Why do they call it that? Jose Marti Park - part of Tampa is owned by Cuba

9:08 AM, Jul 13, 2011   |    comments
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Cuban patriot Jose Marti

Step under an arch, and you walk into a different country. No, it's not Epcot -- it's Ybor City. There's a tiny part of Tampa that's owned by another country.

Why do they call it Jose Marti Park?

Nestled in Ybor City is perhaps the prettiest little park in all of Cuba.

I'll explain, with help from Rodney Kite-Powell, curator of history at the Tampa Bay History Center.

"Jose Marti is really Cuba's Abraham Lincoln and George Washington kinda rolled into one," Kite-Powell said.

Marti -- whose name is pronounced "mahr-TEE" -- helped spark a revolution around 1900 to kick the Spanish out of Cuba.

The anti-Spanish rebels paid for a chunk of the war with money donated by cigar workers at factories all over Tampa.

During his visits here, Marti stayed in a boarding house in Ybor City. The house stood at 8th Avenue and 13th Street, where Jose Marti Park is located today.

Marti's freedom fighters won the war! Free Cuba!

In the 1950's a couple bought the land where the boarding house had stood and donated it to the now independent Republic of Cuba as a memorial to their hero, Jose Marti.

But I hope the Cuban people weren't too attached to that freedom thing.

Soon after the land was purchased and given to Cuba, dictator Fidel Castro took over the country.

That has left some saying the park in Tampa is the last patch of free Cuban soil on earth.

"His park is the site of a lot of political activity against Castro or even, sometimes, for Castro," Kite-Powell said.

It's an intense debate in the shadow the park's most prominent feature, a tall white statue of Marti with an outstretched arm.

One thing that's not very debatable are the records of the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser.

And they show today, while the land is clearly in the United States and American laws apply, the owner of this .14 acre spot remains "Cubano Estado" -- the Cuban state.

Workers from the City of Tampa unlock the gates and take care of grounds maintenance in the park.

All of the other maintenance work and projects in the park are done by community groups.

Why do they call it that? Now you know.

We feature new "Why do they call it that?" stories each Wednesday on 10 News at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Check out previous editions of the Emmy-nominated series at our "Why do they call it that?" website: wtsp.com/callitthat.

Grayson Kamm, 10 News

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