Monday, January 26, 2015

The Blizzard of 1888 as Reported by José Martí

As I look out my window, what is forecast to be the greatest blizzard ever to hit the New York metropolitan area has just begun. When it is all over, the city may be covered with three feet of snow, which would surpass any previous accumulation by eight inches (itself a formidable amount). To anyone acquainted with José Martí's writings, or, perhaps I should say, to someone who lives his life in Martí's shadow — or to update the metaphor, with Martí as his wallpaper — the onset of such a snowstorm cannot but remind him of Martí's famous crónica about the Blizzard of 1888. Whatever may be our feelings of awe and anticipation now, more redolent of adventure than of tragedy, we cannot know the terror and despair which gripped Martí's New York when confronted with a natural catastrophe that it was both unprepared for and unable to prepare for even if it had been forewarned. 

The translation is by Juan de Onís and appears in his anthology The America of José Martí [1953], the first collection of Martí's prose writings in English translation. As a rule, Onís is an excellent translator and I prefer him to any other. I have, however, made some minor revisions in the original translation when I thought that Onis' rendering did not do full justice to Martí:

[Onis] It is amazing and frightening, as though a shroud should suddenly flower in blood, to see the red roofs of the houses reappear in this city of snow. The telegraph poles ruefully contemplate the destruction, their tangled, fallen wires like unkempt heads.

[Revision] It terrifies and amazes to see this city of snow receding and its red brick houses starting to reappear as blood stains upon the snow. The telegraph poles ruefully contemplate the destruction, their tangled, fallen wires like unkempt hair.

New York Under the Snow

[New York, March 15, 1888] The first oriole had already been spied hanging its nest from a cedar in Central Park; the bare poplars were putting forth their buds of spring; and the leaves of the chestnut were emerging, like chattering women poking their heads out of their hoods after a storm. Alerted by the chirping of the birds, the brooks were coming out from under their icy covering to see the sun’s return, and winter, defeated by the flowers, had fled away, covering its retreat with the month of winds. The first straw hats had made their appearance, and the streets of New York were gay with Easter attire, when, on opening its eyes after the snowstorm had spent its force, the city found itself silent, deserted, shrouded, buried under the snow. Dauntless Italians, braving the icy winds, load their street-cleaning carts with fine, glittering snow, which they empty into the river to the accompaniment of neighs, songs, jokes, and oaths. The elevated train, stranded in a two-day vigil beside the body of the engineer who set out to defy the blizzard, is running again, creaking and shivering, over the clogged rails that glitter and flash. Sleigh bells jingle; the news vendors cry their papers; snow-plows, drawn by stout horses, throw up banks of snow on either side of the street as they clear the path for carriages; through the breast-high snow, the city makes its way back to the trains, paralyzed on the white plains, to the rivers, now turned into frozen bridges, to the silent wharves.

The clash of the combatants echoes through the vault-like streets of the city. For two days the snow has had New York in its power, encircled, terrified, like a prize fighter knocked to the canvas by a sneak punch. But the moment the attack of the enemy slackened, as soon as the blizzard had spent its first fury, New York, like the victim of an outrage, goes about freeing itself from its shroud. Leagues of men move through the white mounds. The snow already runs in dirty rivers in the busiest streets under the onslaught of  its assailants' feet. With spades, with shovels, with their own chests and those of the horses, they push back the snow, which retreats to the rivers.

Man’s defeat was great, but so was his triumph. The city is still white; the bay remains white and frozen. There have been deaths, cruelties, kindness, fatigue, and bravery. Man has given a good account of himself in this disaster.

At no time in this century has New York experienced a storm like that of March 13. It had rained the preceding Sunday, and the writer working into the dawn, the newspaper vendor at the railroad station, the milkman on his round of the sleeping houses, could hear the whiplash of the wind that had descended on the city against the chimneys, against walls and roofs, as it vented its fury on slate and mortar, shattered windows, demolished porches, clutched and uprooted trees, and howled, as though ambushed, as it fled down the narrow streets. Electric wires, snapping under its impact, sputtered and died. Telegraph lines, which had withstood so many storms, were wrenched from their posts. And when the sun should have appeared, it could not be seen, for like a shrieking, panic-stricken army, with its broken squadrons, gun carriages and infantry, the snow swirled past the darkened windows, without interruption, day and night. Man refused to be vanquished. He came out to defy the storm.

But by this time the overpowered streetcar lay horseless beneath the storm; the elevated train, which paid in blood for its first attempt to brave the elements, let the steam escape from its helpless engine; the suburban train, halted en route by the tempest or stalled by the drifting snow, higher than the engines, struggled in vain to reach its destination. The streetcars attempted one trip, and the horses plunged and reared, defending themselves with their hoofs from the suffocating storm. The elevated train took on a load of passengers, and ground to a halt half-way through the trip, paralyzed by the snow; after six hours of waiting, the men and women climbed down by ladder from their wind-tossed prison. The wealthy, or those faced with an emergency, paid twenty-five or fifty dollars for carriages drawn by stout horses to carry them a short distance, step by step. The angry wind, heavy with snow, buffeted them, pounded them, hurled them to the ground.

