Galicia, Spain gets its coveted Castro museum

The Galician village of Láncara in northwest Spain was the birthplace of Ángel Castro, the father of Fidel. He went as a Spanish soldier to Cuba to fight against its independence, and later returned to settle there and reproduced, which would prove catastrophic for the country and millions of Cubans. In 1992, his native village rapturously received a visit by Fidel, whom it had invited, and officially named him “Favorite Son.” In 2005, his brother Raúl visited Láncara, and in 2016 it officially named him “Adoptive Son” and proposed turning the crude stone hovel where Ángel was born (seen above) into a museum, supposedly as a prospective tourist attraction to generate revenue.

The plan stalled due to Fidel’s death in 2016, and by 2018 it had switched to turning the run-down Castro house into a museum of the history of Galician emigration, maybe because that seems more respectable than a monument to a destructively dictatorial family. Still, it remained implicit that Ángel Castro was seen as a shining exemplar of the great things a Galician emigrant could accomplish–or spawn–in the world. A plaque on the exterior of the house describes him as “a Galician who emigrated to Cuba, where he planted trees that are still blooming.” There is no way to disguise that such a memorial honors and tacitly celebrates the “achievements” of the Castro family.

Angel Castro

There were further delays related to legal and possibly financial matters and the COVID pandemic, but this July 28th, chosen for being the thirtieth anniversary of Fidel Castro’s 1992 visit, the official opening of the “Casa Museo Ángel Castro,” also styled “Center for the Interpretation of Galician Emigration,” finally took place. In attendance were local and regional politicians (both socialist and right-wing), Cuba’s ambassador to Spain, Enma Castro (daughter of Ángel, who’s 87 and lives in Mexico) and Mariela Castro, who read a note from her father (though it has long been believed by many that Raúl’s real father was not Ángel Castro, which would explain why he looks nothing like Fidel).

In a brief video of the event included here, the interior of the house looks dusted off and tidied up, but it remains a peasant shack—there is no sign of conversion to a research or archival facility, though there are plenty of wall placards (provided by Havana) with photos and text allusive to the Castros. No doubt there is nothing on those placards showing the Castros in anything but a favorable light. Thus, the place amounts to a Castro shrine. It is one thing for Cuba’s dictatorship to open a lavish Fidel Castro Center to its god in Havana (partly funded by Spanish hotel firms), but this house museum is a different matter—unless, of course, it’s not really very different in principle, albeit on a much smaller scale.

A glaring irony inherent in this center, ostensibly about Galician emigration, is being predictably “overlooked.” During Cuba’s republican era before 1959, some 378,000 Galicians emigrated there, making up close to half of Spanish immigrants to Cuba during that period. Many of them, like Ángel Castro, did much better than in Spain, becoming successful businessmen by way of free enterprise. Now, in the Cuba of the Castro brothers, not even desperate Haitians want to come, and what Ángel Castro accomplished (by means fair or foul) is simply not possible. During her visit to Láncara, Mariela Castro actually said, apparently with a straight face, that “Ojalá nunca más, ni de estas tierras, ni de ninguna, salga ningún emigrante por necesidades económicas” (I hope that no emigrant will have to leave any country ever again for economic reasons). Talk about shameless hypocrisy.

It should be noted that, though Láncara is apparently a socialist enclave, Galician right-wing politicians have never opposed any of this, including the 1992 visit by Fidel Castro–who was enthusiastically hosted por todo lo alto in Láncara by Manuel Fraga, a nationally prominent Galician right-wing politician both under and after Franco. Reports of this museum’s inauguration in the Galician press do not refer to either Fidel or Raúl as a dictator and make no mention of the disastrous situation in Cuba. One should remember that even Franco, who happened to be Galician, had an “understanding” with Fidel, and the two were strange bedfellows. In other words, this is not simply a political thing, but a Spanish thing, what I have called “the Spanish malady“, though it can be called much worse.

Some Spaniards connected to the opening of this museum were quoted in the regional press saying it is a “symbol,” a word to which I’ve become very sensitive since Pope Francis said, admiringly, that “Cuba is a symbol.” The obligatory question is, a symbol of what, really? And to whom? What does this shrine “symbolize” to the countless Cubans who have suffered so much for over 60 years, and whose country has been ruined, in consequence of this particular Galician emigration to their land? Maybe the people responsible, in keeping with the old stereotype of gallegos as gente bruta, are simply too dense to “get it,” but maybe they are callously insensitive, uncaring and perverse.

7 thoughts on “Galicia, Spain gets its coveted Castro museum”

  1. The photo at the end shows Mariela at far left and Enma Castro at right , next to the stone with the plaque.

    Ángel Castro, born in 1875, was sent to Cuba around 1895, returning to Spain around 1898. He settled in Cuba around 1905 (though sources vary). He was married with children when he became involved with Lina Ruz, a domestic in his house easily young enough to be his daughter. They had their first child in 1923 and many others after that, all born out of wedlock, as there was no official marriage till 1943. In 1931, Lina gave birth to Raúl by what is believed to have been another man, either Felipe Mirabal or Narciso Campos, more probably the latter (both men belonged to the Guardia Rural, or rural police, in the area of Birán, where Ángel and Lina lived). Possibly, Lina “strayed” in response to the fact that Ángel had a son by another woman in 1930. Obviously, that would mean Mariela is not related to Ángel Castro, who died in 1956. He would NOT have taken kindly to having any of his extensive property confiscated by the “revolution.”

  2. It is clear that, however much this museum tickles the fancy of the locals (and Fidel’s visit certainly did), the feelings of the millions of Cubans seriously victimized by Ángel Castro’s “legacy” were not considered relevant, if they were considered at all. Of course, this is nothing new, neither for the Spanish nor even for the titular Vicar of Christ in the Vatican. Maybe it’s assumed that Cubans are so used to being ignored, insulted, mocked or screwed that they’ve become immune to it and don’t especially care, or more likely, that they are effectively non-persons and therefore a non-issue. Maybe we should do more to change that.

    • I’m sure the gallego connection had something to do with it, but I think there was more to it than that. Fraga also had an important family connection to Cuba. His father, an illiterate farmer, emigrated to Cuba, where he learned to read and did well in business. He apparently met and married Fraga’s mother in Cuba, though she may have been an immigrant or of immigrant stock. Athough Fraga was born in Galicia, he lived in Cuba briefly as a child, until his family moved back to Galicia around 1928.

  3. Even though Cuba-centered online sites have covered this story, it appears that neither the Miami Herald nor the Nuevo Herald has done so. I am not especially surprised, though even if they had, it would probably have been perfunctory coverage. After all, no need to get the Chihuahuas riled up and yapping.

    • At least part of the problem is our fault, for refusing to see the reality of things and clinging to sentimental fantasies that always let Spain (our supposed “mother”) off the hook, even with something as horrific as the Weyler genocide during the war in the 1890s. We always gave the Spanish too much leeway, too much benefit of the doubt, assuming there was even doubt.

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