A place and three friends in Jose Marti’s life

Por: Karin Companioni Sánchez

Tarja que enuncia el paso de Martí por Guanabacoa y su amistad con Viondi. Hoy esta casa se encuentra destruida.

There are numerous sites in Havana related to José Martí, such as the church of the Holy Angel Custodian, where he was baptized, in Compostela corner to Cuarteles; the parish church of Our Lady of Monserrate, where her son José Francisco was baptized; the house of Friendship Street No. 42 between Neptune and Concordia, where he lived with his wife and son when he received the second arrest warrant by the Spanish government, in September 1879, or the police station of Empedrado and Monserrate where he was arrested that time, and then deported; the lyceums of Guanabacoa and Regla, or the café El Louvre, where on April 21, 1879 he gave a memorable speech in honor of journalist Adolfo Marquez Sterling. The place that occupied the Lyceum Artistic and Literary of Guanabacoa had particular significance for the political projection of Martí, and was a meeting point with figures who would become important collaborators and friends of his, and support him in his struggle for freedom.

The town of Guanabacoa, its Artistic and Literary Lyceum and José Martí
The people of Guanabacoa were founded in 1578 to gather the scattered free Indians who inhabited their jurisdiction, and there a church was erected under the advocation of the Virgin Mary in her Assumption. The village was marked by events such as the take-off of Havana by the English in 1762, bravely confronted by Mayor José Antonio Gómez y Bullones, Pepe Antonio, at the head of the Guanabacoense Militias, in battles where, for the first time, the machete was used as a weapon.
On June 16, 1861, thanks to the initiative of Baltasar Velasquez, the Liceo Artístico y Literario de Guanabacoa was founded, which would become one of the most important cultural institutions in Cuba during the nineteenth century. Its purpose was to promote lyrics, science, fine arts, and to teach free classes, as well as to offer concerts, dances and other cultural activities.1
Dr. Nicolás Azcárate was appointed as the first director. Connotados writers, musicians and illustrious figures of Cuban intellectuality participated in their evenings, among them José de la Luz y Caballero, Felipe Poey, Juan Clemente Zenea, Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, Mercedes Matamoros, Antonio Bachiller y Morales, José Jacinto Milanés, Manuel Sanguily, Cirilo Villaverde, José White, Manuel Saumell, Rafael Díaz Albertini, Eusebio Valdés Domínguez, Luisa Pérez de Zambrana, Diego Vicente Tejera , Anselmo Suárez y Romero, Rafael María de Mendive, Antonio Zambrana, José Fornaris, Enrique José Varona and others. The grandstand from which so many eminent Cubans gave speeches and conferences, is preserved today in a glass urn in the Casa de los Mártires Museum (Martí Street No. 320 corner to San Andrés), which is a dependency of the Municipal Museum of Guanabacoa.
The Cuban independence movement had numerous followers in Guanabacoa, and highlighted the insurrectional work carried out at the Liceo Artístico y Literario. In his halls, during the funeral evening in memory of the poet Alfredo Torroella, José Martí delivered his first revolutionary speech. This would be followed by others of great relevance. On 7 November 1878, as recorded in Volume II of the Book of Acts of the Lyceum, Martí was appointed an optional partner of the Lyceum, and subsequently secretary of the Literature Section.
Informational sources on the Artistic and Literary Lyceum of Guanabacoa are the works of two of the most outstanding Guanabacoense historians of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: Elpidio de La Guardia and Gerardo Castellanos García, who was also president of the Lyceum.2
In August 1943, the magazine La Tutelar published a work by the then historian of Havana, Emilio Roig de Leuchsenring, under the title “Martí’s first speech in Cuba, at the Lyceum of Guanabacoa in 1879”.

