Ferdinand VII

Ferdinand VII

Whose astonishing wisdom led to preserving a statue of the monstrous Ferdinand VII in Havana?


Although political revolutions are traditionally grim affairs for those who lose, the winners are faced with the embarrassments of victors who must make clear just who it was they had overthrown and to what end. The tone of the victors is usually solemn if not megalomaniacal as they celebrate with statues and other monuments a whole new world "upside down," according to the lyric of a song popular at the time of the United States' successful revolution to separate itself from the British Empire as personified by England's King George III, whose villainous twenty-eight acts against his American colonists were itemized in fury by Thomas Jefferson, author of that now sacred document: the Declaration of Independence. We have since learned that the wicked king was, much of the time, clinically insane, but that excuse, if known at the time, would have only further convinced his American subjects that the divine right of kings, whom their ancestors had worshiped and obeyed, was at an end and we were at last a free and sovereign republic.

Since the Cuban Revolution of 1959 is everywhere honored on the island of Cuba (as opposed to on a nearby peninsula irritably attached to the North American continent), one is startled to find on display in present-day Havana an elegant marble statue of King Ferdinand VII. Even successive governments of Spain have removed all statues and memorials to him from Spain. Question: Whose astonishing wit and wisdom was it to preserve in Spain's most beautiful colony the effigy of a man condemned by a Spanish historian as not "an evil man; he was a monster"? It is not possible to discern the intentions of the members of Cuba's First Congress in 1975, but we do know that when, on May 8, 1975, they installed a statue of the republic's founding father, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes y del Castillo, in Ferdinand's place, they chose to retain, in the same square, the statue of the hated king, its base duly inscribed Ferdinandus VII Rex Populo Habanensi Clarissimo Imagine Corde Perpetuo Adesse Voivit Anno MDCCCXXXIIII. I like to think that those who wanted to preserve the image of this worst of Spanish kings who had sold his kingdom out to Napoleon's French Empire at a delicate moment in Europe's history were being cautionary. In any case, this last of a line of absolute monarchs did not himself survive the new age of Bolívar and the South American wars of independence, which politically liberated the Hispanic-Portuguese states of the Western Hemisphere. Charles Merewether in his meditation "The Rise and Fall of Monuments" (Grand Street, Number 68) paraphrases French historian Louis Marin's The Power of the Image, where he suggests that "the power of a portrait of a king or emperor gains its authority from living beyond its subject. It assumes authority from that subject, as if it has overcome death. It is this uncanny power, this force that haunts those who live, that people try to destroy." Or, in the case of the evil king, preserve as a remembrance of an era that is over and done with, leaving behind a memento mori that suggests to the living the dangers inherent always for any nation that aligns itself like a lamb with a lion–to an expanding empire like that of Napoleon. In imitation of the preservers of King Ferdinand's betrayal of his subjects, I suggest that in the American republic cum empire to the north we establish a monument to King George III, listing, as Jefferson once did, his own numerous crimes against his subjects.

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