Daily life in Cuba reflects the obsolescence of its political rhetoric, or so some people think. With its old American cars, peeling façades and dated aesthetics, the communist island seems stuck in the past.
From time to time the smell of mothballs gives way to that of hot wax: President Raúl Castro, now 86, rarely makes a speech without blowing out a few candles first. In 2016 he celebrated ‘the 55th anniversary of the Proclamation of the Socialist Character of the Cuban Revolution’, at the opening of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC)’s 7th congress. Before that, there was the 55th anniversary of ‘the triumph of the revolution’, marked at the closing of the 7th legislature of the National Assembly in 2013, and the 161st anniversary of ‘the birth of our national hero José Martí’ at the inauguration of the port of Mariel in 2014.
The faces of the heroes of the Sierra Maestra seem to be everywhere, from Havana’s Revolution Square to the massive hoardings on the road into Cienfuegos, but their role is perhaps less to summon up a distant past than to give substance to the present. For Cuba is stuck, not in the past, but in the present of a revolution that is struggling for survival.
Nearly 60 years after the ‘triumph of the revolution’, what would Fidel Castro’s barbudos have thought of the direction taken by the country they gave their lives for? Would Che Guevara have recognised his adopted homeland? If so, would he be struck more by the continuing struggle or by the changes? There is no clear answer. I visited Cuba in 2011; six years later, I barely recognised the place.
‘We are cleaning up’
The Museum of the Revolution, in the former presidential palace in Havana, tells the story of the guerrilla war and its many ups and downs, from the attack on the barracks at Moncada in July 1953, to the voyage of the yacht Granma in November 1956 and Fidel Castro’s triumphal entry into Havana in January 1959. Among the exhibits (...)