Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Guest Post: "What My Millennial Students Can Learn from José Martí"

by Alfred J. López
Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Purdue University
For Cubans and Cuban-Americans, this past summer has been, shall we say, eventful. (Whether you see these events as cause for celebration, condemnation, or deep ambivalence is another matter.) For me, however, the highlight of Summer 2015 was the six weeks I spent in Miami, teaching a course on José Martí at Florida International University. Here at last was the opportunity to bring Martí to the readership I'd envisioned for my recent Marti biography: Third-generation English-dominant Cuban-Americans and other Latina/os and Anglophone Caribbeans, who might have heard of Martí from relatives and word-of-mouth--or politicians--but had not read him.

I expected that the course's focus on Martí's writings on the U.S. and evolving relationship with his adopted country in the late 19th century, and the prominence of U.S.-Cuba relations in the news, would capture my students' interest. But I was more than surprised at the level of engagement and enthusiasm they brought to class from the very first day.

Partly due to the brevity of that summer course, and all the material we covered--Martí's love of North American writers such as Emerson, Whitman, and Helen Hunt Jackson (whose novel Ramona he translated into Spanish), his brilliant Gilded Age journalism, his complex relation with U.S. politics and culture--we never talked about Martí's relationship to them, 20-something men and women in the 21st century. This blog post is my way of trying to compensate for that absence, to share what I never got around to saying in the classroom.

My FIU students--and you millennials reading this--may know what makes Martí intellectually important, academically relevant, and so on. But what you maybe don't quite grasp--what I didn't have time or maybe the skill to give my summer students--is what José Julian Martí y Pérez, a 19th-century writer and revolutionary, might mean to you in 2015. You know, better than your professors do, that it's often the intangible, non-academic stuff that so often "hooks" us on a particular writer--their personal quirks, life experiences, not only the material conditions that produced them and their work but the way that time and place translate into a reader's here and now.
So here's a preliminary and very personal list of what I think you can learn from your old Tío Pepe. In compiling this list, I've stuck to personal qualities and choices that Martí made that seem to translate well into the 21st century. Here goes:

1) It doesn't matter where you come from.
Martí was born into a working-class Cuban household, the son of a Spanish soldier. His mother also hailed from a military family loyal to the Spanish government then colonizing the island. A combination of bad financial decisions, his father's ailing health, and Cuba's own political instability and economic decline plunged the Martís into poverty shortly after his birth in 1853. The family had no history of academic achievement, or of the kind of political activism and organizing that defined their son's life. The odds against someone of Martí's origins and background rising to the forefront of a political movement, or becoming one of the greatest writers and thinkers of his time, were staggering.

No matter what you perceive as your outward limitations--lack of money or opportunity, a difficult family life, geographical remoteness, lack of access to like-minded people or culture--I promise you don't have a bigger hole to climb out of than Martí did. But climb he did. And so can you.

2) Once you find your purpose in life, stick to it.
His obvious intellectual abilities aside--and his brilliance is pretty well undeniable--Martí's greatest asset was arguably his persistence and utter single-mindedness in pursuit of the things that mattered to him. He persevered in the face of obstacles that would destroy most of us: Sentenced to prison and hard labor at 16, he was twice deported from Cuba, the first time before turning 18. Martí spent the next decade as a virtual nomad, living in four different countries on two continents and being expelled or forced out of three of them. He finally settled in New York City in 1881, spending his last 15 years as an exile, in his words "without a country, but without a master." It was from New York, separated from his family and loved ones, that Martí built the revolution that eventually liberated his people from centuries of economic, cultural, and spiritual slavery. He survived years of persecution both political and literal--the reports of Spanish spies and Pinkerton agents assigned to follow his every move fill volumes--and at least one assassination attempt. The decades of stress and adversity wore down what was already a less-than-robust constitution; well before his death at 42, Martí was a physical wreck suffering from a constellation of ailments large and small. None of it stopped him.

More importantly for you, as a young man Martí overcame what was in many ways the most difficult obstacle of all: the disapproval and at times vehement opposition of his family. His loyalist Spanish father was outraged by the teenage Pepe's nascent political activism for a free Cuba. His mother lived in mortal fear (correctly so) that her son's activities would lead him to great suffering. Even the mentor who first inspired and encouraged young Pepe begged him to relent. His work for Cuba later cost him his marriage and relationship with his only son, when his wife, tired of the toils and burdens of the revolutionary life, left New York for good and took their child with her. Through it all, Martí stuck with his inner voice, the political and philosophical compass from which he almost never veered.

Sometimes the people who love you the most and want the best for you--your parents and mentors, your significant other, your best friend--are just wrong. Once you know what's best for you, once you grasp indisputably your path in life and where it may lead, let no one lead you from it.

3) Read. A lot.
Really, this comes down to intellectual curiosity. It's not just about reading books, though Martí did plenty of that--from Shakespeare and Hugo in his youth to Emerson and Whitman, Longfellow and Alcott later on--but about engaging everything, from art to science to sports and everything in between. As the Table of Contents of Martí's Selected Writings amply demonstrates, the sheer breadth of Martí's journalism was staggering; from children's games to amusement parks ("Coney Island"), from political trials and boxing matches to modern art and the Brooklyn Bridge, and the plight of the poor, and high-society balls. He was interested in, and wrote about, just about everything that crossed his path. If Martí were alive today, you better believe he'd be blogging and tweeting and Instagramming, writing about Obama and Raúl Castro but also about Miley Cyrus and A-Rod and Caitlyn Jenner and Super Smash Bros.

Beyond his (not entirely undeserved) image as a dour, somewhat morbid and single-minded person, Martí was a man who loved life, and who embraced the world in all its wonders and horrors. Nothing went over his head, but nothing was beneath his attention either. You should be that way too.