It was impossible to see the sidewalks. Intersections could no longer be distinguished, and one street looked like the next. On 23rd Street, one of the busiest thoroughfares, a thoughtful merchant put a sign on a corner-post: “This is 23rd Street.” The snow was knee-deep, and the drifts, waist-high. The angry wind nipped at the hands of pedestrians, knifed through their clothing,froze their noses and ears, blinded them, hurled them backward into the slippery snow, its fury making it impossible for them to get to their feet, flung them hatless and groping for support against the walls, or left them to sleep, to sleep forever, under the snow. A shopkeeper, a man in the prime of life, was found buried today, with only a hand sticking from the snow to show where he lay. A messenger boy, as blue as his uniform, was dug out of a white, cool tomb, a fit resting place for his innocent soul, and lifted up in the compassionate arms of his comrades. Another, buried to the neck, sleeps with two red patches on his white cheeks, his eyes a filmy blue.

The old, the young, women, children, inch along Broadway and the avenues on their way to work. Some fall, and struggle to their feet. Some, exhausted, sink into a doorway, their only desire to struggle no more; others, generous souls, take them by the arm, encouraging them, shouting and singing. An old woman, who had made herself a kind of mask of her handkerchief with two slits for the eyes, leans against a wall and bursts into tears; the president of a neighboring bank, making his way on foot, carries her in his arms to a nearby pharmacy, which can be made out through the driving snow by its yellow and green lights. “I’m not going any further,” said one. “I don’t care if I lose my job.” “I’m going on,” says another. “I need my day’s pay.” The clerk takes the working girl by the arm; she helps her weary friend with an arm around his waist. At the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge, a new bank clerk pleads with the policeman to let him pass, although at that moment only death can cross the bridge. “I will lose the job it has taken me three years to find,” he supplicates. He starts across, and the wind reaches a terrible height, throws him to the ground with one gust, lifts him up again, snatches off his hat, rips open his coat, knocks him down at every step; he falls back, clutches at the railing, drags himself along. Notified by telegraph from Brooklyn, the police on the
New York side of the bridge pick him up, utterly spent.

But why all this effort, when hardly a store is open, when the whole city has surrendered, huddled like a mole in its burrow, when if they reach the factory or office they will find the iron doors locked? Only a fellow man’s pity, or the power of money, or the happy accident of living beside the only train which is running in one section of the city, valiantly inching along from hour to hour, can give comfort to so many faithful employees, so many courageous old men, so many heroic factory girls on this terrible day. From corner to corner they make their way, sheltering themselves in doorways, until one opens to the feeble knocking of their numbed hands, like sparrows tapping against the window panes. Suddenly the fury of the wind mounts; it hurls the group fleeing for shelter against the wall; the poor working women cling to one another in the middle of the street until the snarling, screeching wind puts them to flight again. Men and women fight their way uptown, struggling against the gale, clearing the snow from their eyes, shielding them with their hands to find their way through the storm. Hotels? The chairs have been rented out for beds, and the baths for rooms. Drinks? Not even the men can find anything to drink; the saloons have exhausted their stock; and the women, dragging their numb feet homeward, have only tears to drink.

After the first surprise of the dawn, people find ways to adjust their clothing so the fury of the tempest will not do them so much harm. There is an overturned wagon at every step; a window shade, hanging from its spring, flaps against the wall like the wing of a dying bird; an awning is torn to ribbons; a cornice dangles from its wall; an eave lies in the street. Walls, hallways, windows are all banked with snow. And the blizzard blows without respite, piling up drifts, scattering destruction, whistling and howling. And men and women keep walking to the snow to their armpits.

One has made a mask of silk from his umbrella, with two holes for the eyes, and another for the mouth, and thus, with his hands behind his back, he cuts his way through the wind. Others have tied stockings over their shoes, or bags of salt, or wrapping paper or strips of rubber fastened with twine. Still others protect themselves with leggings, with fur caps; one, half dead, is being carried, wrapped in his buffalo-hide overcoat. “Sir!” pleads the voice of a boy who cannot be seen for the snow, “get me out of here, I am dying” It is a messenger boy whom some heartless employer has sent out in this storm. There are many on horseback; one, who came out in a sled, is carried away with it at the first gust, and nearly loses his life. A determined old lady, who set out to buy a wreath of orange blossoms for her daughter's wedding, loses the wreath to the wind. Night fell over the arctic waste of New York, and terror took over.

The postman on his round fell face down, blinded and benumbed, protecting his leather bag with his body. Families trapped in roofless houses sought madly and in vain to find a way out through the snow-banked doors. When water hydrants lay buried under five feet of snow, a raging fire broke out, lighting up the snowy landscape like the Northern Lights, and swiftly burned three apartment houses to the ground. The fire wagons arrived! The firemen dug with their hands and found the hydrant. The walls and the snowy street were scarlet, and the sky was blue velvet. Although the water they sprayed against against the flames was hurled back in their faces in stinging pellets by the fury of the wind, although the tongues of crimson flame leaped higher than the cross on the church steeple, although the wind-tossed columns of smoke bearing golden sparks singed their beards, there, without giving an inch, the firemen fought the fire with the snow at their breasts, brought it under control, and vanquished it. And then, with their arms, they opened a path for the engine through the snow.

Without milk, without coal, without newspapers, without streetcars, without telephones, without telegraph, the city awoke this morning. What eagerness on the part of those living uptown to read the newspapers, which thanks to the intrepidity of the poor newsboys, finally came up from the downtown presses! There were four theaters open last night, but all the stores and offices are closed, and the elevated struggles in vain to carry to their places of work the unwitting crowds that gather at its stations.

The trains and their human cargo stand snowbound on the tracks. The city is cut off from the rest of the country and no news goes in or out. The rivers are ice and the courageous cross them on foot; then suddenly the ice  gives way, and sheets float aimlessly with men aboard them; a tug goes out to rescue the stranded, skirting the ice cake, posing it toward the bank, edging it to a nearby dock. They are saved. What a cheer goes up from both sides of the river! There are also cheers as the fireman passes, the policeman, the brave postman. What can have happened to the trains that never arrive? The railroad companies, with admirable dispatch, send out food and coal, hauled by their most powerful engines. What of those at sea? How many bodies lie buried under the snow?

