Cubans living in Havana maked the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution on New Year's Day, with little to celebrate but looking forward to the future.
In Central Havana festive music blared from crumbling colonial-era homes. The aroma of roasted pig and rice and beans filled the air. Most Cubans can't afford to drink at bars and clubs, so from their homes, they passed around bottles of rum, vodka and beer, filling their glasses and dancing. Cubans celebrated the New Year, hugging each other, kissing each other, and like most around the world, hoping for a better year.
When asked about the government's 50th anniversary celebration on New Year's Day, most Cubans are afraid to speak to reporters for fear of arrest. Privately, however, some call the revolution a disaster. Publicly, they say they support the government.
Apart from occasional celebratory posters and flags hanging from Havana store windows and buildings, there was not much hoopla on this 50th anniversary. President Raul Castro lead the main celebration in the eastern city of Santiago, but officials were said to have toned down its plans for an ambitious celebration after three hurricanes this year caused billions of dollars in damage.
On New Year's Day, children run and play in the streets.
Alejandro, a resident of Havana watches them. Like many Cubans, he feel hopeful after former President Fidel Castro stepped down and his brother Raul took over in February of 2008.
"We are hoping and counting on things getting better", he said.
Since taking power from his ailing brother, President Raul Castro has allowed Cubans to buy DVD players, computers and kitchen appliances. However, under his rule acquiring construction materials on the black market, the only means for Cubans to repair their homes, has become extremely difficult, suddenly halting work on many buildings in dangerous disrepair.
Artist and professional photographer Stephen Humphreys, who has visited the island nation more than 30 times, says the fact that former President Fidel Castro was able to overturn Fulgencio
Batista's government on New Year's Day is seen as a fateful alignment of the stars.
"For the Cubans it seemed like a very important and prophetic day because January 1 is important for many reasons," he said. "Obviously, the first day of the year. But also the day of the saints, an important day in the Santeria religion which has a big influence here in Cuba."
What's good for these people is a hope that the inauguration of U.S. President-elect Barack Obama will lead to more frequent visits to their Cuban family members in the U-S. They talk about looking forward to change, and the opening of their own economy and political system.