Once-Shunned Lennon Now Feted In Cuba

Havana, Cuba Communist-run Cuba came full circle Friday to fete John Lennon, whose music was once frowned on as a decadent Western influence, as a "revolutionary" hero.

Official honors for the Beatles star on the 20th anniversary of his death included a documentary by President Fidel Castro's personal cameraman, the unveiling of a bronze statue of Lennon in a Havana park and an open-air concert planned for Friday evening.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the Beatles' songs were considered "ideological diversionism" by Cuban authorities. Local music- lovers recount that the Fab Four were barely heard on the island, with the exception of clandestine parties where smuggled tapes might be listened to with the lights off.

In the still tightly-controlled but culturally more liberal Cuba of today, Lennon is now cast as a man who was a born rebel and a constant victim of U.S. harassment.

Friday's honors were intended to "integrate Lennon into the patrimony of the cultural values that our people admire and respect," an official statement said.

"Declassified FBI documents have made public the aggression he suffered for his radical position against the Vietnam War during Richard Nixon's administration," it added.

While the majority of Cubans love the Beatles, and now listen to them openly, some were left scratching their heads at Friday's celebration of the cultural volte-face.



"What? Now they're going to honor Lennon? I can't believe it," mused one self-styled former Cuban "hippy" as he stopped his bike opposite the arena where preparations were under way for the Lennon homage concert Friday night.

Communist Party daily Granma last year included the Beatles on a list of the most "relevant" figures of the 20th century, below Castro, Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, and Argentine-born guerrilla Ernesto "Che" Guevara.

Castro Hails Once-Shunned Lennon As Fellow Dreamer


(caption: A statue of John Lennon, made by artist Jose Villa, is unveiled in a park in Havana on December 8, 2000)
by Isabel Garcia-Zarza
Havana - President Fidel Castro led a day of homage on Friday to John Lennon as a ``revolutionary'' hero in a cultural about-face by Cuba's communist authorities toward the Beatles star, whose music was once frowned on as a decadent Western influence.

To the musical backdrop of ``All You Need Is Love,'' a military-dressed Castro, aided by star Cuban singer Silvio Rodriguez, unveiled a bronze statue of Lennon sitting on a bench in a Havana park.

``What makes him great in my eyes is his thinking, his ideas,'' Castro told reporters after the ceremony, which was timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of Lennon's murder in New York.

``I share his dreams completely. I too am a dreamer who has seen his dreams turn into reality,'' added the 74-year-old former guerrilla who took power in the 1959 Cuban Revolution.

Other honors for the Beatles star included a documentary by Castro's personal cameraman, Roberto Chile, tributes from state media and an open-air concert on Friday evening in Cuba's ''anti-imperialist'' arena opposite the U.S. diplomatic mission.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Beatles songs were considered ''ideological diversionism'' by Cuban authorities. Local music lovers recount that Liverpool's Fab Four were barely heard on the island, with the exception of clandestine parties where smuggled tapes might be played with the lights off.

In the still tightly controlled but culturally more liberal Cuba of today, Lennon is now cast as a born rebel and a constant victim of U.S. harassment. Friday's honors were intended to ''integrate Lennon into the patrimony of the cultural values that our people admire and respect,'' an official statement said.

``Declassified FBI (news - web sites) documents have made public the aggression he suffered for his radical position against the Vietnam War during Richard Nixon's administration,'' it said.


No Time To Listen



Despite his enthusiastic tribute, Castro confessed that he did not listen much to the Beatles in their heyday because ``I did not have much time.'' He added with a smile that unlike others around the world who cut their hair Beatles-style, ``I never cut my hair modeled on anyone.''

What would he say to Lennon if the singer and songwriter were still alive? ``'I'm sorry I didn't meet you before,''' Castro said.

While most Cubans love the Beatles and now listen to them openly, some people were left scratching their heads at Friday's celebrations.

``What? Now they're going to honor Lennon? I can't believe it,'' mused one self-styled former Cuban hippie as he stopped his bike opposite the arena, where preparations were under way for the Lennon homage concert.

``You see this bump on my head? I got this when I was a kid for listening to the Beatles and playing their music!'' he added with a laugh, showing what he said was the lump left when his ideologically strict father smashed his guitar over his head.

The Communist Party daily, Granma, put the Beatles on a list of the most ``relevant'' figures of the 20th century last year, below Castro, Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, and Argentine-born guerrilla Ernesto ``Che'' Guevara.

Underlining the importance that Cuba's senior leadership decided to give to Lennon on Friday, National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon attended the unveiling of the statue. He praised the British singer in a speech as ``the paradigm of a free and creative intellectual.''

Castro said the tribute to Lennon had made him feel young, adding, ``Youth is all about thinking, enthusiasm and the capacity to dream.''