José Martí seems to have had a thousand lives! From Havana to Paris, passing through New York, Martí was at the same time a politician, a journalist, a philosopher and a poet.
An activist of the first hour, elevated to the rank of myth by the Castro regime, Martí has left a deep and lasting imprint on Cuban history.
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The youth of José Martí
José Martí was born in Havana in 1853.
His parents, Spanish by origin, had a modest income and the ends of the month were difficult.
At school, the young Martí quickly showed great promise.
Introduced in 1864 to Rafael María de Mendive, a Cuban intellectual and director of the Municipal Superior School, he became his protégé.
For the record, you can visit the house where the famous Cuban independence fighter was born, the “Casa natal de José Martí”, in the Habana Vieja district.
The revolutionary beginnings
It was with Mendive that Martí discovered revolutionary militancy.
In 1858, at the age of fifteen, he founded La Patria Libre, his first anti-colonial newspaper.
In 1859, Martí was arrested for having mocked the “volunteers” joining the Spanish colonial army.
He was tried for treason, imprisoned and sentenced to six years of hard labor, then finally sent into exile in Spain in 1871.
The first exile
Deported to Spain and sentenced to four years of exile, José Martí took courses in literature, philosophy and law at the University of Zaragoza.
The country was in the midst of a crisis.
The Revolution of 1868, a revolutionary uprising at the same time military, popular and political, pushed the queen Isabella II to the exile (she abdicated in 1870) and deeply shook the Spanish society.
José Martí frequents socialist and anarchist workers’ movements, nourished by the Revolution of 1868 and the Commune of Paris.
Martí then left Spain and traveled from country to country: he passed through Paris, then London, and went to Mexico and Guatemala.
He gave lectures, wrote poems and contributed to several newspapers.
The echoes of his revolutionary thought were heard as far away as Cuba.
During this time, the island experienced its first independence uprising, the Ten Years War (1868-1878).
However, the Spaniards managed to quell the insurrection and maintain their domination over Cuba.
The return to Cuba
José Martí returned to Cuba at the end of the Ten Years’ War, but his return was short-lived.
Accused of conspiracy, he was arrested and deported to Spain in 1879.
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The second exile
Exiled in Spain for the second time in less than ten years, José Martí managed to escape.
He went to Venezuela, where he continued to work for the independence of the Latin American peoples.
It was also there that he wrote the famous poem “Guantanamera”, taken from the collection “Versos sencillos”.
He then moved to New York.
In 1892, he was elected “delegado” of the Partido Revolucionario Cubano.
Surrounded by Cuban independence fighters in exile, he began to plan the invasion of Cuba from New York.
Death in Cuba
The invasion was launched in 1895.
Accompanied by exiled revolutionaries, Martí joined General Máximo Gómez in Santo Domingo.
They landed in Cuba where they met up with the famous General Antonio Maceo, another leading figure of the Cuban war of independence, and his army.
José Martí was appointed “major general of the liberation army”, but died a few months later at the battle of Dos Rios, the first battle fought against the Spaniards.
The war of independence lasted from 1895 to 1898 and ended with the victory of the Cuban liberation army, thanks to the decisive support of the American army.
Cuba then came under the domination of the United States, before obtaining its independence in 1902, and then again under American control from 1905 to 1909.
To go further
If you are intrigued and want to know more about José Marti, we recommend you read José Marti.
The freedom of Cuba and Latin America.
And to discover the poetic work of José Marti: Vers Libres.
José Martí, a key figure in Cuban independence, was the great theoretician of Latin American anti-colonialism in the 19th century.
His revolutionary thinking had a profound impact on Cuban society.
Fidel Castro presents himself as the heir of José Martí, to whom he will make more than 10 references in his famous speech “History will absolve me”.