Cuba marks birthday of independence hero, Jose Marti, with gift from US donors

CGTN – Michael Voss, January 29, 2018

Every year on the night before the anniversary of Jose Marti’s birth, thousands of students hold a torchlight parade through the streets of Havana. Leading the march this year was Cuba’s 86-year-old president, Raul Castro, dressed in military fatigues.

CGTN’s Michael Voss was there.

Jose Marti and Raul’s brother, Fidel, are Cuba’s two most important national heroes. The Castros view their revolution as a direct extension of Marti’s fight for independence.

On Sunday morning, Raul Castro reappeared, this time in a suit, for the official unveiling of a giant statue of Marti.

It’s an exact replica of the six-meter-tall equestrian statue which has stood for decades at one of the entrances to New York’s Central Park.

This statue was a gift to Cuba, paid for by U.S. donors as part of a fund-raising drive by the Bronx Museum of the Arts in New York. Several U.S. contributors were on hand for the dedication.

“Jose Marti has been a freedom fighter, that’s how people know him,” said Jim Friedlander, of the Havana Heritage Foundation. “The statue is also a symbol of friendship between the United States and Cuba, and it’s really people to people. It is the people of the United States who gave money for this statue to be here in front of the presidential palace in Havana.”

Marti spent many years in exile in the United States, and is admired throughout the Americas as one of the intellectual giants of the independence movement against Spain.

“To everyone listening, and to the noble people of North America, Cuba thanks you,” said Havana City Historian Eusebio Leal. “Today, as we approach this monument, we pay tribute to those who made it possible for your ideas to prevail beyond death.”

There was a large U.S. presence at the ceremony despite President Donald Trump’s recent restraints on travel to Cuba. Dedicating the state to Jose Marti was a sign that there is still some U.S. support for engagement with Cuba.

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