Friday, December 18, 2009

A long tale written through pictures

January 25th 1998, the USS Maine made its entrance into Havana Bay and began a chapter in our history which hasn’t been enough investigated.

uss-maine-habana1

The Maine was an American second class cruise, built in 1889 and made of steel with 94 meters in length, 17 beams and of 7 drafts. With a crew of 392 men, the USS Maine was commanded by Captain S.B. Sigsbee.

In February 15th, 1898 a strange explosion caused its destruction meanwhile its crew was aboard causing 266 casualties. That explosion was used as a pretext by the Congress and government of USA to declare, in April 21st of the same year by t President McKinley, the war to Spain and intervene in the Hispanic-Cuban conflict.

Here is a picture of Maine’s wreckage of that period of time:

Wreck_uss_maine

In March 8th, 1925, the Cuban government erected a memorial to the victims of the Maine on the Malecon in Havana, in commemoration of the assistance of the United States in acquiring Cuba's independence from Spain. At the ceremony assisted Alfredo Zayas, then President elected of Cuba, the General John Pershing, Admiral Dayton and the Minister of Spain. The memorial was designed by the Cuban engineer Felix Cabarrocas who won a design competition.

In the center was an elaborate pedestal inscribed with the words “A las victimas del Mainemaine 3 el Pueblo de Cuba” and “Joint Resolution: ‘The People of the Island of Cuba are and of right ought to be Free and Independent’ Congress of the United States of America, April 21th, 1898.” The pedestal featured statuary, the plaque with the names of the victims of the Maine explosion and relief views of the tragedy. The pedestal was surmounted by two Corinthian columns supporting a short lintel with the word “Libertad” inscribed upon it. Atop the lintel was a large eagle with outspread wings.

Soon after, October 20, Cuba was struck by a massive hurricane. The Corinthian columns were toppled and broken, as were the eagle and lintel.

MaineMonument1200On February 15, 1928, in the thirtieth anniversary of the sinking of the Maine, a ceremony was held to reveal the restoration of the memorial. During the ceremony, the American Ambassador Henry B. Fletcher said:

“It is the altar of the firm and lasting friendship which joins Cuba to the United States. Here. Our spirit of comradeship is renewed and restrengthened evey year. Here while anniversaries go on in the coming years, the sacrifices of the martyrs and patriots, Cubans as well as Americans, for the cause of liberty, will be brought to mind; and here also shall be annotated the fruits of those sacrifices.”

At that time, the wings of the eagle were designed horizontally instead than the original vertical position to avoid future damages.

For what happened later, during the earliest 60’s, it is important to know the meanings behind the memorial according to its original creator, Felix Cabarrocas.

The marble base symbolise the indestructibility of the Cuban feeling. The bow facing North means from where Cuba received help to fight for its independence. The two identical columns with the cannons and the chains belongings to the real cruiser Maine show the equality of both nations, Cuba and USA, not in terms of power or material values, but in sovereignty. Finally, and more controversial with Castro’s point of view, the American eagle on top of the monument “is starting to take fly to the North looking for its homeland”.

As you can see, there is nothing implying interventionism, imperialism or dependency to USA in the original spirit of the creator. He added the statues of three presidents: McKinley, who proclaimed the war against Spain, Leonardo Wood, the first administrator of the island and Theodore Roosevelt.

Those last elements are more controversial and could be avoid in the memorial. But the artist chose to included, and in my point of view, it shouldn’t be removed without the authoring of the creator, or at least a public referendum.

maineThe last chapter in the fate of the monument was after 1959, during the first years of Castro’s regime.

The memorial was damaged by Castro’s government crowds following the Bay of Pig invasion in 1961 and the eagle on top was broken and removed. The wings and body are in a National Museum of Revolution. The eagle’s head is in the USA Office of Interests in Havana. Today the memorial looks as the picture shows.

There is a last detail added to the monument by the current Cuban authorities.

maine 5 Over the original inscription, the Castro’s added its own inscription blaming "imperialist voracity in its eagerness to seize the island of Cuba" for the Maine disaster as the picture’s detail shows.

One last thought. In the original plaque, the author wrote “to the victims of Maine from the People of Cuba”

Is that offensive to anybody?

Is it talking about the government of USA?

Again, the original memorial said: “Joint Resolution: ‘The People of the Island of Cuba are and of right ought to be Free and Independent’ Congress of the United States of America, April 21th, 1898”.

Is there something shameful to subscribe literally?

My last question: the fact that Castro crushed the inscriptions, is that mean then that he doesn’t care about the victims?

Cuban authorities vanished those inscriptions when in fact there was nothing offensive on them against our sovereignty.

The history of this memorial show how intolerance took over our country when Castro got in power. And it is still there.

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