HAVANA – With bilateral relations in reverse for the past year after Donald Trump’s arrival in the White House, Cuba and the US recovered on Sunday – for a few hours – a semi-thaw in their relationship with the inauguration of a statue of the island’s national hero, Jose Marti, which arrived from the neighboring country.
Cuban President Raul Castro presided at the solemn ceremony held at dawn on a Havana plaza and attended by US lawmakers and a number of US citizens who had donated funds for the statue, an exact replica of the one that stands in the southern portion of New York’s Central Park.
The figure of the independence hero, the first among Cuba’s founding fathers and the 165th anniversary of whose birth is being celebrated on Sunday, has been viewed by the two nations as a symbol of mutual concord, particularly after Havana and Washington reconciled three years ago after almost six decades of animosity, but whose relations are now going through another low period.
Marti (1853-1895) lived for 15 years in the US, more time than he spent in Cuba, according to Havana historian Eusebio Leal, when in October the statue arrived on the communist island.
“He was the man who best knew, during his time period and for all time, the character, the virtue and the lights and shadows (of this) great nation,” Leal said.
On Sunday, Leal alluded once again to the “long exile” that Marti spent in the US, key years for the preparation of his independence-minded cause.
The bronze statue stands 5.63 meters (18.5 feet) high and weighs 8.5 tons, and its original was fashioned by US sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington.
This is the only equestrian statue of Marti in existence and also the only one that alludes to his death in combat during the 1895 Battle of Dos Rios, during Cuba’s independence struggle.
A letter from New York Mayor Bill de Blasio was read during the ceremony in which he said that his city was proud of its friendship with Cuba.
The office of the New York historian has worked for more than 20 years to send the replica of the statue to Cuba and finally managed to do so with De Blasio’s help, along with that of the Bronx Museum of the Arts and the Friends of Jose Marti, a US-based group, who headed the fundraising campaign to prepare it and ship it to Cuba.
More than 100 Cuban-American donors and other foreigners contributed some $500,000, although the cost of the statue has not been revealed.