Marti Statue at the San Carlos, credit Jim Austin
Martí statue at the San Carlos

When the tobacco workers of Key West learned of Martí's ideals and his thunderous visit to Tampa, they requested that the Cuban community leaders of Key West extend him an invitation to visit the city and present his views. Martí received the news with much joy since he understood the timing could not be more propitious. He had recently obtained the support of important segments of the Cuban communities in New York and Tampa for his plans to wage war against Spanish colonial rule in Cuba. However, he understood that the support of the Cuban community in Key West was critical to his efforts.

The Cuban exile community of Key West was the largest and wealthiest, but also the most politically divided. To obtain their support would be essential, but it would not be an easy task. On Christmas day 1891 Martí departed from Tampa aboard the steamship Olivetti on his first visit to Key West. He is accompanied by various leaders of the Tampa and New York Cuban communities.

He is suffering from a very bad cold and fever. Despite the bad flu, he is enthusiastically looking forth to this visit. A large crowd is waiting for him at the port. There is a marching band and many Cuban flags to welcome him. Jorge Manach describes his arrival:
His old revolutionary partner, the elder José Francisco Lamadriz is there to greet him. They had worked together eleven years before as part of Calixto García's Junta. "An embrace to the old revolution," Martí says. "An embrace to the new revolution," Lamadriz responds. They lock chests in a solid heartfelt embrace. Someone makes a loud comment as to the new pine linking branches with the old pine and the crowd breaks into a sordid applause. Martí and friends are escorted to the Hotel Duval amidst cheers from the multitude.[1]

The next day the doctor asked him to stay in bed for a few days. At his hotel room he holds several meetings over the next few days with community leaders. After much lobbying and discussions he is able to convince the various Key West Cuban community leaders to drop their differences and to join him in support of his plan. In better health, he goes about town meeting the community and gathering support. In particular, he visits some of the cigar factories. In some of them he takes over the reader's podium from where he spreads his message of freedom for Cuba. On January 3 he is invited to the San Carlos. This time his speech has the strength gathered from the enthusiastic support received in Key West. "In the halls of the Club San Carlos and combat tribune, Martí's lively revolutionary eloquence is listened to, echoed and applauded by the Cuban emigrants of Tampa and Key West."[2]

On January 5 the send-off festivities again took place at the San Carlos. On this occasion poems were recited by children, and some of the ladies played the piano. Various speakers honored Martí with their eloquence. Their words carried the seal of approval for the "Bases", which constituted the platform of the Cuban Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Cubano (PRC)).

Receipt for PRC dues
Receipt for PRC dues

"José Martí's triumphant oratory once again thrills the crowd. At the huge farewell party in his honor, at the San Carlos, once the words of Herrera, Bello, Pompez and Hernández were heard, as well as Martí's own words of gratitude, Francisco María González reads the approved 'Bases'."[3] "After weeks of debates and discussions the 'Bases' were adopted in January 1892 in the Club San Carlos as a guide to the platform of the Partido Revolucionario Cubano."[4] "Only a genial José Martí could give unity to the advanced works of the Cuban Convention of Key West, to the secret statutes of the revolutionary cells of New York and the Tampa resolutions to formally proclaim the 'Bases' of the PRC at the theater in the San Carlos in 1892."[5]

The next day Martí departs to Tampa and New York. His heart feels bigger than his chest. The entire Cuban exile community has lent their enthusiastic support for the PRC. In New York the Bases are given a final review and proclaimed on April of that same year, 1892.

On April 12, 1895 Martí and Máximo Gómez landed in Playitas, Oriente, Cuba initiating the War of Independence. Martí died in battle on May 19, 1895 in Dos Rios, Cuba. Although he did not live to see his dream of an independent Cuba become a reality, his legacy is a guiding light that continues to inspire the Cuban people in their struggle for freedom.

Martí so loved the San Carlos that he called it "La Casa Cuba". One of the museum rooms in the San Carlos houses the exhibit: "The Life and Works of José Martí: 1853-1895", which features photographs, documents, and an audio-visual presentation related to his life and deeds. Come visit us.

1. Jorge Manach, Martí, El Apostol, Colección Austral, Espasa-Calpe S.A.Madrid 1942 ,Page 196
2. Mario Riera Hernández, Ejército Libertador de Cuba, Page 10, Miami, Fl 1985
3. Gonzalo de Quesada y Miranda, Martí, Hombre,Editorial Cubana, Miami 1998, Page 205
4. Luis A. Pérez Jr, Caminos Españoles en la Florida , José Martí, Page 247
5. Unknown author, City of Key West, pamphlet, Huella de Herencia Cubana, Instituto San Carlos.

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