A Hero’s Dreams

José Martí is an icon in communist Cuba.  Visitors disembark at José Martí International Airport in Havana, where the Plaza de la Revolución contains a prominent statue of Martí.  In 2000, Fidel Castro had a José Martí Anti-Imperialist Tribunal built in front of the U.S. Interests Section.  Not surprisingly, Castro and his functionaries assert harmony between their totalitarianism and Martí’s thought.

Born in 1853, Martí precociously opposed Spain’s occupation of Cuba.  He founded an anti-imperialist newspaper, La Patria Libre, at 16 and was arrested for treason in 1869.  After he was condemned to six years’ hard labor, Spain commuted his sentence and deported him in 1871.  In his new residence (Spain), Martí wrote an account of his trauma and an indictment of the hegemon that inflicted it.  The blend of reportage and rumination in Political Prison in Cuba became standard in Martí’s writings.  At one point, he describes the sufferings of a 12-year old prisoner ravaged by smallpox and efforts to resuscitate cholera victims; later, he observes that “No idea can ever justify an orgy of blood.”  (It is difficult to read Political Prison in Cuba without thinking of counterparts in modern Cuba: Ana Rodriguez’s Diary of a Survivor, Jorge...

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