A bronze replica of a famous statue of José Martí that has graced New York’s Central Park for more than half a century was dedicated to the people of Cuba just as the sun cast a rosy glow over Havana on Sunday morning, the 165th anniversary of the Cuban patriot’s birth.
Cuban leader Raul Castro attended the brief dawn ceremony at the 13 de Marzo park but did not speak. The current tense relationship between the United States and Cuba was not mentioned in remarks by Eusebio Leal, the historian of the City of Havana, nor by Joseph Mizzi, chairman of the board of trustees of the Bronx Museum of the Arts, which led a $2.5 million fundraising campaign to make the statue.
The project, which began under the rapprochement with Cuba during the Obama administration, was made possible by donations both large and small by the American people.
The dedication came on the heels of a massive torchlight parade that began on the steps of the University of Havana Saturday night and flowed through the streets of the capital. Castro, old guard revolutionaries Ramiro Valdes and José Ramon Machado Ventura, and Miguel Diaz-Canel, widely viewed as Castro’s successor when he retires from the presidency in April, briefly joined the marchers.
Castro donned his military uniform, while Diaz-Canel wore a blue windbreaker with “Cuba” emblazoned on the back — emphasizing the generational shift in power that is expected to occur in April.
About 300 American guests — including a congressional delegation, donors to the statue fund, diplomats, cruise line executives, academics — attended the ceremony honoring the Cuban hero who died in battle on May 19, 1895, as he fought to win Cuba’s independence from Spain.
Mizzi said the gift of the statue “symbolizes the friendship of the people” of both countries.
Jim Friedlander, president of the Havana Heritage Foundation, one of the donors, said the fundraising for the replica reminded him of the French collection of money for the Statue of Liberty.
“It's the same type of symbol of friendship between people and Martí is also a symbol of freedom,” he said.
Friendlander said that after New York City gave permission to copy the statue, it was measured with lasers, digital representations were made and a new mold was created using the representations.
The U.S. congressional delegation, which included California Democratic Representatives Karen Bass and Barbara Lee and Kansas Republican Roger Marshall, exchanged brief greetings with Castro at the ceremony and he thanked them for coming. Bass said that the representatives, who arrived Wednesday, met with government officials and private entrepreneurs, as well as the Cuban investigative team looking into the mysterious incidents that have caused hearing loss and other adverse symptoms in a group of American diplomats.
“They seem willing to cooperate and were perplexed by what is happening on our end,” Bass said. She said U.S. diplomats told her the Centers for Disease Control will be entering the U.S. investigation. “I think it’s important that science leads the way and not politics.”
Although there are many statues of Martí in Cuba and across the globe, the original sculpted by Anna Hyatt Huntington, is the only one that depicts him on horseback — just before he fell in battle.
Josefina Vidal, the chief Cuban negotiator during rapprochement talks with the United States and head of the Foreign Ministry’s U.S. division, said the statue represented “the sublime moment of maximum sacrifice” by Martí. “With the efforts of many people of goodwill, the statue is now here.”
Hyatt Huntington, who finished the original sculpture at age 82, presented it to the City of New York as a gift from the people of Cuba and it has been located in Central Park since 1965.
The 17-ton replica traveled from Port Everglades to the Cuban port of Mariel in a special metal cage to protect it, said Jay Brickman, Crowley’s Maritime Corp.’s vice president of government services. Crowley, which provides regular shipping service from the United States to Mariel, supplied free transportation for the replica.
“The only drama was when the trucks were bringing it to Port Everglades, Hurricane Irma was coming North. We stopped everything in North Carolina until Irma cleared Florida,” Brickman said.
After the dignitaries left the park, which sits across from the Museum of the Revolution, the statue quickly became an attraction for Cubans who snapped selfies. “As a Cuban, it’s a tremendous honor because every Cuban carries a little bit of Martí inside,” said Frank Alain, who was taking pictures in the park.