Cuba’s Personal Jesus

Graham Sowa

Come to me. Photo:
Come to me. Photo:

HAVANA TIMES — Che Guevara, Camilo Cienfuegos and Jesus Christ. Albeit temporarily, the Christian Savior is the third person to be immortalized on the side of a building (in this case the National Library) in the Plaza de la Revolutión. Standing open-armed above a banner that says “Come to Me” the Messiah is commanding tourists that arrive by the bus load to point their selfie sticks away from the Argentine revolutionary and toward the Nordic looking Son of God.

Not since the standard bearer of Cuban cinema Strawberry and Chocolate juxtaposed, and then destroyed, colorful busts of Jesus and Karl Marx have a communist and a deity been placed so close together in such a public place.

The Plaza de la Revolución, or Revolution Square, is a large sun beaten patch of concrete surrounded by bland examples of civic architecture that house important government agencies. Imagine if the United States Capitol Building, West Wing, J. Edgar Hoover FBI Headquarters, CIA Langley Headquarters, Pentagon, Kennedy Center and Library of Congress were all within a 2 square block radius. That is basically what the Revolution Square is, the nerve center of the political, cultural, and military organizations of Cuba.

And now add Jesus, looking down on all of it, waiting for the hundreds of thousands of faithful and curious alike to see Pope Francisco this weekend.

If you thought that communism and Christianity were incompatible then prepare to be born again in 21st Century Cuba.

Even after six years of living in Havana I’m still surprised by how quickly the unexpected can happen. If you asked me last week “When will a giant poster of Jesus Christ be unfurled in Revolution Square?” I would have shrugged and said, “Maybe a decade,” which is my usual response when people ask me when big changes will happen in Cuba.

But on closer examination I think I still give too much leeway to those old tales that Cuba is a stagnant and unchanging place. Often this message is propagated by those who want to stifle interchange and curiosity. Their message of fear is easy to listen to because it fits our assumptions about what communism is supposed to be. At the same time it completely unburdens us of having to actually learn anything about Cuban culture or society.

Since I have lived here I’ve seen 130 political prisoners have their sentences commuted, the head of state, Raul Castro, announce a self-imposed term limit (he’s done in 2018), the allowance of international travel for Cubans without asking permission for the government first, a couple of opposition candidates participate in municipal delegate elections (they lost), the liberalization of small-scale commerce and the service industry (growing quickly), the buying and selling of houses, cars, and consumer electronics (still really expensive), the inclusion of LBGT persons in a public discourse on gender and sexual equality, and an open invitation to Capitalists and Socialists alike to invest, visit and enjoy the largest island of the Antilles. This is not to mention the myriad of other reforms that go unnoticed, fail, or get tossed by the wayside.

So when politicians and pundits spew on about the United States and Barack Obama giving too much leeway to Cuba, I say our President is barely catching up. Cuba has everything to lose by not being agile enough to know when to make changes. The United States loses relatively little by keeping its unchanging policy from the mid 1960’s, now 10 Presidents old.

Cuba has quietly gone from a state that didn’t allow practicing religious people participate in party politics to a state where a giant image of Jesus Christ now hangs in the holy Revolution Square. Where have we gone? The United States continues to restrict its citizens from traveling and trading freely with the island.

Meanwhile Cuba is on message with Christ: Come to me, as you are.

Now put that gospel music to a salsa rhythm and start passing the collection baskets, it’s going to be another record breaking year for tourism.


Graham Sowa: I've been living in Cuba for three years now. I would like to blame my obvious hair loss seen in this updated photo on the rigors of life here and medical school, but it is probably just genetic. I've made some of the strongest friendships during my time in Cuba from other writers on this website. The strength of those friendships has almost restored my faith that the online world can lead to offline and real life change. On that same note I've adjusted to using internet one or two hours a month. In the meantime I have rediscovered things like flipping through the pages of books, writing stuff down by hand, and having to admit that I don't know something instead of rapidly looking up the answer on Google while the teacher isn't looking.

4 thoughts on “Cuba’s Personal Jesus

  • September 19, 2015 at 9:21 am

    Religion is the root of all evil,The Vatican is the richest country in the world,I cannot understand why the frenzy when the Pope arrives.I was raised as a Catholic,when I started thinking of all the lies from the church,I WOKE UP ! I am 75 yrs of age and I believe in” Death after life” and I can prove it however I cannot prove” Life after death” but as the human body is energy, when your” Best before date” expires the energy from your body is transformed into another shape,that I do not know what it is,however I don’t believe it is heaven up in the clouds.!!!!!!

  • September 18, 2015 at 7:31 pm

    Wonderful upbeat piece Graham. Also, this is where you live and breath so glad to have experience
    your enthusiasm and positive theme. It will interesting how many will actually come see the Pope in Cuba. My instinct tells me not the amount you posted but tomorrow will be a grand day indeed for the Cuban population. Finally some good news and hopefully a better Sunday for you all.

  • September 18, 2015 at 2:05 pm

    Now that you mention it, Martin, this is quite extraordinary. The owner of the casa particular that I rent when I visit Havana wears a small crucifix on a gold chain around her neck. Just a few years ago, she would adjust the cross to the back of her neck when the inspectors would come by her rental house. Things, in this regard, have begun to change.

  • September 18, 2015 at 1:54 pm

    The Pope will be standing in Revolution Square where Fidel Castro stood urging the execution of hundreds of Cubans.
    The Pope will be looking out over the heads of people not just at a picture of Jesus Christ who implored “Love they neighbour.” but at the head of Dr, Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, the executioner who said:
    “To send men to the firing squad, judicial proof is unnecessary. This is revolution. And a revolutionary must become a cold killing machine motivated by hate.”
    Cuban archive document 3615 firing squad executions since Fidel Castro took power on January 1. 1959. The Pope will reward him with a private audience.
    “Come to me as you are.”
    The author of the article comments:
    “If you thought that communism and Christianity were incompatible then prepare to be born again in 21st century Cuba.”
    Communism hasn’t changed, the Castro family regime hasn’t changed, hasn’t in any way reduced is power and control over the people of Cuba, the change has occurred within the Catholic Church.

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