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Photos: Cuba At The Crossroads

Cuba is only 90 miles away from Florida, but for most Americans it might as well be another planet. The socialist nation has been off-limits to us since the U.S. trade embargo was imposed 50 years ago.

But things are changing. On Monday, the Cuban government ends a pair of long-reviled travel restrictions, making it easier for Cubans to leave their country. And in 2011, President Obama authorized tightly regulated people-to-people cultural tours, allowing more Americans to go to Cuba.

WBUR’s Andrea Shea had the rare chance to travel there recently on a people-to-people cultural tour with Michelle Wojcik, a Boston gallery owner who, despite the embargo, is able to deal exclusively in Cuban art.

Starting Monday, we’ll hear Andrea’s reports on changes in Cuba, and how artists have been pioneers in the country’s creative economy. They’ll air at 90.9 FM and here at wbur.org. In this visual preview of her series, “Cuba Opens Through Art,” Shea guides us through some of her favorite moments of her trip.

(All photos and reporting by Andrea Shea/WBUR)

Cubans start their day, heading to school and work in the streets of Havana.

Cubans start their day, heading to school and work in the streets of Havana.

Fidel Castro's Revolution is very much a part of the ether in Cuba.

Fidel Castro’s Revolution is very much a part of the ether in Cuba.

Revolutionary fighter Che Guevara's image is everywhere in Cuba. He's like a rock star.

Revolutionary fighter Che Guevara’s image is everywhere in Cuba. He’s like a rock star.

Cuban women dress in Colonial costume for tourists in Plaza de la Catedral. After I taking this picture this woman chased me down and pretty much demanded to be paid. I learned that's the deal with street artists in Havana, too. They play, you pay.

Shea: “Cuban women dress in Colonial costume for tourists in Plaza de la Catedral. After taking this picture this woman chased me down and pretty much demanded to be paid. I learned that’s the deal with street artists in Havana, too. They play, you pay.”

Manny, our Cuban tour guide, took me and another American to see a hidden cigar club in the Conde de Villanueva hotel. I was told Reinaldo Ruiz, this torcerdores or master cigar roller, is one of the best in Cuba.

Shea: “Manny, our Cuban tour guide, took me and another American to see a hidden cigar club in the Conde de Villanueva hotel. I was told Reinaldo Ruiz, this “torcerdores” or “master cigar roller,” is one of the best in Cuba.”

A Monday morning commute along the Malecon.

A Monday morning commute along the Malecon.

Fishermen line the wall along Havana's Malecon on most mornings, hoping to catch some fish for supper.

Fishermen line the wall along Havana’s Malecon on most mornings, hoping to catch something for supper.

Book vendors set up stalls in the market at Plaza de Armas. Since the 90s Cubans have been selling second-hand books and periodicals from the 1940s and 50s.

Book vendors set up stalls in the market at Plaza de Armas. Since the 1990s Cubans have been selling second-hand books and periodicals from the 1940s and 50s.

Workers employed by the Cuban government keep the tombstones in the historic Colon Cemetery pristine.

Workers employed by the Cuban government keep the tombstones in the historic Colon Cemetery pristine.

he Cathedral de San Cristobal

The Cathedral de San Cristobal.

A young Cuban man graciously sits for a photo in the Callejon de Humel, a popular public art project in Havana.

A young Cuban man graciously sits for a photo in the Callejon de Humel, a popular public art project in Havana.

American art collector Tom Licciardi bought a big, red kiss from Cuban women in Havana's San Francisco Square. Cubans have licenses to sell many things to tourists, including smooches.

American art collector Tom Licciardi bought a big, red kiss from a Cuban woman in Havana’s San Francisco Square. Cubans have licenses to sell many things to tourists, including smooches.

Those mythic, vintage American cars are as stunning and ubiquitous as we've heard. They're like rolling reminders of the past when the U.S and Cuba actually had a relationship. In so many ways Havana really does feel like its trapped in time.

Those mythic, vintage American cars are stunning and ubiquitous. They’re like rolling reminders of the past when the U.S and Cuba had a relationship.

The beautiful buildings along the Malecon are crumbling. An ambitious preservation campaign is underway, but an architect from the Office of the City Historian said many of the dilapidated structures along the coast are too far gone to be saved.

The beautiful buildings along the Malecon are crumbling. An ambitious preservation campaign is underway, but an architect from the Office of the City Historian said many of the dilapidated structures along the coast are too far gone to be saved.

Fishermen, young and old, along the Malecon, Cuba's famous waterfront roadway.

Fishermen, young and old, along the Malecon, Cuba’s famous waterfront roadway.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on wbur.org.
  • Leon

    Hey National Propaganda Radio… gee, you forgot to mention that it is the U.S. (land of the “free”) that forbids its citizens from travelling to Cuba. And… the long-standing economic embargo, the invasion, the support of terrorism against Cuba, all by the U.S… what kind of uber-propaganda campaign are you on, NPR? Are you directly paid by the CIA at this point?

  • steve_the_teacher

    In the time I have spent in Cuba (I am of Cuban heritage), I have been struck by the degree to which common Cubans are willing to share their critiques of fundamental aspects of the Cuban government’s domestic and foreign policies and the nature of democracy on the island. This stands in contrast to the frustration I have found with many US citizens’ inability to reflect on fundamental flaws with US economics (corporate capitalism), the US wars on(of) terrorism, and the plutocratic nature of US “democracy”.

    In this home of the “free press,” I have seen precious little coverage on the US harboring of terrorists like Luis Posada Carries (convicted of blowing up a civilian Cuban airliner and referred to him as “one of the most dangerous terrorists in recent history” and the “godfather of Cuban exile violence.” by Peter Kornbluh). Nor have I seen much coverage of the Cubans imprisoned in Maimi for trying to gain information on Cuban exile terrorism (http://www.thecuban5.org/wordpress/index.php).

    Rather then collaborating to stop terrorism against Cuba, the US government seems more intent on stopping the efforts of those of us who work for authentic social justice. (http://www.justiceonline.org/commentary/fbi-files-ows.html)

  • stergofstow

    I was lucky enough to travel to Cuba last year as part of MassHumanities cultural programs–(yes, the US allowed us to go btw: we flew direct from Miami to Havana). I was struck by many things, good and bad, and as with everything what we hear here in the US is not the whole story. The good: amazing to see the support of the arts by the Cuban government, far more than we do here. Wonderful to see the support for public education even in the remote regions of the country. The bad: their infrastructure is crumbling beyond anything I could imagine. Havana is beyond the breaking point in terms of housing its population, which I believe is something like a million more people than there is space for. Fascinating: in spite of the US embargo, the USA is Cuba’s fourth largest trading partner. My personal conclusion: if we ended the embargo, we could and would have far more influence on the issues of human rights…and in this post-Fidel era, now is the time

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