The work of José Martí (1853-1895) is a major educational component of the best cultural legacy of mankind. As a thinker and a politician, Martí led the way in the fields of literary creation and social action. His permanent influence particularly in Latin-American culture goes far beyond the literary and artistic spheres and is a legitimate element of what is considered authentically ours.
Martí’s defence of the self-determination of the peoples and nations of Asia, Africa and Latin America make his ideas a permanent reference for our times. By demonstrating the structural relationship of such diverse regions and peoples as peripheral territories of the centres of world power, José Martí relates Latin America to the area which would later be defined as the “Third World”, while at the same time reinforcing Latin-American cultural identity in contemporary discourse when he shows its distinctiveness as a member of that community segregated by the centres of power at the world level. His liberating ideal, his defence of cultural diversity, his humanist cosmic vision and his ethics of services, on the other hand, are the foundations of a strong and coherent ideology opposed to the arguments of social, racial and geographical superiority still in force.
As a witness and decisive player in the international relations of his time, Martí’s documents are extremely valuable. His writings succeed in showing the diplomatic, political and economic manoeuvres of the inventors of Pan Americanism – an instrument of the groups of power in the United States of America – in the construction of that country as a world power.
As a writer, José Martí is one of the masters of universal literature. Possessing a vast culture and enormous creative talent, he produced during his short life of unusual intensity, a written corpus in prose and verse that formed one of the most powerful foundations of modern literature in the Spanish language.
Like Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud or Walt Whitman in their respective tongues, he was one of the fathers of literary modernity in the Spanish-speaking world. Rubén Darío and Domingo Faustino Sarmiento publicly acknowledged in writing his mastery as a writer. He was compared with Victor Hugo. He undertook a renewal of the Spanish language and applied with originality to his prose and poetry, techniques that were similar to those used by Parnassians and symbolists. His language, syntax and use of adjectives showed a radical novelty, and he put in practice modern poetical resources such as synesthetic metaphors, poetical enumerations, binary structures, free verse and rupture of systems. His conviction that “there will be no Spanish American literature until there is a Spanish America” filled the pages of the main newspapers of Latin America, turning him into the first Cuban figure to attain wide continental echo. His literature not only leads to a renewal of language, but carries with it an integral catching of reality and universal culture, and particularly, the culture of the hemisphere. Together with the praise of the great personalities of culture, science, industry and politics, he gives us portraits of his time and an even more penetrating study of the social restlessness of the final years of the 19th century. His topics cover practically all relevant topics of modernity and his meditative prose is as much loaded with poetry as his poetry is filled with meditation, submitting the genres to extreme tensions.
He is considered a classic of universal literature, and his texts have been translated to several languages because of their literary value and their theses on the spirit of America in favour of a humanism seen from the universe of the poor of this Earth, although the fact that he is a Third World writer prevents him from being as widely available as he deserves.
All this explains the importance of the study and conservation of this documentation as an invaluable artistic and historical legacy in its vast aesthetic, political, social and economic aspects – since they address problems and solution that are totally valid in contemporary societies – and as inseparable component of a new model of sustainable development.
The importance of the historical figure of José Martí is acknowledged by UNESCO, through the creation by this Organization in 1995 – on the centennial year of his fall in combat – of the “José Martí” International Prize and the declaration naming our apostle one of the personalities of that year. Likewise, the 31st General Conference of UNESCO in 2001 approved the decision of associating in the 2002-2003 biennial period, the celebration of the 150th anniversary of his birth.