Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Ask a Cuban-American, Installment #4

Gustavo Arellano, whose schtick I completely ripped off when I started this feature, has asked me another question. I think this process can actually lead to some sort of understanding between Cubans and Mexicans living in the U.S. Who'd a thunk it?

Dear Cuban-American,

Lefties like to lionize Fidel Castro and Che Guevara as liberators of Cuba. Why don’t they profess the same admiration for the island’s REAL liberator, José Martí? It’s sad that the only reason most non-Cubans remember is because of he wrote the annoying “Guantánamera.”

Dear Mexican,

The fact is that it's a lot easier for people talk about and relate to current and recent figures than those they only know in paintings and primitive photographs. So lefties focus on Castro as the "heir" of Martí instead of Martí himself. Guevara of course is the James Dean of militant lefties and anarchists because he died young and left a good-looking corpse (though in truth his bullet riddled corpse was quite macabre).

José Martí is known as the Apostle of Cuban independence. He is a revered by Cubans as the historical liberator of Cuba from Spain. Martí was a liberator, philosopher, statesman, poet, writer, revolutionary all rolled into one. It's not surprising that one of the things he is most famous for is his Versos Sencillos or Simple Verses from which some of the lyrics of the very catchy song Guantánamera come. Since most Yanquis only relate to Cuba on a Ricky Ricardo/Buena Vista Social Club level they tend to know this tiny detail more than the true legacy of Cuba's Apostle.

The problem with Jose Marti is that people from both sides of the Florida straights Cuba want to claim him and his ideas for themselves. Castro has been very effective in cloaking himself in the mantle of José Martí and claiming to be he ideological successor.

To modern day leftists, Castro simply picked up where Marti left off. They point to Marti's distrust of the United States (despite the fact that he lived in the US for 20 years) as prophetic. The U.S. did have an incredible amount of direct influence in Cuban affairs up until 1934 because of something called the Platt Amendment to the Cuban constitution. Many Cubans felt that a Cuban victory over the Spanish had been spoiled by U.S. intervention in what we call the Spanish-American war.

Castro used this nationalistic rhetoric to justify the confiscation of American businesses on the island. He used propaganda to convince Cubans that their country was an economic colony of the US and thus not truly free. This of course was not the truth in 1958. The amount of American economic influence was large but Cuba did have a distinct political and cultural life (something that Marti feared would be lost). In 1959 Cuba traded one dictator for another and a perceived colonial master (The USA) for a real one (The USSR).

The truth is that pre-Castro Cuba was much more progressive than most people realize. Studies have shown that from the 1930s - 1950s the number of foreign owned (i.e. American) sugar operations, the most important agricultural export of Cuba, had been reduced dramatically with more and more production owned by Cubans.

Also 1950s Cuba had a literacy rate comparable to the more advanced nations in Latin America which was an incredible turnaround from the time of independence just 60 years before when only 1 in 5 Cubans could read. Cuba's high literacy rate today is often given as a justification for the regime but the countries that Cuba's literacy was comparable to, in the late 50s, have a similar literacy rate to Cuba today (without totalitarian regimes).

By the way, Mexican, in Cancun (which used to be a part of Mexico before it was annexed by South Beach) there is a monument to José Martí near the city center (that's far from the hotel zone, gabachos). I have seen this monument many times. Your question reminded me of it and thus I was inspired to do some research and I found that it was created by a Cuban sculptor name José Delarra who has also sculpted a monument to, you guessed it, Che Guevara and also the Tren Blindado which is what got me into this blogging business to begin with.

Keep your questions to the resident Cuban-American coming. Email me.
Yo soy un hombre sincero
De donde crece la palma,
Y antes de morirme quiero
Echar mis versos del alma.

Cultivo una rosa blanca
en junio como enero
para el amigo sincero
que me da su mano franca.

-José Martí

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