How could I write about Havana without referencing the man who emerged from the communist revolution that overthrew the Batista dictatorship to become a dictator in his own right for the following 50 years?
But how would I illustrate such a piece? I didn’t have an opportunity to photograph him for even had I risen in the early hours of 1st of May to join the workers parades, he is now too frail to attend, and even though his successor, brother Raul, was also a leader of the revolution, he lacks the same stature.
Perhaps I should turn to some public art to capture the image of a man who is on the one hand seen as a champion of humanitarian, socialist and anti-imperial ideals, and yet lead a regime suspected of terrible human rights abuses, and which has seen hundreds of thousands of citizens flee the island for sanctuary overseas.
Perhaps some of the political murals and graffiti might provide the answer. Many people believe that the triumvirate portrayed in the symbol of the Young Communist League of Cuba is Fidel and Raul Castro with Che Guevara. As you’ll know if you’ve read my post about Che this isn’t the case. Nor is he featured in this much larger piece of propaganda.
Those considered worthy of portrayal alongside Guevara are Julio Antonio Mella, who founded the Cuban Communist Party, and resplendent in his large hat, Camilo Cienfuegos who at least was one of the revolutionaries who fought alongside Castro.
Surely then, you’ll find him at the Plaza de la Revolucion, the great open space used for rallies and political events like the 1st of May parades. Here, after all is Jose Marti, the man who lead the movement that gained independence from Spain. You’ll find the iconic Che of course, so surely the matching image with the wording Vas Bien Fidel must be Castro? No, it’s Cienfuegos again, his hat taking on a vaguely ecclesiastical look, and the wording refers to words of encouragement he gave to Fidel during an early speech.
What about some statuary then. Havana is full of representations of political and historical leaders, and some are pretty spectacular. Take for example the tribute to Antonio Maceo, one of the generals who fought for independence from Spain shown at the end of this post. Marti is found everwhere too, with small busts cropping up in gardens all over Vedado as well as the grander representations.
I’m told that there is one statue of Fidel, somewhere in Vedado. I didn’t see it though. I left Havana after a week without any sign of the main man, but this is as much to do with Fidel as it is my personal failure. One of his dictates was that no one living should be represented in any statue, and perhaps this intent was carried over into other forms of art too. Why is there an exception in Vedado? It was placed there after he relinquished power.
Guess I’ll make do with Maceo.