Two Views by José Martí
[Brief bio: José Martí, (1853-1895), Cuban writer and patriot, whose poetry, political prose, and eventual death in battle made him the martyred symbol of Cuban aspirations to independence. Born in Havana, at age 16 he suffered imprisionment as a revolutionary. He had founded a small newspaper entitled La patria libre (The Free Fatherland). Banished to Spain, he traveled widely and continued his revolutionary writings.
From 1881 to 1895, Martí worked actively in the Cuban Revolutionary Party and founded its journal, Patria (1892). Planning an invasion of the island, he set out for Cuba with a group of armed revolutionaries in 1894, only to be intercepted in Florida and turned back. The following year, he reached Cuba, only to be killed a month later during a skirmish with Spanish troops at Dos Ríos. His poetry and other writings and martyr's death have given him an exalated place in Cuban literature and political history. The following two essays reveal his clear-cut concerns about the US role in Latin America.]
"On the Pan-American Congress" (Essay appearing in La Nacion of Buenos Aires on December 19 and 20, 1889)
"Pan-Americans," says one newspaper; "Clay's dream," says another; a third, "The right influence"; a fourth, "Not yet"; a fifth, "Steamers to South America"; a sixth, "Manifest destiny"; a seventh, "The Gulf is ours." And still others: "That Congress!" "The subsidy hungers," "Actions against the candidates," "Blaine's Congress," "The bread parade," "Blaine's myth." The parade of delegates is ending and the sessions of the Pan-American Congress are about to begin. Never in America, from its independence to the present, has there been a matter requiring more good judgment or more vigilance, or demanding a clearer and more thorough examination, than the invitation which the powerful United States (glutted with unsaleable merchandise and determined to extend its dominions in America) is sending to the less powerful American nations (bound by free and useful commerce to the European nations) for purposes of arranging an alliance against Europe and cutting off transactions with the rest of the world. Spanish America learned how to save itself from the tyranny of Spain; and now, after viewing with judicial eyes the antecedents, motives, and ingredients of the invitation, it is essential to say, for it is true, that the time has come for Spanish America to declare its second independence. . .
Dangers must not be recognized only when they are upon us, but when they can be avoided. In politics the main thing is to clarify and foresee. Only a virile and unanimous response, for which there is still time without risk, can free all the Spanish American nations at one time from the anxiety and agitation - fatal in a country's hour of development - in which the secular and admittedly predominant policy of a powerful and ambitious neighbor, with the possible connivance of the weak or venal republics, would forever hold them. This powerful neighbor has never desired to incite them, nor has it exerted control over them except to prevent their expansion, as in Panama; or to take possession of their territory, as in Mexico, Nicaragua, Santo Domingo, Haiti, and Cuba; or to cut off their trade with the rest of the world, as in Colombia; or to oblige them to buy what it cannot sell, as it is now doing, and to form a confederacy for purposes of controlling them. . .
. . . It is generally agreed that the (Pan-American) Congress will be nothing but a worthless meeting, or a presidential campaign banner, or a pretext for a subsidy hunt. Those who know the benefits of independence, and who cannot conceive of dispensing with it unless absolutely necessary, are expecting all this from the independent nations of Ameria. Will the Gulf islands be admitted to the presence of the new master on their knees? Will Central America consent to divide in half, the Canal blade slicing through its heart, or to unite on behalf of the South as Mexico's oppressor? Mexico is a nation with the same interests, the same destiny, and the same racial background as Central America. Will Colombia pawn or sell its sovereignty? Will the free nations sweep the isthmus clear of obstacles to the juggernaut - those free nations that dwell there and will climb into its car as did the Mexicans in Texas? Through hopes of support against the European alien, because of an illusion of progress that is excusable only in a provincial mentality, will Venezuela, being nearer and more ambitious, stand up for the dominance of an even more dreadful foreigner who announces that its eyes must be, and are, fixed upon the entire American family of nations? Or must admiration for the United States go so far as to lend a hand to the exhausted young bull, like the peasant woman in La Terre?