Like a routed army that unexpectedly turns on its vanquisher, the snow had come in the night and covered the proud city with death.

We saw yesterday that these attacks from the unknown are worthwhile for utilitarian peoples whose virtues, nurtured by their labor, are capable of compensating, in these solemn hours, for the want of those virtues that are weakened by selfishness. How brave the children, how loyal the workers, how uncomplaining and noble the women, how generous the men! Everybody in the whole city speaks in a loud voice today, as if to reassure one another that they are not alone. Those who unfeelingly push and jostle one another  all the rest of the year, smile on each other today, tell of the dangers they escaped, exchange addresses, and walk along with new friends. The squares are mountains of snow, over which the icy lacework clinging like filigree to the branches of the trees glitters in the morning sun.

Houses of snow crown the rooftops, where the merry sparrows dig fragile nests. It terrifies and amazes to see this city of snow receding and its red brick houses starting to reappear as blood stains upon the snow. The telegraph poles ruefully contemplate the destruction, their tangled, fallen wires like unkempt hair. The city digs out, buries its dead, and with men, horses, and machines all working together, clears away the snow with streams of boiling water, with shovels, plows, and bonfires. But one is touched by a sense of great humility and a sudden rush of kindness, as though the dread hand had touched the shoulders of all men.

Published originally in La Nación (Argentina), April 27, 1888

Friday, January 23, 2015

Liberation Theology Almost Sinks the Catholic Church In Latin America

Remember Liberation Theology, that unnatural coupling of Catholicism and Marxism which was supposed to save the Church from becoming irrelevant or even extinct in Latin American? Well, they've just counted hands and the results are in: it is precisely in countries where Liberation Theology exerted the greatest influence from the 1960s to the 1990s that the percentage of Catholics has declined most sharply while evangelical Protestant denominations which never flirted with Marxism are on the ascendancy everywhere in Latin America.

According to the Pew Research Center, the countries where Catholics have experienced the largest declines are: Nicaragua, El Salvador, Brazil, and Uruguay, all down approximately 20 or more percentage points. The countries where Protestants have experienced the largest gains: Honduras (41 percent), Guatemala (41 percent), Nicaragua (40 percent), and El Salvador (36 percent). So that was the tangible effect of the Church's de facto support for Marxist insurgencies in Central America.

We may conclude, therefore, that the greatest calamity that ever befell Catholicism in Latin America was the fusion of  Christ's parables with Marx's dialectics, which did not in fact yield a "liberation" theology but an alienation theology.

Sorry, Pope Francis: Protestants Are Converting Catholics Across Latin America

Hialeah Leads Nation in Sign-Ups for Obamacare

Florida leads the nation in sign-ups for Obamacare, and Hialeah leads the state followed by Miami. In fact, of the ten zip codes with the highest number of people who have registered for coverage using the federal marketplace, Hialeah zip code "33012" ranks number one in the nation. Hialeah's other three zip codes are also represented in the Top-Ten. Miami zip codes account for three placements on that list; Fort Lauderdale for two; and Pompano Beach for one. All ten zip codes with the highest Obamacare enrollment nationwide are in South Florida.

The area with the highest concentration of Cuban exiles in the nation also has the most card-carrying beneficiaries of the Affordable Care Act. Well, clearly there is one Obama policy that Cuban-Americans overwhelmingly support, and it isn't the resumption of diplomatic relations with Communist Cuba or the lifting of the trade embargo.

Along with free satellite wi-fi, President Obama should offer to extend Obamacare to the people of Cuba as reparations for the infinite harm which was done to our country when the U.S. installed Fidel Castro in power 56 years ago (the first cause of our troubles, not the absence of an American ambassador or the embargo). Even the Obamacare bronze plan would be infinitely better than the island's basest metal plan, which once upon a time offered Cubans nothing but a doctor, sans everything else. But now that Cuba is exporting its doctors to the Third World for ready cash (we would call this slavery except for the fact that the slaves are only to happy to go), even doctors are scarce on the island and nothing about Cuba's "free and universal health care" is either free or universal. 

Since Obama believes the cooked-up polls which purport that a majority of Cuban-Americans support his recent initiatives on Cuba and there is no doubt that a supermajority does support the Affordable Care Act, the president should consider coming to Hialeah to sign the legal instruments that will restore diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Communist Cuba.

One Hialeah Zip Code Leads the Nation in Obamacare Enrollment

An Obstacle to Normalization: Human Rights in the United States

When asked whether human rights had been brought up during the 18 months of clandestine meetings between the U.S. and Communist Cuba, Roberta Jacobson, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs and head of the U.S. delegation currently in Havana, replied: "I do not necessarily think that we are talking about direct human rights conditionality in the restoration of diplomatic relations part. That is a legal process, if you will, or a diplomatic process, that will be fairly mechanical." Or in one word, no. Diplomatic recognition of the Castro regime is not conditioned on the recognition by the Castro regime of the human rights and civil liberties of the Cuban people. Nothing as incendiary as that will be allowed to damage the internal works of the well-oiled machine of American diplomacy. This is just a "mechanical" process which is best accomplished by letting the normalization juggernaut find the straightest line to its goal and plunge ahead. Sentimental quiddities must not be allowed to derail this historic moment; for time is of the essence if President Obama hopes to shake hands with Fidel's automaton in Havana. Great, then, must have been the shock of the U.S. delegation when their hosts introduced the subject of human rights at their meeting on Thursday. Yes, the Cuban delegates expressed their shock at human rights abuses in the United States and offered their esteemed expertise at creating a more just and equitable society. Faced with such provocation, Jacobson had no choice but to bring the juggernaut to a shaky stop. She claimed at a news conference that she had "pressed" the Cubans about human rights, but when they objected to the use of that word (which they interpreted as "pressure"), she was quick to clarify that she would never pressure the Cuban "government" to do anything, and we believe her. No doubt the juggernaut will be in full gear tomorrow. ¿Derechos humanos, para qué?

