Martí's iron ring

One day, in October 1869, a group of the sadly famous Volunteers Corp in the service of Spain broke into the house of Fermín Valdés Domínguez, José Martí's close friend. In the exhaustive search they carried out in the building, they found a letter in which both accused a former classmate of being a traitor for having joined the army of the regime that reigned in Cuba.

As both, Martí and Fermín assumed the authorship of the letter before their captors - they wanted to protect each other -; and, given the impossibility of confirming it for sure, the two were arrested and put on trial. Thus, on April 4, 1870, the Apostle was sentenced to six years in prison at the San Lázaro Quarry. There, they shaved him, gave him clothes and shoes and he became prisoner 113. He was only 17 years old.

Every day, from dawn to dusk, the prisoners were forced to break stones. The sun, plagues, and abuse decimated them. Each had a shackle attached to his right ankle, forged by the prison blacksmith, which was attached to his waist through a thick chain.

This is how Martí appears in a photo of August 28, 1870, which has on the back this dedication to his mother: Look at me, mother, and for your love do not cry, / if a slave of my age and my doctrines / your martyr heart I filled with thorns, / think that flowers are born among thorns.

The continuous, inhuman, and painful rubbing of that shackle did not take long to bring dire consequences to the teenage patriot: a groin sore that never completely healed; not even with the surgical interventions he underwent in Spain when he was released and sentenced to exile. There, he wrote El presidio político en Cuba (Political Prison in Cuba), based on his experiences in the quarry.

Before leaving, Martí gave his friend Agustín de Zéndegui a link from the iron chain that he dragged during his stay in prison; and entrusted him to forge a ring engraved with the word Cuba. Four years later, the goldsmith had not yet fulfilled the commission. In a letter to Gabriel de Zéndegui, Agustín's brother, Martí asked him: "Remind your forgetful brother to finish my ring, which is the only one that fits my finger."

The jewel was not in his possession until November 17, 1887, when his mother, Leonor Pérez, took it to New York, the city where he had settled at the time. Martí wrote for the occasion: "Now that I have my iron ring, I have to do iron works."

Our National Hero wore the ring with the name of Cuba on his left ring finger until his fall in combat in Dos Ríos, on May 19, 1895; which, by the way, did not appear among the objects that were taken from his corpse. In a letter to his friend Gonzalo de Quesada y Aróstegui, Colonel Jiménez de Sandoval, in command of the Spanish troops in that combat, tells him: revolver, watch, belt, leggings, shoes, and papers.”

The truth is that it has never been possible to find the whereabouts of that ring with the word Cuba chiseled in its iron skin. Instead, symbolically, Martí bequeathed us the love that he felt for our country, to whose independence he dedicated a good part of his life.