Tomorrow, January 1st 2009, marks the 50th Anniversary of the triumph of the Cuban Revolution and because talk of the Revolution is not tolerated in the polite company I keep I’ll get it out of my system with a little post here on the Babylon Falling blog.
It was the history of the Cuban Revolution that really was the spark to the fumes for me as a kid. Reading about the revolutionary moment when the guerrillas descended from the mountains and marched triumphantly into Havana instilled in me the courage of my convictions. It was that story that first provided me with the real world reference points to finally understand the seemingly obvious idea that, holy shit we can actually change the conditions that oppress us.
The parallels between the conditions in Cuba under Batista in the fifties and those in the Jamaica I grew up in the nineties were too much for me to ignore. As I got deeper into the history of the Revolution the more interested I was, reading about the improbability of the lieutenant Pedro Sarría saving Fidel’s life after Moncada, the fiasco of the Granma ‘landing’, and many more situations where seemingly insurmountable odds were overcome.
That honeymoon period was shortlived, and the further I got into the history of the Castro government the more disillusioned I was. The nail in the coffin of any of my illusions about the virtues of the Castro government came when, on a trip to Cuba in 2005, I was hanging out with some rappers from Havana and was invited to an illegal basement party where they were performing that night. It was then I realized the impossibility of life in Cuba, that almost no facet of the life I enjoyed both in Jamaica and in the States would be possible in Cuba under Castro. A place where everything, even non-political rap music, is pushed underground.
Having said all of that I have to acknowledge the importance of the example of that Revolutionary moment, the example of successful resistance to oppression. Although there’s no doubt Castro sold out the Revolution it’s more important to understand that he and his men were more administrative incompetents than tyrants. To attack Castro for the human rights violations in Cuba but to say nothing of those in our own backyard is hypocritical in the extreme. To point out the de juro absence of many civil rights in Cuba but never to decry the de facto absence of those same rights in the US is tragic. To pity the balseros who risk their life to escape Castro’s Cuba without questioning the ‘wet foot, dry foot’ policy that encourages the rafters and the embargo that exacerbates the conditions that push people to such desperation misses the point. So I’m basically saying criticize the mistakes but be consistent with the criticisms and most importantly never forget to lift up the triumphs, and to always celebrate the spirit of rebellion against tyranny.
My small gesture to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary is to throw up, in full, a scanned version of this early propaganda piece put out in Cuba after the Revolution and geared towards children.
We have cards taken from this pasted on to the counter in the store and I always get questions about it so I decided to just put the whole thing up online.
As far as I know there is no copyright on it. It has been referenced and used in a few books about Cuba (most notably on the inside covers in the Taschen book about Cuba). Although it can be seen elsewhere online I wanted to provide a platform that is easier to navigate with scans that are more readable. Classic propaganda and actually a decent history of the Revolution. Hope you enjoy it.
Click the picture above or click here to open a slideshow of the complete version of ‘Album de la Revolucion Cubana’. Best appreciated full screen…make sure to hit the full screen button on the bottom right after it loads.
Magnum also has up a dope feature celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Revolution. You can check it out here
To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Cuban revolution on 1 January 2009, Magnum Photos presents an exhibition of vintage and contemporary prints, the content of which shows the agency’s long engagement with the country.
Included are Eve Arnold’s pre-revolution images shot in 1954, the unfolding of events in 1959
by Burt Glinn, portraits of the main protagonists, Fidel and Che by Rene Burri and Elliott
Erwitt and latterly of modern life under Castro in the crumbling beauty of Havana by Alex Webb, David Alan Harvey and Christopher Anderson.
Also included are rarely seen photographs by Magnum correspondants Andrew Saint George and Bob Henriques. Henriques documentation of Castro’s troops advancing into Havana are hugely evocative and evidence of Castro’s timeless way with his people.
Also, LIFE Magazine recently partnered up with Google image search to put their whole archive of photos online. All you have to do is add “source:life” to your Google image search to search the LIFE photo archive. For example below is a link to photos from the Cuban Revolution pulled up by simply typing “cuban revolution source:life” in the image search bar.
There is bound to be plenty more coverage online but these are a nice place to start. History!