Fifty years after the revolution: a reporter's notebook

Special correspondent Virginie Herz shares her personal observations during her coverage of Cuba as it celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution.


Read Virginie Herz's special report on Havana readies to mark 50 years of revolution



Thursday, December 1st, official celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the revolution


Santiago’s city centre is home to the official celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the revolution. The buildings have received a makeover and the area was “cleaned up” for the occasion. According to official figures, 3,000 names are on the guest list. Raul Castro is due to give a speech at 6pm (midnight GMT+1). In this Fidel-loving city, many hope to catch a glimpse of the "Lider Maximo", who has not appeared in public since the summer of 2006.



Wednesday, December 31, roasting pigs in Santiago de Cuba


Families are roasting pigs on the streets of Santiago to prepare for the New Year celebrations. Here, as in the rest of the country, people are complaining about soaring prices. But tonight, Cubans want to forget their worries. Salsa music fills the air. This is where Compay Segundo began his singing career. Feliz año nuevo.



Tuesday, December 30, Biran, Castro’s hometown


The house in which the Castro brothers grew up is huge. Their father was a big landowner and even today several splendid colonial-style houses attest to their wealth. “This highlights even more the contributions of the Castro brothers to the revolution,” says the museum director. “They had it all, but they wanted social justice for the Cuban people.” When we remark that it was surprising that two brothers would succeed one another as in a family dynasty, the director responded, “There is no dynasty where there is history.” But his typically Marxist line of argument is interrupted by the arrival of a visitor. It’s a soldier who asks me to stop filming. I turn around and see Fidelito, the son of Fidel.



Monday, December 29, Sierra Maestra, where it all began


It was in the mountains of Sierra Maestra that Fidel and Raul Castro, Ernesto Che Guevara and a handful of others led a guerilla movement for two years before chasing out Batista. Time seems to have stood still here, with the original cabana, the dispensary, and the Radio Rebelde station that now broadcasts out of Havana. Stragely, the bed where the "Lider Maximo" slept is closed to the public. He does not often return to this spot in the Sierra, but rumour has it they might be building a mausoleum.


Time seems to have stopped in the Sierra Maestra, where Fidel Castro and Ernesto Che Guevara started the guerilla.


Fidel Castro slept in this room from May 1958.


From the heights of the Sierra Maestra, Median played the guitar on Radio Rebelde under Castro's orders in 1958.


Sunday, December 28, going eastward

The central highway that cuts across the island is nearly empty; cars are scarce. Between the planned economy and the US embargo, many products only arrive in small driblets. Tire punctures are not a great idea here. It’s an ordeal to find new ones. The car rental agency finally finds a solution: they’ll send us a new car in two days.


The lack of available tires means that a mere puncture can stop you for two days.


Saturday, December 27, Havana

Havana is preparing for the 50th anniversary of the revolution in a discreet fashion. While this nation is famous for its vibrant posters hailing the revolution, few of them refer to this anniversary. The financial crisis and the three cyclones that hit Cuba this year still haunt this place. At the national assembly, politicians announced the need to cut back on costs. The Cuban system guarantees free health care, free education, and jobs for all Cubans. But at the end of this year, Raul Castro issued a warning to profiteers: “All salaries must be earned,” he said.



Half of Cubans are under 25.

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