Cuba’s most famous museum, the Museum of the Revolution, is exactly what you’d expect it to be: a temple to the Communist Party of Cuba, an attempt to discredit the United States, and a riot of propaganda.
Housed in the country’s former presidential palace, the museum gives you a revolutionary welcome with a SU-100 Soviet tank destroyer that Fidel used during the Bay of Pigs invasion. The palace itself is a sight to see—probably one of the most beautiful buildings in Havana and the only part of the museum worth looking at. Built in the 1920s and designed to look like Versailles, the building is imposing and overbearing, particularly its interior, which was decorated by New York’s Tiffany & Co.
The last Cuban president to use the palace as his residence was Fulgencio Batista, who lived there until 1959. Seen as a symbol of corruption, the palace was constantly a target of revolutionary violence. One of the most successful attacks took place on March 13, 1957, when a group of 50 revolutionaries stormed the residence with the intent of killing Batista. Although the attack did not succeed, the palace still shows the scars of the battle. The palace’s walls are covered with bullet holes.
The Museum of the Revolution was created in 1959 by direct order of the Communist Party, but it was not housed in the presidential palace until 1974. In its over 30 exhibition rooms, the museum now displays countless objects, pictures, and infographics that tell the story of Cuba’s revolutionary war and of the communist regime that came after it. Its permanent exhibits include the Communist Party’s greatest accomplishments: the Cuban Revolution, the Moncada Barracks Attack of 1953, and the life of Che Guevara.
One of the museum’s main attractions is a life-size depiction of Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos, portrayed in the jungles of the Sierra Maestra, where their guerrilla camps were based and from which the Revolution was launched.
Behind the museum is the Granma Memorial, where the actual Granma—the boat that took Fidel and his revolutionaries from Mexico to Cuba—is displayed. Surrounding the famous boat are the military vehicles and weapons that were used during the Revolution and the Bay of Pigs invasion. Next to the memorial is Cuba’s eternal flame. Lit on April 19, 1989 by Fidel Castro, the flame commemorates those who made the new motherland possible.
For many, the museum would seem like any other historical attraction—as the Trip Advisor ratings and commentaries suggest. But for those who really pay attention, it does not take long to realize that the museum itself is one giant propaganda piece. The exhibits and displays are filled with countless diatribes against the United States and any other perceived enemy of the Revolution. The Revolution is exalted as the greatest and most successful episode in Cuba’s history. Not one display acknowledges any mistakes or shortcomings the Party may have, nor the current economic and human rights situation in Cuba.
The museum’s tour ends with a special exhibition about Fidel Castro called “Gracias Fidel” (Thank you, Fidel). Dedicated to the revolutionary leader, the exhibit walks you through Fidel’s life—from his childhood to the present day. Quotes from the world’s great and good sing Castro’s praises. One quote remarks simply, “Fidel has the luck of being Fidel.”
The cherry on top, of course, are the life-size cartoons of US presidents located at the museum’s exit. In this “Corner of Cretins,” Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and George W. Bush stand alongside former Cuban President Fulgencio Batista, all in ridiculous outfits. A plaque beside each figure thanks him for strengthening and consolidating the Revolution.
Overall, the museum is a wacky experience. With the amount of money the museum makes with admissions, you would expect slightly more modern displays or well-kept exhibits, or maybe even air conditioning. But as you walk through the museum, you realize that in a way it is an analogy for the Revolution itself: it might seem like it has potential, but up close it is a disaster.
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