By Andrés Manuel López Obrador
May 8, 2022
Translated by Pedro Gellert F.
SPEECH BY MEXICAN PRESIDENT ANDRÉS MANUEL LÓPEZ OBRADOR DURING HIS VISIT TO CUBA
Friends, before reading the text I wrote for this important occasion, I would like to convey my condolences to the families of the victims of the calamity that occurred in a hotel under repair here in Havana. I extend to you a heartfelt embrace.
I would also like to send greetings and our affection to all the mothers of Cuba, those who are here on the island and those who are abroad.
President and friend Miguel Diaz Canel
All my friends,
Without wanting to exalt the chauvinism that almost all Latin Americans carry within us, it is safe to say that Cuba was, for almost four centuries, the capital of the Americas.
No one coming from Europe to our hemisphere could fail to pass through the largest island of the Antilles, and for many decades Cuba was the jewel of the Spanish Crown.
For a very long time, Cuba and Mexico, due to their geographic proximity, migratory flows, language, music, sports, culture, idiosyncrasy, and sugarcane cultivation, have maintained relations based on true brotherhood.
It is even possible that in pre-Hispanic times, there were Mayan inhabitants from the Yucatan peninsula on the island, who in addition to possessing a splendid culture, were like the Phoenicians, great navigators who maintained trade relations not only with the peoples of the Gulf of Mexico, but with those of the Caribbean as far as Darien.
But leaving this very interesting subject to anthropologists and archaeologists, what is certain is that the first expeditions departed from Cuba toward what is today Mexico and it was from Cuba that Hernán Cortés’ soldiers sailed their ships to undertake the conquest of Mexico. It is also known that even with the differences that this intrepid and ambitious soldier had with Governor Diego de Velázquez, all the assistance to take on the indigenous resistance in Mexico departed from Cuba by orders of the Spanish monarchy.
During the colonial period, in Cuba, as in Mexico, there were epidemics and the super-exploitation of the native population, which was practically exterminated. This explains the outrageous and painful boom of the African slave trade in Cuba and the Caribbean in general as of the 16th century. Once I had the opportunity to visit the old city of Trinidad and went to the Museum of Slavery and saw whips, shackles, and stockades of whose existence I was aware due to the comments written concerning the punishments meted out by the peonage laws that were in force in Mexico several decades after our political independence from Spain.
You should know that in our country, slavery was not actually abolished until 1914. Moreover, it should be noted that just three years earlier, in 1911, the great peasant leader Emiliano Zapata took up arms because the sugar estates were invading the lands of the villages of the state of Morelos with impunity.
However, sugar cane, royal palm, and migration from Cuba to Mexico is most noticeable in the Papaloapan Basin in the state of Veracruz. Havana is like the port of Veracruz, and it is the inhabitants of Veracruz who are the most similar to Cubans. By the way, my father’s side of my family was from there.
Our peoples are united, as in few cases, by political history. At the beginning of Mexico’s Independence, when there were still constant military uprisings and battles between federalists and centralists and liberals against conservatives, there were two governors of Cuban origin in my state, in Tabasco, Infantry Colonel Francisco de Sentmanat and General Pedro de Ampudia.
Coincidentally, the confrontation of these military leaders would serve, in these times, for writing an exciting, tremendous, and realistic historical novel, whose brief story is that one of these leaders defeats his fellow countryman and governor militarily and he goes abroad and recruits a group of Spanish, French, and English mercenaries in New York and organizes an expedition to invade Tabasco. However, when the foreigners disembarked, they were defeated and put to the sword, while ex-governor Sentmanat’s head was cut off, and on the recommendation of a doctor or physician, it was placed in a pot of boiling water to delay its decomposition due to the heat and for it to be able to be exhibited as punishment for a few days in the public square. This inhuman procedure was not unknown in Mexico nor uncommon in other parts of the world. The Father of our Homeland, Miguel Hidalgo, who proclaimed the abolition of slavery, when he was apprehended by orders of local and Spanish oligarchs, was not only shot, but also decapitated, and his head was put on display for ten years in the main square of Guanajuato. Militarism is barbaric and belligerent conservatism breeds hatred and savagery.