A Cuba también le importan los derechos humanos en EE.UU.

Juventud Rebelde

22 de Enero del 2015 18:18:21 CDT

Gustavo Machín, vicedirector general de Estados Unidos en el Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores de Cuba y quien funge como vocero en las conversaciones, afirmó que los representantes de los dos países han avanzado sobre varios temas de interés bilateral como las nuevas regulaciones a partir de las medidas anunciadas por el presidente Barack Obama. Entre los temas que refirió como abordados se encuentran las telecomunicaciones. También, dijo, se ha hablado de derechos humanos, democracia y operaciones internacionales, dijo.

«Mi delegación expresó sus preocupaciones sobre el ejercicio de los derechos humanos en Estados Unidos», sostuvo. Además, Cuba habló de la contribución que, a partir de su experiencia, puede hacer al mundo en materia de derechos humanos.

«Propusimos sostener en un futuro un diálogo respetuoso sobre bases recíprocas donde abordemos nuestras preocupaciones sobre derechos humanos», reveló el segundo jefe de la delegación cubana a las conversaciones oficiales con Estados Unidos. «Ha sido un diálogo constructivo», añadió Machín. 

Cuba Also Cares About Human Rights in the U.S. 

Juventud Rebelde

January 22, 2015 18:18:21 CDT

Gustavo Machín, vice director general of the U.S. desk at the Cuban Foreign Affairs Ministry, who also serves as spokesman for the ongoing talks, affirmed that representatives of the two countries had made progress on several areas of bilateral interest such as new regulations to implement the measures announced by President Barack Obama. Among the topics which he mentioned were discussed during this latest round of talks was telecommunications. Also mentioned, he said, were human rights, democracy, and international operations.

"My delegation expressed its concern about the human rights situation in the United States," he said. Moreover, Cuba spoke about the contribution which, on the basis of its own experiences, it can make to the world on the subject of human rights.

We proposed to hold a future dialogue, upon a mutually respectful and reciprocal basis, where we will voice our concerns about human rights," revealed the second chief of the Cuban delegation to the official negotiations with the United States. "It has been a constructive dialogue," added Machín.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Parsing Statements on Cuba in Obama's "State of the Union" Speech

In Cuba, we are ending a policy [not a policy but codified law, which the president intends to subvert and nullify by presidential fiat] – (applause) -- that was long past its expiration date [there was never an expiration date on the rupture of diplomatic relations or on the trade embargo primarily because there was never an expiration date on the regime; clearly, letting the policy expire will not remove the regime; the expiration of the regime, however, would long ago have removed the policy]. When what you’re doing doesn’t work for 50 years, it’s time to try something new [of course, the embargo has accomplished exactly what it was intended to do: not to overthrow the regime, but to deny it the financial resources that would allow it to fund its internal repression and external excursions on America's dime.] (Applause.) And our shift in Cuba policy [without consulting Congress and in contravention of U.S. law] has the potential to end a legacy of mistrust in our hemisphere [the mistrust was fully justified: to mistrust a liar certainly makes more sense than to trust him] and removes the phony excuse [if  the excuse is already phony, why does it have to be removed?] for restrictions in Cuba*** ["restrictions?" Is that all that the Castro regime has imposed on Cubans in 56 years of totalitarian rule? And what "restrictions" precisely did Obama succeed in easing or eliminating when he surrendered unconditionally to Raúl Castro? The only restrictions that Obama eliminated were those that prevented the U.S. government and its citizens from underwriting the rule of Castro and his henchmen], stands up for democratic values [betrays democratic values by preferring a stable Cuba (courtesy of Castro) to internal strife that might result in an unstable (i.e. free) Cuba]  and extends the hand of friendship to the Cuban people [not to the Cuban people, whose hands are tied, but to their henchmen, who get to decide what's "best" for the hapless Cuban people without any input from them, just as Obama himself has now done]. And this year, Congress should begin the work of ending the embargo [fat chance on that, even with the near-unanimous support of the Democrats and of a few Republican appeasers]. (Applause.)

As -- as his Holiness, Pope Francis, [who certainly deserves a hat tip from Obama for his shameless shilling for the Castro regime] has said, diplomacy is the work of small steps [actually, only one little step is necessary for unprincipled and opportunistic diplomacy, such as practiced by Obama, to "work": when one side is willing to give the other side everything it wants and asks nothing in return except to have its capitulation accepted]. These small steps have added up to new hope for the future in Cuba [if one understands "the future in Cuba" to be the Castro dynasty]. And after years in prison [because Obama refused to demand his release or take punitive steps against the regime], we are overjoyed that Alan Gross is back where he belongs [having been exchanged for three of the Five Cuban Spies (the other two had already been returned to Cuba)]. (Applause.) Welcome home, Alan [and you're getting $3.2 million from your fellow Americans to compensate you for your pain and suffering]. We’re glad you’re here [yes, but you should never have been there, in a Castro jail, a fact which most of Obama's listeners wouldn't know and should have been pointed out to them. Maybe they just assumed, from the context of Obama's speech, that Gross was the guy responsible for negotiating this new policy and bringing democracy to  Cuba].

