By Peter Funt
Most of us have never been to Cuba and yet we easily conjure images of brightly colored vintage American cars, of deeply creased yet smiling faces, of bare-chested young athletes bounding in the bright sun, of cigar smoke wafting above crowded dance floors.
President Obama’s wise decision to try a different approach in relations with the Castro regime is likely to improve things for Cuba’s economy and its people. A nation frozen in time will change, but many Americans — especially tourists — hope the images are preserved.
Photographer Lorne Resnick understands, having spent the last 20 years chronicling the island nation and its people. His large and striking book, “Cuba: This Moment, Exactly So,” could not be better timed nor more useful in depicting the Cuban experience.
Resnick’s 250 photographs, culled from over 400,000 he took during more than 50 trips to Cuba, are truly remarkable. And I would say that even if Resnick were not my brother-in-law. His photographic passion can be examined at www.ThisCuba.com.
“Just like the buildings have exposed their raw structure as the paint peels away from decades of wear and lack of funds for upkeep,” Resnick observes, “it seems to me that the Cuban people’s social masks have also faded away to reveal honest, open, kind, warm humans who will engage you in intense, frank conversations about politics, religion and life.”
“The Cubans are incredibly family and friend centered,” he continues. “If you spend enough time in a family home it makes you weep at how beautiful their closeness is. The warmth and love is really extraordinary.”
Much of Cuban life is an enigma. For instance:
“Health care is free in Cuba. They have world-class doctors and not enough tongue depressors — largely due to the embargo. They have a Parkinson’s treatment center that people fly to from all over the world. They have cutting edge cancer research. But the hospitals are old.
“Fidel Castro actually admitted not long ago that he made a mistake and over-educated Cubans, so that now they have too many doctors and not enough mid-level service people.”
Pressed at an awkward news conference on Monday, Raul Castro mentioned free health care as he sought to deflect questions about Cuba’s rights violations. Cuban “rights,” he declared, include health care, free higher education and equal pay for women.
That brought a reply from President Obama summing up this turn in U.S.-Cuban relations. “I actually welcome President Castro commenting on some of the areas where he feels we are falling short,” he said, “because I think we should not be immune or afraid of criticism or discussion as well.”
Over time, shiny new American cars will line the streets of Havana, in front of tall, modern hotels and rows of U.S.-owned businesses. Eventually Havana’s photo album might look more like San Diego’s.
Photographer Resnick probably won’t care as much about those images, but he’s developed a keen appreciation for the Cuban people.
“I was in Cuba on December 17, 2014, when the Obama announcement came that things were going to change,” he says. “Everywhere I went people were quietly celebrating, each raising a glass to a potential bright future, hugging and kissing everyone.”
For Cuba, that is the bigger picture.
Peter Funt can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com
Peter Funt is a writer and speaker. His book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com. © 2016 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate.