Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Two Legacies of José Martí

The BLAA library in La Candelaria has an exhibit about Cuban revolutionary and martyr José Martí, a man who deserves honor and admiration and who holds the historical honor of having been caricatured and worshipped by two diametrically opposed groups.
Martí was a Cuban, born in Havana in 1842, who dedicated his life to freeing the island from Spanish colonial tyranny. He failed miserably, and Cuba's independence soon after only saw Spain replaced by a nearer and more powerful imperial power, the United States. 

The exhibition, which is scheduled to continue until Feb. 22, unfortunately does not delve deeply into Martí's role in history and his legacy. However, it does provide glimpses of Martí's life and accomplishments. Probably few people who died so young and have confronted so much adversity and accomplished so much. Born in 1853, Martí's biographers say that he was horrified by the atrocities committed by imperial Spain, which was struggling to hold onto the last pieces of its empire: Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Phillippines. Those outrages included imprisoning, torturing and deporting Cuban nationalists. By the time Marti was a teenager, Cuba was also one of the last holdouts in the Americas of slavery, which had been abolished in the English and French colonies, as well as by the young nations such as Colombia which had freed themselves from Spanish rule. 

Martí's last letter, written to his son
before the invasion of Cuba. 
(I attribute Martí's values not because I have any reason to doubt them, but because of history's way of whitewashing these 'Great Men.' After all, has history remembered Thomas Jefferson's unprincipled attitude toward slavery or that Andrew Jackson was a slave trader? Or that both men committed near-genocide against American Indians?)
When he was only 16 Martí was imprisoned and tortured for letters he'd written criticizing friend for joining the Spanish Army. After two years in prison, he was deported to Spain, whose government hoped that living in the mother country would make him loyal to Madrid. Of course, it didn't dent his ideals. 

Martí spent the rest of his life in the United States, Mexico, Guatemala and Venezuela writing and organizing for the Cuban revolution. Despite health problems and harrasment by the Spanish government, Martí was incredibly productive, doing journalism, translating books, writing his own books (including a children's book) and even poetry. 

Altho Marti used the United States as a base for his revolutionary work, his attitude towards the U.S. was mixed. In 1879, upon arriving in New York, Martí wrote that he was "content to live in a nation where each person seems to be master of himself. One can breathe freely, since her liberty is the shield, the essence of life." But, not long after, Martí wrote that the U.S.'s vice was that "life has no greater object than amassing a fortune." Martí also harshly criticized U.S. ambitions to control all of the Americas, including Cuba, and quoted a U.S. politician as saying "This continent is ours, and sooner or later (the rest of the Americas) will have to buy what we have to sell." 

Finally, in 1895, Martí and a small group of revolutionaries landed on a Cuban beach and tried to spark a revolution. More talented as a writer than a guerrilla, Martí died in a futile attack. But the revolution fought on, altho the Spanish only gave up Cuba, as well as Puerto Rico and the Phillippines, after being defeated in war by the United States.

'José Martí's Anti-Imperialist Texts'
Always a hero, after the Cuban revolution, Cubans both on and off of the island made Martí a standard bearer and have used his name for propaganda. The truth is, of course, more complex. Martí harshly criticized the United States' materialism and lust for money, but I haven't read anything by him advocating socialism. He also clearly loved liberty and hated authoritarianism. So it's unimaginable that he would have supported the Castro dictatorship, which imprisons journalists and represses dissent. 

Martí's birthplace. 
Still, nobody hesitates to evoke his name. The U.S. government finances the anti-Castro Radio Martí in Miami, and the Cuban government awards a Jose Martí journalism award.
The beach where Martí and his companions
invaded Cuba disastrously in 1895.
After defeating Spain in the Spanish-American war, the U.S. proceeded to occupy Cuba militarily and then dominated the island's economy until the Castro brothers and Che carried out their revolution in 1959.
One can only wonder how Cuba's - and America's - history might have been different if Martí had survived and become an independent Cuba's first president.
On the other hand, as courageous and idealist as he was, Martí might just have been saved by his early death. After all, power corrupts. So who can tell whether, if Martí had achieved power in Cuba, he might have become a tyrant, too? 

The spot in Cuba where Martí was killed in 1895.

'The Girl from Guatemala,' who fell madly in love with Martí.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


Stuart Oswald said...

Another unbalanced piece. Focusing on US involvement rather than (briefly) mentioning the disgusting tyranny in Cuba today. For the petty criticism he made of the US he would be fighting socialism in Cuba today. It is the worst tyranny imaginable, and many times worse than that committed by Spain past.

Miguel said...

Cuba, 'the worst tyrrany imaginable.'

Stuart, I had thot that you knew something about history.


mauricio forero l said...

Excellent post Mike.
In his biography and his poetry you can see that his spirit and personality was not in any way or form in line with socialism or communism I don't think that he would ever approved what is happening in Cuba now. He dos not kill me as a writher, but this is just a matter of taste in literature and, to be honest, I believe that as a man of politics and revolution he was an amateur. Jose Marti was an intellectual that had a high sense of justice and, that loved his country very much.


Stuart Oswald said...

Cuba is not history, it is the present! Claiming I supposedly don't know history, is as easy as me making that claim upon yourself. Tyranny synonymous with despotism describes Cuba exactly in it's recent and present state. Che for example adored by many a airheads (particularly uneducated in Latin America and Europe) murdered Men, Woman and Boys through his own judge(ment), jury and executioner. It could in many ways been seen that Che (and his gang) was worse than Hitler himself. For a failure such as Che, someone who failed at everything he ever committed himself towards, from he (so called) studies to his delusional tyrannical efforts throughout Latin America and Africa, he was a failure. It's mad that he even got to a position to judge over peoples lives, lives that were worth many more than his own. Justice met with him in the end. Socialism is many times worse than the bad of Imperialism.

Stuart Oswald said...

It's mind boggling to speak of Thomas Jefferson in a negative way. The link you draw is somewhat unfounded or thin at that.

"All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent."

"A wise and frugal government which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government."

"If there be any among us who wish to dissolve the Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed, as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it."

"My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government."

"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure."

"No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms."

"I never consider a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

I took the liberty of refreshing some quotes from the big man himself (no particular order or subject). I guess you still poses US citizenship. Might be good to know what the founding fathers had in mind.

Miguel said...

Thanks for your comment Mauricio. I'm sure that Martí was above all sincere and passionate. I know that his writing had an influence, but I can't evaluate it. Seems a bit overly idealistic to me.


Miguel said...

Stuart, if you'll recall, the Nazis and Soviets murdered millions of people, invaded neighboring nations, among many other crimes. Cuba has violated many human rights, but nothing on the scale of many historical dictatorships. When you make wild statements, it only weakens your argument.

As for Jefferson. Yes, he was a very smart man who expressed high ideals. But he lived his life in conflict with many of them, particularly regarding human liberty and 'all men are created equal.' Many of the Founders owned slaves, but Washington and others at least freed them in their wills. Jefferson, in contrast, lived exorbinantly, squandered his fortune and died a bankrupt. As a result, his slaves were 'sold down the river.' How's that for character? Responsibility? I've always believed that what a person DOES says more about them than what they SAY.


Stuart Oswald said...

lol, thanks. But you thinking it weakens my argument only strengthens it. Cuba, 'the worst tyrrany imaginable.'. Is fact (to those subject to it), I can only imagen the feeling of all the individual innocent people plucked and murdered/executed by a pack of wild, greedy, envious, spiteful, fascist scum.. with no fear of human law or even God.

But we do agree that, "what a person DOES says more about them than what they SAY". Steeling and murdering is not a good trait BTW.

I'd imagen that you'll be giving up your US citzenship out of principal to all the slaves Jefferson subjected to tyranny? And along with it all the Latin Americans that are living on stolen land. We are after all, anti imperialists. ;)

Cuba, 'the worst tyrrany imaginable.'

Stuart Oswald said...

Sorry if I may have disturbed some people's imagination of it being some sort of blissful utopia that somehow stands defiant of the US.

Miguel said...

No, Stuart, I'm not thinking about dropping my U.S. citizenship because of Thomas Jefferson having been such an unprincipled jerk in his personal matters.

The U.S. has lots of problems, but lots of wonderful things as well, as do just about all countries.


Stuart Oswald said...

But some more than others. ;)

Miguel said...

very true. I've lived in Venezuela, for example.


John Valentine said...

Sometimes when you talk to much you only listen to yourself and believed everybody is wrong...“The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it.”
― Albert Einstein