Gallery: Cuba in Waiting

Snapshots from a country yearning for change
Havana. A man checks the time.
As Fidel Castro lay in hospital in the winter of 2007, our photographer Jennifer Osborne went to Havana to document the citizens’ mood in snapshots from a country yearning for change. Her observations about the project follow:

“I went to Cuba after the international media announced Fidel Castro was ‘fighting for his life’ and ‘on his deathbed’ in the winter of 2007. After my first month in Havana, he was described as ‘convalescing.’ Confused about the conflicting views on his health, I began documenting the Cuban people while their country was in political limbo. The project’s title, ‘Cuba in Waiting,’ refers to two ideas: First, it acknowledges that Cubans are literally waiting for relief from Castro’s regime. Second, it recalls ‘lady-in-waiting,’ the term for women in service to the French and English nobility, because Cubans are devoted–not by choice but by law–to maintaining the lifestyles of their government officials, while receiving few benefits beyond meagre living allowances.

“Castro officially retired from office on February 19, 2008, more than a year after he was declared to be struggling for his life. His deliberate, drawn-out withdrawal from politics, with his brother Raul as the new president, has allowed Cuba to remain somewhat politically stable. However, as Fidel’s image increasingly fades away, an overwhelming sense of unrest is developing among the post-Batista generation. Cuba’s youth and middle-aged populace await the end of their country’s old-world dictatorship—and the day-to-day grind of life under Castro.”

–Jennifer Osborne can be reached at jenniferosborne999 at gmail dot com
Jennifer Osborne is a freelance photographer, commercial photography assistant, and retoucher. She studied jazz and piano in Toronto, then art history, philosophy, and photography in Vancouver. She worked for two years in Montreal as an assistant to Roger LeMoyne before producing this documentary of life in Havana. Since returning from Cuba in November 2007, she does mental health work in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, and will soon move to Treviso, Italy, to work for Colors magazine.

9 comment(s)

TuriyaFebruary 23, 2008 14:13 EST

Greetings Jennifer, would love to stay in touch, I am a jazz pianist , have lived off and on in Toronto and Vancouver and play Cuban jazz, so we have a lot in common. You are doing great work.
all the love Turiya

JoeFebruary 26, 2008 13:12 EST

Pity Poor Cuba
Jennifer Osborne's photos of Cuba are poignant and evocative. But her take on Cubans - waiting for the end of Castro and the day-to-day grind - is chilling in its naivety.
Cuban ex-pats (virulently anti-Castro) and every true-blue capitalist in America are waiting like vultures to descend upon the country and transform it in their own image. Does Ms Osborne really think that the Cuban people will have any say whatsoever in how their country is 'modernized'?
Watch how hopeless slums develop and the drug culture takes over the underclass, just as the new middle classes get to enjoy the 'freedom' of cheap cars, American fast food restaurants and the arrival of the legion of ex-pat carpetbaggers on the make. "Get out of the way, native Cubans. We're here to rid you and your country of your backwardness."
Ah, free, free at last.

AnonymousFebruary 29, 2008 06:20 EST

the thing about this photo essay is, aside from the cuban flags, it could be any central american country. people constantly try to blame cubas problems on castro, rather than blaming them on poverty.

a great example of this is how every blames the rafting cubans who land on miami shores on Fidel's iron fist and his tight grip on the country. but then mexican, guatemalan's, salvadorans or hondurans who flood the rio grande with their bodies night and day in attempts to make it to US ground? is that the fault of Calderon, Colon, Saca or Zelaya?

People need to see through this "poor Cuba living under the curtain of communism." Its just an extremely shallow analysis.

Bethany OrMarch 10, 2008 09:11 EST

Thank you, Ms. Osborne, for these glimpses of life under Fidel, all too bittersweet now that he has officially stepped down. I appreciate the way you portrayed both beauty and forced asceticism in your photos. Hopefully the Walrus will send you back once the bigger changes hit Cuba, when Raul is no longer in power - I would love to see more of your work.

PeterMarch 14, 2008 04:19 EST

I'm glad to see a balance of opinion on this transformation "in waiting". Cuba used to be the playground of wealthy Americans and it could very easily revert to that dubious state once again. I can't pretend to know what's "best" for Cuba (or the lesser of two evils), Castro-style dictatorship or American-style modernisation. Who knows what would have become of Cuba had American not imposed its blockade or, as Anonymous hinted at, not imposed its will on other Latin/South American nations.

BrendaJune 22, 2008 10:36 EST

When the sugar and tobacco barons were in charge of Cuba, before the revolution, extreme poverty existed in Cuba. Except for the fact that the poor had no health care and were illiterate. The poor had hope of access to education or health
care but worked pretty damned hard to bring in the harvests for the rich.

I wonder how Fidel Castro can bear to be blamed for so much pain, the dehumanizing poverty, and alienation from the rest of the world ... while self-satisfied American's and the Miami Sultans/Cubans were responsible for relegating the world's lost brothers and sisters of Cuba to such an appalling and marginalized human experience. Every time I hear some Miami Cuban on a soap box denouncing Fidel Castro, I think that their myopic sense of history is really what the Cuban people are going to face when the Castro regime ends.



BrendaJune 22, 2008 10:56 EST

When the sugar and tobacco barons were in charge of Cuba, before the revolution, extreme poverty existed in Cuba. Except for the fact that the poor had no health care and were illiterate. The poor had no hope of access to education or health
care but worked pretty damned hard to bring in the harvests for the rich.

I wonder how Fidel Castro can bear to be blamed for so much pain, the dehumanizing poverty, and alienation from the rest of the world ... while self-satisfied American's and the Miami Sultans/Cubans were responsible for relegating the world's lost brothers and sisters of Cuba to such an appalling and marginalized human experience. Every time I hear some Miami Cuban on a soap box denouncing Fidel Castro, I think that their myopic sense of history is really what the Cuban people are going to face when the Castro regime ends.

Sorry for posting this twice - I want to correct an typing error made in the first post, the reference to access to health care and education.




Martin CesarJuly 17, 2008 19:04 EST

Good work Jen.

AnonymousNovember 01, 2009 10:32 EST

I wonder how Fidel Castro can bear to be blamed for so much pain, the dehumanizing poverty, and alienation from the rest of the world ... while self-satisfied American's and the Miami Sultans/Cubans were responsible for relegating the world's lost brothers and sisters of Cuba to such an appalling and marginalized human experience.

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