Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES — A relative who doesn’t have a very cultivated mind but natural clever intelligence, told me when I came out of prison: “It was Marti who ruined you, for reading all those books. Reading these things in this country is trouble, because “these people” have everything locked down and they crush whoever raises their head.”
Given the circumstances, I couldn’t contradict him and also because his words were wise in a lot of different ways. I only responded: “Marti takes you to jail but he also helps you to bear it.”
Then, I told him about how the Marti helped me in the face of being in a tiny jail cell along with five dangerous prisoners implies, piled up without ventilation and not very much light; permanently filled with cigarette smoke, eating the worst food in the world, dripping in sweat because of the suffocating heat; punished by hundreds of mosquitoes day and night, sneezing because of allergies, not allowed to communicate with family; stressed by the repercussions of my current state on my sick mother’s health or on my children who were afraid. Plus, I didn’t even know how long I was going to be in there, as my captors had said that they were going to teach me “a good lesson.”
Thinking about Marti gave me strength. When he was a 16-year-old boy, he went to prison for several months, with shackles on, working hard in a mine, just because he wrote a letter. I had written and published over 150 articles in less than two years. My crime was 150 times worse for the intolerant, I’m sure.
His experience was so harrowing that he never recovered from his physical injuries. However, he didn’t give up or even lose heart. If he had resisted, why wouldn’t I do the same? I’m sure his mother, Leonor, suffered more than my own, because she saw him for what he really should have been: a defenseless child. In the face of some charge of conscience, which would have killed my mother if that had happened, she pushed it aside and rightly judged the real culprits of her suffering.
Being a journalist in Cuba outside of official discourse and official media is very dangerous. You are labeled a member of the “counter-revolution” and the “opposition”, not recognizing the social function this essential activity has. Earning any money for writing journalism, which doesn’t come from the Cuban State, is considered a mercenary act. Money, whether it comes from the US or not, is coined with the title “coming from Imperialism”. But, just like Spain, which was Cuba’s Government during Marti’s time, scornfully judged newspapers such as “Patria” and Marti’s own articles.
History needs to be remembered precisely for this reason, to motivate the desire to fight for a better Cuba, to strengthen our spirits with examples of tenacity and sacrifice, people who gave everything for freedom. Not to exacerbate hate, resentment, division, feuds. Experience is only good holding onto when it prevents future wrongs.
In Marti’s time, Cuba was going through a similar situation to what it is today, if you look at it from a particular angle. The Cuban people’s freedom had been decimated by the absolute power of a Government that was already very weak and out of date, but it felt strong, more out of pig-headedness than anything real. It refused to recognize rights, it insisted on repeating that things were fine the way they were and they closed the doors to change. As a result, children of Spanish immigrants or Cubans (who were the same) became more and more convinced that a total break with the system was the only path ahead.
Likewise, many children of the Revolution (read here: those who were born and educated under this system) have dissented and ended up separated and labeled “counterrevolutionaries” for proposing change or believing in the pressing need for change.
Marti, like many others, saw (necessary or obligatory) violence as the way to resolve national conflict. Luckily, we live in times of peace, at least in this part of the world. Today, we want to and must resolve national conflicts without violence, even though violence is being used against us by those who continue to be stuck in the past by history and refuse to take root in the present.
Just like he didn’t hate Spanish, or Spain, even under the flare of bullets which killed him, we shouldn’t hate our adversaries today, no matter how wrong they are and no matter how much harm they have caused us. Hating doesn’t help us or them. It’s better for us to feel compassion for their faults without giving up our own efforts and actions to create a better Cuba for all Cubans. If we don’t have the courage, altruism or commiseration we need, let’s look for that in Marti’s words full of wisdom and teaching: the Master always comes to your aid.