Tuesday, February 24, 2009

El Grito de Baire

What better day can there be to relaunch the José Martí Blog than February 24th, the anniversary of the "Grito de Baire," when Martí renewed the epic struggle begun in 1868 to win our country's independence?

114 years removed from that day, which was as redolent with hope for our country as the present is bereft of it, Cuba finds herself in a more deplorable state than she did in 1895: then Cuba was a colony of Spain, now she is the fiefdom of one transplanted Spanish family whose patriarch fought with Weyler's forces against our independence. His sons, who head the criminal enterprise which has despoiled our country and enslaved her people for half a century, have attempted to co-opt Martí's legacy, proclaiming him the "Architect" of their anti-Cuban Revolution though it is the negation of everything Martí lived and died for.

It would, perhaps, have been better if Castro's revolution had proclaimed its enmity for him from the first; but, of course, if it had done that it would never have triumphed in the end. More vital to its success than concealing its Communist origins was to feign a devotion to the Apostle which was inconsistent and, indeed, irreconcilable with its Marxist orientation. For decades the party ideologues asserted that Martí would have been a Marxist if only he had been able to understand Marx. In fact, Martí understood him all too well, which was the reason that he was not a Communist.

After the fall of Communism (everywhere in the Western world but Cuba), the island's political commissars, fearful that Marx was no longer emblematic of anything but catastrophic failure, instructed the official historians to diminish Marx's role in the construction of their tropical Stalinism and credit Martí instead for their so-called "achievements."

The hatred which the Cuban people feel for Castro and his henchmen has in some measure been "grandfathered" to include Martí. I had heard reports of this development but always refused to believe it, as it would mean that the Castroites had succeeded in dislodging the very cornerstone of our nationality. But the testimony of defectors, the regime's own point men, as it were, in this massive effort to repoint every brick in that edifice, has convinced me that it is now necessary not only to expose the horrors of the present but to uncover the historical truths that have been buried in order to falsify our history. The ruins of our country are no less valuable than those of any other land. The only difference is that in Cuba the ruins are buried to conceal the past whereas elsewhere they are excavated to reveal it.

JMB will do whatever lies in its power to rescue and preserve our history. Its focus will be on José Martí because by saving him much else that matters will be saved too. But we shall also attempt to clarify other elements of our history which are imperilled and vital to our future.

From 2008:

Today marks the 113th anniversary of the "Grito de Baire" (Battle Cry of Baire), the start of Martí's Revolution which culminated, after nearly a half-century of armed struggle, in Cuba's independence. Those 50 years (1850-1898) were the most heroic in our country's history, with 300,000 of our countrymen perishing on the battlefield and another 300,000 (mostly women and children) in Spanish concentration camps. This out of a population which struggled to rise above 3 million in the 19th century. The population of the Thirteen Colonies at the time of the American Revolution was also approximately 3 million. Washington's soldiers sustained a total of 4000 casualties in the whole course of the American Revolution. Something to remember when the "pressure-cooker" theorists cast aspersions on Cuban heroism or contrast what we have sacrificed to obtain our freedom to the price which Americans have paid to maintain theirs.

The difference between that glorious epoch and today is that Cuba was not then an impermeable island fortress; for Spanish oppression, although terrible, was not systematic and even Cuban slaves enjoyed more rights then than do Cuban citizens today. U.S. Neutrality laws, which exist to preserve tyrannic but stable regimes in power, were an impediment then as now to Cuban freedom, but the U.S. had not entered yet into an international agreement to become the guarantor of tyranny on the island as it would in 1962. Even if U.S. presidents betrayed the rebels' plans to the Spanish, seized their expeditions, confiscated their weapons and imprisoned their leaders while they waited for the ripe apple to fall into America's lap, the people of the United States, whose sympathies were always with the Cubans, refused to assist their government in prosecuting those earlier freedom fighters. Thousands of indictments were obtained against the Cuban patriots but not one single conviction was ever secured from an American jury.

With the unremitting enmity of successive U.S. administrations, but with the good-will of the American people and the so-called "yellow press," Cubans had already won the war on the ground and were in effective control of 90 percent of the island's territory when the U.S., using the fortuitous explosion of the U.S.S. Maine as a pretext, invaded Cuba to seize the ripe apple at the last moment from Spain and to deny the rebels their just victory. For 50 years the U.S. refused to throw a lifeline to the Cuban rebels as France and even Spain had done for them in 1776, and when Cubans finally obtained alone what they might have won 50 or 30 years earlier with U.S. assistance, the Americans swooped down to secure "peace and order" on the island. This insignificant if calamitous episode within Cuba's War of Independence is known as the "Spanish-American War" (American arrogance going so far as to ignore the participation of the main actors). Americans also once called it the "Splendid Little War" because it cost them less than 400 casualties (most of these from chronic diarrhea). Then came the Treaty of Paris, the U.S. occupation of the island, the Platt Amendment and the seizure of Guantánamo Bay. (Do the French still have their naval base at Chesapeake Bay?).

Even after Cuba became a republic under American tutelage in 1902, Cubans never ceased their struggle to realize completely the dream of José Marti, Antonio Maceo and all Cuban patriots who preceded and followed them: a free, independent, sovereign and democratic republic. In 1933, Cubans finally secured through another revolution the abrogation of the Platt Amendment and the nightmare of 1898 (except for Guantánamo) seemed finally to have been overcome.

Or so it seemed. But some nightmares have a tendency to reassert themselves, with different demons and horrors. We can never really put history behind us.

February 24, 2008