Front Door to Cuba

José Martí
on Antonio Maceo

From PATRIA (New York), October 6, 1893


American Nature, Maid of the Isthmus, is a provident beauty and like an ample bosom in its domination of Costa Rica, a country rising above the clouds, its logs hauled by animals meandering along the blue skyscape, the broad and stony waters of its splashing mountain streams spilling to the burning coasts on a bed perennially green. The republic is like a hymn, and every one of its sons carries a hoe over his shoulder. There on the Atlantic side, along the Río Matina, bananas grow as tall as royal palms, and a Cuban who gave his blood to Cuba is the one who grows the best bananas in the friendly soil. On the Pacific side, that which a year ago was overgrown with weeds is now a sidewalk, and the wasteland a small village of Cubans who brought seed out of the forest. And there is someone there who who forsakes his recent bride for an older lover. The good Cuban loves Costa Rica with the tenderness of a son. Costa Rica is one of the charming places in this world, with its dewdrop cities dotting the pleasant valleys, each a mosaic of jewels. There is vigorous life in its serene inhabitants; the son of a doctor or a judge, his roots in the countryside like any man who wants to be free, and the father waiting at the coffee plantation for the blooms to appear; or the son of a laborer with a silver-plated belt, working behind the wagons. Banks and hotels prosper amid the country’s old beliefs because they exist for orderly and progressive people rather than for the powerful; and the electrically lighted roads edged with roofs take one to the common where anyone may put his cow to pasture and where the air is life itself, or to picturesque ravines and hillocks and age-old walls covered with flowers. The suburban house is luxurious; gold sofas within, and outside still displaying the colonial front door and forbidding windows. Looking out on a courtyard there, between a fountain and a rose bush, the young son’s library is filled with volumes from Paris and books on contemporary America. And if there is a contest of ideas in the magnificent salon, first all of them—magistrates and presidents, tailors and scholars, soldiers and laborers—crowd together in the entryway to have something to drink. Costa Rica’s shell is still oppressive, but it is a republic. Man lives from his work and thinks for himself. And the Cuban who goes to Costa Rica is warmly welcomed by all. A robust man goes by in the street; he neither slights nor flatters, but everyone greets him; he has a courteous manner of speech and a splendid bearing. He completed a three days’ journey in a day and a half and is admired by peasants and ministers alike; loyal Cubans from east and west set a Cuban table and put him at its head; another stage of his journey, after contracts and important visits, and he is already in his Nicoya—which a year ago was in obscurity—opening the land and moving men, or building a new wing for the big hut, with roof and shed, while accompanied by the greatly respected lady who anxiously awaited him and stanched his flow of blood during the ten years of war. Thus does Antonio MaceoPhoto of Antonio Maceo live: waiting.

A son comes more from his mother than from his father, and it is a great misfortune to owe one’s body to weak or worthless people to whom one cannot owe one’s soul. But Maceo was happy because he came from a lion and a lioness. His mother is wasting away now, the splendid little old lady slipping away from him to a remote and indifferent corner, and yet she still has the hands of a young girl for caressing anyone who talks to her about her homeland. Her eyes wander over the earth as if looking for another world; they still sparkle as they did when the Spaniard came and told her about some good incident in connection with her sons. She lifts her wrinkled face, her head covered with a crow-like kerchief, and without knowing why, one kisses her hand. At the bedside of her sick grandson—a little man-child—the old lady talks passionately about her sons’ battles, her terrors, her joys, about when they will all be repeated. Crouching in a hole in the ground she spent painful hours while all around there were sabers and machetes crossing to the hilt. She saw her son straighten up, blood all over his body, and with ten men rout two hundred. With her own hands she waits upon and accompanies to the door those who in the name of Cuba are still coming to see her.

