Havana graffiti proclaiming Viva CDR 28 (Long Live CDR 28)
Committees for the Defence of the Revolution (Comités de Defensa de la Revolución), otherwise known as CDR, exist in every Cuban neighbourhood. Established on 28 September 1960, less than a year after the Cuban Revolution, the volunteer-run committees monitor and report on counter-revolutionary activity and promote social welfare. Stephen Smith’s Cuba: The Land Of Miracles quotes a BBC reporter aptly describing the CDR as “a cross between the neighbourhood watch and the Gestapo”.
During our visit, Rocío and I witnessed many CDR references throughout the island. Continue reading →
After the shooting gallery, Rocío and I came across a bar operating. A functioning bar is usually inconspicuous in touristy Old Havana (Havana Vieja). However, after Fidel Castro’s death all alcohol sales and entertainment officially stopped for 9 days and this was the only disobedient venue seen.
Enjoying a prohibited drink at the reggae bar gets Bob Marley’s approval
The small bar’s stereo played but not blasted and strong 2 for 1 mojitos cost 3 CUC (US$3). The NKOTB t-shirt-wearing manager’s view was that people should be able to mourn Fidel Castro’s passing how they liked. If they wanted to remember Fidel by playing music, they should be able to play music. He also gave us a different Fidel’s CD: Fuego Caliente by Argentinean reggae artist Fidel Nadal.
In the rear kitchen an empty burner kept flaming and I would not be surprised if communist Cuba provided free gas but not matches.
Fidel Nadal’s ‘Fuego Caliente’ CD the bar manager gave us; through the back door is a stove burning gas for no apparent reason
A Japanese tourist and her jinetero were the bar’s only other guests and we all joined in conversation, enjoying the bar’s rebellious spirit.
Cuba’s second city Santiago de Cuba lies far from Havana and is known for both its music and rebellious streak. Rocío and I visited Santiago twice in December 2016, firstly for Fidel Castro’s memorial rally and funeral and later, returning from Baracoa. While based in Santiago we had an epic day trip to La Gran Piedra I blogged about here.
Moncada Barracks and the 26th of July Revolutionary Movement
Children at a school that used to be the Moncada Barracks, where the Cuban Revolution began; note the bullet holes in the walls
On 26 July 1953 Fidel Castro led an unsuccessful armed attack on Santiago de Cuba’s Moncada army barracks. This is regarded as the start of the Cuban Revolution and the official revolutionary movement is named 26 de Julio (26th of July) after this date. The former barracks was converted to a school although some of the battle’s bullet holes remain. Continue reading →
Santa Ifigenia Cemetery, where Fidel Castro’s ashes were interred, featured a huge Cuban flag flying at half mast
The nine day mourning period following Fidel Castro’s death culminated with his 4 December 2016 funeral at Santiago de Cuba’s Santa Ifigenia Cemetery. A private affair, only family and select guests attended the event. Fidel’s ashes arrived to the cemetery early that morning having travelled for four days across Cuba from Havana. Continue reading →
After 4 days caravanning across Cuba, Fidel’s ashes arrived to Santiago on 3 December 2016. That evening a second mass rally occurred. Unlike Havana’s international speakers, Santiago’s rally featured only Cuban orators. Some world leaders did attend though including Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro and ex-presidents of Brazil Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff. Soccer legend Diego Maradona and presidents Jakob Zuma of South Africa and Robert Mugabe were also in attendance although Rocío and I did not see them.
People in front of flagpoles prior to the rally with the Sierra Maestra in the background
The Santiago rally arrangement and procedures were similar to Havana’s including the same master of ceremonies, although the speeches were more domestically focused. Continue reading →
The morning after the 29 November 2016 memorial rally, Fidel’s ashes toured Havana, the beginning of a 4-day cross-country journey east to Santiago de Cuba. The route traced in reverse January 1959’s Caravan of Liberty when Fidel travelled from Santiago to Havana celebrating the end of the Batista dictatorship, the culmination of the Cuban Revolution.
Rocío and I witnessed Fidel’s ashes pass three times, once in Havana on 30 November and twice in Santiago on 3 and 4 December. On all occasions, people lined the streets in anticipation. Officials stood at regular intervals ensuring people remained off the road.
Old Havana, 30 November 2016
Hotel Armadores de Santander in beautiful morning light while crowds wait for ashes, Havana
Early on 30 November we walked from our Old Havana accommodation to coastal Avenida del Puerto (San Pedro) for the caravan. Continue reading →
The day after Fidel Castro’s wake, Rocío and I were back at Plaza de la Revolución for his Havana memorial public rally. With many thousands of people front of stage and world leaders at the back this was a huge, historic event. Following are photos and my account of the event. Towards the end is Cuban newspaper coverage, video footage and the list of rally speakers.
Many thousands attended the Plaza de la Revolución Rally in front of the José Martí Memorial
Cuba’s national anthem La Bayamesa began the 4 hour long public memorial rally. Then Cuban actor Corina Mestre recited Rebel Army Victory March (Marcha triunfal del Ejército Rebelde) while black and white revolutionary period footage played on the big screens. Next, Master of Ceremonies, Robobaldo Hernández formally introduced the evening and the first foreign speaker, Ecuador’s then president, Rafael Correa. Continue reading →