Cuba has long represented a radically different version of a North American dream from that of the United States—and that dream now undergoes a dramatic transformation. In “The Acute Charm of Ruin & Development: Havana, Cuba,” I document the development taking place in Havana, the country’s economic, cultural, and ideological capital, in April 2017, prior to the effects of Hurricane Harvey later that year. A rapprochement had begun briefly between my country and theirs, and I went wondering what Cuba’s new economic and tourism rules and practices were bringing to Havana and its people. What is being transformed, how, and for whom?
With development as the prism for examining these questions, my photographs focus on people and places precariously situated on the economic and social edge of touristic Old Havana or located within Central Havana, a traditionally proletariat district now undergoing large-scale structural and socio-economical change. Development had been progressing speedily in the opening of 2017. Individual homes and small buildings were being remodeled into casa particulaires,homes permitted by the government to host foreigners as private enterprises. Cranes stood tall over the famed boulevards downtown. Iconic labels from the West had opened boutiques, and a thriving restaurant and café culture abounded. At the same time, however, particularly along the Malecón, the changes were of a more menacing kind. Historic structures holding dozens and dozens of families are slated to be knocked down for parking structures to facilitate new hotels. Some properties appear already abandoned, but people live in the crumbling hulks, by now stripped of marble detailing and once-exquisite ceramic tiles. Even stairs had all but disintegrated. Signs announcing Se vendecropped up on every block of the famed seaboard walkway. Many were regal establishments. What will future regality look like? Where do the inhabitants go?