A small site in the capital municipality of Centro Habana is closely related to José Martí’s youth: the quarries of San Lázaro, where the Apostle (as he is also known), suffered the horrors of imprisonment and performed hard labor as the sentence imposed on him by Spanish colonial rulers.
On this site today stands the Fragua Martiana Museum, a cultural institution attached to the University of Havana and dedicated to promoting the life and work of the Cuban National Hero (Havana, January 28, 1853 - Dos Ríos, May 19, 1895).
The building was officially inaugurated on January 28, 1952, and following the triumph of the Revolution, became part of the University of Havana by decree, signed by then Education Minister Armando Hart Dávalos.
Over 65 years, the Fragua has had as the fundamental element of its work educating new generations about the culture and thought of Martí, and his experiences at this site.
“It is a task that is aimed at all age groups. The Fragua Martiana undertakes very serious work related to community projects, and with which it continues to honor the National Monument status that the museum boasts,” stated Yusuán Palacios Ortega, director of the complex.
One of the areas that marks the work of the Fragua Martiana is the research conducted into each of those individuals who suffered the atrocities of imprisonment here.
“The most important thing at the moment, from an investigative point of view,” Palacios noted, “has to do with the history of the quarries and political imprisonment in Cuba.”
Prisoners here during the colonial period included the group of medical students, wrongly accused of desecrating the grave of a Spanish military officer. Following their trial in 1871, eight were executed by firing squad, while a further 35 were placed behind bars.
Like all museums, the Fragua Martiana conserves pieces of great heritage value belonging to leading figures of the country’s history, and which are the object of study by specialists.
“Investigations are being carried out into each of the museum objects, such as Martí’s revolver; not the one he went to war with, but one that belonged to him before disembarking in Playitas de Cajobabo. This is the only one that is preserved.
”We also have the small scented pillow that the girl from Guatemala gave to Martí, and the gun rests from the boat on which they came ashore in Playitas.”
The exhibition rooms of this historical cultural complex contain the scarf Antonio Maceo was wearing when he died in combat on December 7, 1896, as well as pieces related to historical events of the twentieth century.
“As one of the main patrimonial objects we have the flag that today Army General Raúl Castro carried on the day of the symbolic burial of the Cuban Constitution of 1940. It is one of the most valuable possessions that we have conserved,” noted Palacios, also president of the Movimiento Juvenil Martiano (Marti Youth Movement).
One of the essential motivations of the 65th anniversary celebrations of the Fragua Martiana Museum is closely related to the Cuban student movement. On the centenary of the birth of José Martí, in 1953, the annual March of the Torches concluded here, and already then the links between Fidel Castro Ruz and the site were very strong.
“The 65th anniversary will be dedicated to the Comandante en Jefe, to Martí, to the important relationship between the two as fundamental architects of the revolutionary work and the bond with Cuban students,” the director emphasized.
From January and throughout 2017, the institution will host activities to celebrate its founding, including talks, seminars, conferences and the book launch of Entre espinas flores. Anecdotario, by Carlos Manuel Marchante.
In October, the fourth edition of the colloquium “El Preso 113” will be held. This year for the first time the distinction of the same name will be presented to important cultural personalities and persons who have worked closely with the institution.
Faithful to its task of spreading the thought of José Martí, from September the museum invites all those interested to participate in the “Seminario Martiano”, a proposal which will consist of a basic course and a higher level course in Martí’s thought.
“This is not only aimed at university students,” Palacios explained, “but all those who would like to take a course on the life and work of Martí. It will take place at the Frangua. It will be a seminar held according to today’s norms, with the adjustments that have to be made to the programs. It will be very worthwhile to rescue this project and offer it to our population.”
FOR FRIENDS OUTSIDE CUBA
Although none of these activities is described as international, the calls to participate are publicized by the network of university departments for the study of Martí, the José Martí Cultural Society and by clubs that honor the Apostle existing in many parts of the world.
Throughout the past 65 years, the Fragua Martiana Museum has had strong links with Mexico, with those who follow Martí’s thought in this country and the different solidarity with Cuba organizations and movements, as well as with the Mexican José Martí Cultural Center.
As a little known fact, Yusuán Palacios pointed out that the first custodian of the Fragua was the son of Manuel Mercado, Martí’s Mexican friend, and concluded by stating, “Of course, everyone is invited to the activities we hold, especially this year for the 65th anniversary.”