*** "Our shift in Cuba policy [...] removes the phony excuse for restrictions in Cuba." What Obama actually means but does not dare to say for fear of offending his new Cuban friend is: "Our shift in Cuba policy [...] removes" the phony excuse of the embargo as the cause of Communist Cuba's economic failures. But, again, if the excuse is phony, why bother to disprove it? And if Cuba's economy does improve because of renewed U.S.-Cuban ties, then does that mean that the "phony excuse" wasn't phony, after all? Paradoxically, if the wreck of the Cuban economy was due to the embargo rather than to the regime's Marxist economic model, then Obama would be wrong to claim that this was a failed policy. On the contrary, the embargo would have been shown to be the most successful economic sanctions in U.S. history.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Now Martí Was a "Plagiarist"

I often ask myself — "What's the next slander that will be directed at Martí?"

Once upon a time, his hagiographers, with all the best intentions in the world, encumbered Martí with enough praise to break the reputation of any other man; for Christ Himself, to whom Martí was often compared, would have strained to bear the weight of so many perfections. Still, that is Christ's job; it is not Martí's.

As might have been expected all along, the hagiographers have now been challenged by the detractors, whose intentions are decidedly not good, though they claim that by presenting Martí "warts and all," they are doing a service to his memory by making it possible for mortals to relate to him as what he was — a man, not a bundle of perfections, but, rather, a bundle of imperfections.

Between the hagiographers and the detractors, I will cast my lot with the hagiographers; they may exaggerate Martí's virtues and accomplishments, but they do not invent them; there is always a foundation and usually a firm foundation on which to build their panegyrics. It is otherwise with his detractors. They are the real fabulists. Whether claiming that Martí sired an illegitimate daughter while living under the roof of her legal father, or alleging on the basis of a misinterpreted poem that he was gay or at least homoerotic (while, also, paradoxically, homophobic),  or asserting, in the absence of all evidence, that Martí was a Marxist, or a racist, or an elitist, Martí's detractors must rely on convoluted thinking and a profound ignorance of his life and writings to fabricate these libels, which because they can be easily disproved in every case do not so much alter his biography as distort his public image.

The latest of these misrepresentations is found in Pablo L. Calvi's The Parrot and the Cannon: Journalism, Literature and Politics in the Formation of Latin American Identities. I read this doctoral dissertation presented at Columbia University in 2011 with interest and even admiration until I came to the chapter on José Martí. Professor Calvi (who now teaches at Ithaca College) did not have to allege that Martí was a "plagiarist" to "illustrate the difference between the notions of factuality, reality and journalistic truth as conceived in Latin America and the United States, while describing the origins of Latin American militant journalism as a social-historical." But it was useful, I suppose, to expose at least one (actually, one) Latin American "plagiarist" to bolster the supposed superiority of U.S. journalism over Latin American journalism, especially when the alleged "plagiarist" happens to be the most famous and influential journalist in Latin America history.

Since Calvi's thesis concerned truth in journalism as practiced in the U.S. and Latin America, plagiarism was not even germane; a plagiarist may, after all, tell the truth even if he does so in another's words. He is personally and professionally dishonest but not necessarily a purveyor of factual untruths. In fact, a plagiarist may tell the truth in borrowed words when an original writer does not in his own words; and a plagiarist may also be right when an original writer is not. In writing his thesis, Calvi should have been more concerned with journalistic frauds (such as Walter Duranty and Herbert Matthews; Miguel Quevedo and Gabriel García Márquez)) than with apocryphal plagiarists. Of course, it would have been another matter if Calvi had been writing about journalistic ethics rather than journalistic truth.

Here is how doctoral candidate (now Professor) Pablo L. Calvi determined that Martí was a "plagiarist" based on the "proof" presented forty years ago by Professor Kessel Schwartz:

Martí was not strictly a reporter but rather a foreign correspondent. In that vein, and contrary to the trend of journalist-witness that had started in American journalism during the Civil War, the Cuban was rarely a direct witness of the events he wrote about (González 1993, 91; Tucher 2006, 145). With a few notable exceptions, Martí’s chronicles from New York were summaries of weekly events gathered from local newspapers, magazines and other news sources. It is therefore relevant to note that, as Kessel Schwartz has documented following Martí’s coverage of the assassination of President James Garfield, in his compositions “Martí relied heavily on and rephrased, paraphrased, and plagiarized from his favorite newspaper, the New York Herald” (Schwartz 1973, 335-342). A paragraph from the Herald coverage of Garfield’s assassination quoted by Schwartz stands out as the proof of this mechanism. By an unknown Herald’s writer it reads:

No verdict of yours can recall him. He sleeps the sleep that knows no waking on the banks of Lake Erie whose limpid waters wash the boundaries of his native state, overlooking the city he loved so well, and beneath the sod of that State whose people had crowned his life with the highest honors. It is too late to call that husband back to the bereaved wife and fatherless children. For that waiting little mother whose face will never fade from the nation’s memory there will be no relief in this world. The fatal deed is done, and its horrors and griefs must remain.

