Book: José Martí and the Global Origins of Cuban Independence
Author: Armando García de la Torre
Critic: Dr Glenville Ashby
The veil of history is rendered and we somehow remain shortsighted, seeing José Martí
(1853-1895) only in raw political terms. Surely, he is the consummate revolutionary who dies in ridding his nation from Spanish colonial rule. But, he is so much more.
Martí is complex, his life almost impervious to psychoanalysis. His politics and musings on nationhood are tinged with a mystical allure that few in his time understood. In José Martí and the Global Origins of Cuban Independence, Armando García de la Torre introduces this political pioneer as a transcendentalist, a man whose ideals and revolutionary fervor are inextricably bound to his unflinching belief in the validity of the human spirit. He captures Martí’s upbringing, his existential struggles and identity crises. A son of a colonial operative and a foreign-born mother, his path toward redemption is exemplary, a veritable study in the fathomless reaches of the mind. Revolution, as expressed by Martí is multilayered, even cryptic. It fuses the sacred with the mundane, revealing a compellingly transformative and idealistic message.
An excerpt of Martí’s letter offers a window to his soul: “My destiny is like a white charcoal that burns itself to shine its surrounding. I feel that my struggle will never end…Death or isolation will be my only reward.”
De la Torre argues that Martí had absorbed the Hindu concept of atman – the ineffable reflection of God within. He is an avid reader of the Bhagavad Gita, a sacred Hindu script that chronicles the timeless counsel of Krishna to Arjun, a warrior. Martí assumes the courage and wisdom of Arjun.
In essence, he is Arjun. He views selfishness and hubris as blots in the human conscience. He embraces oneness, the interconnectedness of humanity and the theory of reincarnation that affords us countless opportunities to cleanse our self-destructive behaviour.
His sexless, race-less, color-less nation-state reflects the highest principle of Eastern teachings. We must liberate ourselves from the wheel of births and rebirths. De la Torre writes, “In Martí’s mind, each life is either purified or further polluted by man’s actions on earth.” He is convinced that “virtue, specifically in actions, refines individuals and accelerates ultimate union with the great Soul of the universe.”
Martí’s revolution cleanses and unloads the burdens of a world wrought by oppressive rule and exploitation.
Martí’s nationalist vision, his nation-state takes on new value, a new meaning. It assumes spiritual properties, transcending ethnicities and boundaries.
Martí’s Cuba assumes a divine responsibility as a spiritual centre, the very seat of a greater good.
De la Torre taps into the Martí’s stream of consciousness. “The nations of the world,” Martí writes, “should meet together as often as possible in order to begin replacing with a system of global rapprochement, over isthmuses and across seas, the system forever extinct, of dynasties and parties.”
De la Torre, though, is quick to add that the Cuban icon is not advocating a single Latin America or world government.
On racism, Martí is puritanical in his rejection of a practice he deems an anathema. As de la Torre points out, “Martí’s legacy isn’t complete without acknowledging its Pan African dimension.” He is mandated by a Higher Source to struggle against racial injustice. Collaborating with black activist Rafael Serra (1858-1909), he establishes La Liga (the League), an educational institution to help disenfranchised blacks. Ligas opened in Florida, New York and Antilles assisting Jamaicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans and immigrants from the Virgin Islands.
His alignment with Juan Gualberto Gomez, another black activist is also detailed. De la Torre concludes that Martí’s travels outside Cuba shapes his resolve to aggressively address the racial question. “He witnessed the exclusion, alienation and violence exacted on the African American population by the white ruling majority [and] the lessons he gained would strengthen his resolve to never allow these crimes to be replicated in the envisioned Cuban republic.”
But Martí’s view on race is markedly complex and at times misconstrued. Race is never seen in biological or phenotypic terms. He is called an “avant-garde for the time, believing that “race was not a scientific construct.”
Martí attempts to transcend or ‘undo” the obstacles “that impeded political and social hopes.” Interestingly, he weighs the cultures before him, seeking the best of multiple worlds. He pens: “As European descendants in America embraced the perceived positive elements of non-European societies a new amalgamation of cultural norms faithful to the social reality of Latin America, and of Cuba would emerge.”
And on good governance, the author examines Martí’s collection of writings on the US Civil War. Shedding blood for the noble reason to “secure humanity” is permissible, according to Martí. De la Torre adds that the Cuban revolutionary upholds that ‘humanity, or a people, could only be safe and secure if men and women were free and not subject to or owned by other men and women.”
Said differently: “The Civil War thus emerged as a sacred mechanism that served to physically and spiritually liberate North Americans in much the same way the Cuban War of Independence would achieve these ideals for the Cubans.”
While today’s politics seems divorced from natural moral law, Martí, driven by internal and external dynamics merges the two, creating a doctrine of practical transcendentalism in a world tortured by its own hands. Regrettably, Martí’s teachings have never been more elusive.
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Jose Martí and the Global Origins of Cuban Independence by Armando García de la Torre
Publisher: The University of the West Indies Press
Available at Amazon
Rating: Highly recommended
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