This tiny park in Tampa, Florida is about as close as you can get to Cuba without leaving the U.S. When you cross through the archway to enter Parque Amigos de Jose Marti (Friends of Jose Marti Park), you’re crossing into Cuban property.
This small bit of American land was donated to the Estado Cubano (Republic of Cuba) in 1956, three years before the communist revolution. The Batista administration officially accepted the property, and the American consul in Havana certified the transaction.
Predictably, the communist revolution and the rise of Fidel Castro complicated the situation. Nevertheless, despite high political tensions, the land remains property of the Republic Cuba; the land title to the park is owned by the Cuban government.
The park contains soil from each of Cuba’s provinces. You’ll also find memorial statutes to two heroes of the Cuban independence: the park’s namesake, Jose Julian Marti Perez, and Jose Antonio de la Caridad Maceo y Grajales.
Early on, the City of Tampa decided to maintain the park but leave management of the park in the hands of the Tampa Cuban-American community. In the early 1960s the area was a hub for clashes between pro-Castro and anti-Castro Cubans. In 1990, former Mayor Sandy Freedman entrusted the park management to an anti-Castro activist group called the Cuban Historical and Cultural Center which still maintains the grounds.
The park was donated to the communist island by Paulina Pedroso, a prominent female leader of the Cuban revolution and close companion of Marti. It’s located at the site of Pedroso’s boarding house, where Marti stayed during his various visits to Tampa and where Pedroso helped Marti recover from an assassination attempt in 1892.
The park is only open Monday to Friday from 8:00am-1:30pm, but due to the small size of the park, all of the park can be seen from behind the gates.