Cuba loses Eusebio Leal, the man who restored splendor to Havana


Havana, Jul 31 (EFE) .- Eusebio Leal Spengler, the Historian of Havana, who died this Friday at the age of 77, will go down to posterity for his tenacious effort to restore and restore to life the beautiful historic center of the capital Cuban, a complex work to which he dedicated more than 40 years and from which he managed to see the fruits.

Titles such as PhD in Historical Sciences and Master in Archaeological Sciences and in Studies on Latin America and the Caribbean, Director of the Museum of the City and of the Office of the Historian of Havana, to which various recognitions such as Honoris Causa de Cuban and foreign universities endorsed his extraordinary intellectual work of decades.

Loyal, respected like few others in the sly Cuba and admired for his elegant oratory, in which his youth as a Catholic seminarian was evident, accompanied on numerous tours of Old Havana – declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO – visiting personalities in 1982 in the country.


Among those walks, those that stood out with the President of the United States, Barack Obama, in 2016, and with the kings of Spain, Felipe and Letizia, in November 2019, on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the founding of the city, stood out. milestone celebrated in style and that in a way put the climax to the work of Leal.

Eusebio Leal was also a champion of cultural and academic ties to the United States despite the long-standing enmity between the two countries.

In fact, his persistence allowed him to complete one of his most passionate projects in 2017, seeing a replica of the equestrian image of the Cuban National Hero José Martí (1853-1895), immortalized by the American sculptor Anna Huntington, installed in Havana. It has been located in the Central Park of New York since the 60s of the last century.

Continuator of the work begun by Emilio Roig de Leuchsenring, the year 1967 marked the beginning of Leal with the restoration of the Palace of the Captains General, once the epicenter of Spanish rule over the island.

The place was later renamed the City Museum and Leal installed its headquarters, the Office of the Historian, the main investor in the restoration plan since 1981.

The workers in the area who focused his life and professional efforts will miss his usual gaits on site to supervise the progress of the rescue and restoration work, with which he was especially demanding and rigorous, according to his collaborators.


Smitten with pancreatic cancer, Leal fought a long battle against the disease that limited his frequent presence in the streets of Old Havana, where many residents of the community compared him to the figure of a mayor.

They have also missed meeting him to talk about pressing social problems, such as housing, aggravated there by the extreme deterioration of many centuries-old buildings and overcrowding.

Eusebio Leal intervened in the recovery of museums, squares, parks, old buildings in ruins returned to habitability for the resident population and lately of the National Capitol, Avenida del Puerto and Chinatown.

International cooperation financed some of these works, including that of the monumental convent of San Francisco de Asís, and the “Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos” workshop-restaurant school in Havana was also created.

In 1993, the Government granted “exceptional powers” to the Office of the Historian to create and exploit its own economic sources and use the proceeds to finance the interrupted restoration plan.

It was a vital boost to the cultural and social project led by Leal in Old Havana.

A flourishing network of hotels, shops, museums, real estate agencies and restaurants proliferated then named Habaguanex whose profits contribute to the great project of the historian, although this empire absorbed it, after Leal fell ill, a business conglomerate controlled by the Armed Forces.

He also stood out for his active defense of tangible and intangible national heritage: his passionate argument against the commercialization of national symbols such as the flag still resonates in the memories of Cubans.


“I do not agree that the Cuban flag is an apron,” he said forcefully in 2016.

His illness has recently accelerated the delivery of numerous recognitions.

One of them was the 2016 National Award for Social and Humanistic Sciences and before that the Alicia Alonso Grand Theater of Havana award, the Honoris Causa doctorate from the National University of San Marcos, Peru, and the Henry Hope award came into their hands. Reed, who confers the American University Notre Dame, Chicago.

The work and perseverance of Eusebio Leal have internationalized the attractions of Old Havana, today the area most visited by tourists arriving in Cuba.

Born on September 11, 1942, the Historian of Havana guided his vocation while still being self-taught and presented exams of academic proficiency at the University of Havana, where he studied the Bachelor of History between 1974 and 1979.

With a scholarship in Italy, he completed postgraduate studies on the restoration of historical centers and was also a full member of the Cuban Academy of Language, where he occupied chair “F”.

To his magisterial conferences are added essays, prologues and articles on Cuban History, American themes, restoration and museology published inside and outside the island.

Until his death, Leal was a deputy to the National Assembly (unicameral Parliament) of Cuba, honorary president of the National Union of Historians of the island, head of the Monuments Commission of Havana, member of the Smithsonian society, of the United States and of the Union of Ibero-American Capital Cities, among many other positions.

Also outstanding, among its distinctions, are the orders of the Liberator Simón Bolívar, from Venezuela, that of Isabel la Católica in the rank of Commander, of Spain, that of the Arts and Letters of France, and the national prize for Cultural Heritage for the Work of All Life, awarded for the first time on the island, by virtue of its “exceptional merits” and its “exemplary dedication”.

Raquel Martori

(c) EFE Agency


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