4) Invite others--even your enemies--to share your vision, so it can be their vision too.
In Martí's early years, his single-mindedness got him into a fair amount of trouble (see #2 above). Despite his unswerving dedication to Cuba's liberation, by the time he was a little more than 30 Martí had alienated almost everyone who could help him achieve it. But he soon transformed himself into a master coalition-builder, creating a political and fundraising juggernaut out of what had for decades been a fractious exile community long hindered by backbiting and ideological bickering. He achieved this not by deriding or humiliating his enemies but by using their common goal--the liberation of Cuba--as the ground for a democratic organization in which everyone had a stake and a voice. By the end of his life, Martí had turned lifelong enemies into some of his most loyal and ardent supporters. His genius in articulating a vision of freedom and democracy for Cuba would have come to nothing without his ability to also allow others to see themselves in it and make it their own. As Martí once wrote about the Brooklyn Bridge: "Better to bring cities together than to cleave human chests."

Nothing on this little list is explicitly or narrowly political. Part of that is because the politics and ideological battles of Martí's day were quite different from today's (although the stakes may strike some as being quite similar). But really it's because I believe that Martí is larger and greater than the various ideological boxes into which readers have been trying to stuff him for over a century now, and into which your elders have been trying to get you to stuff him. No matter our individual political leanings, we can all learn from Martí's example, how he lived and what he lived for. We may not all be poets or revolutionaries, but we can all resolve to lead more fulfilling, authentic lives. For the 30 or so students I had the pleasure of teaching this summer, I am hopeful that their time spent with José Martí will help on that journey.

Published originally in the Huffington Post

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Julian Bond Is Dead: "Civil Rights for Me, But Not for You"

"I first visited Cuba in the spring of 1959. I drove from Atlanta (where I was in school) to Key West with three college friends and we took a ferry from there to Havana. We stayed in the Roosevelt Hotel and visited the Tropicana – and a casino. We went to Havana High School. One of my colleagues was a pianist and there was a piano in the vestibule and he sat down and began to play. Students began pouring in, flooding us with questions about who we were, where we were from, why we had come. The truth was we were enchanted by the revolution. Our newspapers had carried stories about President Castro’s triumphant entry into Havana. He and his colleagues were all young, as were we – I was 19 – and we found something appealing in their story and their victory. This last trip (in November 2006) simply reinforced my admiration for the Cuban people and the society they are building." — Julian Bond, quoted in http://keywiki.org/Julian_Bond, which documents every Communist Front organization to which the domestic civil rights leader belonged

Julian Bond was also a poet. His most famous verse, according to The Miami Herald, was this deathless couplet:

Look at that girl shake that thing, 
We can’t all be Martin Luther King. 

Civil Rights Icon Julian Bond Dead at 75

Barack Obama: The Wizard of Oz

"It's a funny feeling for someone who's been a grey bureaucrat for 29 years. Suddenly it feels like everything's in Technicolor, like when Dorothy enters the Land of Oz and the world becomes colorful."  — Roberta Jacobson, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs and the senior State Department official who led negotiations on restoring diplomatic ties.

If Roberta Jacobson is "Dorothy" does that make Barack Obama the "Wizard of Oz?" In fact the president has much in common with Frank Baum's character, who was a genial fraud and consummate prevaricator, too.

Jacobson may see herself as "Dorothy," but nobody else will. There is another role which is a better fit for her: the "Wicked Witch of the West."

US and Cuba Feel Weight of History as Embassy Reopens

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Richard Blanco, Obama's Homer, Celebrates Capitulation to Castro

President Obama's inaugural laureate, the gay American-Cuban (let's put the stress where it belongs) Richard Blanco has composed another commemorative poem for a state occasion, which is traditionally what poets laureate do. In England, its poet laureate gets a hogshead of wine or its cash equivalent for his services. We will not inquire what Blanco gets much less say what he deserves for his efforts. We do know that for this particular commission he received an all-expenses paid trip to Cuba courtesy of U.S. taxpayers. Not since Harper's paid Longfellow $1000 for "Keramos" has any American poet been compensated so handsomely for a single poem. Too bad (?) that Blanco's poem is not available to those who paid for it. Blanco embargoed the text of his normalization poem both before he read it at the re-opening of the U.S. embassy in Havana (which is understandable) as well as after he recited it there (which is not). Regardless, it is Blanco's right to embargo his poem, just as it is the right of the U.S. to implement a trade embargo against Communist Cuba. The U.S. does not have a legal obligation to trade with Cuba or any other country, nor does it profit by the embargo (it merely cuts its losses). Blanco does intend to profit by embargoing his poem, which is only available in full to those willing to buy it. It is risible for a poet — even one who has the presidential seal of approval — to expect to turn his musings into gold. If poets are generally known as fools it is because they entertain such fond conceits. Soon enough he'll be selling autographed copies on eBay for barely more than the cost of postage. I, in any case, will not be a bidder.

