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Front Page Exhibition
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The Strait of Florida meet the 'Malecón', the waterfront of Havana.

   Situated at less than 100 miles from the most powerful country in the world, Cuba has for decades withstood enormous pressure and stared eye to eye with the foe across the Strait, like the bedrocks withstanding the big wave. Now, this largest country in the Caribbean has become increasingly opened to foreigners including Americans. Thanks to the country's rich culture and tradition, tourism thrives here, despite the embargo and political stalemate. It becomes one of the country's biggest industries.

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Not far from the office of Castro, the statue of Jose Marti overlooking the Plaza de la Revolucion, a giant square that usually hosts massive political rallies. A professional correspondent, a poet, a lawyer, a political prisoner, a statesman, Jose Marti is regarded as a national hero who fought for Cuba's independence in the late 19th century. His poems are still among the most popular today.
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A street scene at the Old Havana (La Habana Vieja).

   A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the old city was founded around early 16th century, and "retains an interesting mix of baroque and neo-classical monuments, and a homogenous ensemble of civilian houses with arcades, balconies, wrought-iron gates and interior courtyards" (UNESCO citation). Under the communist rule, as well as the ill economy, a large part of the old town severely lacks of maintenance. Some residential areas are in the verge of becoming a slump.

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An Ernesto 'Che' Guevara portrait in front of a house in the Old Havana.

   Born to a middle class family and trained as a medical doctor, the young Argentinean travelled and witnessed the plight of the South American people, and had envisioned a fair and justice society. He joined the rebel groups in Cuba and fought along side with Fidel Castro and other revolutionists. After the revolution, he held positions in important ministries and the Central Bank, in charge of the industry and economic reform. Despite his passion, however, the result was largely a failure due to the lack of experience. Withdrawing from public office, he returned to Africa and South America for guerilla warfare, but was subsequently captured and executed by the CIA in Bolivia in 1967. Coupled with his personal charisma, Che Guevara has become an icon who dare to confront injustice and oppressions, no matter how powerful they are, without considering personal safety and profit. Although Che might never have envisioned the social condition of Cuba today under his comrade Castro, although the end result undoubtedly adds an element of tragedy to his sacrifice and devotion, it is his passion that inspires generations of young Marxists and left-wingers. Like Che once said: "Revolutions rarely, if ever, emerge fully ripe, and not all their details are scientifically foreseen. They are products of passion, of improvisation by human beings in their struggle for social change, and are never perfect. Our revolution was no exception".

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In Cuba's most important cemetery, the Necrópolis Cristóbal Colón, a woman pays homage to the tomb of the late Señora Amelia Goyri.

   Beautifully carved marble tombs and mausoleums lay orderly by the streets and avenues in the lush city of the dead, resting famous figures such as General Máximo Gómez, among others. Amelia Goyri de Adot died in the early 20th century while giving birth to her child. Legend has it that, she was buried with her child at her feet. But when she was exhumed some years after her death, she was found uncorrupted, and her baby was found nestled in her arms. Since then, She has achieved an unofficial status of sanctity, and has developed a large group of followers. Pilgrims, many of them pregnant women, visit and lay flowers on the tombs, then leave without turning their backs.

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An elementary school next to the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Carmen (Church of Our Lady of Carmen) in Camagüey.

   Founded upon the belief that all children have the right to quality schooling at no charge, Cuba enjoys one of the best educational systems in the world. Despite the severe shortage of resource, results like universal enrollment, equality of basic educational opportunity, nearly 100% literacy, consistent pedagogical quality, strong scientific research capability are even envied by western industrial nations.

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A class in session.
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The school cafeteria.
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A waiter in traditional dress poses with a waitress in front of Chinatown's Tiantan Restaurant, one of the best in Havana. As tourism booms, Havana's Chinatown is packed with tourists and restaurants, and is more bustling than ever. With around $10 for a main dish, however, the restaurant menus could hardly be afforded by typical locals. Taking advantage of his ethnic origin, the waiter gave up his government job of 15 years and opted for the lucrative private sector, where two days of his tips might be better than his monthly wage in the government office.
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During the busy hours, waitresses are enjoying a moment of pause at a Chinatown restaurant.

   The number of Chinese immigrants once reached half a millions during the earlier half of the last century. Unfortunately, many of them left Cuba after the revolution. Those who stayed mixed with other ethnic groups. Today in Cuba, there are only a few hundred Chinese without interracial background, most of whom live in Havana's Chinatown.

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Si hubiera sucumbido a los halagos de la música, a sus llamadas, a todos los universos que ella ha suscitado y destruido en mí, hace tiempo que, de orgullo, habría perdido la razón.

   E.M. Cioran

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Casa de la Trova, Santiago de Cuba.

   Located at the centre of the city, the traditional musical house is devoted to the conservation and celebration of the musical heritage of the country, and thus turns itself into one of the most important cultural institutions on the island. Musical programmes run on everyday. The house provides local Cuban a place not only for enjoying their traditional music but also for social gathering. Trova is a kind of Spanish ballade dated back to 19th century.

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A Drummer, Santiago de Cuba.

   Authentic Cuban music stimulates audience with strong rhythms by different types of percussion instrument.

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In Cuba's third largest city of Camagüey, a trainer instructs a group of young Salsa dancers with enthusiasm.

   A genre blended with African rhythm and Spanish guitar, Salsa was originally rooted from a song written by a Cuban composer, Ignacia Pilerio, to protest the lack of Cuban spices in the food he found in the United States. While a Hispanic community was burgeoning in Spanish Harlem, New York, dancers were called upon to spice up the moves of Afro-Cuban dance rhythms, to add "salsa" to their moves

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The children in Trinidad are probably one the best illustrations of Cuba's hodgepodge of ethnicity. A Cubanl can possibly fall into anywhere in the full spectrum of complexion. My host in Havana is a black man with a Chinese last name, while his wife is a Chinese-Hispanic without knowing any Chinese.
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Plaza del Carmen, Camagüey.

