Former City Hall of Santiago de Cuba, about to become a museum for Fidel Castro. Photo by the author
SANTIAGO DE CUBA, Cuba – Just in the historic center of the city of Santiago de Cuba lies one of the most iconic buildings of the second most important city in the country, the former City Hall of the city, protagonist of the most important events, traditions and the lens of thousands of Cuban and foreign photographic lenses.
For several months now, an unusual movement of construction workers has been attracting attention, as well as the placement of scaffolding on the façade of the building, which gave rise to the rumor circulating in the first few days that it was a repair, as part of the new image of the Caribbean Capital.
However, to the disappointment of the santiagueros, this time the local will cease to fulfill its functions as regent of the economic, political and social life of Santiago de Cuba, to become another place of worship to the figure of the dictator Fidel Castro, as well as a tribute to the First Eastern Front.
The building that was the municipal headquarters of the People’s Power Assembly will be equipped with the latest technologies, similar to those used in the Palacio del Segundo Cabo, in Havana. The façade and the interior of the site will be remodelled.
In front of the old Town Hall is the Cathedral Basilica Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, another picture of the city of Santiago, and right in the middle of both colonial buildings is the Céspedes Park, protagonist of the countless struggles of the Cuban people for their freedom, in which many Cuban dissidents and other members of civil society have carried out protests, despite having been repressed and beaten again and again.
This will be the new headquarters of the National Assembly of People’s Power in Santiago de Cuba. Photo by the author
In this sense, some santiagueros have stated that the sudden change of the Municipal Government is due to the protests carried out in its surroundings. “Opponents and people with housing problems and unfavourable situations always choose Céspedes Park to protest, because it is located in one of the busiest places, and is in front of the hotel Casa Granda, so there are many foreigners. In addition, being the Municipal Government is the best place to protest,” said a worker at the Casa de Diego Velásquez Museum, considered the oldest home in Latin America.
The Municipal Government is now nestled in Avenida Las Américas, an area of little concentration of people and that, according to Carlos, a young bricklayer who is working in the City Hall, “there the one who protests disappears and nobody finds out, that area is more grass than anything else,” he told CubaNet.
On the other hand, several historians and architects of the city denounce their dissatisfaction with the unannounced change. “How can a heritage installation change its functions from one day to the next, for whatever reason? Without revealing its identity, one of the historians of Santiago de Cuba, with more than 40 years studying the heritage of the eastern province, questioned himself.
“In any case, you have to consult with the inhabitants of the city and know their opinion about it,” added the researcher later.
Likewise, a Santiago architect, who despite his disagreement chose to remain anonymous for fear of being reprimanded for his opinions, said that “the Santiago de Cuba City Hall has always been a place of government management, and it would be a real lack of respect to change something so important in the sociopolitical life of the city, and, architecturally speaking, a jewel.
The official media, meanwhile, have kept the construction work in the Government House absolutely silent, and have not given an account of the reasons and who carries out the reconstruction work, thus maintaining the main concept of secrecy to which they are accustomed.
A young man sitting in Céspedes Park criticized the illogical relationship between the City Council and Fidel Castro: “Museo Primer Frente Oriental, now if they ate it, this building has nothing to do with the guerrilla front, much less with Fidel Castro, because, although he gave speeches from the balcony, this installation is not Fidel.
Céapedes Park and in the background the City Hall of Santiago de Cuba. Photo by the author
Later, the young man commented again, this time referring to a photographic gallery, with headquarters in the Palacio de Computación, also dedicated to Fidel Castro and the three eastern fronts: “Have you gone to the Joven Club de Enramadas? They put the entire lower floor dedicated to the commander, and in the back they are already building another museum for this gentleman, soon everything becomes Fidel,” he ironized.
Meanwhile, work on the building founded by Diego Velázquez in 1516 is progressing by leaps and bounds, showing, according to many, “great enthusiasm on the part of the Communist Party authorities.
“Fidel Castro made many speeches from that balcony, but that does not mean that the building can become a tribute to him, as if he had done it, in any case they would have to pay homage or dedicate an exhibition hall to the founders of the village,” suggested Claudio Santos, resident of Santiago.
Although no dates are known for the completion of the construction works of the First Eastern Front Museum, it is foreseen that they will soon be completed, and although the building will maintain its structure in the form of a ring, with galleries surrounding it, continuous balconies and wooden bars, in addition to its Spanish style doors, its initial and immutable essence throughout the five centuries of the town will be violently seized by ideological imposition and revolutionary cult.