Friday, November 20, 2015

How Does History Help Us?

How Does History Help Us? / Dimas Castellano
Posted on November 19, 2015

Dimas Castellano, Havana, 17 September 2015 — 120 years ago, between
13th and 18th September 1895, twenty delegates selected from the five
corps that the Libertador's Army was divided into, and formed into a
Constituent Assembly, promulgated the Constitution of Jimaguayú.

This Constitution, different from others in that it wasn't structured in
three parts — organic, dogmatic, and with a reform clause — but rather
contained 24 consecutive articles without divisions into titles,
sections or chapters. In it the Government of the Republic resided in a
Government Council with legislative and executive powers. The executive
power devolved upon the President (Salvador Cisneros Betancourt), while
the legislative power stayed in the hands of the Government Council. In
addition to a judicial power, organised by the Council, but functioning
independently. The posts of General in Chief and Lieutenant General were
vested in Máximo Gómez and Antonio Maceo respectively.

Appearing in the people's history as a counterpoint to absolutism,
constitutionalism is fundamental to governability. The constitutions
reflect the requirements for social development. In that sense, the
Magna Carta of Jimaguayú was an expression of the need of the new
political and legal order of the Republic in Arms. It constitutes an
important link in Cuban constitutional history.

On its 120th anniversary, the weekly Trabajadores of Monday September
7th and the daily Granma of 16th of the same month each included
reports, under the headlines: "Neither Marti nor radical", and "120
years after Jimaguay respectively, which I am going to comment on.

1 – In Granma the historian Rolando Rodríguez is cited, who stated that
Jimaguayú is a document of overwhelming importance in the history of
Cuba, an indication of the legal and republican idea and the
determination to provide a constitutional direction to the Cuban

If that constitutional text is recognised as a necessity of the new
political and legal order demanded by the island and an important link
in our constitutional history, how can the official historiography
consider it as a "document of significant importance in Cuba's history",
without a critical reference to the present Cuban constitutional
situation, which has little or nothing to do with — starting off with
the divisions of power — the legacy of Jimaguayú?

2 – The article in Granma says that "Martí longed to drop the authority
that the Cuban Revolutionary Party had awarded him at a representative
meeting of the Mambisa combatants …" [Ed. note: term used to refer to
any pro-independence fighter in the Wars of Independence]

In José Martí's War Diary — referring to his encounter with Antonio
Maceo and Máximo Gómezon May 5th 1895 in La Mejorana — he wrote "… Maceo
and Gómez talk in low voices, near me [1]: hardly speak to me. There in
the hallway; that Maceo has another idea about government; a council of
generals with authority through their representatives, – and a Secretary
General: the land, and all its functions, which create and support the
army, like Army Secretary. We are going to a room to talk. I cannot sort
out the conversation for Maceo: but V. stays with me, or he goes with
Gómez? And he speaks to me, interrupting me, as if I were the
continuation of the shyster lawyer government, and its representative …
I insist on being ousted by the representatives who are meeting to form
a government. He does not want every operational head sending his man,
his creation: he will send four from the Oriente: "within 15 days they
will be with you. – and will be people who will not let Doctor Martí
mess with me there …" [2]

One may deduce from this text that in La Mejorana Martí considered his
removal. These were his words: "I insist in being deposed before the
representatives who are meeting to select a government." That is not a
longing, but a demand to not be removed other than by an assembly of

If the Revolutionary Party of Cuba started off on the basis of an
analysis of the Ten Years' War as an organising and controlling entity,
and one which promotes awareness and is an intermediary link to get to a
republic and that great mission had hardly got under way, it is
difficult to accept that their hope was to shed their authority.

Also, if Martí's attachment to institutionalisation and democracy led
him in 1884 to move away from the Gómez Maceo plan, when he took the
opportunity to write to the General in Chief: "But there is something
which is higher than all the personal sympathy which you can inspire in
me, and this apparent opportunity: and it is my determination not to
contribute one iota by way of a blind attachment to an idea from which
all life is draining, to bring to my land a personal despotism, which
would be more shameful and disastrous than the political despotism I am
now supporting." How can it be affirmed that Martí "was longing to be
shot of the authority afforded him by the Revolutionary Party of Cuba"?

3. Granma says: "It is also established that every two years there would
be an assembly charged with proposing necessary changes in accordance
with changed circumstances, which would elevate it to a higher position
than that approved in Guáimaro."

If the 1959 revolution is seen as heir and continuation of the
constitutional legacy, it would seem to be contradictory that, on taking
power, instead of re-establishing the 1940 Constitution as it had
promised to, it replaced it with statutes known as the Fundamental Law
of the Cuban State, without convening any constituent assembly.

Cuba remained without a Constitution until 1976 when there was approved
the first revolutionary constitution modelled on the that of the Soviet
Union, which prohibited any modification before 1992. Then, in 2002, the
system installed in 1959 was declared irrevocable. With that decision,
the Cuban constitution ceased to reflect ongoing changes which occur in
any society, and became a braking mechanism on society.

The question is: How can our constitutional history be praised from the
standpoint of a reality which negates it?

4. In the Trabajadores weekly paper, Antonio Álvarez Pitaluga states in
En la de Jimaguayú that there was no balance of power and nor did they
defend Martí's thesis. It is said that Enrique Loynaz del Castillo and
Fermín Valdés Domínguez defended José Martí's hypotheses, but I think
that it is now difficult to sustain that position, because if you look
through the documentation, above all the minutes of the Council of
Government, you see that in all the Assembly's discussion there was not
a single mention of Martí, nor of his documents, nor any analysis of his
thoughts. That is to say, they avoided it; you don't necessarily have
to say they did it intentionally, but rather unknowingly, because many
of the people there knew him, his work, his revolutionary activity, but
not his thinking or his documents.

The questions are: 1 – Was Fermín Valdés Domínguez unaware of José
Martí's thinking? And 2 – if Fermín Valdés Domínguez, followed by the
majority of the delegates, defended the division and limitation of
powers, which was one of José Martí's republican ideas, was the
important thing that his name should appear in the documents, or that
the majority should defend and impose his ideas, as actually happened?

The 120th anniversary and the two articles published demonstrate that
you cannot deal with any historical event, much less one of such
importance as the constitutional text of Jimaguayú, without relating it
to the present in order to show that we have either gone forwards or
backwards. If we do not have regard to the limitations of the present
constitution which cry out loud for fundamental reform, how does history
help us?

[1] In the original, "I hear" is crossed out

[2] Martí, José. Texts chosen from three volumes. Volume III, p. 544

Translated by GH

Source: How Does History Help Us? / Dimas Castellano | Translating Cuba

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