The bad ones only succeed there where the good ones are indifferent - José Martí

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José Marti, and the five heroes

In April 1870 having just reached his 18th birthday, Jose Martí was condemned by the Spanish colonial authorities in Cuba to six years hard labor, charged with the crime of treason. A letter signed by him and his friend Fermín Valdés Dominguéz, in which they strongly criticized a fellow student for marching in a parade with the Spanish army, had fallen into the hands of the Spaniards. In January 1871, having served a few months of his sentence, he was deported to Spain.

Some weeks after his arrival in Madrid, having spent several months in prison, the young Martí published his pamphlet: 'Political Prison in Cuba'.

"These pages should be known by no other name but infinite pain.

Infinite pain, for the pain of prison is the harshest, the most devastating of afflictions, that which kills the intelligence and withers the soul, leaving effects that will never be erased.

It begins with a length of iron chain; it drags with it this mysterious world that troubles the heart; it grows, nourished upon every somber sorrow, and finally wanders about magnified by every scalding tear...

What is this?

Nothing.

Being beaten, trampled, dragged about, insulted on the same street beside the same house and at the same window where, a month before, we were receiving our mother's blessing-what is this?

Nothing.

I no longer ask you for the impartial reason needed for deliberation. I do ask you to tremble with pain for those who weep, to tremble with compassion for those who suffer for what you may have suffered yesterday, or what you may have to suffer tomorrow if you are not yet the Gospel's chosen people...

And so many have died! And so many mothers have lost their reason! Mother, mother! How I feel you are living in my soul! How your memory inspires me! How the bitterest tears of your memory burn my cheeks!

Mother, mother! So many are weeping as you have wept! So many mothers are losing the sparkle in their eyes as you have lost it! Mother, mother!"
Extracts from 'Political Prison in Cuba' by José Martí

Cubans have long viewed these words by José Martí as an indication of how already deep-rooted in the 18 year-old youth were the concepts of free and universal thought as well a devotion to his country that were so characteristic of the future writings and actions of this outstanding Cuban patriot of the 19th century.

In September 1998, five Cuban men were arrested and charged with threatening the security of the United States. After a flawed judicial process they were condemned to maximum prison sentences.

As they were sentenced in a Miami court in December 2001, one by one, they spoke from the dock:

"At the beginning I wrote in my diary of my long days, "... a real man does not look to see on which side one lives best, but on which side lies duty". Those are José Martí's words, which a century after they were written still encourage, live and are the essence of what is most pure and altruistic.

If I were asked to do the same thing again, I would do it with honor.

Many days and months of an unjust, cruel and horrible imprisonment have gone by!

I take these verses by Martí for this last page that I write in the diary of my long days:

"I have lived:
It was to duty that I pledged my arms
And not once did the sun drop down behind the hills
That did not see my struggle and my victory...
Because, in the end, we shall rest free and victorious beneath that sun which we are denied today".

Antonio Guerrero
27/12/2001

"I sincerely trust that one day Cuba will have no need for people like me to come to this country, voluntarily and out of love for their country and their people, to fight against terrorism.

The first duty of any self-respecting person is to his or her country. Throughout the years of my imprisonment, I will always carry with me the dignity I have learned from my people and their history".
Fernando González
18/12/2001

"Over two years ago I received a letter from my father, in which he said, among other things, that he hoped a jury would be found in which the values of Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln prevailed. It is shameful that he turned out to be wrong.

But I have not lost hope in the human race and its capacity to pursue those values. After all, I do not think that Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln themselves represented the majority during the era in which they left their mark on the history of this nation.

And as these three sordid years go down in history, and a mountain of arguments, motions and technicalities come to bury a story of blackmail, power abuse and the most absolute contempt for such a highly praised justice system, polished to a shine it never had, we will continue to appeal to those values, and to the American people's vocation for truth. And we will do so with all the patience, faith and courage that we draw from the crime of being honorable".
René González
14/12/2001

"Your Honor, the prosecution considers, and has requested, that I should spend the rest of my life in prison. I trust that if not at this level, then at some other level of the system, reason and justice will prevail over political prejudices and the desire for revenge, and it will be understood that we have done no harm to this country that deserves such a punishment. But if this were not the case, I would then take the liberty of quoting one of this nation's greatest patriots, Nathan Hale, when he said: "My only regret is that I have but one life to give for my country."
Gerardo Hernández Nordelo
12/12/2001

"If preventing the deaths of innocent human beings, defending our two countries from terrorism, and preventing a senseless invasion of Cuba are the reasons I am being sentenced today, then I welcome that sentence!

I will wear the prison uniform with the same honor and pride with which a soldier wears his most prized insignias!

This has been a political trial and therefore we are political prisoners!
All of the evidence is here; this is where history is written. And it is history that will do us true justice!"

Ramón Labañino Salazar
13/12/2001

Somehow the dignity in these five men and their determination not to surrender their ideals, reveal a connection with the thoughts and ideas of José Martí, from which Cubans continue to gain insight on the thinking that influences US policy on Cuba up to the present day.

As far back as 1894, José Martí, wrote:

"A mistake in Cuba is a mistake in America, a mistake in present-day humanity. Whoever rebels with Cuba today, rebels for all time. Since Cuba is our sacred homeland, it requires special thought; serving it, in so glorious and difficult time, fills a person with dignity and nobility... to save the threatened independence of a free America, and the dignity of the North American Republic. Weaklings, show respect! Great men, march on! This is a task for the great".

This Program, presented by Bernie Dwyer, was aired on Radio Havana Cuba 28/1/2003, the 150th anniversary of the birth of Cuba's National Hero, José Martí.

(RHC)

 
 

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