New day for Cuba?

Photo essay | Small but profound changes mark first post-Fidel months

Issue: "Unify and conquer," June 14, 2008

Note: For more of Laura Morton's photos from Cuba, download the WORLD e-zine online or see the print edition.

HAVANA, Cuba-Arriving in Havana after a two-year absence, a visitor is struck by small but profound changes. Cell phones, recently legalized for use by Cubans, are everywhere on the streets. Cubans can stay in tourist hotels, something that was illegal under Fidel Castro.

At a Havana restaurant, the waiter first addresses guests in English, not even bothering with Spanish. The national soda company now makes an energy drink-an anomaly in a country where the preferred pace of life has been slow. More startling: New buses imported from China are cruising Havana streets-a much-needed improvement to public transportation-and several of the city's crumbling buildings are under reconstruction. Open-air Christian worship is more evident than before, and a synagogue that languished for 40 years has been restored and is attracting growing numbers of Jews.

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To many these changes might seem unremarkable, but for Cubans living in a communist country that for 50 years appeared stuck in time, they seem revolutionary. Raul Castro since taking over officially in February from his brother Fidel has publicly acknowledged some of Cuba's problems, going so far as to approve a resolution to end wage limits on state jobs, a measure aimed at increasing productivity. Only time will tell whether such measures are successful and lead to deeper change. In the meantime, Cubans say that they feel a change in the economy is necessary-and coming very slowly.

-Laura Morton is a photojournalist and writer based in the San Francisco Bay area


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