Havana. May 19, 2006
MARTI’S UNFINISHED LETTER TO HIS FRIEND MANUEL MERCADO
“I have lived in the monster and I know its entrails”
• On May 18, 1895, the day before his fall in combat fighting for the independence of the island, José Martí, the Cuban National Hero, wrote this unfinished letter to his intimate friend Mexican Manuel Mercado and it is considered his political testament, in which he expresses his anti-imperialism and his struggle to prevent “the United States from spreading through the Antilles as Cuba gains its independence, and from empowering with that additional strength our lands of America.”
Dos Rios Camp, May 18, 1895
Mr. Manuel Mercado
My dearest brother: Now I can write, now I can tell you how tenderly and gratefully and respectfully I love you and that home which I consider my pride and responsibility. I am in daily danger of giving my life for my country and duty for I understand that duty and have the courage to carry it out-the duty of preventing the United States from spreading through the Antilles as Cuba gains its independence, and from empowering with that additional strength our lands of America. All I have done so far, and all I will do, is for this purpose. I have had to work quietly and somewhat indirectly, because to achieve certain objectives, they must be kept under cover; to proclaim them for what they are would raise such difficulties that the objectives could not be realized.
The same general and lesser duties of these nations-nations such as yours and mine that are most vitally concerned with preventing the opening in Cuba (by annexation on the part of the imperialist from there and the Spaniards) of the road that is to be closed, and is being closed with our blood, annexing our American nations to be brutal and turbulent North which despises them-prevented their apparent adherence and obvious assistance to this sacrifice made for their immediate benefit.
I have lived in the monster and I know its entrails; my sling is David’s. At this very moment-well, some days ago-amid the cheers of victory with which the Cubans saluted our free departure from the mountains where the six men of our expedition walked for fourteen days, a correspondent from the Herald, who tore me out the hammock in my hut, told me about the annexationist movement. He claimed it was less to be feared because of the unrealistic approach of its aspirants, undisciplined or uncreative men of a legalistic turn of mind, who in the comfortable disguise of their complacency or their submission to Spain, half-heartedly ask it for Cuba’s autonomy. They are satisfied merely that there be a master- Yankee or Spanish- to support them or reward their services as go-betweens with positions of power, enabling them to scorn the hardworking masses-the country’s half-breeds, skilled and pathetic, the intelligent and creative hordes of Negroes and white men.
And that Herald correspondent, Eugene Bryson, told me more: about a Yankee syndicate, endorsed by the customs authority who are too closely associated with the rapacious Spanish banks to be involved with those of the North, a syndicate fortunately unable, because of its sinewy and complex political structure, to undertake or support the idea as a government project. And Bryson continue talking, although the truth of his reports could be understood only by a person with firsthand knowledge of the determination with which we have mustered the revolution, of the disorganization, indifference, and poor pay of the untried Spanish army, and of Spain’s inability to gather, in or out of Cuba, the resources to be used against the war, resources which it had obtained the time before from Cuba alone. Bryson recounted his conversation with Martinez Campos at the end of which Martinez Campos gave to understand that at the proper time, Spain would doubtless prefer to come to terms with the United States than hand the island to the Cubans. And Bryson had still more to tell me: about an acquaintance of ours whom the North is grooming as a candidate from the United States for the presidency of Mexico when the term of the president now in office expires.
I am doing my duty here. The Cuban war, a reality of higher priority than the vague and scattered desires of the Cuban and Spanish annexationists, whose alliance with the Spanish government would only give them relative power, has come to America in time to prevent Cuba’s annexation to the United States, even against all those freely used forces. The United States will never accept from a country at war, nor can it occur, the hateful and absurd commitment of discouraging, on its account and with its weapons, an American war of independence, for the war will not accept annexation.
And Mexico, will it not find a wise, effective, and immediate way of helping, in due time, its own defender? It will indeed, or I shall find one for it. This is a life-and-death matter, and there is no room for error. The prudent way is the only way worth considering. I would have found it and proposed it. But I must have more authority placed in me, or know who has it, before acting or advising. I have just arrived. The formation of our utilitarian yet simple government can still take two more months, if it is to be stable and realistic. Our spirit is one, the will of the country, and I know it. But these things are always a matter of communication, influence and accommodation. In my capacity as representative, I do not want to do anything that may appear to be a capricious extension of it. I arrived in a boat with General Máximo Gómez and four others. I was in charge of the lead oar during a storm and we landed at an unknown quarry on one of our beaches. For fourteen days I carried my rifle and knapsack, marching through bramble patches and over hills. We gathered people along the way. In the benevolence of men’s souls I feel the root of my affection for their suffering, and my just desire to eliminate it. The countryside is unquestionably ours to the extent that in a single month I could hear but one blast of gunfire. And at the gates of the cities we either won a victory, or reviewed 3,000 troops in the face of an enthusiasm resembling religious fervor. We continue on our way to the center of the island where, in the presence of the revolution which I instigated, I laid aside the authority given me by the settlements abroad and acknowledged by the island, and which an assembly of delegates from the Cuban people-revolutionaries in arms-must replace in accord with the new conditions. The revolution desires complete freedom in the army, without the obstacles previously raised by a Chamber without real sanction, without the distrust of its republicanism by a suspicious faction of the young, and without the jealousy and fears, which could become too great a threat in the future, of a punctilious or prophetic leader. But at the same time the revolution is eager for a concise and respectable republican representation-the same decent spirit of humanity, filled with a desire for individual dignity in representing the republic, as that which encourages and maintains the revolutionaries in this war. As for me, I realize that a nation can not be led counter to or without the spirit that motivates it; I know how human hearts are inspired, and how to make use of a confident and impassionate state of mind to keep enthusiasm at a constant pitch and ready for the attack. But with respect to forms, many ideas are possible, and in matters of men, there are men to carry them out. You know me. In my case, I defend only what I consider a guarantee of, or a service to, the revolution. I know how to disappear. But my thoughts will never disappear, nor will my obscurity leave me embittered. The moment we take shape, we will proceed; trust this to me and the others.
And now, having dealt with national interests, I will talk about myself, since only the emotion of this duty could raise from a much-desired death the man who, now that Nájera does not live where you can see him better and cherishes as his heart’s delight that friendship with which you fill him with pride.
I know his silent gestures of annoyance, after my voyage. And however much we told him, from the bottom of our hearts, there was no response! What a fraud he is, and how callous that soul of his, that the honor and tribute of our affection has not moved him to write one more letter on the paper of the maps or newspapers that fill our day!
There are affections of such fragile honesty…
• On the following day, May 19, 1895, Martí fell in combat in Dos Ríos.