How far is ninety miles? It depends who you're asking. For New Yorkers, it's the summer's drive to the tip of Long Island. It's the commute from San Diego to Los Angeles. It's a stone's throw, a simple day trip, an hour and a half drive and less than a second's thought.
But for the Cuban people, ninety miles is the mere, excruciating distance from the northernmost tip of their island to the southernmost shores of Key West, Florida. It's the teasing stretch between life and death, the expanse that splits daughters from their mothers and the very margin separating capitalism from communism.
Palatial, oceanside mansions that once housed the wealthiest doctors, businessmen and lawyers sweep Havana's northern Malecón promenade. These crumbling ruins, seized by the government at the start of the revolution, are the last remaining remnants of the opulence of what was. Each family home, now turned to tenement, holds up to, or over, twenty individuals at a time.
Cuba is a land where progress and time have simply stopped. 1953 Chevys are a dime a dozen, the Internet is merely a government tool and the single engine of Alabama Air Guard Pilot Pete Ray's Lockheed U-2, shot down during the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, is a proudly displayed relic of war. 49 years later, two members of Cuba's National Revolutionary Police Force stand vigil by it at all times.
But the most salient takeaway of my stay in the island is that our attempts to punish those supporting Communism -- our embargo against Cuba -- leads the wrong people to suffer. We hurt the people who don't have soap to wash their bodies, we hurt the patients who don't have anesthesia to numb their pain and we hurt the parents who don't have enough food to feed their children. The Cuban people, the only citizens who fervently loathe Communism more than us -- the ones who drown, who die, to come to our country -- they are the ones we hurt. Not Castro, not his government, not Communism.
Photos taken by Hallie Seegal.