For my purposes, the title of the poem ["Matters of the Sea"] and its first line (which is all that Blanco deigned to release) suffice: "The sea doesn't matter. What matters is this — that we all belong to the sea between us." Yes, wretched. We may all belong to the sea, but some Cubans belong more to the sea than others: the tens of thousands who were killed trying to breach that 90-mile stretch between tyranny and freedom, clinging to inner tubes, doors and all manner of unseaworthy craft, with only their own skins as life-jackets and prayers their only means of communication, the prey of both the Cuban and U.S. Coast Guard, both working in tandem to return them to their island hell. The Castro regime and the U.S. government have always collaborated (embassy or not) in matters of mutual interest, such as maintaining "stability" (i.e. the status quo) on the island even at the price of slavery. The resumption of diplomatic relations will certainly enhance that collaboration if no other, and it is that collaboration and no other which is being celebrated as Obama's legacy by stooges like Richard Blanco and mourned by those who do not believe that Cubans need the Castros to keep them in their place. By excluding actual Cubans as opposed to Castro's henchmen from the grounds of the U.S. embassy during the flag-raising ceremony and reception, the U.S. adopted the Castro's regime's apartheid policy towards its own citizens and muzzled free speech on American soil (which is what the embassy grounds are under international law). All the "Cuba for the Cubans" jargon spoken by Secretary of State Kerry must be viewed and dismissed in light of U.S. conduct on that day. It is Cuba for the Castros (and their abetters, which now includes the U.S.) which Kerry was actually there to sanction by the administration's formal capitulation to them.

And why was Richard Blanco there? Whom was he representing? Certainly not Cuban exiles, who have never elected a single public official in Florida, New Jersey or any other state, whether Cuban-American or non-Cuban, Democrat or Republican, who supported the resumption of diplomatic relations with the Castro regime or the dismantling of the trade embargo. Is he really in the vanguard of the second or third generation of Cuban-Americans, who although they are now in the majority in this country, continue to vote exactly as their parents and grandparents did? Does he even represent Cuban-American gays? Fidel Castro's persecution of homosexuals has made him especially hated among expatriate gays (who produced the most effective anti-Castro documentary in history, Improper Conduct). But Blanco, in an interview with NPR, denied that gays were persecuted in Cuba more than was the case in other Latin American countries, and blamed machismo, not Castro, for the concentration camps where gays (such as Cardinal Jaime Ortega) were "re-educated" in the Sixties and the prison-hospitals where HIV-positive patients have been quarantined since the Nineties. He even claimed that on his many trips to the island he had never interacted with Cuba's gay community and in fact wasn't even aware that such a community existed. By refusing to recognize let alone censure the treatment of his fellow gays in Cuba, Blanco is endorsing the status quo and the status quo ante, and setting the stage, literally, for Mariela Castro to honor him as did Obama with some dubious distinction (actually, he'll get no medal from Mariela; he referred to her as "Raúl's sister" in a CNN interview which is worse than calling her a faghag or cursing her late mother).

No, Mr. Blanco doesn't represent anyone but himself. He belongs to a subspecies, not at all uncommon, known as Cubans by main chance, that is, Cubans as long as there is something to be gained by it. In his mind, however, he is the Cuban-American everyman (or should that be Übermensch?) and the very linchpin of normalization. In an interview with the Voice of America, Blanco claimed that he personally straddles Cuba and the U.S.: "Here I am, this bridge between the Cuban side and the American side." With such a shaky bridge, we can at least hope that this confluence between the worst men in Cuba and the worst men in this country will not long stand.

As for Richard Blanco, he is probably right to try to limit as much as possible the number of people who are exposed to his poetry. That is the best way to assure that the commissions will be pouring in: for Carlos Saladrigas' 70th birthday; Wayne Smith's 80th birthday; Janet Reno's 90th; and, of course, the "Jimmy Carter Dirge" (Carter, too, is a poet and has published more books of verse than Blanco). Blanco's real celebrity is not and will never be as a "poet," however.He is simply the left's favorite Cuban lackey: his qualifications being that he is gay (always a mark of purity among liberals) and that his surname is "Blanco" (white), which is a joke that they all enjoy.


I posted this on Richard Blanco's Facebook page:
Let's see how long it stays up there.


Richard Blanco: Many have asked about getting a copy of the US Embassy poem. I've not posted it because I plan to issue an e-book with all proceeds to benefit Friends of Caritas Cubana. The e-book should be out soon and then a commemorative chapbook to follow. So stay tuned and help support this wonderful organization. 

Manuel Tellechea: Mr. Blanco's reply confirms that he has indeed embargoed the poem, as I was the first to point out. He claims that profits from the sale of the "US Embassy poem" will be donated at some future date to Friends of Caritas Cubanas, which supports an island charity run by Cardinal Jaime Ortega: the same prelate who recently asserted that there are no political prisoners in Cuba and that dissidents are agents of the "gusanera" (worms) in Miami.


Richard Blanco: REALLY? In 1999, Friends of Caritas Cubana began as a committee of Boston's Catholic Charities to assist Caritas Cubana's humanitarian and social service programs. In 2005, Friends of Caritas Cubana spun off and separately incorporated as a Massachusetts-based 501(c)(3). For over ten years, Friends of Caritas Cubana has provided needed services to the Cuban people – all with transparency to both the U.S. and Cuban Governments. We go to Cuba – at our own expense – at least twice a year to visit programs funded, conduct resource audits, provide technical assistance, and assess needs on the ground. Caritas Cubana, itself, is a nationwide non-governmental provider of humanitarian, social and emergency services. It is affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church and is active in every province of Cuba. While Caritas Cubana serves thousands of needy individuals, its funding is vastly smaller than the needs of the population that Caritas serves. Services are available to anyone in need, regardless of religion, political beliefs or sexual orientation. Caritas' focus in Cuba is to provide humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable citizens: the elderly, children, single mothers, people with disabilities and people living with HIV/AIDS. In addition to conducting programs for these populations, Caritas distributes medicines and provides emergency relief as needed. It has few paid staff as it relies mostly on its volunteer force.

Manuel Tellechea: I do not doubt that the execrable Cardinal Ortega is very "charitable." Charity is one way to maintain silence and there is much that he needs to keep quiet. I am sure that he is grateful to you for your assistance.