But history is not lineal nor Manichean; it does not consist of good and bad individuals, but of circumstances. General De Ampudia ordered Sentmanat’s execution, because according to his words, a “terrible and exemplary punishment” was needed, then he played an exemplary role in 1846, as defender of the city of Monterrey, during the U.S. invasion of Mexico; and later, in 1860, he served as Minister of War and Navy in the liberal government of Benito Juarez.
The list of Cubans who fought on behalf of Mexico during the U.S. and French invasions is extensive and broad. Likewise, there were Mexicans who fought here for the liberation of Cuba. In the times of Juarez, Mexico was the first nation in the Americas to support the independence of Cuba and to recognize Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, the president in arms and father of the Cuban homeland.
And what can we say about the great services rendered to our country by the Cuban Pedro Santacilia, son-in-law of President Juarez and his main confidant. Juarez, during his exile, was here and in New Orleans, where he met the person who would later marry his daughter Manuela.
Juarez’s confidence in his son-in-law was so great that during the most difficult moments of the French Invasion, it was Santacilia who took care of the family of the defender of our Republic in the United States. Juarez called him “my Saint”. No one received as many letters from Juarez as Santacilia. No one shared the moments of greatest sadness and happiness of the “Distinguished Patriot of the Americas” as he did.
In the midst of so many gestures of brotherly ties, it is unthinkable that José Martí would not have been so closely linked to our country. The Cuban writer and political leader lived in Mexico City from 1875 to 1877. There he wrote essays, poetry and, among many other works, the famous theater script “Love is repaid with love”. He was a columnist for the newspaper El Federalista, linked to the liberal president Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada, and when the latter was overthrown by a military movement led by Porfirio Díaz, Martí left Mexico and with the vision that only the great possess, he wrote to his friend Manuel Mercado that he was leaving, and I quote, because “a man declared himself by his own volition lord of men…. and with a little light in your mind one cannot live where tyrants rule”.
Even though Porfirio Díaz’s seizure of power sparked Martí’s anger, it should also be taken into account that by then he had already set his sights on participating in the struggle for Cuban independence.
In addition to always maintaining an epistolary relationship with his friends in Mexico and returning to our country for the last time in 1894, there is a parallel story to Martí, the Cuban independence fighter, in the figure of the Mexican revolutionary Catarino Erasmo Garza Rodríguez. Despite being little known in history, in the same timeframe Garza had the audacity to lead a guerrilla movement from Texas and call on the people of Mexico to take up arms to overthrow Porfirio Díaz, 18 years before Francisco I. Madero did in 1910.
Catarino Garza was from Matamoros, Tamaulipas and lived in Laredo and other towns along the U.S.-Mexico border. On September 12, 1891, he crossed the Rio Grande River heading up a squadron of 40 combatants and on the 15th of that month he issued the Cry of Independence in Camargo, Tamaulipas. In one of his proclamations to stir the people against Porfirio Diaz, Garza denounced, before others did, the grave injustice of the dispossession of the lands of the indigenous communities, declared by the regime as wasteland to benefit large national and foreign landowners. Catarino was a journalist and his manifestos were constant, profound, and well written. However, in the military field he achieved little with his movement; he barely gathered together about 100 combatants and of his four incursions into Mexican territory he only won one victory at Rancho de las Tortillas, near the village of Guerrero, Tamaulipas. But even without winning many battles, the challenge of this fighter sparked deep uneasiness in the Mexican military elite who, in collaboration with the U.S. Army and the famous Texas Rangers, mobilized thousands of soldiers to practically seal off the border and carry out a tenacious search village by village, ranch by ranch, in pursuit of the rebel chief, his small band of troops, and his sympathizers.
