Everyone knows what the 9th of October is, but let’s not think of that now. In fact, let’s not even mention his name — neither the one he was given at birth, nor the one he assumed during his adventures, as our brother.
Let us not recall how he gave up the cozy middle-class life of a doctor in Buenos Aires to starve and ache and spill his own blood for the oppressed, wherever he found them — first in Cuba, then in the Congo, and finally in Bolivia. How, in staying true to his principles, he turned his back on power (unlike some of his infamous comrades). Let’s not recount once more how the light was extinguished: the blood-soaked jungle, the tiny schoolhouse, the defiant gaze, the cruel theft, and the emptied body. He didn’t live long — not yet 40 — but he lived more. Most of all, he did what he said everyone who cares about this world must do: he changed it.
Many today consider him a murderer, pretending revolutions are a mostly civil, non-violent affair. His critics forget the barbarity of the regimes that revolutionaries risk their lives to bring down. If they’re American, they conveniently ignore the numerous men publicly hung at the gallows on George Washington’s orders during the war that birthed this nation, or the 50,000 civilian deaths whose blood baptized it almost a century later. Be they Cuban, then they forget that Martí had not returned to his homeland in 1895 merely to write poetry; he’d come to kill. Perhaps no one embodied the spirit of Martí, as both an intellectual and a soldier, more than the man whom they buried so disgracefully in 1968. He not only wrote what he thought, but also fought for what he wrote.
And so, to avoid writing too much about someone of whom much has been written and who has left us so many elegant words of his own, it’s only fitting that we commemorate this ugly anniversary with two of his last letters.
The first is to his parents:
Dear old folks:
Once again I feel beneath my heels the ribs of Rocinante. Once more, I’m on the road with my shield on my arm. Almost ten years ago I wrote you another farewell letter. As I recall, I lamented not being a better soilder and a better doctor. The latter no longer interests me; I am not such a bad soilder. Nothing has changed in essence, except that I am much more consious.
My Marxism has taken root and become purified. I believe in armed struggle as the only solution for those peoples who fight to free themselves, and I am consistent with my beliefs. Many will call me an adventurer, and that I am….only one of a different sort: one who risks his skin to prove his truths. It is possible that this may be the end. I don’t seek it, but it’s within the logical relms of probailities. If it should be so, I send you a final embrace. I have loved you very much, only I have not known how to express my affection. I am extremly rigid in my actions, and I think that sometimes you did not understand me. Nevertheless, please believe me today.
Now a willpower that I have polished with an artist’s delight will sustain some shaky legs and some weary lungs. I will do it. Give a thought once in awhile to this little soilder of fortune of the twentieth century.
A kiss to Celia, to Roberto, Juán Martín and Patotín, to Beatriz, to everybody. For you, a big hug from your obstinate and prodigal son,
The second, to his children, to be read in the event of his death:
To my children
Dear Hildita, Aleidita, Camilo, Celia, and Ernesto,
If you ever have to read this letter, it will be because I am no longer with you. You practically will not remember me, and the smaller ones will not remember me at all.
Your father has been a man who acted on his beliefs and has certainly been loyal to his convictions.
Grow up as good revolutionaries. Study hard so that you can master technology, which allows us to master nature. Remember that the revolution is what is important, and each one of us, alone is worth nothing.
Above all, always be capable of feeling deeply any injustice committed against anyone, anywhere in the world. This is the most beautiful quality in a revolutionary.
Until forever, my children. I still hope to see you.
A great big kiss and a big hug from,
Remembering this man — and that “the world must not only be interpreted, it must be transformed” — is how we celebrate our heritage.