Havana unveils a New York equestrian statue of Cuban independence hero Jose Marti

The Bronx Museum Board Chair Joseph Mizzi gives a speech during the inauguration of Cuban National Hero Jose Marti sculpture on its 165th anniversary, in Havana, on Jan 28, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

HAVANA (AFP) - A replica of a statue in New York's Central Park of Cuban independence hero Jose Marti was unveiled Sunday (Jan 28) in a plaza in Havana, a gesture of friendship in a time of strained US-Cuban relations.

Cuban President Raul Castro was present at the unveiling ceremony in what is likely to be one of his last public appearances before he steps down on April 19.

Funds for the statue were raised by the Bronx Museum of the Arts with the help of the Friends of Jose Marti, a US-based group.

It is a replica of a mid-20th-century work by American sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington, the only bronze equestrian statue in existence of Marti.

The ceremony marked the 165th anniversary of the birth of Marti, a writer and activist who championed the island's independence from Spain. He was killed May 19, 1895 fighting the Spanish in Cuba.

'A difficult time'

US-Cuban relations are at their lowest point since the two Cold War foes restored diplomatic relations in 2015 after a half-century break.

"The idea is that Cubans in exile and those here should work together to continue lifting up Cuba," Carlos Gutierrez, former US commerce secretary, told AFP at the ceremony.

Gutierrez, whose family fled Cuba in 1960 when he was six, expressed hope that the gains made under former US president Barack Obama will not be lost under his successor Donald Trump.

"We are going to have to wait a bit with President Trump," he said. "We're going through a difficult time."

The State Department last year cut its US embassy staff in Havana by half and expelled 17 Cuban diplomats from Washington after a series of unexplained incidents in which US and Canadian diplomats in Cuba suffered mysterious illnesses that appeared to be related to brain trauma.

In November, Washington tightened rules on travel to Cuba that had been loosened under Obama.

Among other things, the new rules bar Americans from doing business with a host of Cuban entities linked to the military and interior ministry.

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