His wife María, an exceptionally noble lady, would not even see terror in death, for she had seen its shadow many times; she would see terror only in one heart of a son of Cuba, a heart in which a strong desire for the country’s independence might have been snuffed out; that was a fierce night indeed. To her it seems a strange lack of courage and monstrous ingratitude for so much bloodshed, for she, a woman, has seen that Cuban perform stubbornly and marvelously and then, with the machete he used in fighting, has seen him earn his bread. There is no more cultured matron in the drawing room, nor was there a better untrained doctor in the war. That cry; “If there aren’t going to be any more women now, who will take care of the wounded?” came from her. With welcoming arms she anticipates anyone who brings her hopes from the homeland, and with haughty silence she confuses those who distrust or forget her. May her husband see other blood in the fight and not give his own! She always dresses in black, but it is as if she were clothed in the flag. “Oh, the most beautiful thing on earth was to see the president, with his white beard and the huge hat he’d wear on the road, leaning on his walking stick, climbing the hill on foot, because when going through Oriente he would always stop off to see Antonio.” And her spirit is music when she tells about “the entire army that joined forces in Camagüey to attack Las Villas, and they would set out in the morning with cavalry and infantry and flags, the wives and mothers going along, and all those bugles.” It is easy to be heroes with such women!

The Cuban who had no rival in defending, with strength and respect, the laws of his republic now lives in Nicoya, a splendid place before the Conquest froze the ingenuous life of America. The useful man is silent, like cannon on the walls, as long as the burning ideal does not burden him with justice and death. In passing, the astute rider takes his horse among the little villages—that horse which once leaped into the midst of the enemy bayonets, stirring up sand with its two hind legs.

His clear-eyed gaze, which would drink in an entire camp at a glance, now investigates the colonists’ small transgressions and neighborhood complaints. Now and then he smiles, and it is because he sees the war coming. He urges his horse into a trot but soon resorts to the bridle in order to sense the true hour, in order to punish his spirit for the impetuosity of his youth. The rain and strong sun beat down upon him without distracting his silent thoughts or robbing him of his jovial smile; and as at the open-air banquet that was once given to him, everyone will gallop away if the clouds begin to gather, while he will stay and face the storm. He can do everything. In his time he will do everything.

When he secures settlements for the colonists; sees to each one’s role with the govenrment and that each is personally obligated; sees to the selling of rice, the arrival of some machine, a license for the tobacco store; conveys by land and sea what is needed to change the learing which he and his men opened in the dense forest into a beautiful and lively town—when he accomplishes all these things, there is no guest more warmly received on the marble threshold or at the deal table, and no contractor whom the government views more favorably, and no man to whom his compatriots give of themselves or entrust their lives more willingly. Anger does not quicken his pace or debase his person with jealousy and vengeance, nor does his scarred hand grip the hand of an unworthy man; since he is soon to die for his country, he does not talk much about it. But he can, and he will. In the meantime he works in the colony for a month and remains in San Jose for a week, in his twill Prince Albert, light trousers, and bowler hat. Within his formidable frame lies a great heart. Apparently that man can never, with his serene vigor, harm or offend the country which he loves so dearly, by too much action and too little wisdom; so dearly that when, alone with his curses, he talks about its realities and the fire burning within it, his eyes light up with happiness and he becomes speechless. The camp is before him, the horses galloping, and the way is clearly seen. His is the joy of a bridegroom, and it must be assumed that there is substance in what he says because Maceo’s mind is as powerful as his arm. No childish enthusiasm would get the better of his wise experience. His thinking is firm and harmonious, like the likes of his skull. His words are polished, as though with constant energy, and of an artistic elegance derived from his painstaking adjustment to wise and sober ideas. He does not give himself away verbally, which is truly noteworthy, but treats the subject at hand in a roundabout way, while, like someone returning from a long voyage, he hints at all the pitfalls and difficulties. He leaves no phrases ragged, uses no impure expressions, or hesitates when he seems to do so; rather, he carefully considers his subject matter or his man. He never exaggerates or drops the reins. But the sun sets one day and rises upon another, and through the window that looks out upon the field of Mars its first splendors shine upon that warrior who spent a sleepless night searching for paths for his country. His support will be himself, never his dagger. He shall serve his troops with his ideas even more than with his courage. Strength and greatness are natural to him. After that night the sun blazed through his windows.

Return to Timetable - 1893 | Return to Maceo Timeline - Part Three

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Letters and Articles by José Martí
Our America | Montecristi Manifesto (full text) | Last letter to his mother | Incomplete letter to his friend Manuel Mercado | On Antonio Maceo | Letter to Maximo Gomez, 1884 (in which he resins from the revolutionary movement) | My Race (from Patria)

Antonio Maceo | War for Independence

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