Toni Hart: WOW ! What a HATEFUL RACIST PENDEJO you are Manuel Tellechea - and you SHOULD be afraid to show your face. ALL artists (writers, poets, musicians, painters, dancers, whatever) have rights to their own works. It's called a COPYRIGHT. Refraining from giving away one's livelihood on international social media is SANE. It's why so many people do NOT use social media at all, but keep their art on private websites or places like Etsy where they are ONLY for sale. I don't even possess enough wrath to respond to your self-centered diatribe. You do not deserve to share my oxygen let alone an artist like Richard Blanco's. Just remember - Karma is a bitch.

Manuel Tellechea: You sound like a lovely human being. Any relation to Armando Hart?


Bits of Mr. Blanco's self-described "Embassy Poem" are being "pirated" everywhere despite his official embargo on the text. The Miami Herald gives us the last line, which is even more vapid and disingenuous than I had imagined:

“Yet, yet we all hold seashells up to our ears. Listen again to the anthem. Today the sea is still telling us that the end to our doubts and fears is to gaze into the lucid blue of our shared horizon to breathe together, to heal together.”

Castro's victims need to heal (in the literal sense), and listening to seashells isn't going to do it. As for Castro's henchmen and his American allies, they have no wounds that require healing and they can do with seashells as they please.

Another quoted line from the "historic poem," as The Herald described it:

“No one is the other to the other to the sea whether on hemmed island or vast continent.”

The phrase “No one is the other to the other to the sea" makes absolutely no sense. Parse it as you will, it obstinately refuses to yield a cogent meaning. To be unintelligible is not the same thing as to be profound. Blanco's description of Cuba as a "hemmed island" is also absurd. By its very definition an island is not hemmed, that is, it is unconnected to the "vast continent," neither a seam nor an appendage of it. Blanco probably meant to imply that Cuba is hemmed in by the U.S. as in "hemmed in by its enemies." This would also be a fallacy, since it is not the U.S. that has hemmed in Cuba, but Castro who for 56 years has hemmed in the Cuban people, separating them from one another and from the outside world.

Note to Obama & Company: Being gay doesn't make anyone a great or even good poet, though undoubtedly many great poets have been gay.


Mr. Blanco has deleted Toni Hart's offensive comment in Postscript 4, I suppose, as a special consideration to me. I did not seek its removal, which now leaves my own response an orphan. Outside its context, what will the reader make of  "You sound like a lovely human being. Any relation to Armando Hart?" Whatever.

He has also added to his previous comment in Postscript 3:

Richard Blanco: FYI: The poem will be published as an e-book and chapbook with all proceeds to benefit the humanitarian efforts of Caritas Cubana, not for my benefit. Nor was I was not compensated for the Embassy poem or the inaugural poem.. I will leave your comments up for ALL to see. I am not put off by them; in fact, I welcome the opportunity to meet with you face-to-face so that you may understand that I am coming at all this from a place of love (not hate), but certainly not with disregard for historical realities . My four books of poetry and two memoirs all focus largely on honoring the lives, sorrows, and longings of my family and the larger exile community that I embrace. If you haven't read my work, please do. Abrazos

I am glad of his assurance that he will not delete my comment. Since that is both so easy and so tempting to do, I thank him for resisting the urge to turn his homage page on Facebook into an echo chamber. He is obviously sincere in his wrongheaded belief that personal dialogue will solve all differences not only between governments but individuals as well. I believe, moreover, that he knows the truth about Cuba — how could he not after 7 trips to the island? — but is afraid to speak that truth because he fears retaliation not from Castro but from his liberal patrons. It was painful to watch his verbal and facial contortions when asked by CNN why his family had fled Cuba in 1968. It was as if he had been impaled on that word "fled" because it implied that there was something there to run away from. He ended up saying that his family were economic migrants who came to this country seeking the "American Dream." That may be true, but like all exiles they were motivated by the Cuban Nightmare. I will read the memoirs of his Cuban-American childhood in Miami [The Prince of the Cocuyos] because I frankly can't imagine how he could write it without reference to the real motives that brought his family here. He says that he embraces the "sorrows and longings of [his] family and the larger exile community," but for him that feeling is one that dares not speak its name. What sorrows? What longings? Surely the sorrows caused by the Castro tyranny and longings for a free Cuba. When he can actually bring himself to say and not merely hint at what he means, then we can speak about "historical realities." Perhaps his Embassy poem was such a dismal failure because he never allowed himself the freedom to speak for those in Cuba who cannot speak for themselves. He is doubly-muzzled because he has imposed this restraint on himself.

POSTSCRIPT 7: There is another hommage website dedicated to Richard Blanco:


As an exercise in self-hyperbole, it cannot be beat. Would that we all thought as well of ourselves as Richard Blanco does of Richard Blanco:

"Richard Blanco is one of the most beloved and influential poets and storytellers writing today. As a historic inaugural poet, public speaker, teacher and memoirist, he continues to travel the world, inviting audiences to reconnect to the heart of the human experience and all of its beautiful diversity. Through the power of his words and presence, Blanco taps into our unspoken dreams, hopes and frustrations. He captures the human spirit and condition, in all of its complexities, opening up our minds and encouraging us to see beyond our differences to share in the universal experience of our humanity. Just as Carl Sagan brought cosmology into our living rooms, Blanco is appealing to audiences everywhere and inspiring a new way to think and feel about the poetry of our day, making it an accessible, inclusive and transformative part of our everyday lives."Richard Blanco

What Dr. Sanjay Gupta is to medicine, Richard Blanco is to poetry. And let us not forget that had Obama gotten his way, Dr. Gutpa would have been Surgeon General.