In these circumstances, Catarino disappeared and amid conjecture, the legend and the inseparable corrido ballad arose, which in one verse proclaimed:
Where did Catarino go
with his pronounced plans
with his insurgent struggle
for the Mexican American.
The mystery was cleared up when, sometime later, it was discovered that Garza had appeared in Matina, a town on the Atlantic coast of Costa Rica. Before that, he had been hiding here in Havana, protected by his pro-independence Masonic brothers.
In those times, Costa Rica was the meeting point and the ideal terrain to prepare guerrilla forces and landings of the most important revolutionaries of Latin America and the Caribbean.
The president of Costa Rica, Rafael Iglesias Castro, was a tolerant liberal and respectful of the right of asylum. Hence, in the Costa Rican capital, leaders and military leaders prepared the struggle for the independence of Cuba, the integration of the Central American countries, and the reconstitution of greater Colombia, projects sealed by word of honor, in which there was also the commitment to support Catarino in overthrowing Mexico’s dictator.
In this atmosphere of brotherhood, Catarino established close relations with Cubans, Colombians, and Central Americans. In Costa Rica there were around 500 Cuban refugees, the most prominent of whom was Antonio Maceo, the general who, together with Máximo Gómez, fought for the Independence of Cuba and was considered a threat by the Spanish colonial government.
The presence of Maceo did not go unnoticed in Costa Rica. Rubén Darío, the great Nicaraguan poet, recalls that one day he saw “coming out of a hotel, accompanied by a very white woman with a fine Spanish body, a large and elegant [man]. It was Antonio Maceo. His manner was cultured, his intelligence lively and vivacious. He was a man of ebony”.
Maceo was indispensable for the victory of the Cuban liberation movement. The duo he formed with Máximo Gómez was the main concern of the Spanish monarchy. That Spain would lose its last important bastion in the hemisphere depended on them. Hence the impetuous phrase, and I quote: “(Winning) the Cuban War is only a matter of two happy bullets […] to be used against Maceo and Gomez”.
But, just as his enemies sought to eliminate Maceo, the Bronze Titan, there were others who considered him indispensable. This was the opinion of José Martí, the most intelligent and self-sacrificing figure in the struggle for Cuban Independence. Despite the differences, Martí demonstrated a patriotic humility in his relationship with Generals Máximo Gómez and Antonio Maceo.
This explains why Martí went to Costa Rica twice to see Maceo. Later, in November 1894, after the attempt in Costa Rica on the life of Maceo, with his unique prose, Martí wrote an article from New York in which he said:
“Let the Spanish government use as many assassins as it pleases. General Maceo and his comrades will in due time, in any case, be given the position of honor and sacrifice that the homeland bestows on them. Assassins can do nothing against the defenders of freedom. The infamous stab that wounds the revolution, that wounds the hero comes from those who criminally seek to extinguish the aspiration of a people”. Strictly speaking, to wound Maceo was to wound the heart of Cuba.
Although Catarino knew Maceo, he finally chose to link up with the radical Colombian general Avelino Rosas and his confidant, journalist and writer Francisco Pereira Castro. At that time, among other Colombians, the famous General Rafael Uribe Uribe, also a friend of Maceo’s, was conspiring in Costa Rica. He inspired Gabriel García Márquez to create the character of Colonel Aureliano Buendía in his famous novel One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Facing all kinds of adversities, betrayals, and hardships, as usually occurs in these struggles, Rosas was able to define and undertake a revolutionary plan to rescue Colombia from the conservatives. Thus, he ordered Catarino to take action to seize the barracks and the port of Bocas del Toro, now in Panama.
Catarino’s anticipated expedition began in early February 1895 almost at the same time as Maceo’s voyage to Cuba.
We owe the best information about Catarino’s incursion and its tragic end to Donaldo Velasco, the commander of the ports of Bocas del Toro and Colon, who, the year after the events in question, that is, in 1896, published a booklet in which in good prose he narrated everything that occurred. Thanks to this cultured conservative, we know the details of the final odyssey of the revolutionary Catarino Erasmo Garza.
