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
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
What is this?
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
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
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
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
"I have lived:
It was to duty that I pledged my arms
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".
"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
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
"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
"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."
"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
This has been a political trial and therefore we are
All of the evidence is here; this is where history
is written. And it is history that will do us true
Ramón Labañino Salazar
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
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.