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From The Politics of Letters:

José Martí’s Revolutionary Discourse

Thesis for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, University of Toronto, 2006

References to Martí’s work are from Obras completas. 27 vols. La Habana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1975

Scroll down for a bibliography of works cited


1880s in historical perspective

By the 1880s, Cuba and Puerto Rico were the last remaining colonies of Spain’s vast empire in America. Most of its American possessions had made the transition from colony to independent republic by the first quarter of the nineteenth century. Spain ruled its distant colonies for more than three centuries, subordinating their local welfare to its imperial interests with policies to control government, centralize administration, impose and collect taxes, enforce metropolitan commercial monopolies, regulate agrarian and mineral production, limit manufacturing and restrict trade for the benefit of the royal coffers. Local authority was exercised on behalf of the crown through a colonial administration restricted almost entirely to peninsulares.

Their distance from Spain and the slowness of communication and travel meant that viceroys, the crown’s direct representatives and chief colonial administrators, enjoyed some degree of autonomy; however, colonial policies and institutions ensured that the colonies did not control their economies and had little or no say in their government. Restrictions on economic development and trade, greatly favouring the crown, undermined the economic interests of the local elites, among them the hacendados and urban merchants. Their earnings were greatly constrained by the crown’s despotic policies, but they were generally conservative in their outlook, disposed to cooperate with the metropolis and enjoyed many gains under colonialism.

The elite sectors included wealthy criollos; they were barred from positions of official importance because they were not born in Spain, and their access to political power was generally limited to municipal government, the cabildo. To this political experience, however, they were able to add military experience when the Bourbon reforms allowed the creation of creole army units and the expansion of creole militias, both headed by creole officers, to defend the colonies from foreign invasion and local unrest. Eventually, resentment fuelled by burdensome taxes and the despotic nature of colonial rule began to affect sectors of the elite, particularly a significant minority of wealthy criollos, who “during the last decades of the eighteenth century . . . were successful, confident, and assertive” (Kinsbruner 35). Their increasing concern for their political and economic interests, growing creole self-awareness, and emerging nationalism heightened their fervor for independence.

Since burdensome taxes fell even more heavily upon the indigenous poor, who were further burdened by systems of forced labour such as the mita, economic dissatisfaction was not confined to sectors of the criollo elite. The late colonial period saw serious popular uprisings such as the 1780 revolt, predominantly native, led by Tupac Amaru (José Gabriel Condorcanqui Noguera) in Peru, and the 1781 revolt by creoles and mestizos, who took the name comuneros, in Nueva Granada (Colombia). When Joseph Bonaparte ascended the Spanish throne in 1808, following Napoleon’s invasion of Spain and the forced abdications of the Spanish monarchs, Charles IV and his son Ferdinand VII, the colonies did not to recognize the authority of Joseph Bonaparte and entered a period of self-rule, governing themselves in the name of Ferdinand. In 1809 rebellions erupted in Chuquisaca and La Paz, both in Alto Perú (Bolivia), as well as in Quito and Bogotá. They failed but other major revolts followed. In 1810 creole patriots established autonomous governments in Venezuela, Nueva Granada, Argentina and Chile, and the priest Miguel Hidalgo led a popular revolt in Mexico.

When Ferdinand was restored to the Spanish throne in 1814, the colonies were by then accustomed to governing themselves, determined to protect reforms they had implemented, unwilling to undergo the reimposition of despotic rule, and a significant number of independentistas were prepared to fight for their official independence. Though most of the 1810 revolts were unsuccessful, they culminated in the independence wars and Spain’s defeat at Ayacucho in 1824. The years of the independence wars caused the financial ruin of many members of the upper creole classes and meant personal and economic sacrifices from all sectors. Led mostly by wealthy criollos, the independence movement was fuelled by the desire among the privileged classes to reform commerce and trade, but the armies of the independence movement also depended on all sectors of the popular classes for whom, given the social and economic conditions that had already led to popular uprisings, the need for social and economic reform was clear. “The creoles had to mobilize blacks, Indians and castes,” writes John Lynch; “manumission was offered in return for service in the revolutionary armies. . . . San Martín declared that ‘the best infantry soldier we have is the black and the mulato.’ . . . There was a price to be paid for freedom of this kind: blacks, being in the infantry, suffered the heaviest casualties” (221).

Nevertheless, following the catastrophic wars that ended the power of imperial rulers and established a national ruling class, the political and economic rewards of the early decades of nationhood accrued to the surviving and new elites it had elevated to power and who, although they represented less than 5% of the population, “tended to confuse their own well-being and desires with those of the nation at large” (Burns and Charlip 84). Their economic and social policies proved their conservative mindset. Most of the new republics ventured into international commerce with Europe, exporting the raw products demanded by European markets, and importing manufactured goods along with European values and ideas. They determined their economic priorities in response to foreign market demand, limiting their focus to the local industry and infrastructure required to produce agrarian and mineral materials, transport them to the ports of exit, and export them to Europe.

The nature of their ventures into international commerce also made the new republics economically subservient to the United Kingdom, which replaced Spain’s economic hegemony over the new nations. While they continued to be linked to Spain through history and tradition, the ruling elites were dependent on France and the rest of Europe for cultural inspiration, intellectual ideas and economic policies. Trade expansion and economic growth after independence greatly enriched the ruling elites, affording them extravagant lifestyles in Europe and America, but the majority of the population did not share in those benefits and as the port cities grew, the rural areas became increasingly marginalized and rural poverty increased. Intellectuals like Domingo Faustino Sarmiento and Argentina’s Generation of 1837, “whose ideas and actions reached far beyond the Argentine frontiers to shape much of the thinking of modern Latin America,” subscribed to an ideology of progress that regarded problems of development as a struggle between “civilization” and “barbarism” and “advocated European immigration as the best means to ‘save’ their country” (Burns and Charlip 108). Mesmerized by the rapid expansion of industrialization in the United States, many viewed that nation as a model for Spanish America’s economic development.

A new hegemony

The United States had emerged as the world’s major industrialized nation. Its rapid industrial growth gave rise to the concentration of capital and the giant corporations that were replacing small manufacturers. The enormous wealth of the rich industrialists contrasted with the increasing poverty of poorly paid workers and deplorable working conditions. Along with the wealth that accrued to powerful industrialists came political power and influence in all sectors of government, assuring them of concessions, subsidies and policies favourable to corporate interests that aligned with the interests of a nation intent on asserting control and influence over the Western Hemisphere. The United States was determined to secure preferential access to raw materials exported to Europe by the new Spanish-speaking republics, and to acquire expanded markets in the region for the surfeit of manufactured goods produced by its accelerated industrial growth. It sought hemispheric trade agreements favourable to corporate interests in the United States to restrict trade between the new republics and Europe, supplant the United Kingdom’s economic domination, and institutionalize the hegemony of the United States in the region. It looked toward its southern neighbours with a covetous eye.

Martí, by 1890, was established throughout much of Latin America as a widely read and influential journalist and intellectual. He was also well-known among the Latin American communities in the United States through the Spanish-language media and his political and cultural affiliations. He was consular representative for three Latin American countries (Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay) in addition to holding elected positions in literary and cultural organizations. He was an innovative poet and leader of the Cuban revolutionary movement. The focus and coherence of his professional, political and cultural activities reflect the self-awareness, cultural identity, social responsibility and creative authenticity that are essential criteria in his understanding of the role of intellectuals and artists capable of contributing and necessary to the transformation of Spain’s former colonies into truly independent nations that reflect their original character and the interests of all their people in their social, cultural, economic and political structures. Martí’s literary genius and political activism emerge from a creative spirit wherein aesthetic imagination and emancipatory politics converge. His work and ideas integrate the aesthetic and political dimensions of Spanish American reality. In his Cuaderno No. 5 he records: “Ni será escritor inmortal en América . . . sino aquel que refleje en sí las condiciones múltiples y confusas de esta época, condensadas, desprosadas, ameduladas, informadas por sumo genio artístico. . . . No hay letras, que son expression, hasta que no hay esencia que expresar en ellas. Ni habrá literatura hispanoamericana, hasta que no haya—Hispanoamérica” (21: 163-64).

