The Belittled Image of Cuba’s Jose Marti

Dariela Aquique

Jose Martí

HAVANA TIMES, Jan 28 — Today marks the 158th anniversary of the birth of Jose Julian Marti Perez, Cuba’s “national hero,” “the apostle” or the “most universal of all Cubans.”  These have been the titles given to the “teacher” throughout the course of the island’s history.

This man of medium stature, a broad forehead and sad eyes, lived only to the age of 42; nevertheless his literary output was vast – ranging from poetry, drama, letters, essays and news stories.

A man of incredible sensitivity, and deep and clear thinking, he was well ahead of his time in that he had an extended vision of political and social situation of our island and all of the Americas. He developed a praiseworthy body of work aimed at unifying thinking and action for the achievement of Cuban independence.

Yet beyond being a revolutionary, he was a human being with all the undeniable circumstances this involved. He experienced life as a child, a brother, a friend, a father, a man, an artist and as a citizen. Notwithstanding, the Marti that they present to us is solely a perfect individual, an icon, the sublimated image of the uncompromising anti-imperialist hero.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 But Marti was more than that – and less. He was more because we can’t confine him to only having been a rebel. He had a life beyond ideologies.

But he was also less. Perhaps because he lived — as is revealed in some of his writings — with the feeling that his stay on earth would not be long. This was why he felt fears. This was why he had an intense love life. And this was also why he suffered from alcoholism and loved the arts and philosophy.

Marti has been diminished to a profusion of kitsch in the corner of the classrooms, tons of portraits of his laconic face, and a countless number of ubiquitous plaster busts and or quotes attributed to him as suits the need. It has all reached the point that we no longer know what the poet did or didn’t say.

His image and his legacy have been used as a pretext for that great political crusade that we Cubans began to undertake such a long time ago.

On the centenary of his birth, a group of young rebels led by Fidel Castro and calling themselves the generación del centenario (“Generation of the Century”), carried out the armed attack on the Moncada Barracks on July 26, 1953 while identifying Marti as the mastermind behind the idea.

There’s not a Cuban international aid brigade serving anywhere in the world that doesn’t brandish the name of Marti as the banner of their mission.

What’s much worse is that the premises of many aspects of the political and social system of this country are put forward as ideas of Marti, even when there’s a tremendous distance from these and that person of the 19th century thought.

Even Cuban exiles have a radio and television station that bears his name, though these do no more than engage in a media campaign against the Castro government.

People on both this and that side of the Florida Strait fail to profess the due respect to the memory of this person who was born on January 28 on Paula Street in Old Havana.

Politicizing Marti rather than simply revering him, I think, was the reason why the younger generation is feeling a degree of disregard towards his image.

His complete works are hardly ever published or available, only passages of his works are disseminated.

Few people know, for example, that Marti referred to socialism saying “yerra, pero consuela” (“off the mark, but consoling”), or that he dedicated a poem to hashish.

Yesterday, from my window I heard a group of Young Pioneers passing by in their uniforms. They were chanting phrases that intermixed phrases by Marti with calls for freedom for the Cuban Five.

These are children who don’t exactly know what they’re shouting. The teachers are the ones who have to lead these kids through the streets, because they’re the ones who are orienting them.

Yet everyone is indifferent, the Pioneers as well as and teachers and anyone who hears them. Marti is only a pretext.

Now, though I’m someone who has always been an admirer of his life and his work, I just can’t help but feeling sorry on this anniversary.

What has the image of “the teacher” been relegated to?