Without attribution, Martí translated for his article in La Nación as follows:

Ningún veredicto vuestro, decía a los jurados, puede ya llamarlo: duerme el ilustre Garfield el sueño que no conoce despertar, sobre la pacífica ribera del lago Erie, cuyas límpidas aguas bañan los límites de su nativo Estado; duerme en aquella ciudad que él amó tanto, y bajo el suelo del Estado aquel que coronó su vida con los más altos honores. Es demasiado tarde para volver aquel esposo a la doliente esposa, a los desheredados hijos: que en cuanto aquella vigilante madrecita, cuyo rostro no se borrará jamás de la memoria de la Nación, no hay ya en la tierra alivio para ella. Cierto es el fatal caso, y vivos quedan para siempre sus horrores y penas.

Schwartz and Calvi are very poor readers of Spanish, or else they would have known immediately that both the Herald writer and Martí were quoting the District Attorney's summation to the jury at Garfield's trial. This obvious conclusion does not require any deductive thinking or research: Martí states clearly his source within the quotation itself, and if he does not footnote it, it is only because this is a newspaper account, not an academic paper. Martí called attention to the quotation with "decía a los jurados," or "he told the jury." Who was addressing the jury? Clearly, the District Attorney, for it is inconceivable from the content that the defense counsel would so have prejudiced the jury against his own client. Although nothing could be more apparent to any competent reader of Spanish, I still took the time to google the quotation and found its source immediately. It appeared in the Court Transcript of Guiteau's trial and was, indeed, spoken by District Attorney Mr. George B. Corkhill.

Pedro Calvi said...

Estimado Manuel, 

 Hay muchísimas instancias en las que Martí traduce literalmente al Herald en su cobertura del juicio a Guiteau. 

 La primera de estas referencias es la que toma del diario del 15 de noviembre: “Guiteau entered. His face evidenced fear. His eyes gleamed and danced as if he were inspired by dread of some danger. He threw a quick but timid glance at the crowd and then sat with head downward,” escribe el reportero del Herald. Y Martí traduce literalmente: “Va lleno de espanto. Sus ojos giran de prisa como los de quien busca un peligro que teme. Con mirada rápida y humilde, como para no excitar ira, ve al público. Y se sienta con la cabeza baja.” 

 Martí también toma sin cambios las descripciones de los miembros del jurado que el periodista del Herald envía en su despacho del 17 de noviembre: Al hablar de William Browner, por ejemplo, el reportero señala que “[he] believes in different phases of insanity, and though not a church member, he believes in God and a future state of rewards and punishments.” Martí lo sigue así: “William Brawner [sic] cree que existen diversos grados de demencia y que aunque no es persona devote, cree en Dios y en una vida futura de penas y castigos.” 

 Martí también toma sin modificar la descripción del ataque a Guiteau de la edición del 20 de noviembre del Herald que dice: “The ball penetrated the side of the van, grazing the top of his left arm. Guiteau’s coat and shirt sleeve were torn by the bullet.” Martí traduce: “De pronto una bala rompe la pared de hierro del carro… La bala tibia ya, rompió su levita e hizo una contusión en uno de sus brazos.” 

 Se puede seguir enumerando ejemplos de este mecanismo hasta agotar la cobertura completa del Herald y la de Martí, Manuel. Claro que hay variaciones, porque el Cubano está traduciendo del Inglés al Castellano. Y aunque a veces embellece la prosa y agrega detalles imaginarios, en muchos de estos pasajes la traducción se ciñe al original sin escena tras escena. 

Además, resulta bastante improbable que Martí haya tenido acceso directo a las transcripciones de los testimonios del juicio, por lo que seguramente también éstas las obtenía del Herald. Esto sería muy fácil de probar, simplemente triangulando las transcripciones oficiales, lo que el Herald reprodujo y lo que Martí tradujo. 

 Mi trabajo del 2011 no intenta menospreciar la calidad literario-poética de Martí, que es uno de los escritores que más admiro. Lo que intento rastrear en mi tesis es una tradición de periodismo que no se basa en la observación directa del evento y que en América del Sur llamamos crónica. 

Te recomiendo que releas el trabajo que escribí sin ofenderte de antemano, si es que de verdad te interesa saber cómo trabajaba Martí. Y mucho más te recomiendo que leas el paper de Schwartz que es inobjetable. Y en cuanto a las defensas de Martí, dejalo que se defiende bien solito. 

 Un cordial saludo.


Dear Pablo:

First, I must commend the alacrity with which you answered me. Google is really a marvel. I google my own name every day to see what others are saying about me, too.

Do not think that your allegation of "plagiarism" on Martí's part surprised much less shocked me. Kessel Schwartz's accusation didn't surprise or shock me in 1973, either. In fact, Professor Schwartz was not the first to document that Martí had relied heavily on his sources. That distinction belongs to Marcia Yoskowitz, whose "El arte de síntesis e interpretación: un estudio de 'El Terremoto de Charleston' de José Martí" was published in Cuadernos Americanos, XXVII, 6, (Nov.-Dec. 1968). Yoskowitz, however, never used the word "plagiarism" in her article, though pointing out even more commonplaces than Schwartz did. In her introduction she writes: "La crónica de José Martí, titulada 'El Terremoto de Charleston", es una síntesis bellamente transformada e interpretada del reportaje periodístico neoyorquino sobre el desastre que tuvo lugar en Charleston, South Carolina, durante la primera semana de septiembre de 1886". After having compared, side by side, similarities between Martí's crónica  and articles published in The New York Tribune, The New York Sun and The New York World, Yoskowitz concludes: "En esta crónica Martí ha eliminado la monotonía de los artículos periodísticos y ha dado a su síntesis de los hechos otras funciones además de la de resumir y describir lo que había ocurrido. Aunque a veces se parezcan bastante los artículos y la crónica, sólo la crónica de Martí revela un propósito artístico y filosófico. Impregnado de los ingredientes estilísticos salientes de Martí, 'El Terremoto de Charleston' es una de las crónicas que les presta a las 'Escenas Norteamericanas' la belleza y profundidad propias de la obra de José Martí".

