices (more than five time the market price) for Cuban sugar, amounting to a generous subsidy even while worldwide sugar prices collapsed. With the fall of the USSR in late 1991 came the end of the USSR sugar subsidy, and two thirds of Cuban sugar factories closed. Sugar production continues to fall, although exports to China alone almost equal the amount saved for domestic consumption.
Before the Revolution, Cuba imported all the products it needed from the US. After Cuba’s Revolution, the USSR delivered fertilizers, 63% of Cuba’s food imports, and 90% of its petroleum; this support also disappeared after the USSR collapse. Without fertilizers (an essential need for tobacco production), Cuban agriculture suffered , with production falling by one half, until (1) Cuban farmers developed sustainable organic farming methods and (2) the government allowed farmers to sell surplus crops directly to the public. (Until 1994, the government controlled all food distribution.)
Before the collapse of the USSR, coffee production in Cuba reached 13,200 tons. The all-time low afterward was 210 tons, but production has increased to between 3000 and 3900 tons per year.
Meanwhile, Venezuela …
Venezuela and Cuba have had a rocky relationship, beginning when Venezuela attempted to move Cuba from Spanish rule to US rule. Failing that, the two countries established diplomatic relations following Cuba’s independence in 1902. However, Venezuela broke ties with Cuba in 1961 following the Cuban Revolution. During the mid 1960s, Fidel Castro’s Cuba began to support rebel groups in Venezuela seeking to establish a Marxist government in Venezuela, and, not incidentally, to appropriate Venezuela’s oil wealth for Cuba’s revolution. Failing this, but with a new government in Venezuela, the two countries resumed diplomatic relations in 1974 and Venezuela resumed oil deliveries to Cuba.
Hugo Chavez then attempted a coup d’état of the Venezuelan government in 1992. While Fidel Castro initially denounced Chavez, Castro was influenced by the 1991 collapse of the USSR (and the 1994 pardon of Chávez) to approach President Chávez for international assistance. In return, Chávez became dependent on Cuba for military support and intelligence following the Venezuelan coup d’état attempt against his own government in 2002. For this assistance, Chávez’s government sent Cuba tens of thousands of (subsidized) barrels of oil, as well as provided huge assistance through loans, investments and grants. Cuba, in return, provided technical personnel to Venezuela and health care (in Cuba) to Venezuelans .
In 2007, Venezuela and Cuba agreed to renovate the Cienfuegos oil refinery in Cuba, that was built by the USSR in 1990 and shut down in 1995. (Between 2008 and 2009, Chávez nationalized international assets in Venezuela, including oil and oil services, and diverted Venezuela’s oil exports from the US to China, in order to end Venezuela’s dependence on the US market, but placing Venezuela at a huge disadvantage with China.)
Hugo Chávez, then finishing his third term as President of Venezuela, died in 2013. With oil prices plunging worldwide, the crude oil shipments from communist Venezuela to Cuba were cut in half. Venezuela does not have enough food for itself, let alone Cuba.
And China …
After Venezuela, communist China is Cuba’s second-most important trading partner. China has agreements with Cuba to invest in the processing of nickel and in the discovery and processing of oil. China also exports durable goods, including train engines, buses, and appliances, to Cuba. There is talk that China will finance an expansion of the Cienfuegos oil refinery.
Relationship between Cuba and the United States
Following the 1961 Cuban nationalization of oil refineries and other US-owned properties, as well as the redistribution of foreign-owned land to Cuban citizens, the US severed diplomatic relations with Cuba and imposed a trade embargo.
Until recently, most US citizens have considered Cuba only in terms of the Cuban Missile Crisis (see above), the treatment of boatloads of refugees arriving on Florida’s shores (the most well-known probably being 5-year-old Elián González, whose mother drowned while trying to bring him to the US in 1999), and the infamous inhabitants of Gitmo.
Travel restrictions were relaxed by US President Barack Obama in 2011, although the commercial embargo is still in effect with some limited exceptions for humanitarian reasons.
In December 2014, President Raúl Castro and President Obama announced work toward normalize diplomatic relations. In July, 2015 ,the Cuban embassy reopened in Washington, D.C., followed by the re-opening of the US embassy in Havana in August.
Needless to say, these short paragraphs cannot do justice to the complex history of Cuba. Those interested in the powerful negative influences on the evolution of Cuba’s culture and economy should look into the role played by slavery first introduced in the 1790s under Spanish rule, the more recent rise and fall of Fulgencio Batista in 1940 through 1959, and the severe shortages of the Special Period in Time of Peace (roughly 1989 to 2000).
