In which I finally make it to "Ché Stadium" and cross it off my bucket list.
Some photos, with commentary, of our trip to Remedios and Santa Clara, Cuba.
The most remarkable part was the trip to the Ché Guevera mausoleum and museum. All bags must be turned in at a check before entering. Absolutely no photos allowed. There is a lineup at the entrance. Tourists from all over the world. For some it's a stop on a guided tour. For some it's a pilgrimage. You tour the museum first; it's small but well-equipped with artifacts. They even had one of Ché's inhalers (he suffered badly from asthma). One or two of his iconic berets. The surgical tools he used to care for the rebels in the mountains. You aren't sure any of this was truly used by him, being torn between the Cubans' genuine reverence for the man contrasted with their pragmatism when it comes to propaganda and protecting the revolution. (Bullet holes made in buildings along the Malecón during the fighting were dutifully re-drilled, we were told, after having been repaired, when their value as propaganda tools was realized. So they're not the original bullet holes, but they're where the original bullet holes were. That's Cuba in a nutshell for you).
Then you go to the Eternal Flame room, which is really a bit of a punch in the stomach. That's because it's not just a tribute to Guevera, it is a tribute to the young men and women who died beside him in the revolutionary fighting. And they are young - so young - their faces reproduced from photographs of them in life rendered in a sculpture the length of one wall, men and women side by side. Guevera's face is not among them. Him, you already know about, or you wouldn't be here. It is absolutely silent in that room. It is such a cliché to say "the reality really hits you" but that is what it felt like. Young, beautiful, vibrant, real people, cut down in their prime, for political ideals. Gone, and dead.
Just like Ché, whose body reposes under this massive structure that is in itself a triumph of propaganda, covered as it is with the rebel's revolutionary quotes and admonitions to always remember to defend the Revolution.
Hasta la victoria siempre!
Otherwise, what we noticed on this trip was that Villa Clara province was looking good. I don't know if it's just this region, but there is some prosperity happening. Places are freshly painted, commerce in Remedios and Santa Clara has skyrocketed since our last visit. There is a fruit and veggie vendor on nearly every corner; much more land under active cultivation; ice-cream and pizza carts scattered all through the town shopping districts; folks selling food out of the windows of their homes. And new homes being built, of brick, in the countryside. For now, at least, for this region, the reforms seem to be working remarkably well for people. We were genuinely surprised.
I couldn't help but wonder what Ché Guevera would make of it all - of the propaganda project the government has turned him into, including his massive mausoleum and museum, and of the admission, finally, that neither pure communism nor pure socialism work and the grudging adoption of private enterprise. It's too bad he was so stubbornly idealistic that he didn't live to be able to come to his own conclusions about that.