The mission was not an easy one, but the idealism of the revolutionaries is an extraordinary source of inspiration and represents a very powerful force.
Once the landing was made in Boca del Toro, after four o’clock in the morning of March 8, 1895, the guerrilla chiefs positioned the 30 combatants to simultaneously attack the police and military barracks. Velasco recognized that “they had managed to surprise us when we least expected it, in spite of so many warnings…”.
The fighting was intense and there was hand-to-hand combat:
In the first new minutes, several soldiers fell. Catarino led the action with passion and courage. However, “two almost simultaneous shots… mortally wounded him: … his agony was brief”.
Shortly afterward, at 5:00 a.m., the bugle of the soldiers sounded powerfully, playing a reveille as a sign of victory.
In the report on the battle sent to General Gaytán, who was in David, Panama, it was reported that five guerrilla fighters and nine soldiers had died, with eight wounded; “in the latter category, some, on both sides, died later”.
At 4 o’clock in the afternoon, Catarino Erasmo Garza Rodriguez, Francisco Pereira, and two other comrades were buried in a deep grave in the pantheon of Bocas del Toro, located on the seashore. “Where a man falls, he remains”, Che Guevara would say seven decades later. We are currently conducting an investigation to recover the remains of Catarino Garza and take them to Mexico.
The information of what occurred in Bocas del Toro made its way to all the islands and ports of the Atlantic Coast.
Porfirio Diaz found out about all this on March 11, through a cable sent by his ambassador in Washington, Matias Romero.
On whether Catarino was a revolutionary or, as it was said at that time, a bandit, besides the opinion each person might have, there is a verdict in of considerable value since it was sustained by a loyal and proud conservative, the Colombian Donaldo Velasco. In his text, this important protagonist and witness of the final events could not hide his deep admiration for Catarino, and I quote: “…He was not, in my opinion, the vulgar bandit portrayed by the Americans […]. Even after his death, he inspired respect…”.
This story could not end without clarifying that, even after seizing the Bocas del Toro barracks, Catarino went on to defeat an even more powerful enemy. At dawn, at the entrance of the bay, the Atlanta, an imposing U.S, warship, awaited him with its cannons; a steel hull of 96 meters in length and 284 U.S. Navy sailors. All this firepower, to pursue and annihilate, pardon the paradox, Catarino “the pirate”. Those were the times when the North Americans had decided to become the owners of the hemisphere and defined what they considered their vital physical space in order to then undertake the conquest of the world. Annexations, independence, the creation of new countries, free associated states, protectorates, military bases, landings, and invasions to put in and remove rulers at will were at their peak.
We do not know if it was due to the commander’s false statements or by decision of the supreme command in Washington -as the crew of the Atlanta had no need to intervene-, the U.S. Navy certified that it had made, and I quote: “a landing in Bocas del Toro, Colombia, on March 8, 1895, to protect American lives and property threatened by a Liberal Party revolt and pirate activity”. The Marines were even decorated.
In a brief account and in homage to men of revolutionary ideals, the same year that Catarino and Pereira fell, Martí died; Maceo was assassinated in 1896; Rosas, in 1901. Such has also been the fate of many forgotten but sacred anonymous heroes and of others who will continue to emerge, because the struggle for the peoples’ dignity and freedom is a never-ending story.
Even though my text is already very long -that’s right, isn’t it, Beatriz?- I apologize. But in discussing our close relationship, Mr. President, I cannot fail to mention the outstanding and dignified role of Manuel Márquez Sterling, Cuban ambassador in Mexico during the coup d’état, imprisonment, and assassination of President Francisco I. Madero and Vice President José María Pino Suárez.
In those times of vultures, when the U.S. ambassador organized the coup against our Apostle of Democracy, Francisco I. Madero, the Cuban ambassador, in stark contrast, tried to save his life, offered asylum to prisoners and spent a night with them in the quartermaster of the National Palace, where they were held for five days before the terrible crime of killing them in a rampage occurred.
