Marta Abreu

You won't find many places in Cuba without a street dedicated to Marta Abreu (1845–1909), the country's most famed philanthropist, but in her home city of Santa Clara her legacy is everywhere, including at the university (Cuba's second-most important). Before Che exploded onto the scene, Abreu had already established herself as the city's best-loved figure, and no wonder: the woman was responsible for the construction of most of Santa Clara's significant buildings, and was an important contributor to the demise of Spanish colonialism in the 1890s. At one time the city was known as the Ciudad de Marta and was renowned for its revelatory social services, instituted by Abreu.

Born into a wealthy family, Abreu soon came to realize the contrasts in living standards between Cuba and comparatively luxurious Europe, and brought about many changes to help Santa Clara rise to greater heights. Her most outstanding contribution remains the Teatro la Caridad, the building of which she oversaw, but the Biblioteca José Martí (within Palacio Provincial), Santa Clara's train station, four schools, a weather station, an old people's home and the provincial gas factory also exist because of her funding.

It isn't just her public works for which she is remembered. A humanitarian who stood for causes small and large, Abreu championed a campaign against homelessness in Santa Clara, funded construction of the power station that gave the city street lighting, and improved sanitation with the creation of public laundry stations. Perhaps most significantly, she raised a vast 240,000 pesos (equivalent to millions of dollars today) toward the liberation of Cuba from the Spanish in the 1890s.

Abreu is still present in Santa Clara: a bronze statue of her stands guard in Parque Vidal.

Don't Miss: Melaíto – Satire & Street Art

While socialismo in Cuba hasn’t always been a bundle of laughs, the revolution didn’t snuff out political humor completely – at least not in Santa Clara, home of Melaíto, a periodical that, for over 50 years, has provided a pulpit for some of Cuba’s best caricaturists and graphic artists. Founded in 1968 as a lighthearted propaganda supplement to support the upcoming 'Zafra de Diez Millones' (10-million-tonne sugar harvest), the magazine was named after one of its early characters, a hapless Chinese-Cuban cane-cutter called Melaíto. With the sugar harvest over, the magazine worked hard to build on its new-found popularity, tackling more general political themes with satire and wit. By the 1970s it had become a regular monthly supplement to the local Villa Clara newspaper, Vanguardia, a position it holds to this day thanks primarily to the talent of its humorists, cartoonists and artists, who are some of the finest in Cuba.

In the last few years, Melaíto has widened its reach to include the internet and street art. The magazine’s distinctive cartoons regularly pop up in public spaces in Santa Clara and a whole building on the Carretera Central has been dedicated to murals of its work. The cartoons change regularly. At last visit the theme was decidedly anti-war, depicting soldiers with doves in their rifles and taking a satirical glance at Cuba’s fragile relationship with the US.