Dispatches from Cuba #3-6.9.15

IMG_4578  Che’s on the money. He was the head of the bank when it was founded, so it makes sense, but he’s on the old money. The old currency is what Nacionals use. Foreigners are to use Convertible Pesos or CUCs. Those pesos are tied to the rate of the US dollar, and therefore about 25 times as valuable as the old peso. The 3 peso note on one side looks exactly the same for both currencies, and there’s also a 3 peso coin in the old currency which looks exactly the same as the 1 CUC coin. If you’re not careful, a Cuban shop clerk will give you the lesser value coin as change and make a tidy profit.

Che’s face is on more than the money. Every stall has him on shirts, cigar holders, lighters, handicrafts, and then there are the posters and books. Fidel’s name is around, but he has no statues and his image only adorns his books for sale. The proliferation of Che is a small recompense for his martyrdom, it seems. The centre of his legacy lies in the small city of Santa Clara, which is about 5 hours drive from Havana, and was the last city captured by Che’s leg of the revolutionary army on 28th December 1958. The dictator, General Batista, knew he’d lost the country then, and fled within 3 days (it’s always easy traveling over New Years, because most people hate it, so you can really make a saving on flights). Batista also happened to trick the loyalist supporters in Havana into allowing him to personally escort the treasury holdings of US$400 million out as a way to fund their counter-revolution from abroad. He never met them. He subsequently purchased two small islands in the Caribbean and was never extradited, never brought to justice, never made to repay the people of Cuba. Santa Clara loves Che, and the giant statue of him stands before an empty parking lot, atop a small museum and memorial. Che’s tomb is only differentiated from the other fighter’s tombs by two simple lights shining onto his plaque; his face embossed on the metal. Looking through the chronology and trinkets of his life, you see a serious man, occasionally caught laughing with a cigar or pipe always near by. A doctor, an asthmatic, a guerrilla army commander, a father and husband, a son and brother, a prolific intellectual writer and public speaker, a gentle soul who looked upon killing in combat as an aspect of a medical procedure – neither pleasant nor unbearable, and a man who turned prisoners of war loose after confiscating all possessions and intelligence possible followed by a stern elaboration on the purpose of the fight. You cannot comprehend Che without wondering what kind of world he lived in and what kind of world we now live in. ‘Hasta La Victoria Siempre’ is the motto. It means ‘Ever Onward to Victory’. Isn’t that a nice thought.

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