This blind admiration, because of the novice's enthusiasm or lack of study is the main force in America upon which the policy of control depends in this matter. It is a policy invoking a dogma that needs no foreign supplication in the American republics, for centuries ago, even before entering the innocence of childhood, these republics learned how to bravely repulse the most stubborn and powerful nation on earth. And with no assistance from outside sources, they obliged it to respect their natural strenth and the evidence of their abilities. What is the use of invoking the doctrine that originated as much with Monroe as with Canning, to extend its dominion in America in order to prevent foreign domination there and assure a continent of its freedom? Or must the dogma be invoked against one foreign nation only to bring in another? Or does one shake off foreign domination - which has a very different character, different interests, and different purposes - by putting on the appearance of freedom and surrendering it in action? Is it because the poison of loans, canals, and railroads comes with the foreigner? Or does the doctrine have to be crammed down the throats of the weaker nations of America by the nation that has Canada to the north, the Guianas and Belize to the south, and sees to it that Spain is supported?
. . . The free nations of America have reason to expect that the nation whose influence threw the French out of Mexico will rid them of the troublesome foreigner, brought there perhaps because of a desire to raise a barrier against Saxon power in the world's imbalance. . . Walker went to Nicaragua for the United States; for the United States Lopez went to Cuba. And now when slavery is no longer an excuse, the annexation alliance is afoot. Allen is talking about helping that of Cuba; Douglass is going to obtain that of Haiti and Santo Domingo. In Madrid Palmer is gauging Spain's feelings about the sale of Cuba; in the Antilles the bribed Central American newspapers are stirring up interest in the Washington-based annexation plans; in the lesser Antilles the Northern newspapers are constantly giving reports on the progress of annexationist ideas. Washington persists in compelling Colombia to acknowledge its dictatorial rights over the isthmus, and in depriving it of the authority to discuss its territory with other nations. And the United States, by virtue of the civil war it instigated, is acquiring the Mole St. Nicolas peninsula in Haiti. Some people consider "Clay's dream" an accomplished fact. Others consider it advisable to wait another half-century. Still others, born in Spanish America, believe they ought to help further the cause.
The Pan-American Congress will be an illustrious inventory showing in a dignified and energetic way which countries are defending the independence of Spanish America, the fulcrum of the world's balance of power. Or it may show whether or not any nations on a continent occupied by two peopes of different character and objectives can, through fear or confusion of ingrained slavery or by being induced to consent, decrease by their own desertion the indispensable and already too meager forces by which the family of a single nationality will be able to contain, with the respect it imposes and the wisdom it displays, attempts at domination by a nation reared in the hope of ruling the continent. Present-day events are proof of these attempts at dominance, and this at a time when the eagerness for markets on the part of its inflated industries, the opportunity to impose the predicted protectorate upon the distant nations and the weak ones nearby the material strength needed for the assault, and the ambitions of a bold and rapacious politician, are described as reaching a peak.
"Letter to the editor" New York Evening Post, March 25, 1889
I beg to be allowed the privilege of referring in your columns to the injurious criticism of the Cubans printed in the Manufacturer of Philadelphia, and reproduced in your issue of yesterday.
This is not the occasion to discuss the question of the annexation of Cuba. It is probable that no self-respecting Cuban would like to see his country annexed to a nation where the leaders of opinion share towards him the prejudices excusable only to vulgar jingoism or rampant ignorance. No honest Cuban will stoop to be received as a moral pest for the sake of the usefulness of his land in a community where his ability is denied, his morality insulted, and his character despised. There are some Cubans who, from honorable motives, from an ardent admiration for progress and liberty, from a prescience of their own powers under better political conditions, from an unhappy ignorance of the history and tendency of annexation, would like to see the island annexed to the United States. But those who have fought in war and learned in exile, who have built, by the work of hands and mind, a virtuous home in the heart of an unfriendly community; who by their successful efforts as scientists and merchants, as railroad builders and engineers, as teachers, artists, lawyers, journalists, orators, and poets, as men of alert intelligence and uncommon activity, are honored wherever their powers have been called into action and the people are just enough to understand them; those who have raised,with their less prepared elements, a town of workingmen where the United States had previously a few huts in a barren cliff; those, more numerous than the others, do not desire the annexation of Cuba to the United States. They do not need it. They admire this nation, the greatest ever built by liberty, but they dislike the evil conditions that, like worms in the heart, have begun in this mighty republic their work of destruction. They have made of the heroes of this country their own heroes, and look to the success of the American commonwealth as the crowning glory of mankind; but they cannot honestly believe that excessive individualism, reverence for wealth, and the protracted exultation of a terrible victory are preparing the United States to be the typical nation of liberty, where no opinion is to be based in greed, and no triumph or acquisition reached against charity and justice. We love the country of Lincoln as much as we fear the country of Cutting.
