Those Curious Monuments in Havana

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This is not Fidel. He is Camilo Cienfuegos, and his likeness graces the side of a high rise building in Revolution Square, Havana. It is a very wide boulevard, but sparsely adorned. It reminded me of Tian’anmen or Red Square- concrete and asphalt, and enough space to assemble the masses for El Comandante’s hours-long speeches. There is not a likeness of Fidel, however, to which I was very surprised. There doesn’t seem to be very many pictures or likenesses of Fidel in Havana. Fidel, I am told, will wait until after he is gone to be memorialized. Apparently he is not so crass as to build monuments to himself. He did, however, name the state owned oil company “Castrol,” but I digress.  Cienfuegos’ likeness is adorned with, “vas bien, Fidel.” “You’re doing well, Fidel.” Gracias, Camilo. Muchas Gracias.

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This is Che. Che is everywhere. He was the one political figure that I saw depicted in a lot of really cool street art, which I will share later. His monument says, in his own handwriting, supposedly, “Hasta la Victoria Siempre,” which means “Until everlasting victory, always.” I asked someone, “Do you think Che would be happy with the way Cuba is today?” Like most older Cubans in Havana, he was opinionated but cautious of being too direct. “Some say,” he answered, “he wouldn’t be so happy.”

imageI don’t know. I just don’t know. Why is there a bust of Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, in Havana. Like I said, I don’t know. I can’t find any mention that he was ever in Cuba or had any dealings with Fidel, who was about 12 years old when Ataturk died. For my Turkish friends, just so you know, I walked a few miles off my path just to take this photo for you. I hope you enjoy it!

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I don’t know why Pedro Vargas has a monument here either, but I have my suspicions. Yes, he was a popular musician, a Mexican national who spent a lot of time in Cuba. What is curious is that there are many many monuments erected in the last few years around Havana. I suspect it is a way to retrofit Havana to be more tourist-friendly. It seems that Havana has been bedazzled with monuments, just in time for the tourists who were afforded more access to Cuba after the Soviet collapse. There is also a very dedicated and vibrant Tourism Board who has done a very good job promoting local artists. Maybe this is all a part of that movement? Either way, it’s an awesome picture.

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Juniperro Serra, the controversial Franciscan Spanish monk also has a monument in Havana. There are a lot of monuments in Havana that don’t seem to have a connection to Cuba. This monk, recently canonized by the pope, has a shaky history (as do most from his era) concerning his treatment of indigenous people in the Americas. This monument depicts Serra holding an Indian boy. Yikes. By the way, religion, and Christmas, were banned in Cuba until after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Now that state sanctioned atheism has been eased, there a several churches that have been restored, but I didn’t get the sense that religion was that important, unless you consider Santeria, which is VERY prominent in Cuba. There is another state sponsored ban that has been lifted, and that is upon John Lennon. There is now a Lennon Park, complete with a statue of Lennon on a park bench. Castro decided that Lennon was a revolutionary afterall, (or, after fall, the fall of the Soviet Union), and presided over the dedication himself. Apparently someone stole Lennon’s glasses, so it’s fashionable to take a picture on the bench with Lennon wearing your glasses.  It reminds me of another famous person memorialized on a park bench.

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Another Mexican composer, Agustin Lara. He was known for bolero, which apparently was the first Cuban style music that gained universal attention. But, let’s talk about a real national figure:

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Another statue of a historic figure clutching a small boy, but this is much more contemporary. This is one of my favorite pictures from Havana. The man is Jose Marti, the intellectual, poet, and revolutionary who fought against Spanish colonialism in Cuba. The boy is Elian Gonzalez. The statue sits on the plaza outside of the American Embassy, and Marti is pointing defiantly towards the front doors. The plaza also housed a structure that looked like the skeleton of an outdoor amphitheater, without the cover. Apparently it was constructed to accommodate the many protesters that gathered in front of the embassy during America’s tet-a-tet with the Cuban government during the Cuban Missile Crisis Elian Gonzalez custody battle.

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Another one of my faves, and although not technically a monument, this picture of Fidel was taken on the way to Jose Marti Airport. Leaving Havana and venturing to the airport, you drive through several miles of dilapidated housing, crumbling factories and warehouses, and this billboard, which reads, “Socialism or Death.” Indeed, Fidel. Indeed.

Stay tuned for my next post, “Havana Under Construction”