Havana, here he comes.
Lawrence crop artist Stan Herd got the green light Wednesday from the U.S. Treasury Department, which earlier had rejected his application to build a monumental tribute to Cuban patriot and poet Josartear the mouth of Havana's harbor.
The approval ends almost 18 months of paperwork and wrangling to secure the necessary federal OK for Herd to travel and work on the project in Cuba, which for decades has been subject to U.S. trade and travel restrictions.
"It's been an arduous journey," Herd said of his dealings with Treasury, "but ... it's pretty amazing it happened this soon after Pat Roberts got on the line."
Herd credits the Kansas Republican senator for helping him get the Treasury nod. Roberts has been a champion for more relaxed trade with Cuba, a stance that also pleases Kansas farm groups eager to sell crops there.
After Herd's initial application was rejected, Roberts sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill. The message included a handwritten note asking for O'Neill's assistance, according to Bob Augelli, who is handling logistics and organization for Herd's project.
"The senator is very pleased Stan Herd can visit Cuba," said Sarah Ross, a spokeswoman for Roberts. "After he wrote the letter, once the situation was defined, there was no problem with a cultural exchange."
News reports say President Bush has been filling his foreign policy ranks with hard-liners on Cuba, but Ross said she didn't know if that created extra obstacles for Herd.
Ross said Roberts keeps a Herd painting in his Washington, D.C. office.
"The last time I saw Sen. Roberts he gave me a high-five and a hug," Herd said.
Herd plans to build a massive earthen and landscape likeness of Martn a few acres between two of Havana's most important landmarks, El Morro fortress and a giant statue of Christ that overlooks the bay. It will be clearly visible from the Malecon, Havana's famous seaside promenade and from many other Havana vantage points.
"It will be an engineering feat," Herd said.
"It'll be like their Statue of Liberty," Augelli said. "And who will mess with MartIt will be there forever."
Martan early Cuban nationalist and literary man, is revered by Cubans of all political stripes, just as Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. pay homage equally to George Washington.
The Martribute is in early design stages. But Herd said it would be one of his most important works, not just in scope and effort but in what it hopes to accomplish.
He said a main goal of the project was to build a bridge of friendship between Cubans and Americans. He said Treasury officials asked him to emphasize the project's educational components when he resubmitted his application. That component includes Herd working with and lecturing Cuban art students. Augelli said as on offshoot of the art project, the pair also hopes to involve Kansas University and Haskell Indian Nations University in various exchange programs with Cuba.
"The process is more important than the final piece," Herd said.
While President Bill Clinton was still in office, Herd and Augelli received federal approval for an earlier smaller-scale work in a Havana park. That project, completed more than a year ago, was called Rosa Blanca for a famous Martoem. It depicted a white rose. Cubans celebrated that work's anniversary last month.
Famous in Cuba
Herd's work has been the subject of Cuban TV shows and featured prominently in national Cuban newspapers. It also has exacted opposition from expatriate Cuban groups in Miami.
"Stan's somewhat of a folk hero because the Cubans in their articles were commenting on the capriciousness of the (Treasury) licensing system," Augelli said.
Treasury recently rejected a request from former U.S. Agriculture Secretary and Kansas Congressman Dan Glickman to visit Cuba.
Herd said the Martribute, to be called "Marte la Bahia," will be significantly larger and much grander in execution than the White Rose.
"The first piece was on flat ground, about a quarter of an acre," Herd said. "This one will be on 2 to 4 acres or more on a hillside."
It must be able to withstand tropical weather, including hurricanes.
Behemoth of a project
Herd and Augelli said they anticipate dozens of trips to Cuba in preparation. They've seen the work site from across the bay, but have never closely examined it. Until they do, they said, they won't be able to formulate estimates for the project's cost. It will be underwritten by private donors.
Augelli said armed with the Treasury license, the pair can now begin raising funds for the project. He estimated they need to raise $10,000 for the project's first phase, which will include assessing the site. The pair said their work in Cuba could not have succeeded to the extent it has without the assistance there of Cuban ministry official Carolina Sanchez and her colleagues in the office that coordinates that country's cultural exchanges with the U.S.
Staff writer Joel Mathis contributed to this report.