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World of 1898: International Perspectives on the Spanish American War

José Martí

Detroit Publishing Co. Statue of Jose Marti, Central Park, Havana, Cuba. 1906. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.


Born in Havana, Cuba, José Julián Martí y Pérez was the son of poor Spanish immigrants. Thanks to the aid of his teacher, he was able to go to high school just at the time the Ten Years' War, Cuba's first struggle for independence, began. Martí quickly committed himself to the cause, publishing his first newspaper, La Patria Libre (Free Fatherland), in 1869. Soon he was arrested for denouncing a pro-Spanish classmate and was sentenced to six years of hard labor.

Freed after only a few months, Martí began the exile that would characterize the better part of the rest of his life. He went to Spain where he published El presidio político en Cuba, a rousing attack on Cuban prisons. He received his university education in Madrid and Zaragoza and then returned to the Americas.

From 1881 until his fateful return to Cuba in 1895, Martí spent much of his time in New York. He reported on life in the United States for many newspapers in Latin America including Opinión Nacional (Caracas) and La Nación (Buenos Aires). He wrote everything from a magazine for children (Edad de Oro) to poetry (Versos sencillos, 1891), to essays on the nature of the United States which he admired for its energy and industry as well as its notable statesmen, particularly the framers of the Constitution. However, he denounced its imperialist attitude toward its southern neighbors.

Yet, despite his busy literary career, he spent much of his time planning the second Cuban struggle for independence. He insisted that the next war should be short (to avoid U.S. intervention) and fought with a "republican method and spirit" (to forestall the possibility of a military dictatorship.) In 1892 he founded the Cuban Revolutionary Party to organize the coming struggle. By early 1895, his preparations were complete. He would set sail with the generals from the last struggle and considerable supplies from Fernandina Beach, Florida.

Then, U.S. authorities seized the ships just as they were about to set sail. Martí arrived in Cuba without any special authority and no way to keep the generals in check. He was killed in a small skirmish not even two weeks after he had arrived.

It was only in the 1920's and 1930's that Martí was embraced by a new generation of nationalist Cubans as "el apóstol," and cherished by many other Latin Americans as well. As the great Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío noted, Martí belonged to "an entire race, an entire continent."