Cuba, part X: The city where Cuba’s fate was sealed

Had events in Santa Clara in December 1958 turned out otherwise, Cuba’s recent history might have been completely different. It was in Santa Clara where the world’s most infamous terrorist Ernesto “Che” Guevara sealed Cuba’s fate for coming decades, prompting the resignation of president Fulgencio Batista and throwing the country into the paws of a communist bear.

In December 1958, Che and his comrades derailed an armoured train carrying over 350 government troops and weapons, and cut the island’s communications in half. At the same time, another revolutionary, Camilo Cienfuegos, attacked an army garrison near Santa Clara. Gathering their regiments together, on New Year’s Eve 1958, both Cienfuegos and Che attacked Santa Clara in the final battle of the Cuban revolution. By midday, the city was captured and Fidel Castro’s troops had free passage towards Havana.

The battle of Santa Clara is seen as the decisive moment in the Cuban revolution. As the city fell and the revolutionaries started approaching the capital, Batista realised that he had lost the war against Castro’s thugs and decided to flee Cuba. Right after the New Year came, in the early hours of 1st January, 1959, Batista jumped on an airplane and flew to the Dominican Republic and later to Portugal. Castro had won.

Today, Santa Clara is a small and an extremely boring town. It’s a completely average-looking Cuban settlement that has pretty much nothing to offer to either tourists or locals.

With one exception. In the outskirts of Santa Clara, there’s a huge monument and an underground mausoleum to the “hero” of the revolution himself. The monument was erected in 1987, and ten years later, the bones of 17 people were transported from Bolivia to Santa Clara and buried under the monument. The Cuban regime claims that these 17 people were Che himself and his comrades who were killed in Bolivia in 1967. Of course, there’s no way to check the validity of that claim and I doubt anyone can blame me for feeling a little bit sceptical about this claim. I am relatively sure that the Cuban regime just picked up the bones of some random 17 people and buried them under the monument, saying one of them is Che and thus creating a shrine for the local saint who is known to normal people as one of the worst, one of the most murderous communist terrorists of all times.

That monument and mausoleum are pretty much the only reason people come to Santa Clara. As I mentioned earlier, the town itself is rather boring and there’s nothing to do there over a couple of hours strolling around the town. And if you want to buy ice cream then bet on standing in line for over an hour and then realising they’re out of ice cream and can only offer you vanilla milk that tastes like melted ice cream from a week before.

And the locals know their town is pointless from a tourist’s point of view. Why else would they have built the Che monument right by the highway from/to Havana.

Parque Vidal, Santa Clara's central square.

Parque Vidal, Santa Clara's central square.

A church by Parque Vidal.

A church by Parque Vidal.

Che monument and mausoleum underneath it in the outskirts of Santa Clara.

Che monument and mausoleum underneath it in the outskirts of Santa Clara.

Whenever Che is displayed in Cuba, the tagline always says, "Until victory always".

Whenever Che is displayed in Cuba, the tagline always says, "Until victory always".

A fountain at Parque Vidal.

A fountain at Parque Vidal.

Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Carmen.

Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Carmen.

Trains at Santa Clara's station.

Trains at Santa Clara's station.

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