There’s a small plot of land in Tampa’s Ybor City neighborhood owned by the Cuban government since 1956. Yes, seriously. I mean, it’s Florida so anything’s really possible.
Travelers with U.S. passports cannot legally visit Cuba for tourist activities. But, if you’re in Florida, ditch your passport and head to Parque Amigos de José Martí, Friends of José Martí Park, and legally step foot on Cuban soil.
In January 1976, four students and their instructor from the University of South Florida’s International Studies Program researched and verified Cuba’s ownership of the .14 acres of land.
José Martí’s Tampa Connection
Poet José Martí is the Founding Father of Cuban independence and visited Ybor City several times during the 1890s. It’s also where he recovered from an 1892 assassination attempt. He often stayed at the boarding house owned by friends Ruperto and Paulina Pedroso, Afro-Cubans who worked in Ybor City’s cigar factories.
Between 1905 and 1951, the property was sold a few times. Manuel Quevedo Jaureguizar and his wife, Mercedes Carillo la Guardia, purchased the property in 1951. At the time of purchase, they were living in Havana, Cuba.
They transferred ownership to Cuba on Sept. 10, 1956, with the intention it become a memorial of Martí. The Batista administration officially accepted the property and Nov. 13, 1956, the Consul of the United States in Havana certified the transaction which legalized the transfer to Cuba. The deed was recorded in Hillsborough County on Dec. 5, 1956.
Cuban Soil in a Tampa Neighborhood
Today, the boarding house is gone. But, the park contains soil from each of Cuba’s provinces, a statue of Marti and bust of Lt. General José Antonio de la Caridad Maceo y Grajales, second-in-command of the Cuban Army of Independence. Walls encompass the park and one has a colorful mosaic of Cuba. Benches in the park allow visitors to sit and reflect on the freedom, independence, and human rights.
Friends of José Martí Park is located at the corner of E Eighth Avenue and N 13th Street on Ybor City’s western edge and across from historic the Ybor Square building. It is open Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. The City of Tampa maintains the park. Arrange weekend visits with the Cuban Historical & Cultural Center (813) 968-7479. (1303 E 8th Ave, Tampa, Fla. 336605)
“Florida Stories,” Free Audio Tour of Ybor City
Learning more about José Martí and Cuba’s influence on Ybor City is easy when walking through the historic district which is a National Historic Landmark. A variety of companies offer tours, but you can go at your own pace with free audio tours called Florida Stories from the Florida Humanities Council. Available either as a smartphone application or through their website, access the Ybor City tour and walk the José Martí Trail with nine stops, including Friends of José Martí Park.