Centro Fidel Castro Ruz – Havana’s new museum dedicated to Cuban Revolutionary leader’s life
Anita Waters / People's World

HAVANA—Throughout his life, Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro famously rejected any public display of himself as the center of a cult of personality. He declared that he wanted no statues, no monuments.

Amid the various Che Guevara T-shirts available at tourist markets across Cuba, none depict Fidel. After his death in 2016, officials grappled with the question of how to honor Fidel and ensure that his ideas and contributions would be understood by new generations while abiding by his wishes.

Under the direction of the late Cuban historian Eusebio Leal, who oversaw the restoration of so many plazas of old Havana, a decaying mansion on the Avenida Paseo in the Vedado neighborhood has been transformed into the massive Centro Fidel Castro Ruz. It now showcases spacious gardens with over 10,000 plantings, meticulously restored woodwork, and art deco-period stained glass windows.

This previously-dilapidated compound is now the property of the people, but it was once owned by a wealthy tobacco baron. Like the Museo de la Revolución, which is housed in the opulent presidential palace, the revolutionary history that is recounted here contrasts with the surrounding relics from the ruling class of another era.

Courtesy of Centro Fidel Castro Ruz

The Centro’s rooms are dedicated to the achievements of the Cuban Revolution, the details of Fidel’s life, and the military victories of the long struggle that finally liberated Cuba from foreign imperialism and the Batista dictatorship in 1959. There are special areas for children of all ages, and high-tech presentations that any youthful gamer will appreciate. The Centro is also a library and research institution, with a roster of scholars studying aspects of Cuban history and society.

Fidel Castro donated all of the gifts that he received from world leaders over the years to museums and other public venues in Cuba. The first room that one encounters in the Centro displays many of these gifts, medals, and honors presented to him by various governments and national liberation movements over many decades, as well as Fidel’s Communist Party membership documents.

From Castro’s youth and throughout his life, he evoked the memory of José Martí, the Cuban hero of the Wars of Independence, who was killed in battle against the Spanish in 1896. In his speech at his trial after the attack on the Moncada Barracks, Fidel repeatedly invoked the memory of José Martí, whom he called the “Apostle of Cuban History.”

The connections between these two heroes of revolutionary Cuba are echoed here in a digital display that morphs from Fidel to Martí and back again. Another display shows a copy of Martí’s collected works, with marginal notes made by Fidel when he was held prisoner on the Isle of Pines.

Anita Waters / People’s World

Fidel would have deeply appreciated the room depicting “El Problema de la Tierra,” because it shows the way that collective efforts of the revolution made a real difference in people’s everyday lives. For each of several major problems that faced Cuba in the 1950s, such as land distribution or issues related to industry and education, the situation before the revolution is depicted alongside the laws and policies implemented by the new government to resolve that problem.

Digital displays offer the chance to sample speeches Fidel made over the years and to explore the struggles around the world in which Cubans participated. The Centro offers a video recounting the Cuban defeat of U.S.-sponsored mercenaries who invaded in April 1961 at Playa Girón, aka the Bay of Pigs. (Personally, I prefer “Muerte al Invasor!” by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea and Santiago Álvarez, which presents amazing footage of the actual events.)

Courtesy of Centro Fidel Castro Ruz

The gardens include installations that are symbolic of different phases of the revolution, such as the rock formation and waterfall, reminiscent of the forest ecoregion of the Sierra Maestra, from which the revolutionaries launched their campaigns. Fidel’s jeep is also on display.

If you are planning a trip to Havana, be sure to arrange ahead of time to have a (free) tour of the Centro Fidel Castro Ruz. Though it opened at the end of 2021, ongoing COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions have kept many international tourists and friends of Cuba from visiting yet.

When we visited in January, we hadn’t scheduled a tour, but the staff was very welcoming, and we had a tour guided by a very knowledgeable English-speaking docent, shown below with a model of the Granma, the yacht that ferried Fidel and the other revolutionaries back to Cuba to launch their revolutionary struggle in 1956.

If you can’t get to the museum in person, you can explore the Centro’s website, including images from the timeline of Fidel Castro’s life. You can also find more information on the museum’s EcuRed page.

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Anita Waters
Anita Waters

Anita Waters is Professor Emerita of sociology at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, and an organizer for the CPUSA in Ohio.