José Martí and Fidel Castro: Two Lifetimes Connected by the Same Revolution

The people can only deposit its energy and trust on those who have the strength to carry it. This relationship between the individual and the masses, between leader and people, explains why Martí remained alive in the memory of Cubans and why Fidel will remain there as well.

Source: Bohemia
Translated by Cuba-Network in Defense of Humanity

Had both Cuban leaders not followed that rule, they would have fallen into a vacuum that sterilizes thought and action; they would have waited and seen if the metropolis of the world provided them with the necessary answers to interpret and confront the grave challenges they faced instead of solving them with creativity.

These challenges were not only from Cuba—they also pertained to the rest of Latin America, from North American and even the rest of the planet. Both leaders created a guide against cultural colonialism—no matter where it came from.

A voracious reader like José Martí, Fidel Castro could very well have written the words the former wrote about himself: ‘Napoleon was born on a carpet that depicted the European war. I must have been born on a pile of books’.

In another manuscript, Martí made another confession that’s equally applicable to Fidel, ‘the book that interests me the most is the book of life, which is the hardest one to read, and the one that must be consulted the most in politics—which is nothing more than the art of guaranteeing humankind the full exercise of its faculties in a pleasing existence”.

The way to accurately assess the importance Martí had for Fidel—who called him ‘the most brilliant and universal Cuban politician’ and the ‘eternal guide of our people’— is not to seek similarities in their personalities, and even less to merely compare their written word. Because, as they knew, ideas are important, but their most important aspect is how they inform and change reality.

This explains why, when he was prosecuted for leading the revolution, Fidel declared Martí the intellectual author of the liberation of Cuba he carried out on July 26, 1953, and therefore, of all the revolutionary stage that exists until today. This was more than just quoting, it was a continuation of the purposes of the national hero.

Inherited goals

Fidel’s revolution sought to accomplish Martí’s project for the country. Fidel avidly read Martí’s writings during his time in jail, underlining and annotating them profusely.

The regime that Fidel attempted to overthrow in 1953 was a tool of the US imperial power, one that Martí had already stopped in its plans to take control over Cuba and Puerto Rico to dominate the entire American continent.

Twenty years later, in 1973, Fidel said: “Martí gave us his ardent patriotism, his passionate love for freedom, dignity and decency, his rejection for despotism and his unlimited faith in the people. In his revolutionary preaching was the moral basis and historic legitimacy of our armed action.

That’s why we say he was the intellectual author of July 26 [1953].” And on the path that Martí had signaled the Cuban Socialist Republic followed, guided by Fidel and by a Constitution presided by Martí’s will: ‘May the first law of the Republic be the respect of Cubans to the unconditional dignity of man’.

Words, ideas, action

Martí had a conviction he expressed until the very day before he fell in combat, in a letter to his Mexican friend Manuel Mercado: it was urgent to prevent the expansionist plans of the United States, and he was going to act against them, as he told Mercado: ‘Everything I did to this day, and everything I will do, is to that end,’ although in practice he was fighting the Spanish army.

This global strategy was also followed by Fidel, who, in Sierra Maestra, reacted to the destruction of a peasant’s house by a US bomb dropped from a plane. Then, the rebel leader made a confession to a comrade, Celia Sánchez, and it wasn’t just an emotional outlet but a political program: once the tyrant was defeated, he would fight against imperialism.

He eradicated the misery that most of the Cuban people lived in, and created the conditions for educational development and cultural flourishing that Martí enshrined: ‘To be educated is the only way to be free’. This notion of education was inseparable from reading, but also required independent thought.

The famous phrase Fidel pronounced in his defense, ‘history will absolve me’, references the speech Martí pronounced on February 17, 1982, known as the Tampa and Cayo Hueso Prayer. With conviction, he referred to the work towards unity that would lead him to create the Cuban Revolutionary Party: ‘history won’t declare us guilty!’.

The memory of the heart

That’s how organically Fidel embraced Martí. In Spanish, the etymology of the verb ‘to remember’ (recordar) comes from ‘what’s brought back to the heart’, and in other languages, ‘to memorize’ is ‘to know by heart’. That’s how Fidel embraced Martí’s ideas.

Both had the humbleness that characterizes the great. Martí used to say: ‘A man in and of himself is nothing, and what he is, he is thanks to his people. The privileged gifts that Nature gives to some of its children are worth nothing if they aren’t shared with the people, but if they are, they will be exalted by it, like the flowers on the top of a mountain.’

The people can only deposit its energy and trust on those who have the strength to carry it. This relationship between the individual and the masses, between leader and people, explains why Martí remained alive in the memory of Cubans and why Fidel will remain there as well.

Both were living examples of that which Martí wrote to Henríquez and Caravajal, ‘one must give respect and a human and kind nature to sacrifice’.