Pass the Tums

Oh, my! What a surprise! Cuba’s “upper crust” enjoys the “sweet life”?

Everyone knows that Cuba is one of the Western Hemisphere’s poorest countries. Its economic indices lag in nearly every category, including gross domestic product and household income. Yet the stereotype of Cuba as a strict post-Communist backwater – a kind of Shangri-la of egalitarianism – has taken a beating in the past year.

First, there was an article in the Economist that quoted Ada Fuentes, a woman who returned to Havana after living in New Jersey for five decades. “If you have money,” Fuentes said, “life’s good here.”

Now there is Michael Dweck’s photo project that shows Cuba’s privileged side – a side of beautiful models, late-night partiers, daytime surfers, hard-working guitar players and other people who make up Cuba’s “creative class,” as Dweck calls them. Two of Fidel Castro’s sons (Alex and Alejandro) are on the periphery of this strata. So is the son of Che Guevara, Camilo Guevara, who’s a photographer.

The revolution that Fidel Castro and Che Guevara brought to the island nation five decades ago has evolved into something unexpected: Guilty pleasure. As Dweck notes in his new book, Michael Dweck: Habana Libre, some of the people he photographed are “embarrassed” about their relatively elite standing; others, he says, “are afraid to draw attention to it for fear the socialist government will punish them for having a good life.” An exhibit of photos from “Habana Libre” continues at San Francisco’s Modernism gallery through Oct. 29.

“Artists, writers, filmmakers, dancers – they live this secretive life under the radar in Cuba that is really cool and lends itself well to a narrative,” says Dweck. “I’m playing on the theme of privilege in a classless society.”

Maybe, Michael, you should have played on the theme of blood-sucking capitalist communist parasites exploiting the proletariat. Much more colorful, and more ironic, yes?