Martí’s revolutionary discourse

A poetics of the nation and emancipatory politics cohere in Martí’s revolutionary discourse. Nuestra América is the conceptual centre of a discourse of identity, affiliation and resistance that urges the unity of the Spanish-speaking nations while linking them to other countries of the Western Hemisphere, former colonies of various European powers, also subject to or threatened by the political and economic hegemony of the United States. His development of this unifying concept culminated in his essay, “Nuestra América” (6: 15-23) which appeared in La Revista Ilustrada de Nueva York on January 1, 1891, and later that month, on January 30, in Mexico’s El Partido Liberal. Martí had previously expressed this unifying concept in writing as well as in oratory, but its first sustained development occurs on the pages of La Revista Venezolana (7: 195-212), a short-lived publication that appeared in two editions, the first on July 1, 1881, and the second on July 15, 1881. There he outlines the combined political and aesthetic objectives of the Revista in its first edition under the title “Propósitos”: “He aquí a lo que viene la Revista, . . . a empujar con los hombros juveniles la poderosa ola americana; a ayudar a la creación indispensable de las divinidades nuevas; . . . a descubrir con celo de geógrafo, los orígenes de esta poesía de nuestro mundo, cuyos cauces y manantiales genuinos, más propios y más hondos que los de poesía alguna sabida, no se esconden por cierto en esos libros pálidos y entecos que nos vienen de tierras fatigadas” (7: 198).

In the editorial of its second issue, “El carácter de La Revista Venezolana,” he reiterates the transformative purpose of the publication, states that the review’s objective is the publication of work that is uniquely Spanish American, and introduces an emancipatory poetics that situates the artist in the role of creator—“muy puesta en lugar, y muy precisa, como que encamina sus esfuerzos a elaborar, con los restos del derrumbe, la grande América nueva, sólida, batallante, trabajadora, y asombrosa . . . [y] mantener en alto los espíritus, en el culto de lo extraordinario y de lo propio” (7: 208). Martí’s article further reinforces the natural and necessary link between the aesthetic and political dimensions of America’s transformation:

Cuando hay tres siglos que hacer rodar por tierra, que estorpecen aún nuestro andar con sus raíces, y una nación pujante y envidiable que alzar, a ser sustento y pasmo de hombres: ¿será alimento bastante a un pueblo fuerte, digno de su alta cuna y magníficos destinos, la admiración servil a extraños rimadores, la aplicación cómoda y perniciosa de indagaciones y de otros mundos, el canto lánguido de los comunes dolorcillos, y el cuento hueco en que se fingen pasiones perturbadoras y malsanas, la contemplación peligrosa y exclusiva de las nimias torturas personales, la obra brillante y pasajera de la imaginación estéril y engañosa?—No: no es ésta la obra. . . . De honda raíz ha de venir, y a grande espacio ha de tender toda obra de la mente. Deben sofocarse las lágrimas propias en provecho de las grandezas nacionales. Es fuerza andar a pasos firmes,—apoyada la mano en el arado que quiebra, descuaja, desortiga y avienta la tierra,—camino de lo que viene, con la frente en lo alto. Es fuerza meditar para crecer: y conocer la tierra en que hemos de sembrar. Es fuerza convidar a las letras a que vengan a andar la vía patriótica, de brazo de la historia, con lo que las dos son mejor vistas, por lo bien que hermanan, y del brazo del estudio, que es padre prolífico, y esposo sincero, y amante dadivoso. Es fuerza, en suma, ante la obra gigantesca, ahogar el personal hervor, y hacer la obra. . . . la Revista Venezolana . . . viene a dar aposento a toda obra de letras que haga relación visible, directa y saludable con la historia, poesía, arte, costumbres, familias, lenguas, tradiciones, cultivos, tráficos e industrias venezolanas. Quien dice Venezuela, dice América. (7: 209-210)

The legacy of three centuries of colonialism is portrayed as enormous roots that continue to obstruct progress towards the building of vigorous new nations. As nations in the process of creating themselves, Spanish America must abandon the traditional constraints of a colonized mentality in favour of authenticity in artistic expression and intellectual ideas. In rejecting imitation, artifice, conventional ideas and self-centredness in favour of originality, authenticity, relevance and social awareness, this editorial advances Martí’s evaluative criteria for cultural production, recognizing it as essential to the historical transformation of Spanish America. The contribution of artists and intellectuals is critical, for their task is not only to convey or reflect the nation, but to create it through artistic and intellectual work that expresses the nation’s character and the people’s aspirations. In Martí’s emancipatory discourse, the mutual inclusiveness of the aesthetic, intellectual and political dimensions of historical transformation is evident in the harmonious integration of factual information, intellectual ideas, figurative expression and a socially inclusive tropology that uses nature, agricultural work, productivity and the implements of labour to communicate the necessity of partnership, the value of work, national pride and authenticity in the transformative task of nation building.

Martí's nuestroamericanismo forges a unifying nationalism that affirms the collective identity of the Spanish-speaking nations while distinguishing them spiritually and historically from the United States, the other America. Differences in character and aspirations, the threat they pose to nuestra América, and the importance of Martí’s concept in articulating a shared identity surfaced on the occasion of the first pan-American conference, a regional conference convened at the invitation of the United States. The American International Conference, as it came to be called, convened in various sessions. It began in Philadelphia on October 2, 1889, reassembled in Washington on November 19, 1989, and ended on April 19, 1890, a period Martí refers to in the prologue of his Versos sencillos as “aquel invierno de angustia” (6: 143).

His vigilance and historical perspective had enabled him to recognize the conference as a threat to the sovereignty of the Spanish American republics and a vehicle for the hegemonic ambitions of the United States on a hemispheric scale. His reports on the conference reflect his characteristic journalistic activism, and his wide-ranging coverage appeared in several articles in Argentina’s La Nación, and in one article in Mexico’s El Partido Liberal (6: 33-116). The first of these articles is dated September 28 (and published in La Nación on November 8) and already points to contradictions between surface appearances and underlying truths. Martí warns his readers: “las entrañas del congreso están como todas las entrañas, donde no se las ve” (6: 35). He describes the arrival of the delegates to the conference, “que llaman aquí de Panamérica, aunque ya no será de toda, porque Haití, como que el gobierno de Washington exige que le den en dominio la peninsula de San Nicolás, no muestra deseos de enviar sus negros elocuentes a la conferencia de naciones; ni Santo Domingo ha aceptado el convite, porque dice que no puede venir a sentarse a la mesa de los que le piden a mano armada su bahía de Samaná, y en castigo de su resistencia le imponen derechos subidos a la caoba” (6: 33).

His reportage includes extensive commentary from major North American newspapers to convey their perspectives to his Latin American readers. An article dated October 2 (and published in La Nación on November 14) reports the arrogance, presumption and contempt conveyed in the media toward the countries that the United States had invited to Washington. His readers learned that the Mail and Express talked about “los huéspedes que vienen a seguir nuestra guía; la alianza que hemos solicitado y que vienen a ajustar nuestros huéspedes”; that for The New York Herald, “es un tanto curiosa la idea de echar a andar en ferrocarril, para que vean cómo machacamos el hierro y hacemos zapatos, a veintisiete diplomáticos, y hombres de marca, de países donde no se acaba de nacer”; the Post referred to “el discurso de Blaine, lleno de evasivas sonoras”; the Tribune declared that “ha llegado la hora de hacer sentir nuestra influencia en América: el aplauso de los delegados al discurso de Blaine fue una ovación”;.the Star referred to the conference as “el Congreso americano de Blaine”; while for the Sun, “están vendidos a los ingleses estos sudamericanos que se le oponen a Blaine” (6: 41). Reported as they appeared in the papers, these negative opinions speak directly to Martí’s readers with the limited mediation of translated quotations, establishing an objective distance that increases the credibility of the report while invoking honour and pride in their nations.

In his most comprehensive analysis of the conference, dated November 2, 1889, in which he informs his readers of the history, elements and tendencies behind the sessions, he declares his purpose: “En cosas de tanto interés, la alarma falsa fuera tan culpable como el disimulo. Ni se ha de exagerar lo que se ve, ni de torcerlo, ni de callarlo. Los peligros no se han de ver cuando se les tiene encima, sino cuando se los puede evitar. Lo primero en política es aclarar y prever” (6: 46). After opening with another survey of commentary taken from the North American press, he declares:

Jamás hubo en América, de la independencia acá, asunto que requiera más sensatez, ni obligue a más vigilancia, ni pida examen más claro y minucioso, que el convite que los Estados Unidos potentes, repletos de productos invendibles, y determinados a extender sus dominios en América, hacen a las naciones americanas de menos poder, ligadas por el comercio libre y útil con los pueblos europeos, para ajustar una liga contra Europa, y cerrar tratos con el resto del mundo. De la tiranía de España supo salvarse la América española y ahora, después de ver con ojos judiciales los antecedentes, causas y factores del convite, urge decir, porque es la verdad, que ha llegado para la América española la hora de declarar su segunda independencia. (6: 46)

Martí conveys a well-founded understanding of the underlying intentions of the conference. He analyzes the history of events characterizing the relations between the United States and its Spanish-speaking neighbours, as well as the origins, causes and possible outcomes of the conference. He argues that the United States was embarked on another manoeuvre to institutionalize its hegemony throughout the Western Hemisphere by attempting to establish trade agreements that would strengthen domestic support for astute politicians, satisfy industrial protectionists, and increase its economic expansion in the region while undermining the political and economic independence of the countries south of its borders.

