The future is unknown. The present lasts 24 hours. It is only the past which is always with us.
In his latest column in El Nuevo Herald ("El rencor y la historia," July 29), Carlos Alberto Montaner calls into question the wisdom of holding unto the past because he believes that doing so makes Cubans (and others) "resentful" and "unforgiving" of historical wrongs committed against them, which leaves them "aplastados por el pasado (crushed by the past)." Generalizations of this kind are always wrong, and though intended to show that the author is an incisive and impartial judge of history, what it really shows is that he is hypercritical and uninformed. The matter becomes even worse when Montaner maintains that Americans are mercifully free of such historical revanchism. Living in Spain, obviously, has not saved him from the yankofilia (Martí's word) which afflicts so many Cuban exiles here. I would not personally find anything offensive about an exaggerated opinion of this country if it were not always accompanied by the disposition to denigrate ours.
The specific case which Montaner cites as proof of Cuba's "cultura rencorosa" is our reaction to Spain's execution in 1871 of eight Cuban medical students during the height of the Ten Years' War. The eight Havana University students were falsely accused of desecrating the tomb of a pro-Spanish newspaper editor by scratching the glass plate on his crypt. Martí's best friend, Fermín Valdés Domínguez, also a medical student, proved that the glass plate had been scratched in the factory in Spain where it was manufactured and the dead man's own son confirmed it.
How did these "resentful" and "unforgiving" Cubans, men like Valdés Domínguez and Martí, react to this great injustice? As rational men would react: vindicating the memory of the dead by freeing their countrymen from the arbitrary authority that threatened the lives of all. Because revenge would not bring back the dead they were not interested in revenge. Because they could not hope to obtain justice from Spain, they did not seek it from Spain. They knew that only by ending Spanish tyranny in our country would justice prevail and they consecrated their lives to the great work of national redemption.
When Cuba achieved her independence no retribution was undertaken against those who had participated in the crime of November 21, 1871 or in crimes even more sanguinary committed by Spaniards against the Cuban people. Not a single Spaniard, and there were a million in Cuba at the time, was called to account for the murder of 300,000 Cuban civilians in campos de reconcentración during the war. Not a single Spaniard, not even former soldiers of the Crown (like Fidel's own father), was deported to Spain after the war. Not a single real of Spanish assets on the island was confiscated by the new Republic though Spain had confiscated the assets of all Cuban rebels and distributed them to its supporters. But that was not all: Spaniards were invited to immigrate to Cuba, whose population was depleted precisely because of their policy of extermination during the war. Over the life of the Cuban Republic (1902-1958), 1.2 million Spaniards settled in Cuba, which had a population of 3.8 million at the end of the Spanish-American War (1898). Cuba saved more than a half-million Spaniards, both Nationalists and Loyalists, from immolation in the Spanish Civil War.
Where, then, shall we find this "culture of resentment" which supposedly holds Cubans in its thrall? You are not going to believe this: in the fact that Cubans still "remember and commemorate with tears and fiery addresses that act of barbarity." Wow, we really are resentful, aren't we? 136 years after the execution of the medical students we still insist on remembering and commemorating their sacrifice! If Cubans were prone to bear grudges against Spaniards, as Montaner contends, there would be other and more recent reasons to do so.
Montaner contends also that Americans are not as resentful of historical wrongs as Cubans. Well, Americans have not really been the victims of many historical wrongs. They have inflicted historical wrongs on others but rarely had them inflicted on them. Montaner cites slavery, which was a self-inflicted wrong, and celebrates the fact that blacks have been able to transcend the fact that it was Democrats who supported slavery and Republicans who ended it. African-Americans may have switched party allegiances -- and parties do evolve over time, after all -- but they have not let go of their resentment about slavery and for many it still informs their conception of this country and of their place in it, Obama or no Obama.
Montaner does not compare slavery in Cuba to slavery in the U.S. and neither shall we. Instead, a better comparison of historical revanchism in both countries is the aftermath of their respective wars of independence. We have already seen that Cubans wreaked no vengeance on the Spanish or their local allies for their opposition to Cuba's independence. It was otherwise in the United States. At the conclusion of the American Revolution, colonists who had remained loyal to the king were deported en masse to Canada; their property was confiscated without compensation; many were tarred and feathered, others lynched and all forced on long marches where many thousands died of cold or starvation, including women and children. Before Americans practiced genocide on the Indians, they inflicted it on their own brothers.
Before 1959, there was no "cultura rencorosa" in Cuba. Not even in the wake of our bloodiest revolution (that would be the Revolution of 1933) did Cubans institutionalize barbarity in our country. No machadista was ever executed by the provisional government and the few that were imprisoned were released in 1936 when Congress approved a General Amnesty law. Three years for the wounds of a revolution to heal shows a remarkable political maturity as well as the total absence of the spirit of revanchism in our people. Cubans knew how to forgive those who had wronged them, whether foreigners or their own brothers.
Perhaps that is where we erred. We were always too prone to forgive and far to prone to forget, and this weakness, if it is a weakness, would one day be our undoing.