   With decades of communist rule, catholic traditions still deeply engrain in Cuba's society and daily life. Accompanying by her parents and arriving with a vintage car, a girl poses for her photographer after the ceremony of initialisation, which most Cuban girls have to experience.

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Malecón, Havana.

   A driver turns his passion to his lover after failing to jump start his car.

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Labourers, Santiago de Cuba.
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A street corner at the historical area of Trinidad.
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Road to the Valle de los Ingenios.
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Historical area, Trinidad.

   High windows with iron or wooden grilles are common architectural feature in Cuba, as good air ventilation is necessary for the island's hot climate.

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A girl is observing the visitor at the Plaza Mayor, the centre of the old town Trinidad, where most colonial houses and museums are located.

   Founded in 1514, the town was the base for Diego Velázquez's expeditions to the new world. In 1988, UNESCO declared Trinidad and the nearby Valle de los Ingenios a World Heritage Site, citing "...the city was a bridgehead for the conquest of the American continent. Its 18th- and 19th-century buildings, such as the Palacio Brunet and the Palacio Cantero, were built in its days of prosperity from the sugar trade."

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The green Río Yayabo reflects the lush vegetation and the famous Puente Yayabo (Yayabo Bridge) in the city of Sancti Spíritus. Built by the Spanish in 1815, the brick bridge is still carrying Sancti Spíritus' major traffic - pedestrians, horse-drawn carriages and motor vehicles.
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Children in Sancti Spíritus.
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A musical house in Trinidad.
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Perching to the morning skyline of Trinidad is the bell tower at the Museo Nacional de la Lucha Contra Bandidos, formerly the convent of San Francisco de Asis in the 18th century.

   The museum displays items related to the government's struggle against the counterrevolutionaries during the 60s'. A gunboat and a wreckage of U-2 are also displayed in its courtyard.

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Havana.
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A souvenir stall, Santiago de Cuba.
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Camagüey.

   A bride arrive in the church with a small and new Fiat, a leap forward from the vintage American automobile.

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In the lobby of a cinema in Camagüey, a ticket seller invites the visitor for a movie treat.Cubans have a passion for cinema and, thanks to the embargo, this passion is still untainted by Hollywood. The island is among the countries with the highest number of cinema per capita. The role of cinema as a cultural medium is more important than in many other countries.
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Women sew souvenirs for tourists in front of the 44-metre high tower in Manaca Iznaga Estate, Valle de los Ingenios.

   The tower was built by Pedro Iznaga, once the wealthiest man in 18-century Cuba for his slave trade, to prevent the escape of his slaves.

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The ruins of dozens of small 19th-century sugar mills, including warehouses, milling machinary, slave quarters, manor houses, and other remains dot the Valle de los Ingenios (Valley of the suger mills), which begins 8km east of Trinidad on the road to Sancti Spiritus. Most of the mills were destroyed in the two wars of independence, and the focus of sugar-growing moved westward to Matanzas. Some sugar is still grown here, however, and it's all as picturesque as ever.
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One of the numerous Casa Particulares in Sancti Spiritus.

   As Cuba gears toward more opened tourism, private accommodation has emerged under government supervision. For $15 to $30, these Casas Particulares provide opportunities for tourists a cheaper renting and an experience seeing Cuba people's life. The story is not simple however. Only rich people who have adequate housing might receive dollars from Miami could afford the halfty fixed licensing fee of between $100 to $200 per month, which buys them a blue triangle sign in front of their doors.

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In Camagüey, a government owned shop has little goods to offer.

   Strict ration in food and other goods has been a system for decades. But most Cubans do not live in misery, thanks to the money influx from oversea. Cuba recently adopted a two-tier currency system, in which both Peso and dollar can legally circulate. Everyday, dollar stores across the countries attract numerous eager shoppers who sometimes must wait in lines outside due to overcrowd. One can find food and goods seen in western countries, with a similar price.

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A historical house doubles as a government office in Camagüey.

   The third largest city in Cuba, Camagüey is known for its colonial buildings and the lush green gardens hidden inside the courtyard. The city is also known for its tinajones, the large clay pots in the courtyard to retain water during droughts.

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In front of the Ministry of Interior building north of the Plaza de la Revolucion, workers wrapped up chairs and tables for the chess games held in the previous day. The games broke the Guinness Records with 12,000 players, among whom there was Fidel Castro. Cuba excels in sports not only in the Caribbean region but also in the world, thanks to its popular sport programmes. Watching the chess game was the large mural on the wall of the edifice, featuring Che Guevara and his famous slogan “Hasta la Victoria Siempre”.
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Street basketball, Havana.
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Vintage cars which often conjure up the images of Cuba park in front of Hanava's Capitolio Nacional. Thanks to the embargo, Cuba has not imported automobiles from America for nearly fifty years. Yet Cubans have an uncanny capability to maintain, decorate and keep these cars running. As a main mean of transportation, these vintage taxis often run on fixed routes only known by locals. For 10 pesos each head ($1=26pesos), they go whenever the capacity is filled, pick up and drop passengers along the routes. Unlike in many third world countries, these shared taxis are rarely overloaded.
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Public Housing Building, Havana.
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School children in Havana. The bilingual signs inside the yellow school bus indicates that it's imported from Canada.
Last Update: May 03 2009 01:10:40 -0500