The building is located in Habana Vieja, and served as the Presidential Palace until Dec 31st, 1958. A massive marble staircase is the first sight to greet visitors, however upon closer inspection, you find some thing peculiar. There are dozens of small holes facing the entrance, and . In fact, they’re bullet holes, left intact from when Universidad de la Habana students stormed the palace in a failed attempt to kill President Fulgenico Batista in 1957. The second floor also contains many rooms, including the President’s office, furnished precisely as they were in 1959. This was incredible because in a way, it was like being inside the White House’s Oval Office, and being able to touch everything.
Though informative, the rest of the museum is somehow less impressive than this. The exhibits to the revolution are all on the third floor. The recount the story of Fidel Castro’s 26 de Julio movement from it’s planning stages in 1953 to it’s victorious march into Habana in 1959. There are artifacts, maps, explanations, quotes, and many pictures; all of which give an overtly one-sided story of the Revolution. Which I expected, and did not mind. What slightly bothered me was the way the entire museum seemed to be thrown together. For a government that venerates it’s coming to power, I expected that the pictures, maps, and descriptions would be more than just printer paper hung up by pins and placed behind a pane of glass. But having been to the numerous fantastic (though occasionally overdone museums in Washington DC), I was probably expecting a little too much.
Even the exhibit dedicated to Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos, which I was looking forward to, seemed to underwhelm me. Maybe it was my misplaced expectations, but the belongings of Che and Camilo, the pictures, and their life-size recreations were somewhat ruined by the spelling mistakes (in English and Spanish) and the fact that it was in little more than a hallway. The reverence that the country seems to show these two heroes, whose faces are everywhere, simply doesn’t match their exhibit.
Besides the exhibits themselves, half of the former palace is undergoing construction (inside and out), and the vacant buildings in disrepair that can be seen in every direction from the museum take away a bit of the mystique.
However, in a country where the average government salary is $20/month, and its wealthiest emigrants are staunchly opposed to the Revolution, donations probably aren’t flowing in at the same rates as at the Smithsonians.
But, in the end, the museum serves its purpose. It showcases many important pieces of Cuba’s history, pays homage to its heroes, teaches the city’s visitors about the island’s revolutionary past. And at least for me, it makes sense for the Castros to prioritize a functioning economy over adding touchscreens and interactive features to their museums.