Of course, I could have transcribed Mr. Blanco's embargoed Embassy from his original reading, but his quirky delivery would have made that a difficult and highly unpleasant task: having to listen over and over again to it would only have made me dislike it even more. Thankfully, that wasn't necessary. After much searching I found the complete text posted on his friend Johnny Díaz's blog, Beantown Cubanito. I will not reproduce it here because I am not Mr. Blanco's friend and do not presume to take any liberties with his work (in Mr. Díaz's case, born of his pride in and empathy for him). But those interested in reading (as opposed to listening) to Mr. Blanco's embargoed poem will find it in the "Comments" section at:


The lack of punctuation, btw, explains Blanco's quirky delivery which Díaz describes on his blog as "Zen-like."


Mr. Blanco has replied to my previous comments in the same conciliatory manner as previously. He has even quoted to me my translation of "Cultivo una rosa blanca," whether unconsciously or to flatter me:

Hola friends, I’ve been reading all your comments on my participation in the re-opening of the US embassy, both positive and negative. First, I want to thank all of you who understood that I am in nobody’s political pocket; that I am a poet, not a politician. And as a poet my aim is to evoke new emotional dimensions for everyone to feel and to think about things in ways we may not have had the opportunity to before. Thanks for understanding the poem’s messages—that to “heal” doesn’t necessarily mean to forgive and forget (“stones in our hand that we just can’t toss”)—even when we heal, there are scars; that “together” means the people of Cuba and the Cuban diaspora, not the Cuban regime. But also, thanks for forgiving me for those stories I may have left out, unintentionally. Thanks for understanding that I can't speak to everyone and every experience in every instance. I regarded that moment not as a time for political declarations, but a time to offer the hope of change to the people of Cuba and our diaspora. In many articles and essays, I’ve taken a stronger stance, speaking about the harsh realities of Cuba and the emotional struggles of exile. What’s more, I’ve dedicated my writing life to honoring and documenting the lives of my parents and grandparents and the exile community of Miami that raised me: their sorrows, triumphs, and losses. I’ve written poems about “los balseros” (the rafters) as I scanned the lists of detainees posted at radio stations in Miami, wondering if my cousin Jorge had made it alive; about my mother’s anguish, never again able to see her own mother, who remained in Cuba; and, in my memoir, written about many people from the Cuban exile community I grew up in, like Rosario, who lost her husband and son to the revolution. I do indeed remember many painful stories—the reason I’ve chosen to be involved in this new approach with Cuba is to make sure that these stories are not forgotten by the changes that seem inevitable. To the few who have not understood this, who have called me a political pawn, a traitor, and a fool—I thank you also, for your candor, for feeling what you feel, and expressing your pain that is also part of our collective story. I honor you and thank you for inciting conversations that may be long overdue within the Cuban diaspora. In the words of José Martí, a far better man and poet than I will ever be: “Cultivo una rosa blanca en junio como enero para el amigo sincero que me da su mano franca. Y para el cruel que me arranca el corazón con que vivo, cardo ni ortiga cultivo; cultivo la rosa blanca.” (“I have a white rose to tend in July as in January; I give it to the true friend who offers his frank hand to me. And for the cruel one whose blows break the heart by which I live, thistle nor thorn do I give: for him, too, I have a white rose.”) Though we may have different approaches, in my heart I believe all of us share the same hope: a prosperous Cuban pueblo living in a free and democratic Cuba of the future, which is what this photo symbolizes for me. It was the most emotional moment of my time in Cuba, surrounded by Cubans outside the embassy gates, wrapped in the flags of two countries, two peoples I love. Yes, “to heal, together.”

My criticisms have made Mr. Blanco defensive and perhaps even remorseful about a missed opportunity to stand with the Cuban people rather than be a self-described "bridge" between the worst men in Cuba and the worst men in this country. I, of course, did not call him a "political pawn [or] a traitor," nor has anybody else here. I did say that he was a fool, and meant it, most kindly, as an extenuation of his conduct, the only one I could think of.  I am glad that he has a proper appreciation of José Martí and I hope that appreciation will better guide his conduct in the future.

Mr. Blanco could have been the herald of that "free and democratic Cuba of the future" of which Martí dreamt. It would have cost him nothing. Now other men will have to pay with their blood and even their lives to say what Mr. Blanco declined to say because it would have offended Castro's henchmen and his new American patrons. He missed an opportunity to be a hero to both Cubans on the island and in exile. But no man is obliged to be a hero even when it would have cost him nothing but the ineffectual wrath of evil men.


Mr. Blanco has broken his word, as I knew he would, and deleted all my comments on his Facebook page. I have, however, saved them here in expectation of this action. A coward cannot be expected to act contrary to his nature. This "champion of the written word" shares the censor's vocation with the island's henchmen, and if he had their power would exercise it as despotically as they do.

There are hundreds of comments on Richard Blanco's Facebook page extolling his insipid Embassy poem because it asserts that Cubans and Americans share a common humanity, as if that had ever been in dispute. It passes over, however, the inhumanity that Cubans alone endure at the hands of their slave masters. whose depredations are now to be underwritten by U.S. tourists and ultimately by U.S. taxpayers.

One would think that so much unmerited praise would be enough to massage Blanco's hyperactive ego. But it is not enough and never will be because he knows that he is a fraud even if his admirers don't. For that reason he despises their proffered flattery and becomes fixated instead on the few comments that confront him with uncomfortable truths which he can neither overlook nor answer, leaving him with no choice but to erase them. Yes, such conduct is an avowal of his own insufficiency and tantamount to overturning the chess board when one is losing. Such infantilism is deeply bred and beyond correction at his stage in life. There is nothing left for an opponent to do but to rise from the table and leave him sulking.