Martí encourages readers to look below the surface for the roots of the conference and reminds them of the history of relations between the United States and its South American neighbours: it has never been a characteristic of the United States to support, promptly recognize, or respect the independence of these nations; rather, its characteristically hostile relations with the South is evident in the territorial aggression and economic expansion fuelled by its visions of hemispheric dominion. His account of the origins of the conference and the domestic politics and economic conditions that could determine its eventual outcome reveals the political and economic factors at its roots. The idea for a conference had originally emerged in 1881, during the Garfield administration, to satisfy industrial demand for new markets and shipping subsidies, and to garner support for the political ambitions of Secretary of State Blaine, who had brought the United States to the verge of war with Chile over a guano territory dispute between Chile and Peru involving United States interests. Invitations to a pan-American conference had been issued under Garfield, but after Garfield’s assassination, President Arthur revoked them because, at that time, the idea was condemned as reprehensibly audacious, unnecessary and unlawful. However, in 1888, following an alliance of protectionists from both parties, the idea was welcomed because of continuing industrial demand for a greater, more profitable market for manufactured goods and for ships to be subsidized by the nation. Martí brings several trade inequities and important contradictions between the policies and practices of the United States to the attention of his readers:

En 1883, mientras iba la comisión convidando al congreso international ¿no se cerraron las puertas, para contentar a los criadores nativos, a las lanas sudamericanas? ¿No quiere el senado aumentar hoy mismo, cara a cara del congreso internacional, el gravamen de la lana de alfombras de los pueblos a quienes se invita a recibir sin derechos, y a consumir de preferencia los productos de un país que le excluye los suyos? ¿No acaba la Secretaría de Hacienda, mientras andan de convivialidades los panamericanos en Kentucky, de confirmar el derecho prohibitivo del plomo de México, a quien llama a tratar sobre la entrada libre de los productos del norte en la república mexicana, que ya les tiene acordada laentrada libre, y sólo espera a que la permita por su parte el congreso de los Estados Unidos? (6: 57)

Martí reports that within the United States, the interests of manufacturers clash with those of agricultural and mining companies, referring to media reports that “ . . . este congreso no viene a ser más que una jugada política, una exhibición pirotécnica del estadista magnético, un movimiento brillante de estrategia anticipada para las próximas elecciones a la presidencia!”; “A las compañías de vapores que ayudaron a ponerlo donde está es a quienes quiere contentar Blaine . . . ”; “Por cuanto se ve, va a parar este congreso en una gran caza de subvenciones para vapores” (6: 58). Notwithstanding the amusing national paradox evident in this entire pompous creation constructed by the United States, says Martí, it affords their politicians the use of powerful slogans, and unless prevented, the prestige of artificial agreements obtained by coercion. He maintains that economic agreements designed to accommodate the character, interests, and aspirations of the dominant sectors of the United States will not resolve the economic problems of the Spanish American nations, which require original solutions that are consistent with their unique character, interests and aspirations. He follows his intellectual analysis with an ethical appeal to his readers’ sense of justice and responsibility: only their vigilance will prevent the frank and forthright achievement of an era of United States hegemony over the nations in the Western Hemisphere.

Readers of Martí’s analysis of the conference were limited to those with access to the La Nación articles and reprints that may have been made available, but would have included politicians and intellectuals in most Latin American capitals. His historical and political analysis exposed the nature and underlying objectives of the conference and he urged vigilance, a political responsibility he readily assumed. His survey of the mainstream English language media in the United States revealed the prevailing attitudes toward the nations that were invited to the conference. The urgency Martí conveys suggests his concern that admiration for the United States and a positive view of the conference prevailed in Spanish America and would assist the United States in achieving its hegemonic goals. Indeed he conveys this concern a year later in “Nuestra América” when he condemns the self-deprecating disdain of some Spanish Americans who, mesmerized by the wealth of the industrialized United States, neglect the interests and reject the original character of their republics.

Martí’s discourse directly refutes the dialectic advanced by an admirer of the United States, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, in Facundo: Civilización y Barbarie—Vida de Juan Facundo Quiroga (1845), a book described by D.L. Shaw as “the most important single work of Spanish American nineteenth-century literature” (541). Martí’s concerns confirm the continued influence of Sarmiento’s work on Latin American intellectuals. Angel Rama maintains that journalism created some breathing space for the development of a political opposition in Latin America because it offered intellectuals considerable autonomy in relation to the official discourse of the nation states (88); however, as Julio Ramos also reminds us, “Martí’s discourse implied a critique from outside the institutional power spectrum” (234). Nevertheless, Martí’s timely critique of the conference and his argument that United States hegemony was an imminent threat to the region informed his contemporaries and challenged his ideological adversaries regarding the goals of the conference and the United States as an economic partner and a model of economic development for the Spanish American republics. The prescience, accuracy and continuing relevance of his critique, and the clarity with which he perceived and conveyed the inequality inherent in pan-American partnerships involving (and, consequently, dominated by) the United States, contribute to the power he still has to influence and inspire readers and political activists today.

“Madre América”

The reception hosted on December 19, 1889, by the Spanish American Literary Society for the Spanish American representatives at the conference, provided the opportunity for Martí, as keynote speaker, to directly address the delegates. His speech, titled “Madre América” (6: 131-40), is political in nature, but the prevalence of figurative elements distinguishes it from the expository analysis characteristic of his newspaper articles on the conference. It records his search for the rhetorical form of oratory most appropriate for his audience on this formal celebratory occasion: “¿Cómo podremos pagar a nuestros huéspedes ilustres esta hora de consuelo? ¿A qué hemos de esconder, con la falsía de la ceremonia, lo que se nos está viendo en los rostros? Pongan otros florones y cascabelos y franjas de oro a sus retóricas; nosotros tenemos esta noche la elocuencia de la Biblia, que es la que mana, inquieta y regocijada como el arroyo natural, de la abundancia de corazón” (6: 133).

Compared to the essentially rational appeal in his coverage of the conference, there is heightened affectivity in the tone and emphasis of “Madre América”; it is conveyed, for example, in the direct appeal to the delegates’ national pride at the end of the introduction: “por muchas raíces que tengan en esta tierra de libre hospedaje nuestra fe, o nuestros afectos, o nuestros hábitos, o nuestros negocios . . . por grande que esta tierra sea, y por ungida que esté para los hombres libres de la América en que nació Lincoln, para nosotros, en el secreto de nuestro pecho, sin que nadie ose tachárnoslo ni nos lo pueda tener a mal, es más grande, porque es la nuestra y porque ha sido más infeliz, la América en que nació Juárez” (6: 133-34). The antithetical positioning of parallel representations of different Americas (“la América en que nació Lincoln” and “la América en que nació Juárez”) and the climactic construction reflected in the syntax of this extended sentence reinforce the contrast between them and heighten the emotional effect of Martí’s words. In fact, notwithstanding differences in form and medium between the newspaper articles on the conference and this speech to the delegates, the consistency in Martí’s message and purpose is already clear in this opening focus on the differences in history, character and values between the Americas of Lincoln and Juárez.

