1st January 2009 marked the 50th anniversary since the Cuban Revolution. Julia Buckley of The London Paper finds its legacy all over the country.
Hub Of The Revolution Today
The Plaza de la Revolución, home to the Communist Party, is the political hub of Cuba.
Museum Of The Revolution
The most important of the Castroite museums littering the country is set in the former presidential palace. Outside, the walls in the internal courtyard are riddled with bullet holes from an assassination attempt on dictator Batista in 1957 by students (it failed, and most of the attackers wound up dead). Starting with the struggle for Cuban independence and the brewing of the revolution, there’s enough detail for the most avid Castro buffs.
Che Guevara Central
Santa Clara wasn’t always a shrine to Che. The site of his decisive victory for the revolution in December 1958, which led to Batista fleeing Cuba and leaving the door open for Castro, was an unassuming provincial capital until 1997, when Guevara’s remains were interred in a mausoleum commissioned by Castro They’d been discovered only two years earlier in Bolivia, 28 years after he was been killed.
The memorial to ‘El Che’, as the Cubans call him, towering over the vast Plaza de la Revolución, sits on top of the subterranean mausoleum housing the remains of Guevara and 16 comrades who died with him in Bolivia. Next door is a small museum, with pictures tracing his life from birth to portly middle age, his monogrammed doctor’s coat, asthma inhaler and stash of guns.
Over on the opposite side of town to the memorial is the Monumento al Tren Blindado, or armoured train, which Guevara captured during the Santa Clara battle. Fidel put it back into service after the revolution, but designated five carriages and the bulldozer that knocked down the tracks as a national monument in 1986, kitting them out with battle photos, rebel hammocks and weapons belonging to Batista’s men but commandeered by revolutionaries.
Fidel’s Mountain Lair
Bayamo is the calm, hassle-free gateway to the Sierra Maestra and the Comandancia de la Plata.
The mountain range where Castro and his rebels hid and waged their guerrilla war after they arrived back from Mexico in the Granma boat lies 70km south of Bayamo. A two-hour trek through the Parque Nacional Turquino will takes you to the Comandancia de la Plata, where the revolutionaries camped out. An hour-and-a-half’s hike gets you to the camp, where you’ll find a museum, the grave of one of the revolutionaries and a network of huts - including Fidel’s, complete with bed and bullet-scored fridge.
SANTIAGO DE CUBA
Cradle Of The Revolution
On 1 January 1959, Castro assumed power in a speech from the balcony of the town hall. And it was there that, this year, his brother Raúl spoke in honour of the 50th anniversary.
On 26 July 1953, Castro’s troops stormed the Moncada barracks, the second biggest army barracks in Cuba. They failed, and within two days, nearly 70 rebels had been tortured and murdered by the regime. Castro was jailed for 15 years, but served less than two and fled to Mexico. The barracks now house a school and a museum, the Museo 26 de Julio. Outside, the bullet holes from the 1953 attack which were plastered over by Batista have been meticulously revealed.
Museo De La Lucha Clandestina
This building used to be a police station, until it was torched by (subsequently murdered) rebel Frank País in 1956. Now it’s Santiago’s second revolutionary museum, with a mean display of home-made bombs and Molotov cocktails made from olive oil bottles.
"Arriving into Havana is an extraordinary experience. As soon as you leave the airport there is an exciting sense of stepping into a country caught up in a different time. Everything from the country’s social structure, way of life and especially its African influenced culture and music is marvellously unique."
Will Roberts, Group Tours