14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 15 November 2022 — Looking at a photo of a recently unveiled statue in Moscow, I was reminded of the joke about the man who asked to borrow money. “I swear on my father’s ashes,” he said, promising to repay the loan promptly. Almost convinced, the would-be lender said he did not know the man’s father had died. “He hasn’t,” said the borrower, “but he smokes a lot.”
After Fidel Castro decided to quit smoking (at least in public), no senior government or party official was ever seen with a cigar or cigarette again. The decision to immortalize Castro in bronze with “the smoking gun” in his hands, to say nothing of the deceased’s wish that no statues of him be erected, perpetuates the image that he was a chain smoker.
There are other less monumental statues of Castro in South Africa, Mexico and Vietnam (the latter looking vaguely Asian) but the one in Moscow is the most imposing.
The ten-foot-tall figure stands on a rock in front of a bas-relief map of Cuba. His left boot points toward the eastern provinces, his right to Pinar del Rio. Located in Moscow’s Sokol district, in a square that has borne his name since 2017, the piece was jointly sponsored by the Russian Ministry of Defense and the Russian Military-Historical Society. Estimated to have cost 35,000 dollars, it is the work of sculptor Alexei Chebanenko and architect Andrei Bely.
Those who grew up in the Soviet Union might well remember that, when the comandante visited Moscow for the first time, in May 1963, he impertinently strode down plane’s boarding stair with a cigar in his mouth. Those close to him say this was to prevent having to exchange the traditional kiss with his Russian hosts, a gesture that a homophobic guy like Castro could not tolerate.*
This historic slight may be why it was decided to portray him with such an unusual object in his hand. Chebanenko was even careful to include some fledgeling ashes at the tip of the cigar. Cuban officials, who promise to pay the money they owe the Russians, can swear by them.
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