“Madre América”invokes the history of the Americas in language Cintio Vitier describes as “intenso, sintetizador, fulminante” (“Los discursos” 307), while using the term imaginización to refer to Martí’s characteristically succinct historical accounts rendered in rapid images and unforgettable scenes: “visión por donde van pasando como un sueño, los siglos y los territorios” (“Los discursos” 309). Martí recalls the spirit of independence, freedom, industry and self-sufficiency brought to Lincoln’s America by pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower and other waves of hardworking immigrants. Among them, however, were those that brought intolerance, fanaticism and injustice, for included was the adventurer who hunted men as well as wolves and could not sleep well without a recently felled tree or a dead native for a pillow. Included also were those who established slavery to provide themselves lifestyles and prestige purchased with the blood of human bondage, as evoked by a glimpse at the elegance and luxury of slave-dependent Southern civility: “en las mansiones solariegas del Sur todo es minué y bujías, y coro de negros cuando viene el coche del señor, y copa de plata para el buen Madera” (6: 135). Alongside the positive values represented in the pilgrim, the foundations of English America also generated unjust institutions and the rapacious expansionism characteristic of the adventurer:

junto al cadáver del caballero, muerto sobre sus esclavos, luchan por el predominio en la república, y en el universo, el peregrino que no consentía señor sobre él, ni criado bajo él, ni más conquistas que la que hace el grano en la tierra y el amor en los corazones,—y el aventurero sagaz y rampante, hecho a adquirir y adelantar en la selva, sin más ley que su deseo, ni más límite que el de su brazo, compañero solitario y temible del leopardo y el águila. (6: 136)

“Madre América” also offers an historical account of Juárez’s America that recalls the brutal and destructive spirit that fuelled conquest and colonization in Spanish America but celebrates the courage and evokes the pride of its citizens. “Del arado nació la América del Norte, y la Española, del perro de presa. Una guerra fanática sacó de la poesía de sus palacios aéreos al moro debilitado en la riqueza, y la soldadesca sobrante, criada con el vino crudo y el odio a los herejes, se echó, de coraza y arcabuz, sobre el indio de peto de algodón” (6 : 136). Spanish America redeemed itself from its violent and blood-soaked colonial origins through the epic wars that united the fighting spirit of its people, who fought alone and fought honourably for their independence. “¡Y todo ese veneno lo hemos rocado en savia! Nunca, de tanta oposición y desdicha, nació un pueblo más precoz, más generoso, más firme. Sentina fuimos, y crisol comenzamos a ser” (6: 138). Martí mentions but does not dwell on problems within the new nations—their failure to govern original nations in ways consistent with their natural elements and their people’s aspirations; conflicts between the cities and rural areas; the disdain of the servile elite for the working mestizo. In the spirit of celebrating America’s grandeur, he emphasizes the positive direction of its transformation:

¿Qué importa que, por llevar el libro delante de los ojos, no viéramos, al nacer como pueblos libres, que el gobierno de una tierra híbrida y original . . . debía comprender, para ser natural y fecundo, los elementos todos que . . . se levantaron a fundarla? ¿Qué importan las luchas entre la ciudad universitaria y los campus feudales? ¿Qué importa el desdén . . . del marqués lacayo al menestral mestizo? . . . Todo lo vence, y clava cada día su pabellón más alto, nuestra América capaz e infatigable. Todo lo conquista, de sol en sol, por el poder del alma de la tierra, armoniosa y artística, creada de la música y beldad de nuestra naturaleza, que da su abundancia a nuestro corazón y a nuestra mente la serenidad y altura de sus cumbres. (6: 138-139)

Returning to the moment of the speech and to the conference that occasioned it, he states that the delegates are in North America neither as future slaves nor astonished villagers: “vivimos aquí, orgullosos de nuestra América, para servirla y honrarla . . . con la determinación y la capacidad de contribuir a que se la estime por sus méritos, y se la respete por sus sacrificios” (6: 140), and he expresses confidence that they will not let corruptive interests and their admiration for the United States tempt them into indifference or forgetfulness, or weaken their love for their America: “En vano . . . nos convida este país con su magnificencia, y la vida con sus tentaciones, y con sus cobardías de corazón, a la tibieza y al olvido” (6: 140). His conclusion includes exiles and expatriates among those who contribute to the transformation of nuestra America. On their return to their countries they will be able to say: “¡Madre América, allí encontramos hermanos! ¡Madre América, allí tienes hijos!” (6: 140).

We may reasonably conjecture that Martí’s activism directly produced significant effects. The American International Conference concluded on April 19, 1890. In July of that year, Paraguay and Argentina appointed him their Consul in New York. At that time he was already Consul for Uruguay, which then also named him their representative at the American International Monetary Commission that convened, also in Washington, in various sessions between January 7 and April 8, 1891. Martí had a prominent role at the commission. He headed the committee responsible for evaluating the merits of a United States proposal to establish a bimetallism policy and the equalization of gold and silver, as well as a monetary unit that would be common throughout the region. Most of the world’s silver supply was produced in the Americas, and most of it was produced in the United States. The majority of the Latin American countries did not produce silver, and had no benefit to gain from the proposal. In his capacity as committee head, Martí prepared the committee report (6: 147-54), which he presented on March 30, 1891. The report rejected the proposal and recommended a Universal Monetary Conference that would include the European nations. After the close of these sessions, Martí the journalist was well-positioned to write an informed, persuasive article on the topic. It was published in the May 1891 issue of New York’s La Revista Ilustrada (6: 157-67). He again warned against economic agreements that would establish United States hegemony in the region and prevent Spanish America from trading with the rest of the world:

Quien dice unión económica dice unión política. El pueblo que compra, manda. El pueblo que vende, sirve. Hay que equilibrar el comercio, para asegurar la libertad. El pueblo que quiere morir, vende a un solo pueblo, y el que quiere salvarse, vende a más de uno. El influjo excesivo de un país en el comercio de otro, se convierte en influjo político. . . . La unión, con el mundo, y no con una parte de él; no con una parte de él, contra otra.

. . . El porvenir de la moneda de plata está en la moderación de sus productores. Forzarla, es despreciarla. La plata de Hispanoamérica se levantará o caerá con la plata universal. Si los países de Hispanoamérica venden, principalmente, cuando no exclusivamente, sus frutos en Europa, y reciben de Europa empréstitos y créditos, ¿qué conveniencia puede haber en entrar, por un sistema que quiere violentar al europeo, en un sistema de moneda que no se recibiría, o se recibiría depreciada, en Europa? . . . ¿qué conveniencia puede haber . . . en una moneda que asegure mayor imperio y circulación a la plata de los Estados Unidos? (6: 160-62)

Martí’s oratory and journalism communicated the knowledge and historical awareness that informed his understanding of events, increased his credibility and influence, and heightened his audience’s awareness of the underlying motives and dangers embodied in the Washington International Conference and the American International Monetary Commission. Conveyed through media that provided immediacy and, in the case of newspapers, broad dissemination, these texts exemplify the vigilance and active responsiveness characteristic of his creativity. Keenly aware of the imminent dangers residing in the events that were unfolding in Washington, Martí worked actively to provide his audience with the historical context for those events, to persuade them to uncover the truth beneath the surface propaganda and, in the case of delegates and politicians, to act to derail initiatives that would work against the interests of the Spanish American nations. Rational argumentation is supported by emotional and ethical appeals to their national pride and shared values. The urgency of his tone is balanced by optimism and confidence that preparedness and unanimity will engender the response and outcome required at that critical juncture in the history of economic and political relations between the powerful industrialized United States and the developing South American nations.

“Nuestra America”

“Nuestra America” appeared approximately a year after the Washington International Conference. Published in Mexico and New York, it extended the reach and influence of Martí’s journalistic activism beyond the readers who had followed his coverage of the conference mainly on the pages of Argentina’s La Nación. Martí shares with this wider audience his unifying concept of the character and identity of the Spanish American nations and a historical understanding of their internal problems, and urges once again that these nations act urgently and collectively to resist the common danger they were facing: the hegemonic ambitions of the United States. Ramos suggests that its publication in Mexico at the height of the Porfirio Díaz regime in El Partido Liberal, “an official newspaper of the pro-development state, which had opened the country to foreign capital like no other at that point in history,” also constituted a criticism of the regime’s “politics of modernization” (258).

This essay exemplifies the scope and depth of Martí’s political activism, for it transcends the limitations inherent in a specific response, at a given moment, to certain structures or particular hostile manoeuvres and provides a vision that uses a people’s history to redefine their identity, integrate their marginalized sectors and unite their nations so that together they would create a future that acknowledges their autochthonous elements and original character, secures their independence, and ensures justice and dignity for all citizens. The text displays Martí’s characteristic synthesis of politics and poetics from the opening imagery of local rivalry among villagers who are oblivious of the imminent danger they face from giants with seven-league boots, to the closing vision of el Gran Semí irrigating the triumphant new America. It maintains a dynamic interplay of rational arguments and figurative elements throughout six sections that convey urgency for vigilance against threats to the economic sovereignty of Spanish America, promote national pride and unity, impart historical information, provide a political analysis of past and current conditions, emphasize the need for transformation of social, political and economic structures, and express confidence in the ultimate triumph of the Spanish American nations. It addresses their political, social and economic realities in language enriched by figurative expression and tropology drawn from nature and geography, history and mythology, as well as the real and imaginary worlds of ordinary people. It shows that Martí’s revolutionary purpose is historical transformation that meaningfully includes all sectors of society and it exemplifies his powers of persuasion through rational, ethical, emotional and aesthetic appeal.