Kessel Schwartz, the first to level the charge of "plagiarism" at Martí, was a professor at Miami University when the first wave of Cuban exiles arrived in Florida. Among them, of course, were the leading Cuban academics and intellectuals of the Republican era. Kessel, an Hispanicist of some note in this country, suddenly found himself surrounded by an army of experts (or "rivals") who knew profoundly what he only knew superficially and as a dilettante. Their "invasion" and eventual conquest of his domain could not go unchallenged: at Miami University he was literally on the front line of this attack and naturally felt more besieged and paranoid than others in his position elsewhere. That was the genesis of his article "José Martí. The New York Herald and President Garfield's Assassin," published in Hispania 56 (1973), where he first alleged that Martí was guilty of "plagiarism." Of course, Martí was only the instrument; it was really those exiled academics that were his real target. By claiming that Martí was a "plagiarist" and hence a fraud who had made his reputation by pilfering lines from anonymous New York newspaper reporters,  Kessel believed that not only would he prove that he knew more than the Cubans did about the seminal figure in their history and culture but also wound them in their heart's core as Cubans. It was a great disappointment to him that his article went unanswered by any Cuban academic, who really regarded it as beneath contempt or even notice. This reaction (or, rather, non-reaction) infuriated Schwartz. He bode his time, and ten years later rehashed the same accusation in "A Source for Three Martí Letters — The Art of Translation and Journalistic Creation," published in Revista de Estudios Hispánicos XVIII (1984). Again, the same predictable reaction: Schwarz's canard was once more ignored on both sides of the Florida Straits. That he was a crackpot who was best ignored is practically the only thing that anti-Castro martianos and pro-Castro martianos (an oxymoron) have ever agreed upon.

If Professor Schwartz were still alive today, he would be in his mid-nineties. I sincerely hope that he is if only so that he can have the satisfaction of knowing that he finally managed to entrap a disciple and that his canard will live on after him.

Everyone knows because Martí never concealed it that he gleaned his news from the New York dailies. You are right when you say that except on rare occasions Martí was not a reporter; nor did he pretend to be one; nor did his editors in Mexico or Argentina regard him as one. Martí was what we would call today an Op-Ed writer. He was given a more extensive canvas than Op-Ed writers are today so that he could also provide background information for his readers, who because they did not live in the United States were unacquainted with current events here and required some precis of them in order to understand Martí's commentary. Perhaps he should have saved himself some trouble and simply quoted articles from the New York papers verbatim, something which he rarely did. Instead, he synthesized reports from numerous sources, analyzed their reliability and objectivity, removed the racism and jingoism with which they were often tinged, and presented the facts to his readers in his own inimitable style, which did not need to be "embellished" with tropes from forgotten hack writers. Of course, there were many commonplaces in Martí's summary of the news and the English-language newspapers' of his day. There are no less striking similarities between, say, reports in The Sun and reports in The Tribune on the same story. How could anybody expect it to be otherwise?

It is instructive that the instance of "plagiarism" which you chose to highlight in your dissertation, and which, obviously, was the most egregious example you could find, actually turned out to be a quotation from the court transcript of remarks made by the prosecutor at Guiteau's trial. And still you will not admit that this was not an instance of plagiarism, but counter that Martí surely got the quotation from The New York Herald and not the original court transcript! What does that matter? What does that prove? Does the fact that you yourself got the quotation from Schwartz's article show that you "plagiarized" it, too? I have no doubt that most if not all of the commonplaces cited by Schwartz have their origin in the court transcript, which, incidentally, was not consulted by Schwartz. The New York Herald — to use another example which you provide of Martí's "plagiarism" —  described juror William Browner as he described himself under cross-examination before he was seated on the jury, and so, of course, did Martí. Did you expect the American reporter or Martí to interview the juror during the course of the trial on his opinion of insanity or his religious beliefs? The only recourse which both had was to quote from Browner's testimony. That's OK when the American reporter does it, but somehow "plagiarism" when Martí follows suit?

 By accusing Martí of being a "plagiarist," you simply wanted to create an effect; perhaps your intentions were not malicious, as in the case of Schwartz; but you definitely wanted to reduce Martí a few pegs, which is the height of presumption and self-delusion and can only revert to your discredit.

Wishing you the best, and hoping that you will be able to recognize it when you see it.


Sunday, January 18, 2015

What The New York Times Said About José Martí When He Died

[As we await the publication of Fidel Castro's obituary in The New York Times, already written by Anthony De Palma, it is well to remember what The Times had to say on the occasion of José Martí's death in 1895. By way of contrast, we reproduce also Charles A. Dana's tribute in The New York Sun].

Published in The New-York Times, June 5, 1895

The news of the death of José Martí, the so-called president of the Cuban Republic,  has caused a real sensation. Martí was the soul of the revolution. He had initiated and prepared it, in spite of the little aid that he could find in Cuba every time he had attempted to create a revolutionary movement. Naturally, his death gives hope that the war will soon be ended. Martí was not a fearful rebel, nor was he one of the exceptional men who may overturn a country by force of talent. A commonplace poet and writer, a prolix orator of diffuse style, he had written and talked so much that he had obtained a reputation among the Separatists. These, lacking a chief having any prestige at all, gave him their money.