An interesting on-going look into current-day Cuba is provided by the on-line Havana Times at http://www.havanatimes.org/. A future visitor to Cuba might check it out to get into the mindset of a Cuban citizen.
We hope you have enjoyed this series of posts about Cuba. If you want to catch up on previous posts, read:
This post features some public art we saw on plazas and streets of Havana. By public art, we mean art that was available for public viewing without paying a fee. Some was religious, some was political, some was traditional, and some was contemporary. The photographs shared here include only statues and street art (graffiti).
The two religious statues that are seen by almost every tourist in Old Havana are the Christ of Havana and the statue of the priest and young boy.
The Cristo de La Habana (Christ of Havana) statue is located on top of La Cabaña hill overlooking Havana Bay. The statue was carved in Italy of white Carrara marble; after its blessing by Pope Pius XII in Italy, it was unveiled here on December 24, 1958, only 15 days before Fidel Castro entered Havana during the Revolution. At 20 meters (66 feet) tall, standing 51 meters (167 feet) above sea level, it is visible from many places in Havana. It is also possible to view Havana from the base of the statue.
The statue of the Franciscan friar Junípero Serra y Ferrer with a Juaneño Indian boy is located in the Plaza de San Francisco de Asis in front of the Basilica Menor de San Francisco de Asis. On September 23, 2015, Pope Francis conferred sainthood on Junipero Serra, who founded missions in Baja California and in California.
Franciscan priest Junipero Serra and Indian boy
Franciscan priest Junipero Serra and Indian boy
Four political art works honor Antonio Gades, Abraham Lincoln, Yasser Arafat, and Ernesto “Che” Guevara.
Antonio Esteve Ródenas (Antonio Gades), best known as a Spanish flamenco dancer and choreographer, co-founded the Spanish National Ballet. As a member of the Central Committee of the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of Peoples of Spain, Gades was also a political activist during the Spanish transition to democracy (The Transition) following the death of Spain’s military dictator Francisco Franco in 1975. Fidel Castro decorated Antonio Gades with the Order of José Martí, a state honor, shortly before Gades’ death in Madrid in 2004.
The statue of Antonio Gades is located on the Plaza de la Catedral in Old Havana, in front of the Palacio de Lombillo.
Abraham Lincoln is honored in Havana with a miniature sculpture in the Vedado neighborhood, a bust in the Museum of the Revolution, and a bust near the Capitolio. The statue of Lincoln standing in front of a chair is located on the Avenida de los Presidentes in front of the Abraham Lincoln Escuela de Idiomas, a foreign language school.
Slaves were brought to Cuba beginning in the 1500s to work on Spanish sugar cane plantations. Abraham Lincoln is important to Cuba because he issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 to free slaves in the Southern US. The Emancipation Proclamation helped put pressure on Spain to end slavery in Cuba; the Cuban slave trade ended in 1867.
This statue of Palestinian leader Mohammed Yasser Abdel Rahman Abdel Raouf Arafat al-Qudwa ( Yasser Arafat) is located on 7th Avenida in Havana.The statue is 1.95 meters (6’5″) tall; Arafat was 1.57 meters (5’2″) tall.
The statue was unveiled on November 24, 2012, by Akram Samhan, the Palestinian ambassador to Cuba. Formerly the Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) opposed to Israel, Arafat was instrumental in a series of (ultimately unsuccessful) negotiations for peace with Israel; for this he (along with Israel Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Israel President Shimon Peres) received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994.
Part of the special connection between Yasser Arafat and Fidel Castro is this: Palestinian soldiers were trained in Cuban guerrilla training camps under the direction of the KGB in the 1960s, and Cuban soldiers fought in support of Syria during the Yom Kippur War in the 1970s.
Arafat was revered by Fidel Castro and awarded the Bay of Pigs Medal during his first visit to Cuba on November 24, 1974.
Ernesto “Che” Guevara, a Marxist-Leninist revolutionary originally from Argentina, was one of the three most recognizable figures (along with Fidel Castro and Camilo Cienfuegos) in the Cuban Revolution. An expert on guerrilla warfare, Che left Cuba in 1965 to continue (unsuccessfully) his version of world revolution, first in the Congo and later in Bolivia, where he was executed on October 9, 1967.
