The first dose of Cuba you get when you touch down at Jose Marti international and take a taxi through the scorching plains towards Havana is, unsurprisingly, an unending stream of Barbudos.
Barbudos everywhere: on cracked streetside murals with paint peeling under the weight of Caribbean humidity, on the great, mold-stained billboards that line the autopista, on the side of foodtrucks propped up on bricks, or on heart-shaped posters seen fleetingly through the passing windows of
They are inescapable, these Barbudos. You can hardly walk twenty minutes throughout any point in Cuba without seeing a public reference to them.
Named for the roughshorn beards they cultivated during the Revolution’s early years in the Sierra, these three men- Fidel Castro, Che, and Camilo- have attained a level of grandeur unmatched in any third-world country.
Most prominent of these three, also unsurprisingly, is the gleaming image of Fidel. His face is such a common sight that it is easy to forget his posthumous presence, so much so
that his memory quite literally permeates the geography of the island.
So I ask the taxi driver the question on the first day, watching him weave easefully through the frightening traffic towards Havana: what do you think of Fidel?
Pues, he said, enunciating his answer in his thickly accented Cuban Spanish, siempre me ha gustado el. Hizo mucho para nuestro pais.
It was only the first of many times I received a pleasing review of the dead leader- a characteristic introduction to the convoluted, unsettling, legacy of Castro.