It would be unjust to deny that he had remarkable tenacity, activity, and perseverance. Perhaps he was also a man of conviction, as his friends assure. But he must be severely judged. To put into turbulence a country which asked nothing more than peace and work, to expose it to a ferocious race, thinking always of revenge against the whites, to light the fires of civil war, pillage under the pretext of "Cuba libre," and put obstacles in the way of reforms which had been demanded for years, are not acts that claim indulgence.

However, there are men more guilty than he was, and more deserving of public censure. They were paid by him or they expected to gain something if he could be victorious. To sustain the revolution he had to recourse to all sorts of means; lies, false news, calumny. The end of Martí is the beginning of the end... The war will be hereafter conducted by negroes only, and bandits.


Editorial published in The New York Sun, May 23 1895

We learn with poignant sorrow of the death in battle of José Martí, the well known leader of Cuban revolutionists. We knew him long and well, and esteemed him profoundly. For a protracted period, beginning twenty odd years ago, he was employed as a contributor of The Sun, writing of subjects and questions of the fine arts. In these things his learning was solid and extensive, and his ideas and conclusions were original and brilliant. He was a man of genius, of imagination, of hope, and of courage, one of those descendants of the Spanish race whose American birth and instincts seemed to have added to the revolutionary tincture which all modern Spanish inherit. His heart was warm and affectionate, his opinions ardent and aspiring, and he died as such a man might wish to die, battling for liberty and democracy. Of such heroes there are not too many in the world, and his warlike grave testifies that, even in positive and material age, there are spirits that can give all for their principles without thinking of any selfish return for themselves.

Honor to the memory of José Martí, and peace to his manly and generous soul!

Friday, January 16, 2015

"News of Fidel's Death Spreads Like Bushfire"

No, not that Fidel, alas. But Barack Obama's cousin, Fidel Castro Odinga, son of former Kenyan prime minister Raila Odinga, is dead at age 41. There are persistent rumors in Kenya that he was the victim of foul play whether by human agency or supernatural means. His father has endorsed this suspicion and sent tissue samples to Germany for analysis (we suppose that his entrails were entrusted to some competent local expert for purposes of divination). Hopefully, the malicious speculations of rival politicians will be proved wrong (according to his critics, Fidel Odinga died of a drug overdose after a lifetime of addiction).

It is likely Fidel Castro Odinga's death on January 4th gave rise to rumors of the demise of his namesake and ideological godson.

Back in 2008, the Review of Cuban-American Blogs was the first to reveal that Barack Obama had a cousin named Fidel Castro Odinga (Meet Fidel Odinga). It is fitting, therefore, that we should be the first in the Cuban blogosphere to report his death. To The Star of Africa (whose delicious English proves that the mother tongue is more alive in the hinterlands than in London or New York), we owe the news of Odinga's passing and the title of this post, which illustrates that even a cliché can sound new when invested with local color.

We urge you to read and ponder Khainga O'okwemba touching tribute to his boyhood idol, Ode to Fidel Castro Odinga," which begins:

The nude body in that coffin belongs to my brother,
Although he is clothed in a three-piece suit
That will never cover the naked truth
That he is a victim of murder.

What's in a name? Apparently, everything. Fidel Castro Odinga's notoriety in Kenya was not due only to his being the son of Raila Odinga or the grandson of Oginga Odinga, founder of Kenya's Communist Party. It was, rather, his adoptive bloodline that was used to prove his worth and authenticity, much as Jesus' descent from David through his adopted father Joseph is used to prove that He fulfills the Bible prophecy that the Messiah must spring from the loins of David. Fidel Castro Odinga's pedigree was also traced to and validated by an indirect ancestor: "When Fidel's name popped out in public, he immediately became famous and attracted admiration, because of the political spirit the revolutionary Cuban leader Fidel Castro, that he was named after, evoked." One would think that the "political spirit" evoked by Fidel Castro would hardly be a recommendation, but let us not judge the Dark Continent too harshly when the Enlightened West is no better informed about the last white colonizer of Africa, successor to King Leopold and Cecil Rhodes.

Fidel Castro Odinga leaves a 2 year-old son as his only heir. We have been unable to discover if he's named after his late father. We'll know, one day, if "Fidel Castro Odinga, Jr." comes to prominence.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Cuba Is Not On the 2015 World Watch List of Countries Where Christians Are Most Persecuted

Nope. Communist Cuba is not on this list. Its political twin North Korea tops the list, and present are many of the usual suspects from the Islamic world. There are two Latin American countries represented on the list. I won't have you guess because these two countries are absolutely the last that you or anyone would guess: Colombia (35th) and Mexico (38th). Colombia ranks just above Algeria and below Tunisia. Mexico ranks above Malaysia and below Oman. China (29th) is almost in their league. And far more tolerant of Christians than Colombia and Mexico are: Mali; Turkey; Kazakhstan; Bangladesh; Sri Lanka; Tajikistan; Azerbaijan; Indonesia; Mauritania; United Arab Emirates; and Kuwait. Yes, all these Muslim countries are more tolerant of Christianity than Colombia and Mexico with their super majorities of  Christians!

But this is a Cuban blog, and what concerns us most is that the only country in Latin America that actively persecutes Christians is not listed among the Top-Fifty Worst Offenders, and if that were not bad enough Cuba's exclusion from the Open Doors Watch List implies that whatever religious persecution may exist there does not exceed or even approach that which Colombia and Mexico are supposedly guilty of, which is tantamount to saying that there is no persecution of Christians qua Christians in Cuba.

2015 Open Doors World Watch List Ranking of 50 Countries Where Persecution of Christians for Religious Reasons Is Most Severe