“On 21 January 1879 the Guanabacoense population was dressed in mourning because of the premature death of the poet Alfredo Torroella y Romaguera, Martí’s close friend in the gloomy days of exile in the Aztec nation. His funeral honors took effect in the halls of the Lyceum, from there an entourage accompanied his corpse to the local necropolis and on 22 January 1879, before the poet’s corpse, amid the sadness that overwhelmed those present at the ceremony, Martí spoke. His sober and hopeful verb was a sword of light that cleared for a few moments the dark veil of death. It was the first time he spoke in Cuba and for him it was an act of consecration that would bear his seal indelible.”3

Among Martí’s speeches at the Liceo, one of the best known, for his deep patriotic sense, was the one he gave in the evening of homage to the Cuban violinist Rafael Díaz Albertini, on April 27, 1879. Among the turnout was the captain general of the island, Don Ramón Blanco.

“The vigorous and bold words of the young Martí made a target in the first colonialist authority. Prey to a sharp access of anger that he was trying to contain unsuccessfully, the Iberian military exclaimed: ‘I want not to remember what I have heard and that I never conceived was ever said before me, representative of the Spanish government: I will think that Martí is a madman… but a dangerous madman.'”4

José Martí participated in other activities at the Lyceum, such as scientific-literary discussions on the theme “Idealism and Realism in Dramatic Literature”; debates about the origin of man; readings of poems by Mercedes Matamoros; lectures on famous figures such as Enrique Piñeiro or the Spanish playwright Echegaray.
Journalist José Leygonier, famous as a figure in local journalism, recalls the numerous martyred visits to Guanabacoa, being just a teenager; the appearance in this town, in April 1868, of the first Martyred text in print (a poem on the death of a son of his teacher Rafael María de Mendive); his brief residence here, where he moved with his family when his father was appointed warden of the Cruz Verde neighborhood (1869); their fraternal ties to Guanabacoan exiles; references to Guanabacoa in several texts.5
The beginning of the wars for independence marked a turning point in the history of the Lyceum. In the face of the overflow of suffocating Spanishism, a grey period began for the institution that would lead her to suffer the rigors of colonialist domination, a situation that could only be overcome after the Zanjón Pact, which led to the return of many lycetic partners forced to suffer the tribulations of exile.
On October 24, 1896, the Lyceum was closed, but in April 1900 a General Meeting of Partners decided to restore the vitality it enjoyed in previous years. Despite the ever-pressing financial problems, dances, artistic evenings, theatrical performances, verbenas and recitals organized by the respective sections resumed.
One of his most widely reported civic-social actions was the collection of a penny organized to build the glass urn that would safeguard the historic grandstand used in his addresses by the Master and other men of Cuban intellectuality. Thanks to their efforts it was also possible that they come to the village, as speakers of the Lyceum, men of the likes of Jorge Mañach, Francisco Ichaso, Rufo López Fresquet, Agustín Acosta, Luis Baralt, Salvador Bueno, Elías Entralgo, Cosme de la Torriente, Max Henríquez Ureña, among other high-level visitors.

Tfriends at the Lyceum: Azcárate, Viondi, Juan Gualberto
In his period in Spain (January 1871–December 1874) after his first deportation, Martí had graduated in Civil and Canon Law and Philosophy and Letters; but he had not been able to afford the certificates of his two university careers. Arriving in Havana, having no authorization to practice law or to teach second education classes with academic validity, it had to be used as an intern in the buffets of two prestigious lawyers of the time: That of Nicolás Azcárate and Escobedo (1828-1894), located in San Ignacio No. 55 –where I would meet Juan Gualberto Gómez –, and that of Miguel Francisco Viondi y Vera (1846-1919) , with whom he later worked, in Cobbledo No. 2, corner to Merchants. Over time he was born among these four figures who frequented the Lyceum of Guanabacoa, a great friendship relationship.
The first time Martí was arrested (in 1869, at the age of sixteen) he was not fully involved in the independence struggle. Ten years later, he was a conspirator with all the law, clearly committed to the freedom of the homeland. In mid-March 1879 Martí was appointed sub-delegation of the Cuban Revolutionary Committee on the Island, which was led in New York by Major General Calixto García. At the age of twenty-six, Martí began to excel in the Habaneros cultural media: he was appointed secretary of the Liceo Artístico y Literario de Guanabacoa, and excelled as a speaker in different public activities, such as the inaugural function of the Liceo Artístico y Literario de Regla, where he gave a speech that was long-standing. Many of his ideas in these activities reflected a full independence, and the colonial authorities, who could not avoid the push of the Chiquita War conspiracies, had already cast their eye on him.
Almost since his arrival in Cuba, Martí had joined a group of conspirators to prepare a new armed uprising against Spanish command; among them was the journalist Juan Gualberto Gómez y Ferrer (1854-1933). On one of his frequent visits to the law firm of Nicolás Azcárate, Juan Gualberto had met Martí, who returned to Havana from Guatemala, at the end of August 1878.

