Archive for February, 2011

Albear, a Patriot of Construction

Any nation whose history is full of acts of violence diminishes relevance to figures or events that are removed from this kind of acts. If violence is also promoted as the paradigm of behavior, the concept ends up entrenching so deeply in the conscience of society that it establishes a false identification between war and history, between revolutions and patriotism, thus minimizing other forms of patriotism, and other ways of making history and promoting the culture.

In Cuba, the history of violence—conquest, colonization, pirate attacks, slavery, abolition struggles, separatists, independence support, annexation support, civil wars, racial crimes, state coups, gangsterism, terrorism, insurrection struggle, armed counterrevolution—conceal figures and events that, due to their dimensions, constitute the foundations and columns of the motherland and the nation. Colonel Francisco de Albear y Fernández de Lara, a giant of Cuban engineering, born in Havana on January 11, 1816, is one such example.

In 1835 he traveled to Spain to study at the Academy of Engineering. He returned to the island in 1845, loaded with the culture and prestige that enabled his appointment as Engineer for the Royal Board of Agricultural and Commercial Development of the Island of Cuba, from which post he undertook a vast engineering career.

From the renovated Saint Augustine Convent of Havana—his first job—to the construction of the Isabel II aqueduct, we can find in his work all the distinctive engineering projects of the period. It would be enough to mention the Trinidad Cavalry Headquarters, his acknowledgment of the Zaza river for canalization purposes, his study on the widening of docks in Cienfuegos, the Commerce Marketplace, the Botanic Garden and the School of Agronomy, the docks, platforms and cranes of the coast of Havana, most of the roads from the capital to neighboring regions, the installation of the first telegraph lines in Cuba, the design of the Havana street plan, the train and central road projects, among others.

In the topic of hydraulics: In spite of the Royal Trench—built between the last decades of the sixteenth-century to canal the waters from the Chorrera River; in spite of the Fernando VII Aqueduct built between 1832 and 1835 to conduct water through iron pipes; and in spite of the 895 cisterns and 2,976 wells in place, the supply of drinking water to the San Cristóbal village of Havana was still insufficient during the first half of the nineteenth-century.

Facing this crisis, General Concha, who was Captain General of the island at the time, entrusted a commission—headed by Albear—to come up with a solution. This event presented the illustrious engineer with the opportunity to develop his master work, which consisted in providing a modern aqueduct—which would raise the water from the phreatic surface and transfer it through underground pipes—to the capital city to solve its problem of scarcity and insalubrity of contaminated waters from cisterns, wells and older aqueducts.

Once the preliminary studies were concluded, Albear chose the Vento springs out of all the options, because they were situated at over 41 meters above the sea, and because of the feasibility of the collection, conduction, quantity and quality of their waters. Afterwards, he proceeded to do an exhaustive research on the transfer of the vital liquid to the Palatino deposits; he demonstrated the negative influence of solar light over the collected waters; he modified the geology of the terrain as to adapt it to the protection of the canal; and—through the use of meager mechanical means—he succeeded in making it travel underneath the Almendares River.

No similar project could be repeated until the mid-twentieth-century, when the tunnel under the Bay of Havana was built: both works are part of the Seven Wonders of Cuban Engineering of all times.

For his ensemble of magnificent projects, Francisco de Albear was awarded—first in Philadelphia and then in Paris—a Gold Medal and an Honorable Mention that reads: “In recognition of your work, which deserves extensive study even in its minimal details and which is considered a Master Work”; the Royal Development Board qualified him as the most famous of Cuban engineers. And to this distinguished eminence of engineering, Enrique José Varona dedicated these beautiful verses:

To make a foundation for faith where excess doubt is found,

To make light in the middle of the night,

To take nothingness and found the work,

That, Albear, is to be great… And great you are!

