Abel Prieto is the new director of the Martí Program Office, following the path forged by Dr. Armando Hart. Pictured with him are Minister of Culture Alpidio Alonso, and Víctor Gaute, a member of the Party Central Committee Secretariat. Photo: Ministry of Culture

AFFECTION and admiration for a sincere man has led many to join the José Martí Cultural Society, to participate in reflection and debate of his thought and work, in a passionate effort to contribute to the full development of human beings.

Founded October 20, 1995, coinciding with Cuban Culture Day, the institution's antecedents lie in the history of provincial Martí Studies groups and related academic departments that organized seminars and events to promote research related to Cuba's national hero and leader of our wars of independence to rid the island of the Spanish colonial yoke in the 19th century.

In documents donated to Granma International by Rafael Polanco Brahojos, vice president of the organization, one notes that the society was founded by a group of intellectuals and figures including Armando Hart Dávalos (Honorific President), Roberto Fernández Retamar, Cintio Vitier Bolaños, Abel Prieto Jiménez, Eusebio Leal Spengler, Carlos Martí Brenes and Enrique Ubieta.

Minutes from the Society's founding state that the organization promotes national thought and Martí's teachings, and therefore its work involves organizing cultural projects and disseminating Martí's legacy on the national and international level, in close collaboration with state bodies and institutions.

Its 14,877 active members, grouped in 1,061 clubs, promote values like patriotism, solidarity, respect for diversity, anti-racism, and peace, among children, adolescents, and youth, via serious, objective study of the nation's history.

The Society has defined seven key axes of its work: thought for theoretical and investigative efforts; culture for artistic promotion; awards to honor individuals and institutions for their work related to Martí; projects directed toward children, adolescents, and youth; dissemination of Martí's thought and work; international relations; and community work.

The journal Honda is the Society's principal means of dissemination, taking its name from a phrase Martí used in a letter to Manuel Mercado: "I have lived within the monster, I know its entrails, and my conviction (honda) is that of David." The magazine's first edition was published in January of 2000, and quarterly editions of 3,000 copies have been maintained since then.

Juan Eduardo Bernal Echemendía, president of the José Martí Cultural Society in Sanctí Spiritus, during the opening of the “Voices of the Republic” colloquium. Photo: Nuria Barbosa

Polanco Brahojos, also the editor of Honda, noted that the journal's main goal is to be true to its name, assuming the conviction Martí put in our hands to defend Cuba and Our America, featuring in its pages contributions on Cuban thought from the country's founding days through the present.

The Society's statutes, approved in its first assembly, define the organization as a non-governmental, autonomous, non-profit entity. It has been afforded special advisory status by the United Nations Social and Economic Council (ECOSOC) and is a member of the Latin American Adult Education Council (CEAAL).

The Society has affiliates in the country's 15 provinces and the Isle of Youth special municipality. It supports the Martí Youth Movement, and its national seminar, while also conducting international work.

This was confirmed by Juan Eduardo Bernal Echemendía, president of the Society's affiliate in the province of Sancti Spíritus, as well as a professor of Spanish language and literature: "We are immersed in convincing the population that the study of Martí's thought is a necessity for the current times," he said, while reporting that members' efforts have led to the inclusion of research on the subject in study plans at different levels of education.

"We are constantly looking to Cuban paradigms to be able to construct the future. That's why we took on emphasizing Martí's work, and that of all Cuban thinkers with progressive world views of society," he added.

Every Martí Club makes independent decisions about how to conduct its work within its range of action, and may promote cultural and artistic identity, as well as theoretical issues in various cultural environments.

Examples include the event entitled "With all, for the good of all" held in the municipality of Trinidad; the yearly day of reflection on Martí's work organized in

Cabaiguán; and the “Echoes of Revolution” conference in Jatibonico.

One of the Society's activities with a long history is the "Voices of the Republic" colloquium that has been held in the city of Sancti Spiritus, during the month of May, since 1999, close to the date of Martí's death in battle (May 19, 1895). Promoted in this conference is objective study of issues related to the country's republican stage in the 20th century, with an emphasis on the era prior to the triumph of the Cuban Revolution.

Bernal says he acquired his passion for Martí from his great-uncle, who was a member of the Liberation Army and fought against Spain as a Mambi. In the family's few quiet moments, he told anecdotes of his days in the scrub, always sprinkled with Martí's celebrated phrases.

"Joining the José Martí Cultural Society was the result, and a luxury as well. All of this time that I've worked here, I've felt myself a better human being," he says.

Also worthy of recognition is the leadership of the Martí Program Office, which has served as a coordinating and methodological advisory body for decades, to promote study of the Cuban national hero’s thought. The outstanding writer and essayist Abel PrietoJiménez was recently named as its director.