Márquez Sterling relates in his book that my fellow countryman, Vice-President José María Pino Suárez, during that solidarity visit, prophetically confessed to him the following: “our imposed resignation provokes the revolution; murdering us is equivalent to decreeing anarchy. I do not believe, like Señor Madero, that the people will overthrow the traitors to rescue their legitimate leader. What the people will not consent to is that they shoot us. They lack the civic education necessary for the former. They have plenty of courage and strength for the latter…”.
And so it was, on February 22, 1913, at midnight, the president and vice-president legally and legitimately elected by the people of Mexico were cowardly assassinated. From that moment on, José María Pino Suárez’s prediction began to be fulfilled; as soon as they were killed, the Revolution furiously erupted. On March 26, 1913, Venustiano Carranza, governor of Coahuila, signed along with other revolutionaries the Plan of Guadalupe to restore legality and depose the coup general Victoriano Huerta, who had appointed himself president.
Huerta remained in power for a year and a half. Carrancistas, Zapatistas, and Villistas independently of each other fought him, and achieved the fall of the usurper, who, at that time, was unable to obtain the support of the U.S. government.
During the whole period of the Revolution, exiles lived in Cuba, both Porfiristas and Huertistas as well as Maderista revolutionaries. It is said that in the streets of Havana, here, they insulted each other. For example, the revolutionary from Veracruz, Heriberto Jara, one of the inspirers of the oil expropriation carried out in 1938 by General Lázaro Cárdenas del Río, lived here.
Nor can I fail to mention the supportive role of the Mexican people and governments in relation to the Cuban revolutionaries who fought against the Batista dictatorship.
As we know, and as you recalled, my friend President Miguel Diaz-Canel, when you visited us last year on the occasion of the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of Mexico’s Independence, the passage of Fidel and his comrades through Mexico left a deep impression on the future expeditionaries of the ‘Granma’ and a host of legends everywhere, which are still spoken of with admiration and respect.
We will never forget [you said] that thanks to the support of many Mexican friends, the Granma yacht set sail from Tuxpan, Veracruz, on November 25, 1956. Seven days later, on December 2, the newborn Rebel Army, which came to free Cuba, disembarked from that historic vessel.
You went on to say:
Nor do we forget that only a few months after the historic victory of the Revolution in 1959, General Lazaro Cardenas visited us. His willingness to stand by our people following the mercenary invasion of Playa Girón in 1961, marked the character of our relations.
President Diaz Canel also explained that:
Faithful to its best traditions, Mexico was the only country in Latin America that did not break relations with revolutionary Cuba when we were expelled from the OAS by imperial mandate.
As for my convictions about Commander Fidel Castro and Cuban independence, I reiterate what I wrote recently in a book:
Over a long period, as oppositionists in Mexico, Fidel was the only one of the leftist leaders who knew what we stood for and distinguished us with his support in reflections, in writings, and in political deeds of solidarity. We never met, but I always considered him a great man because of his pro-independence ideals. We can be for or against him as a person and his leadership, but knowing the long history of invasions and colonial rule that Cuba experienced in the framework of the U.S. policy of Manifest Destiny and under the slogan “America for the Americans”, we can appreciate the feat represented by the persistence, less than a hundred kilometers from the superpower, of the existence of an independent island inhabited by a simple and humble, but cheerful, creative and, above all, worthy, very worthy people.
That is why, when I was visiting Colima and learned of the death of Commander Castro, I declared something I felt and still hold: I said that a giant had died.
My position on the U.S. government’s blockade of Cuba is also well known. I have said quite frankly that it looks bad for the U.S. government to use the blockade to hinder the well-being of the Cuban people so that they, the people of Cuba, will be forced by necessity, to confront their own government. If this perverse strategy were to succeed -something that does not seem likely due to the dignity of the Cuban people to which I have referred-, it would in any case turn this great offense into a pyrrhic, vile and despicable victory, into one of those stains that cannot be erased even with all the water in the oceans.
