Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Weeping Park, a Place for Change

The Weeping Park, a Place for Change 

Rachael Trost 

There is an area on the outskirts of Havana; a place filled with hope and heat break. Here is where the United States Interest Section where hundreds of Cubans line up in the early morning attempting to gain access into the US. Officials yell orders from megaphones at the crowd lining them up into two groups. Temporary visas and permanent visas are both hard to get.

(This video was created for the United Nations PLURAL + Youth Video Festival. It looks at Cuban to US immigration and travel from a personal stand-point taken from my time spent in the Weeping Park.)

Families such as Breece and Eleane wait months to get a date for their interviews. Breece said she hopes to give her daughter a better future in the United States and already has a brother living in New York. They have been through 3 rounds of interviews already, and this day is their last step before obtaining an immigration visa. 

After Cuba opened up travel this past year, thousands of Cubans have been flooding this area especially attempting to visit relatives in the US or move there permanently. Many there cite the need for more oppertunity for success outside of Cuba, but all the people I spoke with said they will miss "their" Cuba. Less than 10 percent of temporary visas are accepted by the US each year and even smaller numbers are accepted for migration so chances are most will not get the chance to cross the water. 

As for Breece and Eleane, they obtained their visas and moved to New York state in early June. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

"C'est Cuba"

Kaitlin Gillespie,
Reporting from Havana

A dark-skinned girl in a mustard yellow skirt stands before a crowd of about 50 Cubans and American journalism students. She holds the violin to her chin, and begins to play in a competition that may mean a better future for a 15-year-old.
The notes that pour out of her violin and soul are beautiful. Someone more knowledgeable in music than I am tells me later that her interpretation of the Italian piece is advanced for her age. From my seat, the mahogany of her violin gleams in the low light of the ballroom.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

"You should have been there."

Matt Benoit
Reporting from Havana

It’s a cliché, really—normally uttered when a person’s story-telling skills aren’t up to snuff, or at the least, when he or she is lazy about it.

Sometimes though, “you should have been there” is a necessary phrase, for when you want so badly for people to not just understand what you experienced, but to know it for themselves.

In this particular situation, I think, the latter applies.

It is hard, in so few words and pictures, to convey the essence of a place as overwhelmingly exotic and beautiful, so strikingly anachronistic, as the island of Cuba.

As a writer and photographer, however, that is my task: to not just re-live the trip, but to attempt to take you there with me. To a place where vintage Bel-Airs roam the streets, where the Internet is virtually non-existent, and where you can drink juice box-sized cartons of rum while walking Havana’s pot-holed sidewalks. 

So if just for a couple of moments, come with me. 

Taste the bitters in my mojito, smell the sweet tobacco of a freshly-rolled cigar, and feel the cooling breeze as you walk along the Malecón at night.

I’ll wield my words and flash my photos, but you must keep in mind that—no matter what you see here—the bottom line is simple:

You should have been there.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Military Marching

Stevee Chapman

Reporting From Havana

At first they sounded faintly in the distance, but as the beats steadily grew louder, it became clear that something was approaching from just down the road. The unmistakable sound of a marching band filled the air, but the melodies were not the cheerful ones I was familiar with from the parades in my hometown growing up. This music was slower, more somber, and from my perspective a little intimidating.
Claudia, Rachael and I had been on location in a small park, just outside the United States Interest Section in Havana, since before the sun rose that morning. We were working on a story that had to do with hopeful Cubans looking to be granted permission to either visit or permanently relocate to the United States.
The park was crowded as hundreds of hopeful Cubans were filtered through the interview process while their friends and family, who came to support them, waited to hear the news. We were sitting in the park under the hot late morning sun, waiting to hear if a family we’d interviewed earlier would be approved to permanently move to New York, when we first heard the drum beats.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Paladar- A Growing Opportunity for Cuba's Entrepreneurs

Madison Horner
Reporting from Havana, Cuba

According to an old fable, Cuba’s first privately owned restaurant was opened by a woman in her home and named “El Paladar”. For years, paladar owners made profit, under their own kitchen tables, serving tourists in an economy where the average wage is equivalent to $19 per month. As Cuban President Raul Castro makes economic reforms to a socialist system that is crumbling, the paladar is one of the many types of businesses that have become privatized.
Hector Higuera Martinez, owner of the popular French eatery Le Channonsier, has been in the business for more than 20 years.  He says the reforms make it easier to run his restaurant, which is located in a renovated 19th century Havana mansion. The private sector in Cuba still has its shortcomings.  For example, all of the markets in the city are still state run. A lack of competition and an agricultural system threatened by the black market limit the variety and availability of many food products. Higuera changes his menu every night in order to serve the French-Cuban cuisine that is popular among tourists. Higuera says he relies on friends and customers to bring him hard to find ingredients—especially spices.  Additionally, inspectors visit the paladares regularly to ensure products such as meat and produce are purchased legally. Higuera and other paladar owners must keep meticulous records in order to stay in business.
There are many paladares including Le Channsonier that have proven successful, however the restaurants are very reliant on the tourist industry.  The price of a meal is approximately $25; much too expensive for the average Cuban who earns $19 per month. Since the paladar was legalized last year, many doctors, teachers and other professionals have quit their jobs to cash in on the opportunity.  The tourist market for private restaurants is not large enough to sustain such growth. Thomas Palaia, an economics expert at the U.S. Interests section said he expects more political reforms in the future will help to sustain growth in this new private sector and stimulate the economy overall.