By Sarah Marsh
HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba unveiled a replica of a New York statue of independence hero Jose Marti on Friday, putting a gift from the hometown of U.S. President Donald Trump on public display at a time of heightened U.S.-Cuba tensions.
The equestrian statue depicts Marti moments before his death in a cavalry charge in 1895, during the fight against Spanish colonial rule.
The original, sculpted by U.S. artist Anna Hyatt, has stood for decades at the south entrance to New York City's Central Park, not far from the gleaming Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue.
After former U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced a detente in 2014, the Bronx Museum of the Arts decided to gather donations to make a copy of the sculpture as a gift for Havana.
The goal was "to strengthen the bridge between our two countries," the museum said.
Marti, a poet and political essayist, was living in New York at the time he drew up plans for an invasion of Cuba as part of the rebellion against Spain.
The nearly 19-foot (6-meter) tall statue was just delivered from the United States two weeks ago, after a series of setbacks in the normalization of relations between the old Cold War foes.
The Republican Trump imposed new restrictions on travel and trade with the Communist-run island in June, as he disparaged what he called his Democratic predecessor's "terrible and misguided" policy toward Cuba. Since August tensions between the two countries have deteriorated further, over a series of alleged attacks affecting the health of U.S. diplomats in Havana.
"By unveiling this monument that comes from over there ... we say this is the only path forward, there is no other," said Eusebio Leal, the official Havana City Historian, alluding to hopes for a future marked by improved U.S.-Cuba ties.
He noted that the statue had been strategically placed. It faces the Florida Straits, with the U.S. coast just 90 miles (145 km) in the distance.
Marti, who spent 15 years in exile in the United States, is revered throughout Cuba and Fidel Castro hailed him as the "intellectual author" of the armed uprising that led to his Jan. 1, 1959, Cuban Revolution.
Busts of Marti appear everywhere in Cuba, Havana's international airport is named after him, and there is a towering monument to him in Havana's Revolution Square.
Cuba says it will officially inaugurate the statue on Jan. 28 when it marks the 165th anniversary of Marti's birth.
(Reporting by Sarah Marsh and Reuters TV; Editing by Tom Brown)