In Havana, is it Lenin or Lennon?

HAVANA – Here is a city where statues of Vladimir Lenin and John Lennon coexist without a second thought. Although, some of the guide books poke fun at the notion that the Lennon statue is more popular with tourists.

Most of the Cubans I asked about it said something like “ho hum.” They seem to like them all. But, really, you see a lot more Jose Marti statues.

One interesting story behind the John Lennon statue is his signature round glasses. The sculptor made them so they can be taken off his face. So the glasses have been stolen several times and new pairs had to be made. Now there is a security guard who holds the glasses and puts them on the statue when people want to take pictures. (Unfortunately when we were there the guard was off duty, so no glasses in my picture.)

The statue was unveiled in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood in a ceremony on December 8, 2000, by President Fidel Castro. Ricardo Alarcon, president of the Cuban Parliament, said at the event, “This place will always be a testimonial to struggle, a summoning to humanism. It will also be a permanent homage to a generation that wanted to transform the world…”

The Vladimir Lenin statue we visited has been around a bit longer. It was unveiled in August 1924 in Regla, a working-class suburb of Havana. Antonio Borsch, the Socialist mayor of Regla, had the statue built and then planted an olive tree on the cliff above what is now called Lenin Hill. Lenin died in January 1924, and this statue is believed to be the first monument to honor him outside the Soviet Union.

In fact, Regla is a very working-class suburb with a long history of union and revolutionary activity. It is the home of many generations of dock workers and shipbuilders. At the museum on Lenin Hill, they talk about the founding of the first industrial union in Cuba among shipbuilders. To this day Regla is an industrial area with many unions that have their roots going way back to craft guilds. The Communist Party of Cuba was founded in the 1920s and Regla had a strong party organization. In fact, because of its revolutionary traditions, Regla is also known as the “Little Sierra,” a reference to the July 26th Movement’s revolutionary activity in the Sierra Maestra mountains.

I’m with the Cubans. I really like both monuments.

Photo: Scott Marshall/PW




Scott Marshall
Scott Marshall

Scott has been a life long trade unionist and was active in rank and file reform movements in the Teamsters, Machinists and Steelworkers unions in the 1970s and '80s. He was co-chair of the Save Our Jobs committee of USWA local 1834 at Pullman Standard in Chicago and active in nationwide organizing against plant shutdowns and layoffs. He was a founder of the unemployed organization Jobs or Income Now (Join), in Chicago, and the National Congress of Unemployed Organizations in the 1980s. Scott remains active in SOAR (Steelworkers Active Organized Retirees). He lives in Chicago.