Mr. Blanco visited the José Martí Blog this morning at (9:02:50 am on 8/23/2015). I am sure that if he had known of the existence of these "Postscripts" he would have had second thoughts about erasing my comments from his Facebook page. They are up again thanks to the good offices of another commenter who retrieved them from this blog and re-posted them. So far Mr. Blanco has not deleted them again. He has, however, banned me personally from commenting on his hommage page (shades of "Everything within the Revolution, nothing outside of it," an historical allusion wasted on the "Embassy poet").

As is his habit, Richard Blanco has addressed his latest comments to me through a third party, one Sergio López Miró. We note that he is rectifying his conduct without having to endure the tender mercies of a Castroite re-education camp (though he apparently considers this respectful exchange to be something even worse). He promises now to "make it a point" to include a mention of "those who lost their lives" in the preface to that future chapbook whose profits will be donated to Cardinal Jaime Ortega's charity. I am somewhat wary, however. What victims does he mean? Castro's victims? I really don't believe that he is able even to put those two words together ("Castro's victims").

Richard Blanco: Hola Sergio. I hope you see/read this reply. Your comment is well taken and I appreciate your balanced/reasonable view. Unlike many others who are simply spewing and don't want to have a conversation, but a fight. Anyway, FYI, though those who lost their lives are not directly referenced in the poem, they were (and have been) in my heart and mind. I'm making it a point to reference them in the preface to the chapbook of the poem that will be out soon. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! 


For the second time in as many weeks, Richard Blanco has deleted my comments from his Facebook page, which had been re-posted by a third party after the initial deletion and banning. In the fortnight that it took him to delete the comments again, his hommage page had been liked 3 times, which alerts us (and should alert him) that his 15 minutes may be up. That's why democracies are not as good for poets laureate as monarchies. If Obama were king, Mr. Blanco could sing his praises until his dying day and then devote his panegyrics to his eldest daughter and heir Malia.

Still, having established a reputation as a reliable toady, and been (no doubt) fully "vetted" by the regime after 7 visits to the island, Mr. Blanco may be asked to become the poet laureate cum court jester for the Castro dynasty. He already preens himself on being a "bridge" between Obama and Raúl Castro. From bridge to carpet may be a step down, but still it must be better to be trodden afoot by one instead of two masters (though the little guy has the firmer step). Mr. Blanco is no stranger to self-degradation and may actually enjoy his short stint as Raúl's bard (hopefully not -in-residence). After that, there will be other Castros to serve, and, of course, the entire Cuban nation to screw.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Retraction from Babalú


On June 5, a post was published on Babalú regarding Purdue university professor Alfredo Lopez and an accusation of alleged plagiarism made against him by Dr. Tony de la Cova concerning images contained in Mr. Lopez's book Jose Marti: A revolutionary life. However, since the publishing of the post, Mr. Lopez has contacted Babalú and vehemently denied the accusation. In addition, Mr. Lopez  has provided information that disputes the allegation that he committed plagiarism.
While the Editoral Board of Babalú Blog strongly and confidently feels its post simply reported information received from a reliable source, which at best constituted pure opinion protected by the 1st Amendment, at no time did we intend to cause harm to anyone. Nevertheless, in light of the information received after the post in question's publication, we have decided it is in everyone's best interest to retract that post and any allegations of plagiarism against Mr. Alfredo Lopez that may be construed by its publication on our part. Based on the information we have received, we have found there is not sufficient evidence to substantiate the accusation of plagiarism against Mr. Lopez and therefore, the post has been removed from the blog and is no longer available.
Since 2003, Babalú has been dedicated to fighting for the freedom of the Cuban people and the truth about Cuba. Everyone who works on the blog and contributes postings to it does so on a volunteer basis. This is not a business, but a labor of love in which we all chip in from our own pockets to keep open and running on a daily basis. Our focus is solely on Cuba, its people, and achieving their freedom from the chains of tyranny and slavery. Babalú neither has the time nor the desire to involve itself in disputes between individuals, and even less so to offend the innocent. We have no interest in causing anyone harm, but only to expose the injustices and misery suffered by the Cuban people at the hands of their oppressors.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Professor Alfred López Responds to Babalú's Charges of "Plagiarism"

June 6, 2015

Mr. Alberto de la Cruz
Managing Editor
Babalú Blog

Mr. de la Cruz:

I am writing in response to your libelous article of June 5 entitled “Publisher of Purdue University professor’s book on José Martí cuts check for plagiarized images.” The text of the article includes scans of a check issued by the University of Texas at Austin, publishers of my most recent book, to one Antonio de la Cova, instructor at the University of South Carolina. In the email from Dr. de la Cova that you include in your article, he cites said check as proof of my “theft”, of having “plagiarized” his work. Dr. de la Cova further crows about his (no doubt for him substantial) payday as a commenter to your article.

I will contact Dr. de la Cova separately. This letter is for you, both in your capacity as Managing Editor of Babalú Blog and as author of the above-referenced article. Had you titled said article slightly differently—had you, say, included the qualifier “alleged” or “accused,” rather than describing the images in question outright as “plagiarized”—you would of course not be liable in this matter, since the rest of your article consists of a one-sentence introduction to Dr. de la Cova’s scanned check and email. Had you done that, you would be guilty only of bad judgment in allowing someone else to post libelous statements on your blog without knowing the full story.

But you did not include any such qualifier in your title. And so you too are now compromised by Mr. de la Cova’s reckless defamation of my professional reputation as a writer and scholar.

Because I want to give you the benefit of the doubt, I am writing under the assumption that Dr. de la Cova has misled you about the true nature of his interaction with University of Texas Press. I think that may be the case, given that Dr. de la Cova did not also post the letter from the Press that accompanied the check. In that letter, the Press states in no uncertain terms that they do not agree with Dr. de la Cova’s charge of “violation of intellectual property rights,” and that their payment does not constitute any such admission.

