Cuba Journal

“Cuba: Before the Dawn” by Photographer Hana Jakrlova

by Hana Jakrlova, Photographer

Hana Jakrlova

The title of my photography series Cuba: Before the Dawn, is a nod to Reinaldo Arenas’ autobiographical novel Before Night Falls. The novel describes the writer’s life and persecution by Castro’s regime, his hunger and fight for freedom and finally escape to New York. I read the book while in Havana, realising that in principal, not so much has changed in Cuba, since the Reinaldo Arenas times. I spent the first half of my life in communist Czechoslovakia, and just like  being in China, Burma, Russia and other totalitarian countries, things seemed eerily familiar in Cuba.

In the Havana series, I tried to capture the spirit of the once grand city, which is now falling apart,  its absurdity intensified by the parallel world of tourism.

The Freedom project shows portraits of the dissidents in Havana, combined with images of daily life in the capital. The members and supporters of the Ladies in White (wives of political prisoners) meet weekly in St. Rita’s park in Havana for a silent protest march, and they are still severely persecuted by the regime for their human rights activism.

In the Provincias series I captured life in the villages of Oriente and Trinidad provinces. I accompanied the amazing Padre Conrado in his travels in his diocese and I saw people living in total poverty, almost entirely abandoned by the government.

I fell in love with Cuba and I will hopefully be back. I feel strongly about the sexy hypocrisy surrounding the Cuban issue – there is nothing romantic or truthful about the Cuban ‘revolution.’

Ordinary Cubans who don’t collaborate with the regime or who are not lucky enough to have connections with the outside world suffer incredible economic hardships and on-going political oppression. As the English saying goes, the night is darkest just before the dawn. Hopefully, the dawn is coming soon in this beautiful island.

Old Havana
Entrance to a residential building in Old Havana. The old palaces have been divided into tiny flats, during the Cuban revolution… and most of the buildings are falling apart.
A government office in Havana – Big Brother is watching you: life under the watchful eye of Fidel Castro.
Malecon, the seaside corso in Havana. Most locals do not have money to go out to bars or restaurants – those are almost exclusively for tourists – so Habaneros spend their evenings sitting on the wall and looking at the sea.
A girl sitting in her house, in a small village near Trinidad. Vast majority of people in the country live in incredible poverty.
Triniad, Sankti Spiritus province: Preparations for Easter mass in Iglesia de San Francisco de Paula.
A man watching catholic mass served by Padre Condrado in one of the villages in his diocese. Most villages do not have a church, so services are held in peoples houses or in the open air. Life in the villages is hard, and Padre Conrado visits the people in the country regularly, and supports them spiritually as well as materially.
A house in a village in Trinidad province – a sick girl living with her grandparents. Some 30 miles from Trinidad, one of the tourist centers of Cuba, people in the country live in poverty, almost entire abandoned by the government.
A boy hanging around in a village near Trinidad, Sankti Spiritus province.
A tourist resort in Santiago province. Most of the coast is still damaged from the Hurricane Sandy. The resort is basic and used almost exclusively by Cuban tourists.
A small village in Santiago province, some 10 miles from Santiago de Cuba, the second biggest town in the country. People live in total poverty, almost completely abandoned by the government.
The Capitol building in the center of Havana is in ruins, and passers sometimes peak over the fence to see the progress of the years long reconstruction.
Hotel resorts in Havana, Cuba. Only the private beaches by the hotels are kept tidy, the rest of the coast is difficult to walk on.
Silverio Portal Contreras, a dissident and supporter of Damas di Biancho (Ladies in White), the informal group of women whos husbands are political prisoners. Silverio has been persecuted ever since he begun his human rights activism some 25 years ago, imprisoned several times. One of the people in Cuba who just wont bend down.
A former dancer living in a slum in Santiago de Cuba. Large part of the city is what would be called a favella, in Brasil, populated by poor people. The afro-Cuban religion santeria is often practiced in this part of town.

Hana Jakrlova is an internationally published Czech-born photographer whose work addresses issues of belonging, intimacy and identity.  Learn more about her work at

This article was prepared or accomplished by Hana Jakrlova in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Cuba Journal.
“Cuba: Before the Dawn” by Photographer Hana Jakrlova was last modified: February 26th, 2016 by