Walking around Cuba, you are dogged by a picture. From the graffiti on the walls, to the postcards in the shops, via flags, t-shirts and hats, the image of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara’s face is omnipresent. Despite being born in Rosario, Argentina, he was awarded Cuban citizenship for his part in the Cuban revolution. His life and beliefs are intrinsically linked to the popular culture and history of Cuba, but in the same respect have been marketed as such and are a huge draw for tourists (myself included). The popularisation of Che begins in earnest in Santa Clara, a small university town in central Cuba and home to the Che Guevara mausoleum, monument and museum.
Although the statue is the dominant attraction, the monument also includes a letter written to Fidel Castro from Che Guevara while in Bolivia, mounted in large wrought iron letters. There is a definite emphasis placed on the close relationship between Guevara and Fidel, which was to be repeated throughout the Museo de la Revolución in Havana.
Even the advertising billboards are dedicated to maintaining the image of Che as a deity figure to revere.
While in Havana, we spent a few hours wandering through the rooms of the Museo de la Revolución, primarily dedicated to the actions of the Castro brothers, Guevara and others who fought during the revolution.
Although a fantastic display of objects were held in the museum, it was incredibly strange to see such blatent censorship and propaganda in the captions. Any fallen Cuban was a hero or a victim, any US soldier was “brought to justice”. This continued with a section on the benefits of socialism, pie charts demonstrating an almost complete eradication of illiteracy during the party’s command and photographs showing the crops, and “even the pigs!” poisoned by the CIA during the years of war… At that one, I had to smile. A highlight was definitely the oversized charicatures of US presidents, captioned with an ironic message of thanks.
Outside the museum lies a selection of the military machines used during the fighting, from airplanes to the Granma yacht via the trucks adapted for armoured warfare.
Reminders of the revolution are scattered across the country. Back in Santa Clara, the site of Che’s attack on a train carrying armaments has been preserved intact as a memorial, the bulldozer mounted in pride of place above a dedication from the residents of the town…