I think that Dr. de la Cova must have withheld this information from you, because I believe—I would hope—that had you also seen the letter to Dr. de la Cova from the Press you would not have published your article. In other words, I want to believe that you would not deliberately publish a defamatory article that you suspect may be false. I cannot believe that any responsible Managing Editor would knowingly place himself and his organization in legal jeopardy by doing so.

And so, on the assumption that you have acted without full knowledge regarding this matter, my purpose in writing you is twofold. In what remains of this letter I will: (1) explain to you why my use of the documents in question does not, and could never, constitute plagiarism; and (2) offer a way to reasonably resolve this matter in order to avoid further action on my part, as well as by the University of Texas Press and Purdue University, whom you also libel by including them in the title of your article.

Every college and university publishes a statement defining plagiarism, which they universally consider a serious act of academic misconduct. At Purdue it is the individual colleges (and some departments) that issue their own discipline-specific guidelines, which the Office of the Dean of Students neatly summarizes in the following statement:

Plagiarism is a special kind of academic dishonesty in which one person steals another person’s ideas or words and falsely presents them as the plagiarist’s own product. This is most likely to occur in the following ways: 

(1) using the exact language of someone else without the use of quotation marks and without giving proper credit to the author 

(2) presenting the sequence of ideas or arranging the material of someone else even though such is expressed in one’s own words, without giving appropriate acknowledgment

(3) submitting a document written by someone else but representing it as one’s own

Purdue’s University Copyright Office further clarifies:

Copyright infringement and plagiarism are two different issues.  Copyright is a federal law that protects original works from being copied and distributed without the author’s permission unless one of the exceptions applies.  Plagiarism is passing off someone else’s work as one’s own or lack of attribution.  There is no federal or state plagiarism law but there can certainly be severe repercussions for plagiarizing.

Copyright infringement example: Incorporating an entire poem by Maya Angelou into a published work without her permission.  The poem is property attributed to Ms. Angelou.

Plagiarism example: Using a line or even an entire poem by Maya Angelou in a paper and not attributing the poem to the author or citing the source.  It would appear that the poem is the creation of the person writing the paper and not Maya Angelou.

We might neatly summarize these texts this way: Plagiarism is the theft of another’s intellectual work as one’s own, while copyright infringement is the copying or distribution of works owned by someone else.

Dr. de la Cova cannot plausibly claim that I have committed either plagiarism or copyright infringement, since he is neither the author nor owner of the documents in question. I have not used his written work, published or unpublished, in my own book without attribution. In fact, the only work of his that I have ever read is his 2003 article “Fernandina Filibuster Fiasco,” which—as he is fond of pointing out—I made extensive use of in my book and cited accordingly. You will find Dr. de la Cova’s name and the title of his article in my Works Cited, on p. 387.

Dr. de la Cova’s claim of plagiarism stems from my use of two documents: Manuel Mantilla’s 1885 death certificate (p. 199 of my book) and Maria Mantilla’s 1880 birth certificate (p. 200). I found these two documents at www.latinamericanstudies.org, a website created in 1997 and still apparently operated by him. In the book I attribute each of those documents to their respective sources: the City of New York and the City of Brooklyn. Both are public documents, available to anyone who wishes to ask for them. Dr. de la Cova does not, could not possibly, own those documents, any more than I could own your birth certificate by acquiring a copy from your place of birth, or on Ancestry.com. Let me make this as plain as I can for you: Neither Manuel Mantilla’s death certificate nor Maria Mantilla’s birth certificate belong to Dr. de la Cova.

Thus, according to the definitions of plagiarism and copyright infringement I have cited in this letter—really, by any definition of these—I am guilty of nothing more than a bit of expedience, because using the scans from Dr. de la Cova’s website saved me an additional trip to New York City. I want you to understand this with complete clarity: By any reasonable definition of the terms, I am not guilty of either plagiarism or copyright infringement. And again, this is for one simple reason: Dr. de la Cova can make no legal claim to ownership of documents in the public domain simply by posting them on a website. Even if he was the first to publish them.

But for at least one of those documents Dr. de la Cova cannot make that claim either. You see, a far more accomplished scholar than either myself or Dr. de la Cova, the late and eminent Dr. Carlos Ripoll, first published Manuel Mantilla's Certificate of Death in "Martí: La esposa y la amante," published in Diario las Américas on Sunday, May 15, 1988. That particular article, as well as the reproduction of the Certificate of Death, also appeared in Ripoll's book La vida íntima y secreta de José Martí (1995), which you will find at:

But you don’t have to take my word for it. On p. 12, footnote 3 of the Anuario del Centro de Estudios Martianos 12 (1989), we find this (emphasis mine):

Carlos Ripoll, de quien se ha dicho, con razón, que su habilidad para encontrar datos significativos de la vida de Martí es superada por su tenaz vocación de traicionar el legado del héroe de nuestra América, publicó el 15 de mayo de 1988 — y en periódico afín a su condición de contrarevolucionario: Diario de las Américas, editado en Miamiel facsímil del certificado de defunción de Manuel Mantilla."

So you see, even Dr. Ripoll's enemies in Cuba agree that he was the first to reproduce Mantilla's death certificate. Dr. de la Cova either does not know this, or he found them in Ripoll’s writings himself and scanned them to his own website.

I have not yet been able to locate Maria Mantilla’s birth certificate among Ripoll’s publications, but I am nearly certain that he published that document first as well. But of course that is a side issue, since publishing the documents first would give Dr. Ripoll no more claim to ownership than it does Dr. de la Cova.