We are not the people of destitute vagrants or immoral pigmies that the Manufacturer is pleased to picture; nor the country of petty talkers, incapable of action, hostile to hard work, that, in a mass with the other countries of Spanish America, we are by arrogant travelers and writers represented to be. We have suffered impatiently under tyranny; we have fought like men, sometimes like giants, to be freemen; we are passing that period of stormy repose, full of germs of revolt, that naturally follows a period of excessive and unsuccessful action . . .we deserve in our misfortune the respect of those who did not help us in our need.
. . .[B]ecause the healthier farmer, ruined by a war seemingly useless, turns in silence to the plough that he knew well how to exchange for the machete; because thousands of exiles, profiting by a period of calm that no human power can quicken until it is naturally exhausted, are practicing in the battle of life in the free countries the art of governing themselves and of building a nation; because our halfbreeds and city-bred young men are generally of delicate physique, of suave courtesy, and ready words, hiding under the glove that polishes the poem the hand that fells the foe - are we to be considered as the Manufacturer does consider us, an "effeminate" people? These city-bred young men and poorly built halfbreeds knew in one day how to rise against a cruel government, to pay their passages to the seat of war with the pawning of their watches and trinkets, to work their way in exile while their vessels were being kept from them by the country of the free in the interest of the foes of freedom, to obey as soldiers, sleep in the mud, eat roots, fight ten years without salary, conquer foes with the branch of a tree, die - these men of eighteen, these heirs of wealthy estates, these dusky striplings - a death not to be spoken of without uncovering the head. . . These "effeminate" Cubans had courage enough, in the face of a hostile government, to carry on their left arms for a week the mourning-band for Lincoln.
The Cubans have, according the Manufacturer, "a distaste for exertion"; they are "helpless," "idle." These "helpless," "idle" men came here twenty years ago empty-handed, with very few exceptions; fought against the climate; mastered the language; lived by their honest labor, some in affluence, a few in wealth, rarely in misery; they bought or built homes; they raised families and fortunes; they loved luxury, and worked for it; they were not frequently seen in the dark roads of life; proud and self-sustaining, they never feared competition as to intelligence or diligence. . . In Philadelphia the Manufacturer has a daily opportunity to see a hundred Cubans, some of them of heroic history and powerful build, who live by their work in easy comfort. In New York the Cubans are directors in prominent banks, substantial merchants, popular brokers, clerks of recognized ability, physicians with a large practice . . . the "senora" went to work; from a slaveowner she became a slave, took a seat behind the counter, sang in the churches, worked button-holes by the hundred, sewed for a living, curled feathers, gave her soul to duty, withered in work her body. This is the people of "defective morals."
We are "unfitted by nature and experience to discharge the obligations of citizenship in a great and free country." (From the Manufacturer) This cannot be justly said of a people who possess, besides the energy that built the first railroad in Spanish dominions and established against the opposition of the government all the agencies of civilization, a truly remarkable knowledge of the body politic. . . The political knowledge of the average Cuban compares well with that of the average American citizen. Absolute freedom from religious intolerance, the love of man for the work he creates by his industry, and theoretical and practical familiarity with the laws and processes of liberty, will enable the Cuban to rebuild his country from the ruins in which he will receive it from its oppressors. It is not to be expected, for the honor of mankind, that the nation that was rocked in freedom, and received for three centuries the best blood of liberty-loving men, will employ the power thus acquired in depriving a less fortunate neighbor of its liberty.
It is, finally, said that "our lack of manly force and of self-respect is demonstrated by the supineness with which we have so long submitted to Spanish oppression, and even our attempts at rebellion have been so pitifully ineffective that they have risen little above the dignity of farce." Never was ignorance of history and character more pitifully displayed than in this wanton assertion. . . A farce! The war that has been by foreign observers compared to an epic, the upheaval of a whole country, the voluntary abandonment of wealth, the abolition of slavery in our first moment of freedom, the burning of our cities by our own hands, the erection of villages and factories in the wild forests. . . The struggle has not ceased. The exiles do not want to return. The new generation is worthy of its sires. Hundreds of men have died in darkness since the war in the misery of prisons. With life only will this fight for liberty cease among us. And it is the melancholy truth that our efforts would have been, in all probability, successfully renewed, were it not, in some of us, for the unmanly hopes of the annexationists of securing liberty without paying its price; and the just fears of others that our dead, our sacred memories, our ruins drenched in blood would be but the fertilizers of the soil for the benefit of a foreign plant, or the occasion for a sneer from the Manufacturer of Philadelphia.
With sincere thanks for the space you have kindly allowed me, I am, sir, yours very respectfully,