Cuban patriot Jose Marti would have been proud. Last month, 165 years after his birth, dignitaries gathered in Old Havana to dedicate a statue of him fighting and dying for Cuban independence – a replica of the bronze in New York’s Central Park, bestowed by a group of Americans as a gift to the Cuban people.
It took more than two decades of efforts by Havana’s historian Eusebio Leal, $2.5 million in U.S. fundraising, laser technology to make new molds, plus support from the Bronx Museum of The Arts, New York City’s government, and shipping line Crowley Maritime – among many others – to bring the 18-foot statue to its new home.
Marti spent 15 years in the United States, mainly in New York, advocating for Cuba’s independence from Spain. He died in battle for that cause in eastern Cuba, just 42 years old. The original sculpture of him dying on horseback was made by noted equine sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington and erected in 1965.
Leal, the visionary credited with preserving colonial Havana, saw the statue in New York decades ago and fell in love. He admired its unique depiction of Marti “making the supreme sacrifice,” Leal told Cuban President Raul Castro, members of U.S. Congress, and hundreds more invitees at the Havana dedication on Marti’s Jan. 28 birthday. “You haven’t died. You live in our hearts,” Leal said in a richly detailed, poetic homage to the patriot revered by Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits.
Creating and delivering the 17-ton statue took tons of work. The original molds had been destroyed, so project leaders arranged for laser technology to help measure the existing statue, make digital representations and from there, produce new molds. A drive by a Bronx Museum-linked nonprofit to raise $2.5 million in donations for the statue and related arts exchanges spurred some backlash. Two members of the Museum board resigned, claiming Cuba projects were absorbing too much time and effort. Even when Crowley donated transport services, the passage of Hurricane Irma prompted a delay.
Yet none of those struggles – or increased tensions in U.S.-Cuba relations under President Donald Trump – were mentioned during the 35-minute dedication ceremony held at dawn next to Cuba’s Museum of the Revolution. Instead, invitees reveled in what Bronx Museum chairman Joseph Mizzi called “a gesture of the enduring friendship between the people of the United States and the people of Cuba.”
“In some ways, it’s like the Statue of Liberty. It’s a present from one country to another, and Jose Marti is the symbol of liberty,” said Jim Friedlander, who leads New York-based travel group Academic Arrangements Abroad and donated to the project.
Many Cubans visited the statue after its dedication, snapping photos. Frank Alain, who recently moved back to Cuba from Florida, called it an inspiration of patriotic values. “Every Cuban,” said Alain proudly, “has some Marti inside.”