'Nomads, Culture
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Who is Camilo Cienfuegos?

IMG_0278The Plaza de Revolución is one of those iconic Havana landmarks. It’s where Castro addresses the Cuban people during his political rallies and where Pope Francis held mass during his papal visit to Cuba. In the plaza you’ll find the monument to Cuba national hero, Jose Martí, Cuba’s National Theatre, the famed Interior Ministry building with the steel facade of Che Guevara, and the Ministry of Information and Communication, with a steel facade of a handsome man that many tourists often confuse for Fidel Castro. When touring the Plaza with a Cuban, you’ll most likely be quizzed, “who is that?” It’s ok to be stumped but intrigued. While Che’s image is accompanied with the phrase, “Hasta la Victoria Siempre,” translated, “Until the Everlasting Victory, Always,” the other image has the phrase, “Vas bien, Fidel,” or “You’re doing fine, Fidel.” So who was this friend whose clear loyalty was memorialized?

Cuban revolutionary, Camilo Cienfuegos. Raised in a Spanish anarchist family that left Spain before the Civil War, Che, Fidel and Camilo were like the three amigos. Active in the movement against Batista since the early 50s, Cienfuegos met Fidel Castro in Mexico after a stint in NYC. He was one of the 82 men aboard the Granma that set sail to Cuba in 1956. A leader in the revolution, after Batista’s regime was overthrown, Fidel Castro appointed Camilo Cienfuegos the role of Comandante, the head of the Cuban army. That’s a pretty powerful position showing his trust of Cienfuegos. Cienfuegos’ Cessna disappeared on October 28, 1959 while on orders from Fidel on an overnight flight from from Camagüey to Havana. His plane was never found and there have been conspiracy theories about foul play. Every year on October 28th, Cuban school children through flowers into the sea in remembrance and on the 50th anniversary of his death, the giant facade was erected on the Ministry…. But it says, “Vas bien, Fidel.”

After finding out who he was, I must admit, I became a little enamored, and I wasn’t the only one. Check out these Life Magazine photos of him from 1959 from a photojournalist documenting the revolution. He had such a presence that I couldn’t believe his legacy would be simply words of encouragement to Fidel. Che’s is pretty bad ass. “To Everlasting Victory, Always.” I’m sure countless tattoo needles have etched that phrase onto skin, worldwide. But “You’re doing fine?” It is a famous response that he gave to Fidel Castro during the January 8th, 1959 rally when Castro turned around and asked him, “Am I doing all right?” And everyone heard and say Fidel seeking Camilo’s approval. Aww…

photos from LIFE magazine

Most people in the US have never heard of him, but every Cuban knows and celebrates his name. Fidel called him “el cubano de verdad,” meaning the true Cuban, a man of the people. People were simply drawn to him and I understand: I was too.

Camilo loved the ladies and the ladies loved him. He was known to be an excellent dancer and could have a good time. Kind of my type, definitely a ‘Nomad. Cienfuegos huh… I can’t think of a more fitting name.

2 Comments

  1. I have been trying to figure out how to visit Cuba, to visit my father’s side of the family, as he was born in Cuba and came in over on the Mariel boat lift. He asked me to go as soon as possible, as my abuela is very old and not well. I know I can apply for a visa to visit my family, but I want to take my partner with me. This blog post is amazing and I would love to find out about my Cuban side and cultura, like you learned so much while there. I also came across your article at http://fathomaway.com/postcards/good/volunteer-havana-cuba/ about volunteering and going through an outlet your own way. I did email Muraleando and I was just wondering if you could give me more information about your secrets?! Please and thank you. My email is pgonzalezvista@gmail.com. I know this is a stretch, but I would truly appreciate your insight. Thank you so much.

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