AU students have always been prone to action. Whether getting involved through our Community Service Center or community action groups like Justice Not Jails, it’s hard to deny the breadth of activities students participate in. In keeping with this tradition, AU students Jennifer Gallagher and Mark Petruniak, who are in the Havana, Cuba, study-abroad enclave, have been up to more than just studying.
On Feb. 19, when Fidel Castro’s announcement was published that he would neither seek or accept a new term as president or commander-in-chief, the group studying at the University of Havana found itself in the ideal position to analyze the situation and contribute eye-witness accounts of the events and days that were to follow.
Gallagher, a junior in the School of International Service, can hardly walk down one of Havana’s crumbling sidewalks without the shutter of her camera working double-time. She said she has made it her goal to “capture the sense of normalcy” prevailing in the country’s capital since the change of power between the Castro brothers took place.
“The first thing that happened was that I was contacted by someone from USA Today,” Gallagher said. “Then the [American] Observer contacted me, and I ended up doing a photo essay for them.”
The essay, a collection of 20 pictures taken Feb. 19, 24 and 25, chronicles the days after the publication of Castro’s announcement, the meeting of the Cuban National Assembly and Raul Castro’s first full day in office as Cuba’s president. Gallagher combines documentation of the events of those days with an articulation of the impassive attitude characteristic of most Cubans to produce an accurate and sobering depiction of the state of affairs in Havana. Gallagher also noted that her blog, in which she posts many of her photos, has been getting upward of 140 hits since Feb. 19. She is currently working on a photographic piece for National Geographic due out this summer.
Petruniak is another AU student studying abroad in Havana this spring semester who, like Gallagher has found himself the subject of attention from U.S. publications. Most recently, The Trenton [N.J.] Times has been in contact with Petruniak in an effort to produce a piece on the experience of being an American student studying in Cuba. Unlike Gallagher, however, Petruniak’s medium of choice is primarily film.
Since the group’s arrival here, Petruniak has worked to produce short films depicting the reality of modern-day Cuba. He said he hopes to “attribute much needed visual context to the descriptions and stories coming out of Cuba.”
“One main reason why I do it is so that there will be a record of this period of time in Cuba’s history,” Petruniak said. “There’s practically no footage out there.”
The reason for that is simple: censorship. Petruniak has had to battle against the restraints of the Cuban government and the restrictions of the student visas issued by the U.S. Treasury Department. Petruniak’s blog currently features five short videos he made since his arrival in Cuba which, together, tally about 750 hits. So far, an additional four videos have gone purposefully unposted by Petruniak for fear of persecution by the U.S. or Cuban governments. He does plan, however, to post them upon his return to the United States.
“It’s difficult to understand that despite the beauty of the city and the friendliness of the people here, we are living in a police state,” Petruniak said.
BLOGGING ABROAD: CUBA
To read more of AU students’ experiences in Cuba, check out their blogs: