Friday, July 10, 2009

Jose Marti

There is talk about placing a statute of Jose Marti somewhere around town. Sounds like a good idea to me. It occurred to me that I knew only a couple of basic facts about him, so I went looking for more information. The more I looked, the more I liked.

His full name was José Julián Martí Pérez. He was born in Havana Cuba on January 28, 1853. Martí's father was a sergeant in the Spanish Army who was transferred to Cuba in 1850. Marti is recognized by almost every Cuban, including Fidel and those who hate Fidel, both as a true Cuban national hero and an important figure in Latin American literature.
I was lucky enough to visit Cuba three years ago and saw his image and statue, it seemed, on every corner. A tour was not complete there without some mention of Marti, and of course Che. I would guess Che will not be getting a statue in Fernandina.
From our perspective today, we look at his photo, and see a timid, little, mousy guy obviously more at home reading a book than leading men into battle. And that is not far off the mark. But you have to admire his bravery and tenacity, even thought his was planning was more than a little inept.
Vi sting Cuba also impressed me just how poorly most people in Cuba were treated under Spanish rule and the dictators supported by the United States who followed. Most people were no better than slaves and treated as such.
In his short life, Marti was a poet, an essayist, a journalist, a revolutionary philosopher, a translator, a professor, a publisher, and a political theorist. Through his writings and political activity, he became a symbol for Cuba's bid for Independence against Spain in the 19th century, and is sometimes referred to as the "Apostle of Cuban Independence".

He also fought against the threat of United States expansionism into Cuba. From adolescence, he dedicated his life to the promotion of liberty, political Independence for Cuba and intellectual independence for all Spanish Americans.
On 21 October 1869, aged 16, he was arrested and incarcerated in the national jail, following an accusation of treason and bribery from the Spanish government More than four months later, Martí confessed to the charges and was condemned to six years in prison on the dreaded Isla de Pinos. Eventually, Martí fell ill; his legs were severely lacerated by the chains that bound him. The Spanish authorities decided to repatriate him to Spain. In Spain, Martí, who was 18 at the time, was allowed to continue his studies with the hopes that studying in Spain would renew his loyalty to Spanish rule in Cuba. It didn’t. If anything, he became more dedicated to freeing Cuba.
Three years later, prevented from returning to Cuba, Martí went instead to Mexico and Guatemala. During these travels, he taught and wrote, advocating continually for Cuba's independence. After a short time in New York, Martí travelled to Venezuela in 1881, where he provoked the wrath of Venezuela's dictator, Antonio Guzmán Blanco, and Martí was forced to leave for New York.
By 1895, Marti decided the time had come for action. He moved to Fernandina where he stayed at the Florida House for several months, and assembled a secret expedition. However, he was betrayed by an informant, and, as a result, his plot was partially thwarted. On January 12, 1895, the authorities seized the steamship Lagonda and two other suspicious ships, Amadis, and Baracoa at the Fernandina port in Florida, confiscating the weapons he had put aboard to to overthrow Spanish rule.
He then decided to shift base to Montecristi in Mexico, to join Máximo Gómez who had agreed to lead the expedition into Cuba. The expedition finally took landed in Cuba on February 24, 1895.
It was a military fiasco, and Marti was killed in battle against Spanish troops on May 19, 1895. Martí was alone and seeing a young courier ride by he said: "Joven, a la carga" meaning: "Young man, let's charge!" This was around midday, and he was, as always, dressed in a black jacket, riding a white horse, which made him an easy target for the Spanish. He was promptly shot off his horse and died, but he also instantly became a martyr to the cause of Cuban Independence.
The death of Marti was a blow to the aspirations of the Cuban rebels inside and outside of the island, but the fighting continued with alternating successes and failures until the entry of the United States into the war in 1898.
Liberty is the right of every man to be honest, to think and to speak without hypocrisy.
Jose Marti