Over a hundred years ago, Jose Martí, the Apostle of Cuban Liberty, visited Tampa, Florida to raise awareness and collect money for Cuba Libre, the effort to rid Cuba of Spanish rule and establish Cuba as an independent country. When in town, Martí stayed at the home of Afro-Cuban patriot Paulina Pedroso, who operated a small boarding house on 8th Avenue. The Pedrosos eventually moved back to Cuba and the property passed though several hands until it was eventually donated to the Cuban government as a tribute to their national hero.
In 1956 the Republic of Cuba took possession of the deed and the American consul in Havana approved the transaction.
Fulgencio Batista, the Cuban dictator eventually toppled by Fidel Castro’s forces (and the guy who makes the toast in Godfather II, right before Michael Corleone gives Fredo the kiss of death), donated the money to raze the old Pedroso house and establish a park. But when Castro came to power, and Cuba became a communist country, the city of Tampa found itself with a dilemma. City officials still maintain the park’s lights and irrigation but have left everything else to the Cuban-American community in Tampa.
And things have been messy ever since. You can read more about it here. On one side of the debate, pro-Castro speech is not permitted in the park and anti-embargo Cubans have been locked out. On the other hand, in the only plot of free Cuban land, free speech is squelched and national hero Jose Martí is locked behind bars.
I won’t go into this debate, I’ll leave that to you. I’m just bringing you another little known slice of American history.
The park is fairly small, centered around a statue of Jose Martí, with six rocks decorated with the Cuban flag. There are six tree planters in the park, each containing dirt that has been mixed with soil from Cuba’s six provinces. You can visit it during daytime hours but need special permission to have the gates unlocked on weekends.
Here are some more photos of the park…click here for a map of its location.
Mark McGinty is the author of The Cigar Maker.
Email the author: firstname.lastname@example.org