Last week, the US embassy in Havana opened for the first time in 54 years. It symbolised a major thawing in the distinctly frosty relations between the US and Cuba, themselves a stubborn hangover of Cold War politics.
That’s the embassy in the distance, the small and comparatively squat building to the right. Until a few days ago that had officially been called the US Interests Section since diplomatic relations were called off in 1961. In front of it stands the deliberately provocative Plaza Anti-Imperialista, an open-air amphitheatre built especially to obscure the site.
This relationship, or lack thereof, came to define Cuba over the last few decades and we had long been keen to see it before things changed.
Turns out that within two months of our visit in September last year, the US and Cuba announced they were restoring ties.
Restoring US-Cuban relations
Also of note in this picture is the curiously-shaped apartment building to the left, Edificio FOCSA. When it was built in 1956 it epitomised modern living and was reportedly the second tallest concrete building in the world – with a shopping centre, swimming pool and even a cinema in its base. But after the Cuban Revolution of 1953-59 it was used to house Soviet personnel and over the years began crumbling into disrepair. It was finally renovated in the 2000s.
To the far right is the empty plinth that is the Memorial a las victimas del Maine. The monument was erected in the memory of the 260 crew members who died when the US battleship The Maine was blown up in Havana in 1898. It used to feature a large, heavy iron eagle but that was pulled down after the revolution. The government later added an inscription to those “sacrificed by imperialist voraciousness”.
So it turns out that this snap of a sunset over Havana is a bit more symbolic than I could have ever realised at the time. For although the buildings remain, their significance has already changed – and indeed, will change again as Cuba moves into a new era.
Copyright Natalie Marchant/Tales From Taliena