Section one

Section one opens with the compelling portrayal of a small-minded villager who is preoccupied with his status in the village, an enduring resentment towards an old romantic rival, and the savings in his money box. He is oblivious to the world outside his village and the imminent threat to his very survival. This relevant and meaningful depiction of everyday reality resonates with a wide range of readers who can readily recognize the symbolic truth residing in this arresting metaphorical portrayal of parochialism which leads to the concept of reason and ideas as weapons:

“Estos tiempos no son para acostarse con el pañuelo a la cabeza, sino con las armas de almohada . . . las armas del juicio, que vencen a las otras. Trincheras de ideas, valen más que trincheras de piedra. // No hay proa que taje una nube de ideas. Una idea enérgica, flameada a tiempo ante el mundo, para, como la bandera mística del juicio final, a un escuadrón de acorazados” (6: 15).

Martí expresses confidence in the power of ideas and conveys the urgency of the historical circumstances that occasioned the text. He alerts readers that these are times for fraternal union and vigilance:

Los pueblos que no se conocen han de darse prisa para conocerse, como quienes van a pelear juntos. Los que se enseñen los puños, como hermanos celosos, que quieren los dos la misma tierra, o el de casa chica, que le tiene envidia al de casa mejor, han de encajar, de modo que sean una, las dos manos. Los que, al amparo de una tradición criminal, cercenaron, con el sable tinto en la sangre de sus mismas venas, la tierra del hermano vencido, del hermano castigado más allá de sus culpas, si no quieren que les llame el pueblo ladrones, devuélvale sus tierras al hermano.

. . . Ya no podemos ser el pueblo de hojas, que vive en el aire, con la copa cargada de flor, restallando o zumbando, según la acaricie el capricho de la luz, o la tundan y talen las tempestades; ¡los árboles se han de poner en fila, para que no pase el gigante de las siete leguas! Es la hora del recuento, y de la marcha unida, y hemos de andar en cuadro apretado, como la plata en las raíces de los Andes (6: 15).

He alludes here to mutual ignorance and regional disputes among these nations. Like the residual roots of colonialism portrayed in the previously discussed editorial, these problems are partly a legacy of colonial rule, which limited the development of regional communication and transportation systems and restricted economic relations to serve the interests of the crown; however, after independence, development of these systems continued to be mainly oriented towards Europe, rather than locally within these countries and regionally between the former colonies of Spain. The fraternal frictions allude to territorial disputes and commercial rivalries which led to regional conflicts partly owing to the absence of clearly defined borders between the newly independent nations. After independence, regional rivalries fomented suspicion and distrust among the new republics and assumed nationalistic and hostile overtones.

“Nuestra America” thus begins by urging for changes in attitudes at regional and national levels, and an end to the colonial mentality that feeds them. Whatever may remain of the village in America must awaken, abandon all vestiges of a parochial mentality, arm itself with reason and ideas, put an end to fraternal conflicts, join hands with its fellow nations, and prepare to defend itself from an external menace. A people of leaves must become a people of trees. Blossoms and leaves suggest servility and vulnerability to external factors, represented by light and storms; trees, however, being deeply rooted, convey strength and relevance grounded in the soil of the nation. The people of trees must march united, in close formation, like the silver in the roots of the Andes. This visually and emotionally compelling image of the natural wealth contained deep within the imposing mountain range that geographically unites the continent portrays the enduring grandeur of America that both preceded and survived the ravages of colonial exploitation. It comes to symbolize the unifying power of its autochthonous character.

Section two

The second section turns the reader’s attention toward the attitudes of elites and disdainful individuals and expresses Martí’s indignation toward those that have no faith in their land and deny the courage of others because they lack courage themselves. Their feeble, decorated arms cannot reach the difficult tree, says Martí, relying again on arboreal symbolism, so they declare it to be unreachable. America should load the boats with those “insectos dañinos” that gnaw away at the bone of the nations that nourish them. If they prefer Madrid or Paris, let them go to the Prado or Tortoni. They are ashamed of their indigenous origins, their carpenter father and the mother that raised them. Is the man that person who abandons his ailing mother and forces her to labour out of sight to support him, or the one who stays to cure her illness? And to those deserters that look to the armies of North America, those delicate men that do not wish to do the work of men, did the Washington that built this land ally himself to the English during the years when he saw them advancing against his own nation? (6: 16)

It is a scathing condemnation of the colonized mentality of individuals whose perceptions of their nations’ inferiority lead them to adopt the values and manners of Europe and North America, which they regard as centres of progress and civilization inherently superior to their own countries, for them encumbered by barbarism. Martí suggests that their self-deprecating admiration of these societies stems from rejection of their indigenous origins by portraying America as the disdained mother who is labouring out of sight, unacknowledged, to support the decadent lifestyles of self-indulgent, ungrateful children. They are equally ashamed that their father is a carpenter, an image that represents the positive values of work and creativity. The hardworking and disdained mother and father also represent the marginalized, exploited populations whose work produces the wealth enjoyed by the undeserving elites who honour, import and imitate European and North American values, while they reject the autochthonous elements and repress the original character of their countries.

Section three

Martí introduces the elements required for good government in section three. Mesmerized as they were by foreign ideologies that were largely inappropriate for the local conditions of their new nations, the governing elites gravitated toward economic priorities that were driven by international markets, served the economic interests of Europe and the United States, and were more suitable for those countries in advanced stages of industrialization. These imported ideas of progress also served the economic interests of local privileged sectors and port capitals; for the marginalized majority, the common folk who inhabited the vast rural areas, they meant less control over their lands and livelihoods, increased hardships, and greater impoverishment. Martí introduces these concerns after opening with a declaration of national pride:

Ni ¿en qué patria puede tener un hombre más orgullo que en nuestras repúblicas dolorosas de América, levantadas entre las masas mudas de indios, al ruido de pelea del libro con el cirial, sobre los brazos sangrientos de un centenar de apóstoles? De factores tan decompuestos jamás,en menos tiempo histórico, se han creado naciones tan adelantadas y compactas. (6: 16 )

He then alludes to the elites he condemned in section two for their self-deprecating disdain for their countries of origin, now including letrados among them, individuals such as writers and politicians (“el soberbio que . . . tiene la pluma fácil o la palabra de colores” 6: 16), purveyors of the politics of civilization versus barbarism, who pronounce their native republics to be irremediable and incapable of progress. Martí reasserts that the arrogant believe the land’s purpose is to provide them with a life of luxury and leisure: “modo continuo de ir por el mundo de gamonal famoso, guiando jacas de Persia y derramando champaña” (6: 16). He states that the incapacity is not in the developing countries, but in those who exploit and misgovern them:

La incapacidad no está en el país naciente, que pide formas que se le acomoden y grandeza útil, sino en los que quieren regir pueblos originales, de composición singular y violenta, con leyes heredadas de cuatro siglos de práctica libre en los Estados Unidos, de diecinueve siglos de monarquía en Francia. . . . A lo que es, allí donde se gobierna, hay que atender para gobernar bien; el buen gobernante en América no es el que sabe cómo se gobierna el alemán o el francés, sino el que sabe con qué elementos está hecha su país, y cómo puede ir guiándolos en junto, para llegar, por métodos e instituciones nacidas del país mismo, a aquel estado apetecible donde cada hombre se conoce y ejerce, y disfrutan todos de la abundancia que la Naturaleza puso para todos en el pueblo que fecundan con su trabajo y defienden con sus vidas. (6: 16-17)

Alluding again to the creativity of workers and the value and necessity of work, he clearly suggests that the benefits of living in lands blessed by nature’s abundance are not enjoyed by everyone. The privileged sectors enjoy the wealth created by the disdained populations that sacrifice their lives for their countries and work to develop them, without being afforded a share in the rewards of their labour. One of the principal problems the essay addresses is the betrayal of the human aspirations of the people, the common folk, for true liberation—i.e., the creation of institutions and practices that would protect equality of rights, recognize the dignity of every individual, enable their personal development and result in improvement in their social and economic lives.

Martí makes it clear that these new republics require changes in the values and mentality of their dominant sectors, and in their social, political and economic structures. They are original nations and as such require autochthonous forms of government whose social, economic and political imperatives are grounded in their moral foundations. To govern them well is to know the elements that constitute them, and to govern, by methods and institutions born in those nations, for the good of all who build them with their labour and defend them with their lives.

