Cuba // Varadero, Matanzas and Mayabeque //

Parque José Antonio Echeverría

Two blocks from Avenida Céspedes, southeast along Calle 12, is plain but tranquil Parque José Antonio Echeverría, the archetypal town square that Parque Colón fails to be, dotted with trees and benches and enclosed by buildings on all sides. The real reason to visit, though, is for the three surrounding museums.

Founded in 1900 and one of the oldest museums in the country, the Museo Oscar María de Rojas, occupying the entire southwestern side of Parque José Antonio Echeverría, brings together a jamboree of coins, medals, bugs, butterflies and weapons along with other seemingly random collections across its thirteen rooms. By far the most engaging and substantial sections are the two rooms of pre-Columbian Cuban and Latin American artefacts. Among the archeological finds displayed are human skeletal remains found on the island, dating back almost 5800 years, a bizarre shrunken head from southern Ecuador, examples of Mayan art and some stone idols from Mexico.

On the northwestern side of Parque José Antonio Echeverría is the relatively illuminating Museo José Antonio Echeverría, set in the birthplace of the 1950s anti-Batista student leader and activist, a statue of whom stands casually, hand in pocket, in the square outside. Considered one of the martyrs of the Revolution, Echeverría and several of his comrades were shot and killed by Batista’s police during an attack on the Presidential Palace in Havana on March 13, 1957. The museum charts his life growing up in Cárdenas and his protest years in Havana, as well as examining the wider role of the Federation of University Students (FEU) in Cuba, of which Echeverría became president in 1954. You can see his parents’ pink 1954 Chrysler Windsor Deluxe parked in the courtyard.