José Martí: ‘Others are able to: We Cannot’

On the birthday of the great José Martí, the father of Cuban independence, we thought it appropriate to share with our readers one of his most powerful essays translated by our good friend Diana Arteaga, which appeared on Babalú in July of 2011.


The words of the Cuban apostle José Martí are as pertinent today as they were over a century ago. And since history continues to repeat itself for those who do not learn from it, we once again find ourselves in a very similar situation.

Just as it happened in the 19th Century under the enslavement of the Spanish, today we find many advocating travel to Cuba while it is enslaved by the Castro dictatorship. And the answer José Martí gave those advocating travel in his day is as fitting today as it was over one hundred years ago.

Thanks to our good friend Diana Arteaga, here is a translation of José Martí’s timeless essay, “The Trips to Cuba”:

The Trips to Cuba

War brought us here and the abhorrence against tyranny keeps us here. That abhorrence is so deeply rooted in us, so essential to our nature, that it is as inseparable from us as our own flesh!

What are we to seek there when it is not possible to live with honor and when the time to return and die has not yet come? … Why should we go to Cuba?  To hear the cracking of whips on the backs of men, on the backs of Cubans, and to not be able to defend oneself, even if there were no weapon but the branch of a tree, by nailing the hand of the one who punishes us against a tree as an example?

To see the repulsive consortium of the sons of heroes belittle themselves with all kinds of impurity and the imported vices that they flaunt, or to see them boast their filthy prosperity before those who should live amongst them?

To greet, to beg, to smile, to shake hands, to see the mass of people that flourish amongst our anguish, as the black and yellow butterflies that flourish amongst the manure along the roads?  To see an insolent bureaucrat parade his luxury, his carriage, his lady, before the august thinker who walks by his feet without having the means in his own country to provide a meal for his family?

To see distinguished people live in shame, to see the honorable live in helplessness, to see talent acting in shameful complicity, to see the women with impure company, to see the farmers without the fruits of the soil? What does one have to turn over to the soldier that he will only seek to take away tomorrow? Will he even take away the ability to grow one’s own crops or sugarcane?

To see a whole people, our people, for whom judgment goes as far today as courage did yesterday, dishonor themselves by showing cowardice and pretending as if they do not know what is happening around them? This hurts far worse than thrust of a dagger.  To go and see such shamelessness! Others are able to: WE CANNOT!!

Jose Marti
October 10, 1887

The original version in Spanish is available below the fold.

Por José Martí.

Nos trajo aquí la guerra y aquí nos mantiene el aborrecimiento a la tiranía, tan arraigado en nosotros, tan esencial a nuestra naturaleza, que no podríamos arrancárnoslo sino con la carne viva!

¿A que hemos de ir allá cuando no es posible vivir con decoro ni parece aun llegada la hora de volver a morir?… ¿A que iríamos a Cuba? A oír chasquear el látigo en espaldas de hombre, en espaldas cubanas, y no volar aunque no haya mas armas que ramas de árboles, a clavar en un tronco para ejemplo, la mano que nos castiga?

¿Ver el consorcio repugnante de los hijos de los héroes, de los mismos, empequeñecidos en la impureza, y los vicios importados que ostentan, ante los que debieran vivir de espaldas a ellos, su prosperidad inmunda?

¿Saludar, pedir, sonreír, dar nuestra mano, ver a la caterva que florece sobre nuestra angustia, como las mariposas negras y amarillas que nacen del estiércol de los caminos?¿Ver un burócrata insolente que pasea su lujo, su carruaje, su dama, ante el pensador augusto que va a pie a su lado, sin tener de seguro donde buscar en su propia tierra el pan para su casa?

¿Ver en el bochorno a los ilustres, en el desamparo a los honrados, en complicidades vergonzosas al talento en compañía impura, a las mujeres sin los frutos de su suelo, al campesino, que tiene que ceder al soldado que mañana lo ha de perseguir, hasta el cultivo de sus propias cañas?

¿Ver a un pueblo entero, a nuestro pueblo en quien el juicio llega hoy a donde llego ayer el valor, deshonrarse con la cobardía o el disimulo? Puñal es poco para decir lo que eso duele. Ir, a tanta vergüenza! Otros pueden: ¡¡NOSOTROS NO PODEMOS!!

José Marti
10 de Octubre de 1887



2 thoughts on “José Martí: ‘Others are able to: We Cannot’

  1. Note that to the left of the lower button on Marti’s coat, there is a spec. A larger image of that photo clearly shows that it is a fly that photo-bombed Marti.

  2. Ah, but the man was an aberration, practically a mutant, as Cubans go. Yes, he was real, and he meant what he said and died to prove it, some say deliberately. Alas, most Cubans were never worthy of him or his sacrifices on their behalf–not then and definitely not now. Because he was indisputably the real deal, he’s always gotten dutiful lip service from all sides, but he’s been used far more than followed. For far too many Cubans now, his kind of dignity is alien, archaic or melodramatic, like something out of an opera or a novel; they either can’t relate to it or they can’t take it seriously. In other words, pearls before swine.

Comments are closed.