But I also maintain that it is time for brotherhood and not confrontation. As José Martí pointed out, the clash can be avoided, and I quote: “with the exquisite political tact that comes from the majesty of disinterest and the sovereignty of love”. It is time for a new coexistence among all the countries of the Americas, because the model imposed more than two centuries ago is exhausted, has no future or end strategy and no longer benefits anyone. We must put aside the dilemma of integrating with the United States or opposing it defensively.
It is time to express and explore another option: that of dialogue with U.S. leaders and convince and persuade them that a new relationship between the countries of the Americas, of all the Americas, is possible.
Our proposal may seem utopian and even naïve, but instead of closing ourselves off, we must open ourselves to committed and frank dialogue, and seek unity throughout the Western hemisphere.
Furthermore, I see no other alternative given the exponential growth of the economy in other regions of the world and the productive decadence of the entire Americas. Here I will repeat what I have expressed to President Biden on more than one occasion. If the economic and trade trend of the last three decades continues -and there is nothing that legally or legitimately can prevent it-, in another thirty years, by 2051, China would have a 64.8 percent share of the world market and the United States only between 4 and up to 10 percent. This, I insist, would be an economic and commercial imbalance that would be unacceptable for Washington and that would keep alive the temptation to wager on resolving this disparity with the use of force, which would be a danger for the whole world.
I am aware that this is a complex issue that requires a new political and economic vision. The proposal is, nothing more and nothing less than to launch something similar to the European Union, but in accordance with our history, our reality, and our identities. In this spirit, the replacement of the OAS by a truly autonomous organization, not a lackey of anyone but a mediator at the request and acceptance of the parties in conflict in matters of human rights and democracy, should not be ruled out. Although what is proposed here may seem like a dream, it should be considered that without the horizon of ideals you get nowhere and that, consequently, it’s worth trying. It is a great task for good diplomats and political leaders such as those that, fortunately, exist in all the countries of our hemisphere.
For our part, we believe that integration, with respect for sovereignty and forms of government and the proper application of a treaty for economic and commercial development, is in the interest of us all and that no one loses in this. On the contrary, it would be the most effective and responsible solution given the strong competition that exists, which will increase over time and which, if we do nothing to unite, strengthen ourselves, and emerge victorious in good terms, will inevitably lead to the decline of all the Americas.
Dear President Díaz Canel,
I conclude, now, with two brief reflections:
With all due respect for the sovereignty and independence of Cuba, I would like to state that I will continue to insist that the United States lift the blockade of this sister nation as a first step to initiating the reestablishment of relations of cooperation and friendship between the peoples of the two countries.
Therefore, I will insist in discussions with President Biden that no country of the Americas be excluded from next month’s Summit to be held in Los Angeles, California, and that the authorities of each nation freely decide whether or not to attend this gathering, but that no one be excluded.
Finally, thank you very much for the distinction of awarding me the Order of José Martí, whom I respect and admire, as I admire and respect Simón Bolívar and our great President Benito Juárez.
Thanks to the generous, supportive, and exemplary people of Cuba.
On a personal note, I maintain that I have never wagered, nor do I wager nor will I wager, on the failure of the Cuban Revolution, its legacy of justice and its lessons of independence and dignity. I will never participate with coup plotters who conspire against the ideals of equality and universal brother and sisterhood. Stepping backward is decadence and desolation, it is a question of power and not of humanity, I prefer to continue maintaining the hope that the revolution will experience a rebirth within the revolution, that the revolution will be cable of renewal, to follow the example of the martyrs who fought for freedom, equality, justice, sovereignty. And I have the conviction, the faith, that in Cuba they are doing things with that purpose in mind. That the new revolution is being made within the revolution. This is the second great message, the second great lesson of Cuba for the world, that this people will once again demonstrate that reason is more powerful than force.
Thank you very much.
Plaza de la Revolución, Havana, Cuba, May 8, 2022