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Published: June 23rd 2017
Geo: 22.4137, -79.9657
The Cuban Revolution led by Fidel Castro is a compelling story which is made that much moreso by the ongoing, almost childish, animosity between Cuba and the U.S. It's a part of day-to-day life here and the propaganda is pervasive. We wanted to do our own walk through history and Santa Clara seemed to be as good a spot as any- it's often referred to as the spot of the battle that marked the beginning of the end for the despised Batista regime. Calling it a battle seems a bit of a stretch, and lauding the battlefield strategy of Che Guevara (who was commanding the guerillas in this area) would be a further stretch. The rebels used a bulldozer- which now serves as a memorial- to rip up some tracks and derail a train carrying government troops. After a brief firefight the troops who survived were taken prisoner and the rebels had a new cache of weapons.
The cynic in me would suggest that a 'battle' in which 18 rebels defeated 300 government troops in a country with a population of 7 million was a pretty good sign that most people didn't want much
to do with either side. It does make you appreciate the evolution of our own system of democracy (the worst form of government... except for all the others) despite runaway taxation, deficit spending, debts, and unwavering focus on the most unimportant of issues. During our travels we've just seen too many populations that simply don't have the opportunity to flourish because of the governance of tyrants, thugs, corrupt officials, radicals, and blind ideologues (with the shared characteristic of owning all of the guns in the country). In Cuba a small group of inspired ideologues defeated a slightly larger, but uninspired, collection of government/dictator troops ushering in 50+ years of communist rule that has achieved societal equality (everyone is equally poor).
But I digress. Because of his success (as well as a larger than life persona) Che Guevara has been immortalized in Santa Clara- his mausoleum is the single biggest attraction and it's very well done. Che is an icon, not just in Cuba, but all through Latin America. His image wearing a beret, and sporting a scruffy beard and cigar is on T-shirts the world over and is mandatory wear for the armchair socialist crowd at
any University. Unlike those in the puffy armchairs (to be fair, the only avowed communist I had tried to course-correct was Andrew S who, in a complete sell-out, is now working for a major Canadian bank inventing new user fees). Che dedicated himself to inciting oppressed populations (as he saw them) into armed rebellion. After Cuba he tried out Africa (with no success) and other Latin American countries (with limited success) until he was killed by Bolivian troops (and/or the CIA as claimed by Cuba). The bodies of Che and his fellow rebels in Bolivia were returned to Cuba and are interred in the Santa Clara mausoleum and memorial. After our visit, while I may not agree with his approach, you do come away with a respect for a man that was so thoroughly dedicated to the fight for the oppressed and exploited.
Che DH (where the 'D' stands for Dangerous) is a big fan and I somewhat concerned that we're only a few more third world countries away from her own insurrections in favour of the oppressed (in her case it will be as the saviour of the street dogs- which have to be the
most abused of critters in many countries). I suspect a few cockfighting arenas will be burned in the process (Cuba has both and it's got her agitated and she's now shopping for a beret that will compliment most of her outfits).
She's also shopping for the requisite cigar that Che always seemed to have at hand and since Santa Clara is also home to one of the better known cigar factories, we dropped in for a look. We had picked up a Romeo & Juliet cigar in Havana (would you expect anything less from Mr Romance?) although matches are apparently something of a black market item so it's just been a prop for our picture so far. The factory is less factory and dangerously close to sweat shop. In the main rolling room there are about a hundred cramped artisans each making cigars entirely by hand. It's an unrushed and antique process, one that has not changed in any major way for hundreds of years. Cuban cigar-makers, unlike their counterparts in most of the non-Cuban cigar world, make the entire cigar themselves. Apparently they use three different leaf types (one each for aroma, flavour, and combustion) that they wind tightly together
and glue the end using maple syrup. Apparently in takes nine months of training to make a cigar that Che DH might appreciate and we saw a number that failed a pressure test that each cigar is put through The only concession to employee satisfaction that we saw was a guy at the front of the room with an ancient microphone who was reading a story from a well worn book (back in my working days it was usually the employees telling me stories??).
Santa Clara has a propaganda memorial on the site of derailed train and it's also worth a visit. Outside of that, Santa Clara is like many Cuban towns and is meant to be experienced and enjoyed. Aimless wandering, and more than our share of time on a bench in the main square made for a good visit. Che DH says "viva la perro revolucion!!"
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