The Myth of José Martí: Conflicting Nationalisms in Early Twentieth-Century Cuba

By Lillian Guerra | Go to book overview

SEVEN
Dependent Nationalisms, the Stillbirth
of the Republic, and Struggles over
the Myth of Martí, 1909–1921

WITH THE DEPARTURE OF U.S. military forces and the return of the island to local control in January 1909, the newly dominant Liberals worked hard to distinguish themselves symbolically from the Conservatives. Having gained a majority of seats in both houses of Congress, the Liberals selected Martín Morúa Delgado, the black senator whom Tomás Estrada Palma had once publicly rebuffed, as majority leader of the Senate.1 President José Miguel Gómez also chose to break with Estrada Palma’s earlier example by taking his oath of office publicly, on the balcony of the Presidential Palace, rather than behind closed doors in the former throne room of the Spanish government.2 Such actions reflected how conscious Liberals were of popular nationalists’ need to feel included. However, Liberals ominously coupled each one of these actions with messages about the limits and conditions of political inclusion that they aimed directly at popular nationalist constituents. For example, when Gómez delivered his inaugural address before huge crowds with José Martí Jr. at his side, he stressed the top-down means by which he and other Liberals intended to rule: “[with] the high spirit of justice and the vivid desire to decide for the good of all.”3 Echoing contentions in Vice President Alfredo Zayas’s inaugural speech, Gómez made clear that the government and not the people would “decide” how to serve “the good of all.”

However, with the precedent of Charles Magoon’s concessions to workers and black veteran activists now set, popular nationalists’ demands for profound social change emerged stronger than ever. During Gómez’s Liberal administration (1909–13), followed by Mario Menocal’s Conservative government (1913–21), many popular nationalists proved themselves willing to walk the tightrope between the threat of another U.S. intervention and the probability of state repres

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