Eusebio Leal, the soul of Havana
By Mercy Ramos, Photos: Courtesy of Alexis Rodríguez García
To talk about Havana and, in particular, about the old part of the city, it is essential to mention someone known by all Cubans because he has given his soul, heart and life to the capital, which has just celebrated 500 years of history and traditions. It can be said that Dr. Eusebio Leal was born to become the historian of Havana, because from a young age he leaned towards that specialty, which he loves with great passion and to which he has dedicated his entire existence.
At only 16 years old, he began working in the municipal government, and managed to reach the sixth grade with self-taught schooling and was welcomed, like other young people interested in history, by Emilio Roig de Leuchsenring, relevant ethnologist, journalist and Cuban patriot, the first historian of Havana from 1935.
Much effort was made by this young man, who without having reached higher education, devoted his body and soul to studying hard in order to take academic exams at the Faculty of Philosophy and History of the University of Havana, culminating in his entrance to the latter by Rectoral Decree to study a history degree in 1974 and his graduation in 1979.
Since then, Eusebio Leal has dedicated his life to developing his work as historian of the Cuban capital, which if the city could speak, would surely struggle for the words necessary to thank him for such laudable work of over four decades.
Doctor in Historical Sciences and Master in Archaeological Sciences and Studies in Latin America and the Caribbean, Historian of the City and Director of the Program for the Restoration of the World Heritage Site are some, perhaps the principal, of the many positions held by Dr. Leal, whose list of responsibilities is almost endless.
But as Havana has been and is the fundamental reason for his work, it must be noted that his work has stood out by his leading the restoration of the Historic Center of Havana, declared a World Heritage Site in 1982 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
His broad endorsement as member of different cultural institutions, universities and other organizations from multiple countries in America, Asia and Europe, in particular; his outstanding work as a teacher and lecturer and his extensive knowledge of history and museology place him in a top position within historical sciences worldwide.
He has received over one hundred decorations and recognitions for his work at national and international level, evidence of the dedication and commitment of this eminent Cuban to the preservation and defense of the traditions of his country.
Among the most recent are the Grand Cross of the Royal and Distinguished Spanish Order of Carlos III, granted by the King of Spain, Felipe VI, as part of the celebrations for the 500th anniversary of Havana, and the Honorary Doctorate of the Pontifical Lateran University, in the extraterritoriality of St. John Lateran, in Rome, Italy.
We cannot conclude without mentioning something that especially characterizes Eusebio Leal: his oratory skills. With admirable mastery of the word, this simple Cuban despite his intelligence, his many responsibilities and his broad culture, has made great audiences vibrate with his words, always carefully listened to and well received.
In fact, one of his most recent interventions speaks a lot about these qualities, when in one of the celebrations for the half millennium of San Cristóbal de La Habana, in the renovated Castle of Atarés, he justified sitting and said: “Forgive me that I’ve had to remain a little seated, because I’m a little tired; but fatigue is not the result of what has not been able to defeat me, nor subdue me, it is that I have been walking for a long time, for many decades, many centuries.
“The true mystery is that I lived centuries ago in other bodies and I was here when the castle was built. Thank you very much”, he concluded.