We continue on without wanting to admit that if our “wine is sour,” even if “the wine is our own,” it is no more than that: sour wine.*
Cubanet, Luis Cino Álvarez, Havana, 28 January 2016 — Today marks the 163rd anniversary of the birth of our national hero, José Martí. It is the time to repeat by rote the two or three of his sayings that all of us Cubans learned since grade school. It is but a short time before we again commemorate his death on May 19. Those two remembrances comprise most of the veneration of Martí that was instilled in us from childhood. What a shame!
We have the myth, but the counsels and teachings of Martí have served us precious little. Rather, from the era of independence [from Spain] up to today, we have systematically devoted ourselves to incurring everything against which he warned us. We have done as the Israelites in the Old Testament, who continually disobeyed Jehovah and were punished for it. Although we are not even remotely like the Hebrews, our people, too, have received their due punishment. And what awaits us, still…
Whatever became of all that which was quoted so often but has never come to pass, of the republic and the nation “for all, and for the good of all”?
We Cubans have exploited, with no compunction, the legend of Martí. Few peoples enjoy the privilege of having a poet as their national hero. But poets and their worldviews are not easy to comprehend. We never understood Martí well, and we have idealized and inflated him into the politician that he was not and never wanted to be.
Upon preparing for the War of Independence, Martí fulfilled his principal historic role. There was little else by then that he could do. His death at Dos Ríos, on 19 May 1895, confronting a Spanish patrol, was almost a suicide mission. It provided him the out that that he could not find before such great obstinacy and lack of understanding among the principle leaders of the Mambíses.
But the official story, that which was taught before [the 1959 Revolution], and which is badly taught today, refuses to acknowledge the conflicts that existed among the leaders of the independence movement…
Would Martí, after independence had been won, been able to work with those who were intending to lead the Republic as if it were a military camp**, and instill in them his civic and democratic vision?
Very few Cubans have read Martí deeply. What we have an abundance of are those who distort and manipulate his ideology. Thus, they have created a multi-purpose Martí, useful and convenient for all.
The greatest plagiarist, Fidel Castro, made of Martí the intellectual author of the attack on the Moncada barracks, his guide for the construction of a socialist society, and mentor to his pathological confrontation with the United States. To justify his single-party dictatorship, Fidel cited the case of the Cuban Revolutionary Party, overlooking the fact that it was created solely to organize the War of Independence, and not to perpetuate the rule of any political caudillo.
The legend of Martí contributed to the construction of a meta-history, a teleology of the nation’s destiny, which has done us more harm than good. Rather than redeem us, it bequeathed to us, among other things, a bad conscience and the fate of national misfortune.
Writing from exile, Martí idealized a Cuba in which he lived barely 20 years of his life. But the Cuba he invented surely would have been much better than the real one, if we Cubans had been able to make it come true—if not exactly as Martí envisioned it, at least close to it. But we were not able. And we continue not being able.
They beat us over the head so much with the pure heroes and the bronze statues that they ended up boring us. As a result of this boredom, today many Cubans, especially the young, associate Martí with the Castro regime’s harangue, and they reject him outright.
We Cubans should be ashamed of all the ignorance of and distortion of Martí. But it is easier to feel sorry for ourselves. So we continue to quote his sayings—even if they are out of context, or we do not understand them well, or we interpret them according to our whim and convenience—to justify our failure as a nation.
Thus attached to Martí, we continue not wanting to admit that if the wine is sour, for all that it is our wine, is no more than that: sour wine. Or even worse: vinegar. Which stings so much in our wounds…
*A reference to a quotation of Jose Martí well-known to Cubans, “Nuestro vino es agrio, pero es nuestro vino” – Our wine may be sour, but it is our own wine.
** A reference to another oft-remembered phrase from José Martí (though not one commonly invoked by Fidel or Raul Castro): “Un pueblo no se funda, General, como se manda un campamento” — A people is not founded, General, the way one commands a military camp. Martí wrote this in a 20 October 1884 letter to General Maximo Gomez, in which he resigned from the revolutionary movement.
About the Author
Luis Cino Álvarez (Havana, 1956) has worked as a professor of English, in construction, and in agriculture. He entered independent journalism in 1998. Between 2002 and Spring 2003, Cino was a member of the reporting team at De Cuba magazine. He is assistant director of the online magazine, Primavera Digital [Digital Spring], and is a regular contributor to CubaNet since 2003. A resident of Arroyo Naranjo, Cino dreams of being able to make a living from writing fiction. He is passionate about good books, the sea, jazz and blues.
Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison