HAVANA, Cuba - New York sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington’s 19-foot tall equestrian bronze statue of José Marti aimed to capture the moment when he was killed in 1895. A replica of an oil painting by Esteban Valderrama -- that the Cuban painter destroyed himself -- was her inspiration for the piece. Trouble followed the sculpture from the beginning.
After she finished it in 1958 and donated it to Fulgencio Batista with the condition that it be kept in New York City, Batista paid $100,000 to Clarke & Rapuano to build a pedestal for the sculpture. But the sculpture disappeared.
When Fidel Castro took power, the U.S. State Department intervened and the sculpture remained hidden under a canvas in a Bronx storage yard for years. The pedestal remained empty.
The inscription on the plaque read: "Jose Marti: Apostle of Cuban Independence. Leader of the people's of America and defender of human dignity. His literacy genius vied with his political foresight. He was born n Havana on January 28, 1853. For fifteen years of his exile, he lived in the City of New York. He died in action at Dos Rios in the Oriente province on May 19, 1895."
Enrique Abascal and about 14 other Cuban exiles tried to place a temporary replica of the Marti statue made out of on the marble pedestal in New York City in 1964, but their failed attempt was a disaster.
It was a short time setback. Officials placed the original at the south entrance to Central Park with great fanfare May 18, 1965.
In 2014, the Bronx Museum of the Arts gathered $2.5 million in donations and made a replica that was delivered to Cuba earlier this month. The fundraising started as an effort to support President Barack Obama’s new policy of normalizing relations with the Cold War foe.
The museum director, Holly Block, faced criticism. Chair Laura Blanco, who was born in Cuba and raised in Miami, quit. She was also unhappy with a project with the National Museum of Fine Arts in Cuba. Three other trustees also resigned. Block died Oct. 6.
Despite President Donald Trump’s recent accusations that the Cuban government was complicit in a "sonic attack" that injured 24 Americans, Havana City Historian Eusebio Leal celebrated the sculpture’s New York City connection.
It is part of its interesting history. The replica stands facing the Florida Straits, he said. It’s 90 miles away from the country where Marti also lived. Leal is looking forward to the official inauguration Jan. 28, the 165th anniversary of Marti's birth.
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