The spirit of the government, says Martí, must be the spirit of the nation; to govern means to balance the natural elements of the nation. “El gobierno ha de nacer del país. El espíritu del gobierno ha de ser el del país. La forma del gobierno ha de avenirse en la constitución propio del país. El gobierno no es más que el equilibrio de los elementos naturales del país” (6: 17). These original nations require relevant economic ideas and unique paths of development that should grow out of their peculiar historical circumstances to reflect the character, identity and aspirations of all their people: “Con un decreto de Hamilton no se le para la pechada al potro del llanero. Con una frase de Sieyés no se desestanca la sangre cuajada de la raza india” (6: 17). The imported ideas and policies that appeal to the upper echelons of their societies have brought economic rewards to those sectors, but have not engendered the social and economic development required for the common good.

Some ideas are repeated with lyrical frequency to emphasize the characteristics of the Spanish American countries and peoples: “pueblos originales,” “composición singular,” “elementos naturales,” “el hombre natural.” Martí directly refutes the institutionalized dialectic represented in Sarmiento’s Facundo o Civilización contra Barbarie, which maintains that the principal problem obstructing the modernization of the new republics is the conflict between the progress of its Europeanized, cultured cities and the backwardness of its primitive, ignorant, barbaric countryside. Sarmiento, who served as President of Argentina between 1868 and 1874, was among the city-based intellectuals who regarded the common folk inhabiting the vast countryside, the majority of the population, as uncivilized and beyond the redeeming power of European culture. As Fernández Retamar reminds us, he went so far as to advocate the extermination of the “tribus salvajes,” as had been done in North America, to ensure the predominance of Caucasians (Calibán 47-57).

For Martí, the civilization/barbarism antithesis provides a scapegoat for the ruling elites. The struggle, says Martí, is not between civilization and barbarism, but between false erudition and nature. The natural man has prevailed over the imported book in America because the natural man expects to be governed well and to be acknowledged. “Los hombres naturales han vencido a los letrados artificiales. El mestizo autóctono ha vencido al criollo exótico” (6: 17). Alluding to Latin America’s history of peasant rebellions, popular protests, social disorder and caudillismo, he states that the natural man is good and submissive but will use force to gain the respect of those in power who ignore him or act against his interests. He suggests that tyrants have built their dictatorships on the marginalization of the natural man, and have risen and fallen according to their conformity with or betrayal of the aspirations of the disdained natural man. In a new nation, says Martí, to govern does not mean to import and imitate; it means to create: “Gobernante, en un pueblo nuevo, quiere decir creador” (6: 17).

In discussing the nature of popular rebellion and caudillismo supported by the natural man, Martí maintains that in nations comprised of cultured and uncultured elements, the uncultured will govern if the cultured do not learn the art of government, which requires the analysis of the elements peculiar to our American nations.

The natural man expects to be governed by institutions that are just and compatible with local conditions: “Viene el hombre natural, indignado y fuerte, y derriba la justicia acumulada de los libros porque no se le administra en acuerdo con las necesidades patentes del país” (6: 18).

Our universities should teach the art of governing. Our newspapers and academia should promote the study of the factors that constitute our nations. However, this is not the case: “A adivinar salen los jóvenes al mundo, con antiparras yanquís o francesas, y aspiran a dirigir un pueblo que no conocen” (6: 17).

To know the nation and to govern it according to that knowledge is the only way to rid it of tyranny. The European university has to give way to the American university. The history of America, from the Incas to the present, should be taught in depth—“ha de enseñarse al dedillo, aunque no se enseñe la de los arcontes de Grecia. Nuestra Grecia es preferible a la Grecia que no es nuestra” (6: 18).

We may introduce the world to our republics, but our foundations have to remain those of our republics. Martí closes this section with a reaffirmation of national pride that reinforces the opening sentence: “Y calle el pedante vencido; que no hay patria en que pueda tener el hombre más orgullo que en nuestras dolorosas repúblicas americanas” (6: 18). He thus frames his discussion of the leadership problems plaguing America with an optimism which maintains the confident, positive tone of the essay.

Section four

Section four recalls the independence wars, refers to the challenges inherent in national consolidation, identifies problems underlying post-colonial conditions, and indicates a positive change in direction in the new republics. Rendering history in a characteristically “imaginized” synthesis of factual information and figurative expression, Martí recounts that the struggle for freedom began in Mexico under the banner of the Virgen: “Con los pies en el rosario, la cabeza blanca, y el cuerpo pinto de indio y criollo vinimos, denodados, al mundo de las naciones. Con el estandarte de la Virgen salimos a la conquista de la libertad. Una cura, unos cuantos tenientes y una mujer alzan en México la república, en hombros de los indios” (6: 18). That spirit of rebellion spread throughout Central and South America and culminated in the triumphant overthrow of Spanish colonialism.

The new republics were less successful in confronting the post-war challenges of nation building, and Martí provides the following summation of the problems: in times of peace heroism is more rare for it is less glorious than in times of war; it is easier to die with honour than to think logically; governing in war when feelings are unanimous and exalted is more easily accomplished than governing after the war when thoughts are diverse, arrogant, exotic and ambitious; the defeated forces, with feline watchfulness and the weight of reality, were undermining the newly independent republics; the hierarchic constitution of the colonies resisted the democratic organization of the republic, or the cultured cities ignored the uncultured countryside, or book-born redeemers did not understand that the revolution that had triumphed with the soul of the land, was to be governed with the soul of the land and not against it (6: 18-19). They had, as Rama says, “failed to construct democratic, egalitarian societies” (47). As a result, Martí states, “entró a padecer América, y padece, de la fatiga de acomodación entre los elementos discordantes y hostiles que heredó de un colonizador despótico y avieso, y las ideas y formas importadas que han venido retardando, por su falta de realidad local, el gobierno lógico” (6: 19).

After three centuries of despotic colonial rule that denied subjects the right to exercise their reason, the governing elites did not heed the unlettered masses that had helped to liberate the colonies to establish new nations embarked on governing based on reason—for the good of all, in the interest of all, and not the reason of the cultured over that of the uncultured. “El problema de la independencia no era el cambio de formas, sino el cambio de espíritu” (6: 19). Independence brought a change in government but not a change in spirit, for the spirit of the colony survived and continued to live in the republic. Only a change of spirit in the new nations can transform their institutions into democratic, egalitarian systems to regulate social, economic, political and cultural realities for everyone’s good and in everyone’s interests.

Martí’s historical analysis reveals the transitory, limited nature of the spirit of change that had fuelled the independence wars and united the region. The change from colonial rule to independence and self-rule did not improve conditions for the majority of the population. Rooted as they were in their local realities, imported ideologies had little relevance for them and brought them no benefits. After independence, the nature of government betrayed their aspirations for improvement in their social and economic lives. An enduring spirit of change would have engendered systems and habits of government that included their interests: “Con los oprimidos había que hacer causa común, para afianzar el sistema opuesto a los intereses y hábitos de mando de los opresores” (6: 19).

The independence wars had liberated these nations from the yoke of Spanish colonialism, but had neither transformed the colonial structures nor integrated the essential, original character of the new republics. The colonies overthrew the despot but did not eradicate the spirit of exploitation and presumptions of privilege supporting institutions and perspectives that for centuries had rejected their autochthonous elements and repressed their original character. Instead, a colonized mentality prevailed and the colony continued within the republic.

To portray this reality, Martí appropriates the “tigre”—that for Sarmiento was representative of barbarism, opposed to the forces of civilization and embodied in the figure of Facundo Quiroga, “el tigre de los Llanos”—and relocates the obstacles to development within the neo-colonial institutions and in the external threats to the independence of the new republics. He depicts a cautious, crouching tiger that hunts its prey by quietly stalking, watching and waiting, “con la cautela felinina de la especie”: “El tigre, espantado del fogonazo, vuelve de noche al lugar de la presa. Muere, echando llamas por los ojos y con las zarpas al aire. No se le oye venir, sino que viene con zarpas de terciopelo. Cuando la presa despierta, tiene al tigre encima.” (6: 19).

His account of the independence wars and discussion of the region’s post-colonial problems concludes with confidence in the future: nuestra América is saving itself from its mistakes—from the presumption of the capital cities, the blind triumph of the disdained rural people, the excessive importation of foreign ideas and formulas, the unjust and impolitic disdain of its aboriginals—and the republic is struggling against the colony. “El tigre espera, detrás de cada árbol, acurrucado en cada esquina. Morirá, con las zarpas al aire, echando llamas por los ojos” (6: 19). This optimism prevails throughout sections five and six.