At the time of his death, Albear possessed—deservingly so—the titles of Marquis of Saint Felix; Brigadier of the Royal Corps of Engineers; the Great Cross of the Royal and Military Order of Saint Hermenegildo and the Order of Military Merit; Cavalier of the Royal and Military Order of Saint Fernando; Professor of the Special Academy of Engineers; Correspondent Member of the Royal Academy of Sciences of Madrid; Member by Number and Credit of the Royal Academy of Medical, Physical and Natural Sciences of Havana; Partner of Merit of the Royal Economic Society of Friends of the Nation; Honorable Member and Correspondent of the British Society for the Development of Art and Industry; Founding Partner of the Geographical Society of Spain; Member of the Scientific Society of Brussels; and Member of the Society of the Working Classes of Mexico.

In recognition of his work, the aqueduct that was initially named after Isabel II was renamed after him, and the Havana City Hall erected a statue in his honor at Monserrate Street, between Obispo and O’Reilly, in Old Havana. However, the recognition of this eminent engineer as a patriot of construction and one of the forgers of Cuban culture, whose masterly work continues to supply a great part of the water we consume today in our dear Havana, is still pending.

Translated by T

January 28 2011

Let’s Talk About Martí on His 158th Birthday

(Published in Cuba Daily,, 28 January 2011)

The birthdays of figures who marked our history in past times and are observed today constitute an excellent opportunity to return to their ideas. This is the case of the 158th anniversary of José Martí’s birthday, who, at this opportunity, coincides with the start of the changes that the government is introducing in the economy, but will have to be generalized to all social spheres.

José Julián Martí Pérez, son of a family with a limited education, thanks to his sensitivity and intelligence, to the love of his mother and uprightness of his father, and to his relationship with the director of the Boys’ School of Havana, Rafael María de Mendive; he became a historian, poet, literate, orator, teacher, journalist, and the Cuban politician of the largest stature.

Nonetheless, despite the quantity of pages about him that have been written, his essential ideas are barely known. Having attributed the intellectual authorship of the Assault on the Moncada Barracks to him and placing him next to Marxism as the foundation of the process which led to a totalitarian system, he has provoked some Cubans — especially the youngest — to show rejection of this alteration of his person. From there, the importance of calling attention to simple, but racial, aspects of his work which remain valid for today’s Cuban. With that end, I advance eight of those aspects.

