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¡Hola!: Picturing the Cuban Street

In 2004 Cuba welcomed record numbers of overseas visitors to its shores. Over 2 million tourists, myself included, drawn mainly from Europe and Canada, touched down on this the largest island in the Caribbean. Seemingly Cuba's allure lies in its unique combining of the Caribbean staples: wonderful scenery, fantastic weather [hurricane season aside] and warm spirited locals with its quirky, to your average Western tourist at least, political status as one of the last outposts of state Socialism. This recent surge in popularity has been keenly encouraged by a Cuban government desperate for hard currency since the demise of the Soviet Union which provided much needed financial support and investment and the ongoing US trade embargo. However because of its proudly flaunted Socialist ideology the Cuban government's attitude to tourism is ambivalent though increasingly less so as its ancient iconic President Castro grows ever frailer. With western goods in short supply and an average monthly income of $20 to your average Cuban the equally average Western tourist represents an opportunity too good to pass up.

Stepping onto Cuban soil, you are quickly assailed by all kinds of offers and assistance of varying degrees of usefulness and authenticity. Large numbers of touts or hustlers, are an integral part of the hustle ‘n’ bustle of the Cuban street. Typically hustlers attract the attention of their quarry with a bold 'Hola' with an a ebullient 'Amigo' not far behind. I took this as my cue, saying nothing but raising my camera and training it on the heckler by way of response. Although my main motivation was to document the performative quality of Cuban street life , with particular attention on that of its capital Havana, the individuals amused and friendly responses in the face of this mild effrontery was revealing, or so I believed. Maybe this was the Caribbean’s version of the Blitz Spirit - proof of how a lack of material affluence may act to unite people and make them happier. But then again, the very visible presence of those other street jockeys , the police, surely plays its part in keeping Westerners more romanticising tendencies intact. Who knows? Well, maybe we all will and before too long, when as seems inevitable the country finally gives itself up hook, line and gusset to the The Market.

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