Section five

The refrain that opens section five echoes this optimism: “estos países se salvarán” (6: 19). Martí combines metaphor and reason in expressing his faith that they will save themselves because nature’s serene harmony and the influence of a critical philosophy in Europe has brought moderation to bear upon the continent of light, and in America, an authentic man (“el hombre real”) is being born in these authentic times (“estos tiempos reales”) (6: 19-20).

The politics of love underlying Martí’s discourse of affiliation and unity surfaces in his representation of what he sees as nature’s balancing influence in historical changes he portrays metaphorically as the positive transition from hate to love. Again figurative and historical elements combine to concretize his eloquently concise portrayal of the problems that have been plaguing the Spanish American republics since their independence.

A caricature of the elites depicts their tendency to recreate their minds and habits in imitation of ideas and behaviours imported from Europe and the United States: “Éramos una vision, con el pecho de atleta, las manos de petimetre, y la frente de niño. Éramos una máscara, con los calzones de Inglaterra, el chaleco parisiense, el chaquetón Norte-Americano y la montera de España” (6: 20).

Self-deprecation, rejection of their own traditions, decadent self-indulgence, and disregard for the development and independence of their national economies are the implied background of this description that conveys tragedy, pathos, and even humour. His historical account includes a range of sectors betrayed by the prevailing tendencies and marginalized in the new nations: “El indio, mudo . . . El negro, oteado, . . . El campesino, el creador. . . .” (6: 20)—the silent native retreated to the mountains; the alienated black sang alone and unknown among the waves and wild animals; the campesino, the creator, blind with indignation, revolted against the disdainful city, his own creation.

Martí makes concrete references to specific clothing and decorative elements (epaulettes, togas, sandals and headbands) to typify a range of individuals, social groups and statuses, as well as convey the contradiction they represent and their irrelevance to local conditions: “Éramos charreteras y togas, en países que venían al mundo con la alpargata en los pies y la vincha en la cabeza” (6: 20). The genius, says Martí, would have been in drawing together the headband and the toga with the generosity and spirit of the nations’ founders, unfetter the native and make room for the capable black, to fit liberty to the bodies of those who rose up and fought for it. Instead, he continues, referring to specific administrative roles and functions that symbolize colonial institutions and practices maintained by the independent republics, we retained the judge, the general, the letrado and the ecclesiastic: “Nos quedó el oidor, y el general, y el letrado, y el prebendado” (6: 20).

Neither the Yankee nor the European book provided the key to the Hispanic American enigma, and every year our countries amounted to less. The hate-love dichotomy of Martí’s politics of love informs his account of the transition from chaos and problems to his vision of a new awakening: “Cansados del odio inútil,—de la resistencia del libro contra la lanza, de la razón contra el cirial, de la ciudad contra el campo, del imperio imposible de las castas urbanas divididas sobre la nación natural, tempestuosa o inerte,—se empieza como sin saberlo, a probar el amor” (6: 20). In representing the opposing tendencies and directions in spirit that can characterize the nature of historical transformation, Martí opposes the utility of ideas and the usefulness and creativity of love to the uselessness and destructiveness of hate. In Martí’s vision, useless hate and conflicts between the book and the sword, reason and the candlestick, the country and the city have given way to love.

The positive, transformative spirit of love accounts for the new awakening Martí describes. The republics are transcending the regional jealousies and disputes that have divided them, for they are standing up and greeting each other. They understand that the salvation of our nations rests in our people’s creativity, and they are applying local solutions to local problems.

Martí portrays the hardworking young people who are replacing previous graduates who were poorly prepared to serve and govern their countries, emphasizing now the usefulness of their new understanding and reiterating the high value he places on the utility of ideas, creativity and the necessity of work, particularly arduous, physical work that provides the daily bread of the nation: “Los jóvenes de América se ponen la camisa al codo, hunden las manos en la masa, y la levantan con la levadura de su sudor. Entienden que se imita demasiado, y que la salvación está en crear” (6: 20). They represent “el hombre real” for they understand that the forms of government must accommodate the natural elements of a country; that to be viable, liberty must be sincere and complete; that if the republic does not embrace everyone and move forward with everyone, it will die. The tiger within and the tiger without will take advantage of the cracks. If the infantry is left behind, says Martí, the enemy will surround the cavalry (6: 20-21).

To conclude this section he portrays the interdependence of political and aesthetic creativity in the harmonious and necessary integration of workers, intellectuals and artists in the creative task of transforming their countries. He closes in a rhetorical style that invites his readers to share his vision of united republics in the positive, useful transition from hate to love, and to participate with the new American people in all segments of their societies in effecting changes consistent with local conditions and inclusive of all citizens, in particular, the indigenous populations:

¡Bajarse hasta los infelices, y alzarlos en los brazos! ¡Con el fuego del corazón deshelar la América coagulada! ¡Echar, bullendo y rebotando, por las venas la sangre natural del país! En pie, con los ojos alegres de los trabajadores, se saludan, de un pueblo a otro, los hombres nuevos americanos. Surgen los estadistas naturales del estudio directo de la naturaleza. Leen para aplicar, pero no para copiar. Los economistas, estudian la dificultad en sus orígenes. Los oradores, empiezan a ser sobrios. Los dramaturgos, traen los caracteres nativos a la escena. Las academias discuten temas viables. La poesía se corta la melena zorrillezca, y cuelga del árbol glorioso el chaleco colorado. La prosa, centelleante y cernida, va cargada de ideas. Los gobernadores, en las republicas de indios, aprenden indio. (6: 21)

Section six

Optimism continues to combine with realism in section six, which extends the positive momentum and carries the essay towards its triumphant conclusion. It begins with a figurative representation of reality in a concise portrayal of varying conditions in the different republics:

De todos sus peligros se va salvando América. Sobre algunas repúblicas, está durmiendo el pulpo. Otras, por la ley del equilibrio, se echan a pie a la mar, a recobrar, con prisa loca y sublime, los siglos perdidos. Otras, olvidando que Juárez paseaba en un coche de mulas, ponen coche de viento, y de chochero a una bomba de jabón: el lujo venenoso, enemigo de la libertad, pudre al hombre liviano, y abre la puerta al extranjero. Otras acendran, con el espíritu épico de la independencia amenazada, el carácter viril. Otras crían, en la guerra rapaz contra el vecino, la soldadesca que puede devorarlas. (6: 21)

Notwithstanding the essay’s optimism and positive momentum, this portrayal is, for the most part, a reiteration of the internal and regional problems plaguing them, including historical unawareness, ill-judged priorities, mistaken attitudes and values, regional conflicts, and the creation of armies that constitute an internal threat to their governments and people. The republics are in different ways focused on attitudes, areas and directions that impede progress toward creating new and just societies poised to unite to resist a real, imminent and greater threat to their sovereignty, an external threat that derives from the differences in origin, methods and interests between North and South America: “y es la hora próxima en que se le acerque, demandando relaciones íntimas, un pueblo emprendedor y pujante que la desconoce y la desdeña” (6: 21).

In describing the nature of this threat, Martí balances opposing tendencies within the United States, thereby avoiding negative generalization or attack and strengthening his ethical appeal. Self-made with the gun and the law, it is a virile nation that respects only other virile nations. He reminds his readers that the unrestrained ambition of the United States has only recently been curbed by the predominance of its purer elements; this ambition could again be unleashed by other elements: “sus masas vengativas y sórdidas, la tradición de conquista, y el interés de un caudillo hábil” (6: 21). There is time, however, for nuestra América to act with discreet and unwavering pride to forestall this real and proximate threat, for the United States is restrained by the need to preserve its honour in the eyes of the world’s nations and this restraint, Martí says optimistically, cannot be easily removed by puerile provocation, ostentatious arrogance or parricidal discord within nuestra América.

The greatest danger, adds Martí, is the scorn of our formidable neighbour who doesn’t know us; therefore, our urgent duty is to replace the neighbour’s ignorance and scorn with knowledge and respect and to reveal our nature: “una en alma e intento, vencedora veloz de un pasado sofocante, manchada sólo con la sangre de abono que arranca a las manos la pelea con las ruinas,—y la de las venas que nos dejaron picadas nuestros dueños” (6: 22). Martí reinforces his confidence in the positive elements of the human spirit that directs the world of nations, and reiterates his belief that vigilance is a responsibility: “Se ha de tener fe en lo mejor del hombre, y desconfiar de lo peor de él. Hay que dar ocasión a lo mejor para que se revele, y prevalezca sobre lo peor. Si no, lo peor prevalece. Los pueblos han de tener una picota para quien les azuza a odios inútiles; y otra para quien no les dice a tiempo la verdad. . . . Pensar es servir” (6: 22).

