Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 14 April 2015 — Like every April 13, last Monday a group of Trade Union workers met with the task of carrying a bouquet of flowers to a marble statue. It is a figure dedicated to Fe del Valle in the Havana park of the same name and located at the central corner of Galiano and San Rafael. The site usually supplies the absence of public toilets in the area and the sculpture has both hands mutilated.
In this space was one of the most exclusive Havana stores, El Encanto, with branches in Varadero, Havana and Santiago de Cuba. Founded in the early twentieth century by Solis, Entrialgo and Company, S.A. was one of the first properties nationalized after the revolutionary process.
The park is named in honor of the employee who died around this time, trying to rescue goods store in the middle of a raging fire that left the building completely destroyed and which also injured 18 people. Material losses were valued at $20 million. Another shop worker named Carlos González Vidal, known for his opposition to the Revolution and identified as an active member of People’s Recovery Movement, was convicted of sabotage and subsequently shot.
Fe del Valle Ramos, affectionately known as Lula, was born in Remedios on August 1, 1917 and worked at the store from the ‘50s and served as department head. She was a member of the Federation of Cuban Women and in the militia. Eyewitnesses say that she was on duty that night and, although she was found safe when the firefighters arrived, she returned to save funds that had been collected for a daycare center for the children of store employees. Her burned body was found days after the fire amid the rubble.
Nowhere around the sculpture can be found the sculptor’s name. The woman represented there looks more like a kolkhoz from Socialist Realism times than a Cuban woman working a department store. The neighbors didn’t record the date on which her hands were torn off and no one even suggests the motives — political, personal or religious — that led to the vandalism.
In 2016 a celebration will be held for what specialists call a “closed anniversary” – ending in a zero or five. The commemoration of 55 years will be an opportunity to restore the statue, but it will probably follow the passions that were behind each of the acts of this tragedy: the confiscation, the revenge, the sacrifice, the desecration…