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José Marti, Cuban National Hero – a brief look

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When we identify ourselves today, we do so primarily as members of the Commonwealth Caribbean, and specifically as English speaking people, despite the presence in the grouping of Suriname and Haiti. Haiti, we should never forget for the inspiration it gave to the struggle against slavery. In fact in our struggles against colonialism, we can never really divorce ourselves from what was going on in the broader Caribbean.{{more}} I say all of this to highlight one of the really inspirational figures of the 19th Century, the Cuban, José Marti. Cuba this year has been celebrating the 159th anniversary of his birth, he, having been born on January 28, 1853. Marti is a national hero and one who was the inspiration for the struggles of the Cuban people after his death on May 19, 1895. The Castro Revolution embraced him as a source of inspiration for them.

Although born in Cuba, Marti lived and worked in the United States of America, and visited the West Indies and most of the countries of Central America. Dr Eric Williams, historian and outstanding Caribbean leader, saw Marti as a ray of light in what he called “the colonial darkness of the nineteenth century.” Williams writes: “That Cuba should have produced such a philosopher- statesman as Marti, with the support of the Negro general Antonio Maceo, augured well for the future of the Caribbean. Marti constitutes with Washington, Jefferson and Bolivar the great quadrumvirate of the history of the Western Hemisphere, and ranks with Las Casas among the greatest gifts of Spanish civilisation to the Caribbean and the world.”

It is interesting that Williams ranks him with American figures such as Washington and Jefferson because like the Latin American Wars of Independence, Marti was inspired by the American War of Independence. He lived for a number of years in New York, and at one time served as Consul for Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentina. While in New York, he wrote for a number of newspapers and actually founded some of them which were circulated throughout Latin America. In New York, his mission was in the service of Cuban Independence, and he hoped to create a consciousness among Cubans there toward that end. He saw not only the positives in America but also its faults, and resented American expansionism especially with Cuba as one of its targets.

Writing to one of the American newspapers, the New York Post, on March 21, 1889, he expressed the position of Cuban workers there, “They admire this nation, the greatest that freedom has ever established; but they do not trust the disastrous elements that, like worms in the blood, have begun their work of destruction in this marvelous Republic. They have made the heroes of this country their own heroes … but they cannot honorably believe that the excessive individualism, the adoration of wealth and the prolonged jubilation over a terrible victory are preparing the United States to become the nation that typifies freedom…”

His political struggles began very early. At the age of 16 he was arrested and imprisoned for his views against Spanish colonialism and was eventually expatriated to Spain. He graduated later with a law degree from a Spanish University but spent most of his time as a journalist, poet and orator. He can best be described as an Intellectual/Ideologue, poet, journalist and orator. Everything he did was in the service of Cuban Independence. He was no arm chair intellectual, for he was of the view that freedom cannot be handed to an individual or nation. They had to get it for themselves. He founded the Cuban Revolutionary Party in 1892 and on April 1, 1895 set sail for Cuba from the Dominican Republic with other members of the Party to participate in the struggle against Spain. They joined the resistance in Cuba but Marti died shortly after on May 17th when he was shot during an encounter with Spanish soldiers.

His struggle went much further than Independence for his country for he was seeking a new society where race would not matter, for to him “A Cuban is more than mulatto, black or white.” Eric Williams quotes him as suggesting that man had no special rights because he belonged to a particular race, “It is sufficient to say ‘man’ to comprehend therein all rights…Man is more than white, more than mulatto, more than negro… (The Negro), is neither inferior or superior to any man.” Perhaps we can best sum up the man and his mission in the words of Julia E. Sweig: “He eventually settled in New York, where he lived from 1881- 1895. Essayist, poet, political thinker, organiser…Marti moved in a wide variety of social circles, alternately organizing support for independence causes and pursuing his art. His writings- both creative and nonfiction-played a fundamental role in creating a broader consciousness on and off the island for the cause of Cuban independence and the humanistic values that guided the struggle.”

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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