Martí returns to the idea of useless hate and his concept of love as a positive and necessary force to restate principles that reinforce his ethical mode of appeal and influence readers away from destructive attitudes and racist social policies. He counters the positivism and social Darwinism that prevailed in the continuing influence of Sarmiento’s false dilemma (Civilización contra Barbarie). There can be no hatred of races, he declares, because there are no races; race is an abstraction that cannot be justified by any objective observation of nature, where victorious love and turbulent yearning highlight the universal identity of human beings. Love emanates, equally and eternally, he states, from human bodies that are diverse in form and colour; ideas that foment hatred of races are an assault against humanity (6: 22).

Of course, the real issue for society is not whether or not the concept of race is scientifically valid, but the fact that race continues to be used to divide societies and to exploit and deny the rights of marginalized people. Martí neither denies cultural differences nor silences marginalized individuals or groups on the subject of racial injustices. In fact, his contribution to the debate on race affirms people’s inherent right to resist social injustices. In 1893 he wrote: “dígase hombre, y ya se dicen todos los derechos”; “la injusticia en este mundo es mucha, y la ignorancia de los mismos que pasa por sabiduría”; and he insisted that marginalized people have the right to ensure that society does not deny them any of the privileges and human rights because of their colour or race (“Mi raza” 2: 298). Within Martí’s discourse of unity and inclusion, the purpose of his negation of race is to unite America’s indigenous, African and European populations within a common mestizo identity and a common cause to enable the fulfillment of their aspirations through their full integration into the social and economic fabric of the nation.

Martí’s concluding focus leaves no doubt that resistance to the emerging imperialism of the United States is one of the principal currents in the discourse of identity and affiliation in “Nuestra América.” He comments that as nations develop in proximity to other nations that are different, they acquire peculiar characteristics of ideas and habits, expansionism, vanity and greed that may precipitate a grave threat to weak and isolated neighbouring countries deemed inferior by the stronger nation. We should not ascribe an innately evil predisposition to another nation because it is different from ours, says Martí, but neither should we conceal the details of the problem that can be resolved, for centuries of peace, through timely study and the urgent tacit union of the continent’s soul. He introduced the essay by urging vigilance and establishing that the time has arrived for nuestra América to march united, in close formation, like the silver in the roots of the Andes.

He closes his forward-looking essay with a triumphant image of nuestra América:

“Porque ya suena el himno unánime; la generación real lleva a cuestas, por el camino abonado por los padres sublimes, la América trabajadora; del Bravo a Magallanes, sentado en el lomo del cóndor, regó el Gran Semí, por las naciones románticas del continente y por las islas dolorosas del mar, la semilla de la América nueva!” (6: 22-23).

This concluding image contains key elements of Martí’s thought: “el himno unánime” symbolizes the unified Spanish American nations; “la América trabajadora” acknowledges the creativity of working people, and the value and necessity of work; and the image of hardworking America carried on the shoulders of “la generación real” recognizes the authentic, creative people that are emerging in the Spanish American nations. Native mythology provides the powerful concluding symbolism: the reference to “los padres sublimes” alludes to Padre Amalivaca who re-peopled the world following a great flood and represents the emergence and awakening of “la generación real”; the imposing image of “el Gran Semí” mounted symbolically on the autochthonous condor, irrigating the land and planting the seeds of “la América nueva” conveys Martí’s belief that the unity and authenticity of the new America have their deepest roots in its autochthonous soul.

Discourse of identify and resistance

In Martí’s discourse of identity and resistance, the recovery of their autochthonous past and the preservation of their original character become the ideological foundation for a unifying nationalism among affiliated Spanish American republics that is broader, deeper, more complete and more achievable than would be expected from an attempt at formal political federation. Its conceptual centre is to be found, beyond the linguistic and cultural legacy of Spanish colonialism, in the idea that the history, material conditions, character, and aspirations of Spain’s former American colonies provide the material and spiritual foundations of a collective identity, a tacit and urgent union (“la unión tácita y urgente del alma continental” 6: 23), that transcends their political boundaries and distinguishes them essentially from the United States and Europe. “Nuestra América” describes the historical foundations of their collective identity, and stresses the urgent need for their spiritual and material renewal.

Martí’s prevailing optimism and triumphant close project his confidence that the Spanish-speaking republics will recover their autochthonous elements, value their unique characteristics, use reason and original ideas to overcome the colonial legacy inhibiting their progress, and build a future for the benefit of all their people.

Ramos maintains that in Martí autochthonous knowledge contests the “institutionalized state discourses of modernization and progress” (257) but implies “a critique from outside the institutional power spectrum, against the modernizing project that still served to legitimize state politics” (234), for the discourse of the autochthonous was a subaltern discourse which “did not yet appeal (nor was it addressed) to those in the state” (258). It may also be stated, however, that the nuestroamericanismo that emerged in Martí’s response as journalist and correspondent to political events that were poised to herald in a new era of political and economic hegemony, his reconceptualizing of the national identity that legitimates and situates autochthonous America as its spiritual foundation, penetrated institutionalized state discourses, for his appointment as consular representative for several South American nations confirms that his voice had achieved considerable eminence among decision-making politicians, and he was, furthermore, directly involved in one of the pan-American conferences as Uruguay’s delegate.

A literary monument

“Nuestra América” is, furthermore, a literary monument as much for the intellectual contribution of Martí’s vision, as for his mastery of the rhetorical arts. Its seamless fusion of politics and poetics embodies his belief in the necessity of useful art and the importance of the utility of ideas. The essay epitomizes writing as revolutionary discourse. Its analysis of post-colonial conditions in Spanish America conveys to readers that the power of ideologies and institutions have not only regulated their social, political and economic structures, but also established inauthentic values, created false identities, dictated which sectors command authority, hierarchized knowledge to privilege the imported over the autochthonous, prescribed understanding, and determined which ideas are “true” and beneficial. However, its programmatic nature and prevailing optimism in Spanish America’s regeneration also convey Martí’s confidence in the power of discourse to produce new knowledge, redefine identities and effect historical transformation.

In reaching its original audience through the medium of the press, “Nuestra América” also implies that access to institutions can enable individuals to join with others to question governing assumptions and use the power of ideology to work to achieve transformative social effects. The essay accomplishes its regenerative objectives engaging the reader in a discourse situation involving shared assumptions, values and cultural background, as well as the specific historical circumstances that both occasion the discourse and heighten its relevance and urgency. Through rational argumentation heightened by affective appeal, Martí urges them to question “truths,” acquire new knowledge, and become self-aware. He alerts them to new possibilities for self-determination and affiliation, and provides a conceptual framework for political and institutional change.

A political manifesto for Spanish American nations

Whether or not Martí consciously intended “Nuestra América” as a political manifesto for Spanish American unity and historical transformation, it may be regarded as one, for it reflects that type of public declaration in purpose and substance. It offers a programmatic approach to their renewal and a conceptual framework from which to reclaim their origins, acknowledge their proud history, evaluate their achievements, transform their societies, and effectively resist the eminent threat of United States domination.

This program of renewal requires them to recreate themselves through recovering their past and creating a future that will encompass and integrate their character and identity, and the aspirations of all their people. Such renewal must value the autochthonous and original elements of these former colonies of Spain and reflect these in changes in the nature of government, as well as in social, political and economic structures. It will acknowledge the contribution, include the participation and reflect the culture and values of disdained sectors that have been unjustly marginalized by imported ideologies, misguided government and economic policies not suited to the original character and material conditions of Spanish America. Their affiliation, cultural renewal and spiritual regeneration will be the means whereby they will assert and defend their independence and effect their historical transformation, which will require paths of development consistent with the soul of the land to express the regenerated spirit of a new America.

The collection and continuing dissemination of Martí’s complete works, which began in 1910, have made it possible for “Nuestra América” to reach and inspire new and wider audiences. The success of his vision in expressing the collective identity and aspirations of Spanish America has contributed to the essay’s enduring power and relevance. Although his prescience and vigilance were insufficient to prevent the expansion of United States hegemony, he contributed significantly to the analysis of the conditions that propelled it and provided a critique of United States imperialism and the nature of pan-Americanism that continues to inform an understanding of regional and global problems today.


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Copyright 2006 Pamela Barnett