‘We can dream’: Inside Cuba’s new Fidel Castro museum

Havana, Cuba – In a metropolis of crumbling buildings the place the roots of jaguey timber break by means of the pavement, certainly one of Havana’s grandest mansions has been restored to shimmering magnificence within the identify of Cuba’s most contentious son.

The Centro Fidel Castro Ruz opened final weekend in grounds full of 10,000 crops from greater than 1,300 species, three years after work was begun and 5 years to the day after the Cuban chief died.

At a ceremony attended by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on November 25, Fidel’s brother Raul, 90, welcomed the brand new museum, calling it “the most exciting thing I’ve seen in my life”.

The opening comes at a time when Cuba is struggling to get again on its toes amid a pandemic and as financial woes are rising below authorities mismanagement and the 60-year-old US embargo.

It additionally comes as the federal government is celebrating stifling much-heralded protests that had been deliberate in mid-November.

Two blocks from the museum, a queue types every single day for folks shopping for meals. When requested, Yanet Hernandez stated she hadn’t heard concerning the new centre however had been ready two hours to get primary requirements. “Fidel wouldn’t have allowed this,” she stated.

The museum

The grounds of the centre include a 190-seat theatre and an exhibition area. In the backyard, a fountain pours onto rocks introduced from Rio La Plata, a river whose supply was within the mountains the place Fidel had his first command publish in 1958 as head of the insurgent military.

There is a piece for crops gifted by “paises amigos”, pleasant nations similar to Venezuela, whose chief Hugo Chavez got here to Cuba’s assist after the financial disaster that adopted the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The home itself, on one of many best avenues within the leafy barrio of Vedado – “the heart of the city”, based on the designers – as soon as belonged to the socialite Lily Hidalgo Borges.

Stained glass home windows, colonial tiling, hardwood stairs and filigreed picket doorways have all been fastidiously restored. Hidalgo Borges was married to Enrique Conill, a banker with a tobacco fortune, however the household fled to the United States after the Cuban revolution.

Now the rooms supply displays similar to “Fidel is Fidel”, wherein projections of Chavez, poet Roberto Fernandez Retamar and the good restorer of Old Havana, Eusebio Leal, all of whom are additionally now useless, pay tribute.

During Fidel’s funeral, Raul stated no statues could be raised to his brother: “The leader of the revolution strongly opposed any manifestation of cult of personality.” So the brand new museum presents itself as a research centre and library.

The museum’s director stated overseas donors supplied its funding [Reuters/Natalia Favre]

Fidel Castro and Jose Marti

The designers have tried to handle this with shows similar to “Fidel is a whole country”.

There is the lectern the place Fidel made his well-known speeches; there are shows of the AK47 he preferred to hold, and interactive screens recreate battles such because the Bay of Pigs utilizing the expertise of laptop video games.

While Castro is by far Cuba’s most well-known identify overseas, the designers make an effort to meld his identify with the good independence hero and poet Jose Marti, whose bust adorns each park on the island.

An digital portrait with Marti’s picture by the entrance door morphs into that of Castro after which again once more.

“Cubans in the US will be horrified because Marti is a hero to everybody,” Ada Ferrer, creator of the latest guide Cuba: An American historical past, instructed Al Jazeera. “It’s interesting, in this polarised moment when they are fighting over the present, they are still fighting over the past.”

Rene Gonzalez Barrios, a historian and colonel within the Cuban armed forces who’s director of the brand new centre, instructed Al Jazeera that overseas donors had supplied the funds for the museum however that they most popular to stay nameless. He didn’t say how a lot cash had been spent.

The new, seemingly well-funded museum stands in distinction with different ageing cultural venues in Cuba.

The Museum of the Revolution itself, housed within the outdated presidential palace, has been below renovation for years with out seemingly little progress.

“Now we can dream,” stated one curator, who spoke on situation of anonymity as a result of they weren’t authorised to talk to the media. “Now we don’t need to say, ‘there is this museum in Boston’ or ‘there is this place in Frankfurt’. Instead we can say: ‘Have you seen the Centro de Fidel Castro Ruz? We can do that here’.”