I could continue, but I trust that by now you take my point: No plagiarism, no infringement, no “theft” of any kind has occurred, because I have stolen neither Dr. de la Cova’s words or ideas—or anything else to which he can honestly claim ownership.

I have no reason to doubt that you published your libelous June 5 article in the full belief that Dr. de la Cova’s claims were true. I also genuinely believe, now that you have read my lengthy and detailed reply to his accusations, that you will realize it is you who have wronged me.

I am not an attorney, but in my professional opinion as a scholar, in your June 5 article you committed libel against me and, without grounds or provocation, defamed my character and threatened my professional reputation. Although having to deal with your libel has caused me a great deal of mental and emotional anguish, and wasted much time that I could have spent more productively, I bear you no ill will. Now that I have shown you that Dr. de la Cova’s claims are in fact false, I will extend to you in good faith the opportunity to withdraw this libelous article and publish a clear and unambiguous retraction. Do that, and I will consider the matter between myself and you, and Babalu Blog, closed.

You need to understand, however, that I cannot permit your defamatory article to remain, its presence every day spreading its false claims about my professionalism, my honesty, and my character to more and more people. If you choose to stand by your June 5 article after receipt of this letter, and allow it to remain on your website, I am prepared to take any and all actions available to me to protect myself, my character, my reputation, and my career from this defamatory assault.

You have my permission to publish this letter on your blog if you so desire, but only in its entirety.

Sincerely yours,

Alfred J. López
Professor of English and Comparative Literature
Department of English
Purdue University

Alfred J. López is the author of José Martí: A Revolutionary Life

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Did José Martí Live and Die in Vain?

Was José Martí's life lived in vain and was its sacrifice to no purpose? There are questions which one would prefer not to answer because it is better not to answer them: better in the sense that more harm would be done by answering them than by leaving them unanswered. This is not such a question.

Martí's life and death matters to our country as no other event in our history does. Without Martí, Cubans might be anything, but they wouldn't be Cubans. Our national character is an extension of his idealized conception of us. We see ourselves through his eyes and he only saw the best in us. The confidence that he instilled in us has remained unshaken even as everything that once supported it has collapsed in a heap around us. But for Martí we could not bear to look one another in the face. Thanks to him, we have reason enough  to believe that we are not defined by our current circumstances, that our destiny will transcend the void of our existence and deliver us safe to a new life. That we have persisted in that belief in the face of unrelieved disappointment  proves that Martí did not live in vain.

But even if Martí had lived and died in vain, it would not mean, however, that he was a failure; for he is no way responsible for the acts of those who betrayed our country and his legacy. Our enemies credit him with their crimes and failures, calling him the "intellectual author" of their anti-Cuban Revolution. They claim his inspiration in order to disparage him by laying the blame for their misdeeds at his feet, as if by this putrid offering they could acquit themselves of the blame and transfer it to him. Castro has reinvented Martí as our national scapegoat in opposition to his rightful place as our national savior.

We who are true to his legacy want for our country exactly what he wanted. We know that the only way to honor Martí is to believe, as he always did, that our people aspire to liberty and require only the means and the opportunity to assert their rights. The indifference, or, rather, the complicity of the world in their enslavement — which is even more the case today than in Martí's day —  is the greatest obstacle facing our people and the only bulwark left to our enemies.

Only the greatest disdain for the Cuban people would maintain that an inhuman existence is what they desire or deserve, or that their unrelenting degradation is preferable to questioning the actions and motives of those who have enslaved them.

Martí's life and death is a negation of that position, and as long as the Cuban people remain stateless within their own country, Martí shall be as relevant and indispensable in forging our future as any living man.

Martí did not die in vain, nor does he live in vain. "A man must be useful even after he is dead; therefore, I write." And his writings, which do not require any historical context because his words are as timely now as when he wrote them, speak to us across the decades of the same hunger for liberty and thirst for justice which is not lessened because it remains unsatisfied, nor can ever disappear till it is assuaged.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Barack Obama and Raúl Castro: Perfect Together

Some may have experienced a "Woe is Me!" moment when the putative leader of the Free World shook hands with the world's oldest tyrant and pledged him his troth, but not me. Barack Obama and Raúl Castro do not meet on different moral planes; neither do they represent the polarities of good and evil. Barack Obama, who was the only U.S. senator to vote on three distinct occasions for partial birth abortion — the murder of babies that have completely exited the birth canal, since banned by the U.S. Supreme Court — and Raúl Castro, who has always been his brother's enforcer and relished that role since his days as a teenage serial killer in the Sierra Maestra Mountains, are not on opposite sides of humanity's struggle for freedom and human rights. Obama aspires to the "glory" of Neville Chamberlain and will sacrifice the honor of his country and the lives of 11 million Cubans to obtain this worse than empty prize.

The Castros have waited 50 years for a sucker of Obama's magnitude to be elected president, and then six years more for him to be in a position to surrender unconditionally to them, as they have always demanded. Barack Obama is truly their messiah: the dim light that signaled to them their hour of redemption. Raúl Castro has said it: it was in Obama's book that he first took the measure of the man. And the first thing that Raúl learned was to massage Obama's ego: praise him to the skies and cheat him while he's not looking at his cards but tracking his own trajectory in the heavens, otherwise known as his "legacy."

It should be pointed out, however, that what Obama has done is to codify a longstanding U.S. policy towards Cuba which no U.S. president before had dared to articulate but which could not be more evident: the Americans prefer a stable Cuba that is not free to a Cuba that is free but not stable. As the guarantors of stability on the island (and nothing is more stable than a cemetery), the Castros long ago became "our sons of bitches" in the eyes of U.S. policymakers.

Castro and Obama: Practicing Genocide as Statecraft