It’s January 1959 and Cuba is in the verge of a change that would shape the future of the country and would carry significant implications in the 60’s Cold War between United States and Soviet Union. All began in 1953 with a group of young intellectuals led by Fidel Castro that, inflated by ideas of equality and freedom, decided to challenge the current dictatorship under Fulgencio Batista’s iron fist. Cuba was, until then, a thriving and rich island that attracted foreign investment and was one of the top holiday destinations, specially for Americans. It was also a country of deep social contrasts, with most of the population uneducated and living in the verge of poverty.
After a first unsuccessful attempt of overthrowing the regime, which resulted in many of the insurgents being assassinated and produced one of the most important written works of Cuban history – “History will absolve me”, by Fidel Castro – the survivors were exiled and, in Mexico, ended up meeting “Che” Guevara, an Argentinian doctor full of revolutionary ideas and ready to embrace a nobel cause. This would turn the fate of the revolution and after some time of preparation, a new group of men, who called themselves the 26th of July Movement, returned to Cuba and led a guerrilla type of war that would end up being victorious.
To learn all of this we had to visit the Museo de la Revolución which was also the presidential palace untill Batista. You pay 5 pesos convertibles or CUC (somewhat the same as 5 US dollars) and a plus 2 CUC if you want to take pics. The museum has everything described in the utmost detail, with artefacts like goggles, military uniforms, war correspondence and schematics of war strategy. There is also detailed information about the American invasion of Bay of Pigs, in an attempt of sabotaging a threatening Communist government. You also get the chance to know a bit more about the two major heroes of Cuban Revolution, Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos, the last being the man most loved by the Cuban people. The palace also keeps the original bullet wholes that attest the fight between the regime’s police and the revolutionaries. The last part of the exposition is a look into the bright future of Cuba, with an insight in the free education and healthcare systems that are the main achievements of Castro’s government. Unfortunately, this ends in the 80’s so we wondered where was the rest of the future (maybe they stopped in time…).
Catching a bus in Malecon, we made the touristic tour that would take us to Vedado, the chic neighbourhood with it’s little palatial houses and gardens, it’s American styled named avenues (they also have a 5th Avenue) and big hotels; and to the iconic Plaza de la Revolución, where you can see Che’s big mural in a building front, together with Cienfuegos. The line “Vas bien Fidel” was supposedly said by the last when Castro was giving a speech and asked Camillo if he was doing well.
We wanted to know a bit more about Cuba’s political and cultural scene so what’s best than to check what’s on the book shelves! Go to Plaza de Armas in Havana Vieja and you’ll find countless street stalls where you can appreciate what’s accessible to tourists and locals. We ended up buying the Communist Manifest, Che’s economical philosophy and several other books that would be our reading options for the rest of the stay. It’s always nice to find a garden bench, watch the locals and tourists passing by, Joao taking a nap and me opening a book and learning about this wonderful and mysterious country!