Che Guevara is idolized in Cuba as a martyr, and his image on a t-shirt is one of the most popular souvenirs of Cuba. The street art (pictured below) is a highly-processed version of a photograph taken of Che on March 5, 1960, by Alberto Korda.
A traditional piece of art, the sculpture of Polish pianist-composer Frederic Chopin sitting on a bench, is located in the Plaza de San Francisco de Asis in front of the Hotel Palacio del Marques de San Felipe y Santiago de Bejucal.
The sculpture was unveiled on December 21, 2010, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Chopin’s birth.
We saw several pieces of contemporary art in Old Havana, including The Conversation, Fantastic Voyage, Nature, Xico’s Travels Through Latin America, and three examples of street art.
The bronze sculpture La Conversación (The Conversation) is located in the Plaza San Francisco de Asis in Old Havana. Created by the French sculptor Etienne, it shows two figures in an intense discussion. It was unveiled on May 25, 2012, with Etienne and French ambassador Vittorio Perrota (the donor) in attendance.
(Note in the photo on the right the statue of Junípero Serra and the Indian boy in front of the Basilica Menor de San Francisco de Asis (the building with the tower) on the other side of the square.)
The bronze sculpture Viaje Fantastico (Fantastic Voyage), by the contemporary Cuban painter, sculptor, and illustrator Roberto Fabelo, was unveiled on January 20, 2013. Similar to many of the artist’s paintings, the sculpture depicts a woman wearing only shoes and holding a gigantic fork as she sits astride a giant rooster. This sculpture is one of a limited edition of only five. Fabelo, who was the 2004 winner of Cuba’s National Arts Award, donated the statue.
El Gallo (the rooster) is an important symbol in Cuban life, representing strength and power.
The statue is located in Plaza Vieja (Old Square) in Habana Vieja (Old Havana). (Fun fact: The Plaza Vieja (Old Square) was originally called Plaza Nueva (New Square) in 1559.)
Woman with fork, Viaje Fantastico
Rooster, Viaje Fantastico
Also located in Plaza Vieja in Old Havana is a 10 meter (about 33 foot) tall flower sculpture named Escultura Natura (Nature). Natura was created of Cuban marble by Cuban sculptor Juan Narcisco Quintanilla in 2010.
Another exhibit in Plaza Vieja is part of the Exposicion de artistas latinosamericanos: “Crossings Xico Latin America” (“Xico’s Travels Through Latin America”) is a series of 16 stylized dogs standing around the fence that surrounds the fountain in the middle of the square. These are the mythical pre-Columbian god dog, Xico, as envisioned by eight Cuban artists and others in Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, and Panama. Each cartoon xoloitzcuintle (Xico) is made of reinforced vinyl, stands 1.8 meters (5’11”) tall, and is covered in colorful designs. From November 12 until December 12, 2015, the pieces were on exhibit in the Plaza de San Francisco de Asis, after which they were moved to Plaza Vieja.
The project coordinator, Mexican artist Cristina Pineda, conceived this representation of Xico as a legacy of Aztec culture. Recognizing that foreign characters (e.g., Mickey Mouse, Powerpuff Girls) are popular with Latin American children, Pineda would like to further the Xico initiative with programs in which children are encouraged to create their own versions of Xico from clay.
(The fountain, somewhat visible inside the fence, is a replica of the original Carrara marble fountain with four dolphins that was destroyed under Batista in 1952 to make way for an underground parking lot, also now demolished. Renovation of the buildings around the square, damaged by the parking lot construction, was begun in the 1980s.)
The last photo of contemporary art is actually three pieces of street art (graffiti) on the side of a low building.
The image on the left is signed “atomiko en la habana” and was created by the street artist self-named as atomiko. Atomiko, a native of Miami, Florida, created the first version of the orange character in 2008 in reaction to the demolition of the Miami Orange Bowl.
The image in the middle was created by the street artist “Abstrk,” also a native of Miami, Florida. His art is distinguishable by the eyes of the subject, which create an intimate connection between the viewer and the soul of the subject.
The image on the right was created by the Cuban street artist “5 Stars.” His graffiti can be found on many walls in Havana, especially in Centro Habana, the municipality (borough) bordering Habana Vieja to the west. Some of his artwork can be viewed on the Facebook page for 5stars.
We hope you have enjoyed this look at public art in Havana. Stay tuned for more of our Cuban diary. The last post will provide general impressions of Cuba, based on our look into Cuba’s history and motivated by what we saw during our short time in Havana. If you want to catch up on previous posts, please read: