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Cuba

Photograph by Bear Guerra

Exile in White

It’s Friday morning. As has been his custom for almost three decades, Miguel Natividad Borrayo is dressed in white, from his T-shirt to his shoes, to honor those imprisoned for challenging the Castro regime—men like him, who spent seventeen years doing hard labor.

“White symbolizes peace,” says Miguel. “It’s how I protest.” But there was nothing peaceful about what got him in trouble to begin with. Back in 1961, he was a thirty-two-year-old career officer in the Cuban Navy. He’d been a staunch supporter of US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista until Fidel Castro’s successful guerrilla uprising in 1959.

Photo by Mirissa Neff

Neon Havana

1. Havana may be a metropolis of two million souls, but you wouldn’t know it by looking up: The night sky here boasts stars as dense and bright as you’d glimpse among the woods of Maine. For decades now, the city’s lack of electric light has [...]

Coppelia’s main parlor.

Ice Cream, Socialized

Fidel Castro rejected his northern neighbors. But for a lifelong dairy lover who’d grown up on a farm in the Oriente province, ice cream proved harder to resist.

Tom, René, and José on horseback, Alta Habana. (Image courtesy of the author)

Patria y Muerte

My father wanted out. In a matter of days we’d trotted through a vigil for a Cuban childhood interrupted. I had anticipated creeping toward these emotional watersheds. But Hurricane Gustav had thrown us off, tightened the trip’s deadline. So we darted from spot to spot: the house where Rifé brought my father to live; where my father was put to work the next year (La Unica still in operation but with only an elderly woman idly guarding sacks of flour); to Quivicán, where the past crashed down in fits but the dreaded specter of politics was salved by pork and rum and artful bullshitting, by legends of the farm and the physical reality of René’s grave, the mystery of his whereabouts finally made palpable. Through it all, we never stopped sweating. My father, for one, was visibly thinner in a week’s time, his belt, notched by habit, sagging below his waist button. Rather than clearing the air, the storm had brought a worse heat in its wake.

Tropical Depression

A swimmer off the Malecón seawall in Havana. August in Havana is a mounting wave of heat—so consuming, the sun so piercing, it can warp your sense of reason. Tempt you to surrender. Make you flirt with insanity. The pained faces around you ar [...]

Che Sat Here

Susana Osinaga Robles is the nurse who washed Che’s corpse. She’s a small woman of seventy-four with wavy hair and swollen legs. Her story begins on October 9, 1967, in Vallegrande, a town lost in the far reaches of eastern Bolivia. Those were the days when the Cold War pitted Communist countries against their capitalist rivals.