Juan Gualberto Gómez.
Juan Gualberto Gómez.

“Martí and I met towards the end of 1878. The Zanjón pact had surprised us both abroad: him by one of the Central American Republics, and me in Mexico. It was in the firm of the famous jurisconsult, eloquent speaker and exquisite lover of lyrics, Don Nicolás de Azcárate, where we met for the first time. Don Nicolás de Azcárate had also had to emigrate to Mexico, where we became friends, persecuted by colonial intransigence. In his firm Martí found his first occupation, and there I was introduced to him by Don Nicolás, and there he was born between the two an intimate relationship, which shook and strengthened the identity of our opinions regarding the destinies of our homeland.”

Nicolás Azcárate was an outstanding figure in 19th-century Habanera life. He was born on July 21, 1828 in Havana and became a prestigious jurisconsultant. He was the founder of the Liceo de Guanabacoa, of the Lyceum of Havana and created, in union with other intellectuals, the Association of Cuban Writers and Artists. At the Lyceum of Guanabacoa he was president of the Literature section and in Havana its president. When the cultural meetings of the Lyceum were suppressed by the Spanish authorities, he began at home to private talks that became famous.
Miguel Francisco Viondi y Vera (Havana, 1846-1919), lawyer and speaker, was vice president of the Liceo Literario y Artístico de Guanabacoa at the time martí was secretary of the institution, and in the republican stage was councillor and mayor of this town, as well as representative to the House. Viondi, seeing the constant encounters of Martí and Juan Gualberto Gómez in his firm, had understood his conspiracy walks and decided to lend them a small venue for their interviews. The friendship between Martí and Viondi was of such magnitude that the Master came to describe him as “exemplary friend”, in a letter dated October 13, 1879, after being deported a second time to Spain. “I will never forget those days of lively law firm, nor the wounds you healed me, nor the strength that you revived me…” Similarly, in other misives he shows his appreciation for Viondi with similar qualifiers.7
On September 17, 1879, José Martí Pérez was arrested for the second time in Havana by the Spanish colonial regime. His friend Juan Gualberto Gómez, who was having lunch at home, was quick to warn Azcárate, who managed to get the detainee’s incommunicado up and in turn caused Viondi to delete newspapers and compromising documents.
Juan Gualberto himself testified to the facts in his work, “Martí and I: The Last Visit”. A few days later, on 25 September, Martí was deported back to Spain, as a prisoner. On the night of April 11, 1895, he returned to Cuba clandestinely, ready to continue the fight against the colony to achieve the independence of the homeland. Ω

1 See Imaginary-Librínsula (Lyceum 165th Anniversary), in http://librinsula.bnjm.cu/333_exped_1.html.
2 The first was the author of three volumes that remain classics of municipal historiography: Historical Notes. Years 1511-1927, History of Guanabacoa 1511-1946 and Ephemeris Guanabacoenses (January). The second, a member of the Academy of The History of Cuba and a friend of Emilio Roig, bequeathed a copious literary work, among which stands out the book Historical Reliquary (Colonial fruits and old Guanabacoa) (1947). Mentioned in http://librinsula.bnjm.cu/333_exped_1.html.
3 See historian and museologist Mr. Armando González Roca: Some documentary sources for the study of the Guanabacoa Artistic and Literary Lyceum. A (re)thematic view from local and regional historiography, in http://librinsula.bnjm.cu/333_exped_1.html.
4 Gerardo Castellanos García, cited in http://librinsula.bnjm.cu/333_exped_1.html.

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