On July 24th, 1961, Yuri Gagarin was given a hero’s welcome in Cuba as thousands flocked to get a glimpse of the first human to reach outer space.
Historical accounts of the time recall how all the shops of Havana displayed portraits of the cosmonaut alongside the flags of Cuba and the Soviet Union. From early hours of the morning, people lined the streets of Boyeros Avenue to receive Gagarin.
At 1:57 in the afternoon, the Soviet plane landed on the runway of the José Martí International Airport in Havana. Fidel Castro embraced Yuri the moment he touched Cuban soil and then the two boarded a car to ride through the streets of Havana to greet the cheering crowds.
That night the Revolutionary Government offered the first cosmonaut in history a reception at the then Presidential Palace (today the Museum of the Revolution). A crowd gathered, on the esplanade facing the North Terrace of the executive mansion, to cheer him on. Once the protocol requirements were met, Fidel and Gagarin came out to greet the people.
26 de Julio
Yuri Gagarin stayed in Havana for the July 26th celebrations, in which Cubans remember the 1953 attack on the Moncada Barracks for which Fidel Castro was jailed. At the commemorative rally in Revolution square, the Revolutionary Government awarded Yuri Gagarin the highest decoration possible in Cuba: The Order of The Bay of Pigs. This was bequeathed to him for “performing the historic feat that consecrates him as the world’s first cosmonaut, for contributing with exemplary heroism to the progress of humanity and peace”.
Following the rally, Gagarin gave a press conference in Havana in which he criticized a reporter who described him as being exceptional. He said, “In no way should I be considered a superman. You can see right here in this room: I am a simple man, like everyone else. I want to tell you that many young people from the Soviet Union and from other countries, for example, young Cubans, can fly to the cosmos. Every country has young people with good physical and mental health. Those people will fly to the cosmos. I think this belongs to the not too distant future”. Another journalist asked him for his opinion on the intentions of the United States to send a man to space, to which he replied: “I am happy with the success of the North Americans. There’s room for everyone up there.”