It is a sign of my ignorance that before coming to Cuba I had not heard of José Marti; my list of notable Cubans being restricted to the Castro brothers, Gloria Estafan and Andy Garcia! That ignorance doesn’t last long after your arrival in Havana; the airport is named after Marti after all.
So who was this balding man with the moustache? Marti was a writer and political theorist who became the figurehead of the movement for Cuba to seek independence from Spain in the late 19th Century. From an early age he was passionate in his belief in freedom and democracy, resulting in his imprisonment at the age of 16 and eventual exile to Spain to complete his sentence. He went on to study there and used the opportunity to write for Spanish publications about the plight of Cuba.
Travels to France, Mexico, USA and Venezuela broadened his outlook further and gave him the opportunity to increase his influence, and though he died aged 42 in battle, his dream of an independent Cuba was realised three years later in 1898
Marti memorial, at the foot of which sits a statue of the man himself, but there are many more around the city, as well as busts in many of the gardens of Vedado. His veneration is clearly encouraged by the Castro government. I wonder what Marti would have made of their dictatorship and the lack of freedom that they have presided over?
And if his political activity wasn’t enough to justify his recognition in Havana there is one more contribution that might clinch it.
He wrote the poem that was adapted to become the definitive Cuban song that it seems every band in every bar must play at some point in their set. Guantanamera.
I can hear it now.