Also by Adam Kufeld :
Elsewhere in Atlas :
Photography and text by Adam Kufeld
I got the opportunity to go to Cuba for the first time in 1976 with the Venceremos Brigade. The Brigade had been going to Cuba since 1969, originally helping with the sugar cane harvest while learning of Cuban socialism. I, on the other hand, helped build a day care center alongside Cuban construction workers. During the day we hammered and sweated, at night we talked politics, and on the weekend we toured the island. I was impressed. I didn't see one child without shoes or malnourished. This was the first "third world country" I had been to where that was the case. It was said that if there is a privileged class in Cuba, it is the children; and after I had just spent a year traveling around much of Latin America, that seemed pretty admirable.
In contrast to the Soviet Union and Bulgaria, where I had previously visited, people seemed happy in Cuba. There was color and music everywhere. Art abounded. But more than anything it seemed to me that people were actually happy. They weren't concerned, like most of the people I had met in Latin America, with just survival. It turned out everyone was guaranteed a job, and education and health care were free and accessible. People were free to put their energies into more creative endeavors, like creating a more collective society. I thought I had found paradise. The economy was in relatively good shape. The Soviet Union was supporting Cuba to the tune of one million dollars a day, and they had trading partners thought out the socialist camp, often receiving subsidized prices for their goods, primarily sugar.
After almost two months, I left Cuba with a belief that people were capable of more than simply struggling for the best job, the nicest house, the newest things. At home, if our neighbors fell through the cracks, it was sad, but it wasn't really our problem; besides, what could we do about it? Unemployment, homelessness -- just sad byproducts of a market economy were you make it or you don't. Sorry. I believed we were capable of more. Of somehow working together for a common good. Was I a dreamer, a subversive, a fool? I started looking at other countries, other political systems and ultimately revolutions.
The photos that accompany this text are from the book Cuba by Adam Kufeld, published in 1994 by W.W. Norton.