Cafés, real estate agencies, taxis and other small privately-owned businesses and cooperatives in Cuba have brought new life to the depressed local economy and have given rise to pockets of prosperity in the country’s towns and cities.
Scattered houses amidst small fields of vegetables and other crops line the road to the La China farm on the outskirts of the Cuban capital. This is where Hortensia Martínez works – a mechanical engineer who has been called crazy by many for deciding to become a small farmer.
Tears, silence and evasive responses are the reactions from Cubans when they are asked about the “balseros” or rafters crisis; two decades after an exodus without parallel in Latin America, it remains a taboo subject in this Caribbean island nation.
Two men kiss each other while two women dance together without making other clients feel uncomfortable at the prívate club Humboldt 67, one of the venues seeking to cash in on an untapped market by fulfilling the unmet demand for bas, restaurants and other recreational spaces for the LGBTI community in the Cuban capital.
Although it might not seem to be, Latin America is the most active region in the world when it comes to the defence of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people.
All illusions of love, trust and dedication to a relationship flew out the window for Mayda Torres in 1992, when she found out she was HIV-positive while undergoing routine exams to start a new job.
Standing in line for a concert at the Centro Cultural Fábrica de Arte, a cultural centre in the Cuban capital, Alexis Cruz anxiously checks his billfold, where he has the price of the ticket – 50 Cuban pesos (two dollars) - and three CUCs (equivalent to one dollar each) to buy something to drink.
The lack of markets to supply raw materials for Cuba’s new private sector, along with the poverty in isolated rural communities, is fuelling the poaching of endangered species of flora and fauna.
The road to Guanímar, a fishing village on the southern coast of Cuba, is as narrow as the future of its 252 inhabitants, who don’t want to abandon the area despite its vulnerability to hurricanes, storm surges and flooding.
Near the close of the harvest , local people in the Cuban municipality of San Juan y Martínez, which boasts the finest tobacco plantations in the world, are seeing their hopes of a plentiful season dashed by unexpected winter rains.
The stench hits as you walk through the door of one of the pleasant houses along the Quibú river in the Cuban capital’s Náutico neighbourhood. “The garbage piles up, it stinks, and there are even rats,” said María Angélica Suárez, a local resident who is tired of living this way.
Cuba’s state education monopoly is increasingly sharing space with private operators, including churches and teachers working as tutors, which are filling in gaps and providing knowledge that has become necessary as a result of the country’s economic reforms, such as business management courses.
Nature reserves act as a safe deposit box for biodiversity and contribute to adaptation to climate change. But in a country like Cuba, plagued by a chronic economic crisis, efforts to increase the number of protected areas go largely unnoticed.
The 18 communities in Cuba’s Ciénaga de Zapata, the largest wetlands in the Caribbean, have long survived on the abundant local hunting and fishing and by producing charcoal. But that is no longer possible, due to climate change.
The meagre budgets of Cuban families are put to the test when one of the members is diagnosed with cancer. Although treatment is free of cost, only extended networks of support help alleviate the economic impact of the disease, which is now the number one cause of death.