  • His humanism, putting man at the beginning and end of his libertarian work; to dream that with the first Law of the Republic there might be full human dignity, which is impossible without the freedoms that serve to sustain him. A humanism expressed in the love for one’s neighbor that, like Jesus, he extended to his own enemies and whose best proof consists in that, despite the inhuman treatment he received in the Political Presidio, he never expressed hatred for Spain, or that when he was an enemy of American expansionism, he was also a fervent admirer of the culture of that country and its people. From that humanism emanated his ethic, which in its political action constituted a distinctive element expressed in his human dimension and in the correspondence between thought and action.
  • His deep capacity for analysis, thanks to which he performed a critical study of the errors committed in the Ten Years’ War and demonstrated that Spain didn’t win that contest; rather that Cuba lost it. From that study he derived a system of principles that included: revolution as a form of evolution, the inclusion of all components in the analysis of social phenomena, the union of differing factors, and time in policy. In this system are the cement of a theory of revolution that includes the function of necessary war and the role of the Party.
  • His iron-willed opposition to autocracy, which took him to refuse participation in the Gómez-Maceo Plan of 1884, of which he left perseverance to the General: “A people doesn’t found itself, General, like one commands a camp”; an idea so simple as essential, whose consequence showed itself all throughout the Great War and remained reserved in his Campaign Diary, 14 days before his death: “… Maceo has another concept of governing, a junta of generals with command power, by their representatives – and a Secretary General: the Fatherland, then, and all her officers, who create and animate the army, as a secretary of the army”. An idea that had been repeated time and again, as in April 1894, when he expressed: “A people is not the will of a single man, as pure as it may be… A people is a composition of many wills, vile or pure, frank or stormy, impeded by timidity or precipitated by ignorance[1]. Ideas that should be incorporated into today’s textbooks.
  • His conception of the Cuban Revolutionary Party (PRC) as an organizing institution, controlling and creating of conscience to direct the war that the Republic had to carry out; not to dominate and prohibit the existence of different parties following victory, not to work for predominance, of any kind present or future; but by grouping, conforming to democratic methods, of all the living forces of the Fatherland; by brotherhood and common action of Cubans resident on the island and abroad[2]. For, as remained recognized in the Basis of the PRC, to found a new people and of sincere democracy, capable of overcoming, by the order of true work and the balance of social forces, the dangers of sudden freedom in a society composed for slavery[3]. And he insisted that it was an idea that Cuba had to carry, not just a person[4]. Thoughts completely foreign to the single-party system implanted in Cuba.
  • His concept of the Republic, conceived as a form and station of destiny, different from War and of the Party, conceived as mediating links to arrive at it. A republic as a state of equal rights to everyone born in Cuba; a space for freedom of expression of thought, of many small businessmen, of social justice, which implied love and mutual pardon between the races, built without foreign assistance nor tyranny, so that every Cuban might be a fully free politician.
  • His doctrine of Fatherland, of which he conceived as a “community of interests, unity of traditions, unity of ends, most kind and consoling of love and hope”. An ambition condensed into the following words in “Wandering Teachers“: “Mankind has to live in a state of peaceful enjoyment, natural and inevitable from freedom, as they live enjoying air and light” and “The independence of a people consists of the respect that public powers demonstrate to each of their children.”
  • His enmity for violence, despite having suffered much himself. In May of 1883, he wrote: “… Karl Marx studied the methods of putting the world on new bases, awakened the sleeping, and taught how to throw away broken props. But he walked quickly, and a little in the shadows, without seeing that they weren’t born viable, not in the hearts of the people in history, nor in the heart of the woman at home, the children that haven’t had a natural and laborious birth … They dream of music, dream again of the chorus; but we note that they aren’t of peace.”
  • His rejection of State Socialism, of which he left evidence in “Future Slavery”, where he proposed that “the poor, who are used to losing all to the State, will soon stop making any effort for their own subsistence”; “that when the actions of the State become so varied, active, and dominant, it will have to impose considerable charges on the working part of the nation in favor of the impoverished part”; that “as all public necessities come to be satisfied by the State, functionaries will acquire the enormous influence which naturally comes to those who distribute some right or benefit.” And that “To be a slave to oneself, it will come to man to be the slave of the State. To be a slave of the State, as they call it now, one will have to be a slave of the functionaries. A slave is anyone who works for another who has dominion over him; and in that socialist system would dominate the community of mankind, to which the community will dedicate all its work.”[5]

Just as people who are ignorant of their history are condemned to repeat once and again the errors of the past, and in Cuba political matters have regressed to the 19th Century, we have to be advised that Marti’s political thought continues to be effective, for we are detained in a time in which he would have lived. The republic of all and for the benefit of all is a pending matter. Once the model of totalitarian socialism has failed — exclusive by its nature — Marti’s thought, a combination of love, virtue, and civics constitutes a legacy we cannot depreciate.

Havana, 25 January 2011

[1]MARTÍ, JOSÉ. Selected Works in Three Volumes, Vol III, p. 359
[2] “Resolutions taken by Cuban emigration of Tampa and Key West in November of 1891”. MARTÍ, JOSÉ. Selected Works in Three Volumes, Vol III, p 23.
[3]MARTÍ, JOSÉ. Selected Works in Three Volumes, Vol III, p. 26
[4]MARTÍ, JOSÉ. Selected Works in Three Volumes, Vol III, p. 192
[5]MARTÍ, JOSÉ. Complete Works. Vol 15, pp 388-392

Translated by: JT

January 31 2011