Biographic synthesis of José Martí

José Martí

José Julián Martí Pérez was born on January 28, 1853 in Havana, Cuba. He was the son of Marino Martí y Navarro and Leonor Pérez y Cabrera. José Martí is considered a national hero who fought for the democratic and popular revolution towards the independence of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Antilles, as well as for the freedom and vindication of the rights of slaves, workers and all those whose dignity was violated. Martí was also a politician, writer, poet and diplomat.

Martí entered the Escuela Superior Municipal in 1865 and, later, the Colegio de San Carlos. While still very young he was attracted by the revolutionary ideas of many Cubans and, after the beginning of the Ten Years’ War (1868-1878), he began his revolutionary activity: first, he published the gazette El Diablo Cojuelo and, shortly after, the magazine La Patria Libre, in which he published his dramatic poem “Abdala”. As his writings were considered seditious (in them he called a fellow student who had enlisted as a volunteer in the Spanish Army a traitor), in 1869 he was sentenced to prison with hard labor for six years. The banishment to Spain was the result of the commutation of the sentence and, in this way, he had the opportunity to study Law and Philosophy and Letters in the universities of Madrid and Zaragoza.

Martí spent most of his life on pilgrimage in exile. He visited many countries in Latin America, the Caribbean and Europe and lived for 15 years in the United States. He arrived in Mexico in the first days of February 1875, when he was 22 years old, coming from the exile imposed in Spain and accused of apostasy and disaffection to the Spanish colonialist regime. His parents and siblings were waiting for him, who were living in economic hardship, and were welcomed by the family of Manuel Mercado, who would become his friend and confidant. During this first stay in the country, with the support of the liberal Freemasonry, he was able to reside in and become part of the generation that would consolidate the conformation of the Mexican State in the context of Juar’s liberalism. This represented a phase of cultural and ideological maturation in key areas such as economics, politics and artistic manifestations. This growth included, in particular, the critical discovery of the social, political, economic and cultural realities and problems of Latin American countries, as well as their potential threats (such as the growing North American aggressiveness and internal political conflicts). It also allowed him to corroborate the need to identify and consolidate Latin American and Caribbean identity and autonomy, initiating the forging of his concept of Our America. José Martí also began to develop his aesthetic ideas, which were reflected in his contributions to La Revista Universal de Política, Literatura y Comercio. Shortly after, he collaborated with El Socialista, organ of the Gran Círculo Obrero de México and, at the end of his stay in the country, he published several works in the political newspaper El Federalista, where he criticized the Porfirian dictatorship and warned of an invasion of the United States due to the insurrection of Porfirio Díaz. In April 1877 he left for Guatemala. There he dealt more extensively with the problems of Latin American identity and assumed as his own concept the denominations “Our America” and “Mother America”, which appeared for the first time in his writings in Mexico. In December 1877 he returned to Mexico to Mercado’s house, married his girlfriend Carmen Zayas Bazán, the daughter of a Cuban lawyer, and returned to the Central American country. He lived in Honduras and returned, amnestied, to Cuba in 1878 without being able to practice law or teach by orders of the colonialists.

Deported again by the Cuban authorities, fearful of his revolutionary past, he settled in New York, United States, and devoted himself entirely to political and literary activity. He put his intelligence and willpower into the preparation of a definitive uprising against an increasingly weakened Spain, subject to the growing and overwhelming U.S. economic domination.

On November 26, 1891, in the Cuban Lyceum of Tampa, he pronounced one of his most important speeches with which he knew how to raise the souls and in which he exposed with severity: “…I want that the first law of our republic is the cult of the Cubans to the full dignity of the man”. In 1892 he wrote the Bases and Statutes of the Cuban Revolutionary Party (PRC) and on March 14 of that same year he founded the newspaper Patria as the official organ of the party. Likewise, from the United States he sent articles and chronicles to various printed media in other countries, such as La Opinión Nacional, of Caracas, Venezuela; La Nación, of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and El Partido Liberal, of Mexico. In 1894 Martí and his supporters began to prepare an uprising in Cuba that would give rise to the War of Independence (1895-1898). Its culmination would be the emancipation of the island.

Martí served as a delegate of the Cuban Revolutionary Party to obtain material and political aid, showing great diplomatic virtues. With this position he returned to Mexico for the last time on July 18, 1894 to raise funds for his independence work in favor of Cuba. He then traveled to Montecristi, Dominican Republic, where he met with General Máximo Gómez, a veteran of the island’s independence. On March 25, 1895, they signed the Montecristi Manifesto, a program that outlined the strategy for the new war. A powerful rebellion took shape when Martí and Gómez disembarked on the Cuban coast in April 1895 and met with Antonio Maceo, instituting the Republic in Arms under the terms of the Constitution approved in Camagüey by the assembly held in the same year.

Martí was the civilian leader of the insurrection and Gómez the military leader. “A true revolution”, he wrote before his death in letters to Federico Henríquez Carvajal and Manuel Antonio Mercado: “must concern itself as much with affirming the sovereignty of the nation in the face of imperialism as with liberating the exploited classes from their exploiters […] Cuba must be free from Spain and the United States”. Martí demanded the need for Cuba to redeem blacks, Indians, peasants and workers because, as the poet commented, independence is also the emancipation of the oppressed. José Martí is considered, together with Bolívar, San Martín and Miranda, one of the main protagonists of the independence process in Latin America. Martí is not only recognized for playing a decisive role in the emancipation of Cuba, but he also left a vast literary legacy consisting of poems and essays, which made him one of the precursors of modernism, a Latin American literary movement whose repercussions were extremely important in laying the new foundations of a poetics that forever changed literature in Spanish and other languages.

A day before, on May 18, he wrote a letter to his Mexican friend Manuel Mercado reaffirming his ideas and being aware of the price he would pay for them: “… I am already every day in danger of giving my life for my country and for my duty since I understand it and I have the courage to carry it out to prevent in time with the independence of Cuba that the United States spread through the Antilles and fall, with that force more, on our lands of America. All I have done up to today, and will do, is for that purpose.” Later on, he sentenced: “the annexation of the peoples of Our America, to the revolted and brutal north that despises them… I lived in the monster and I know its entrails, and my sling is that of David´s.”