The expert international analyst publishes his third book, Cuba 1895, La Partida, an account based on the real-life experience of an officer who fought in the war in Cuba

Lucas Martín Serrano: "Cuba 1895, La Partida is a way of honouring and hearing the memory of thousands of Spaniards"

El teniente coronel del Ejército de Tierra de España Lucas Martín - PHOTO/GUILLERMO LÓPEZ/ATALAYAR
photo_camera The expert international analyst Lucas Martín - PHOTO/GUILLERMO LÓPEZ/ATALAYAR

Lucas Martín Serrano, a lieutenant colonel in the army, has published his third book. After Global Vision and Global Terror, this time he does so under the title Cuba 1895, La Partida, a novel set in the context of the loss of Cuba to Spanish forces after years of fighting against multiple attempts at independence.
 
First of all, as I began to read Cuba 1895, La partida, I wondered what Spain could have done to prevent the loss of Cuba: was it a lost battle, despite having managed to stop the attempt unleashed by the Grito de Yara and the subsequent Ten Years' War, or could it have done something to avoid losing Cuba?
 
Well, it is difficult to talk about what we could have done now in the past and with so much time on our hands. I do believe that, at least at the political and military level, perhaps things could have been done differently or could have been managed differently and the island could have been held longer. What was undeniable is that sooner or later, if it wasn't the way it happened, it would have ended up becoming independent because that was the trend at the time and it happened with all European countries that had possessions outside Europe that they ended up losing, but it is true that they could have kept it for a while longer.
 
That was a very important change, as you say. It was something that was happening with the possessions of the powers in America and to what extent did the loss of Cuba represent a turning point globally for Spain's position in the international community. How did it change the world's view of Spain?
 
More than the world's view of Spain, I would say how it changed us Spaniards, that is to say, the loss of Cuba undoubtedly marked a before and an after. In fact, much of what happened later in the 20th century in Spain, in a certain way, is related, or at least in an unconscious way, it affected the way Spaniards were or the way they approached problems. It was a very big blow. And also because Cuba was something very special for Spain. Of all our possessions in America, Cuba was something very special and still is. In fact, the relationship we have with the Cubans is very, very different from the rest of Latin America.
 
Despite having been a Spanish possession, can the relationship you speak of between Spanish and Cuban societies today, precisely because Cuba was so important for Spain, lead Spanish society to have a special association and link in a positive way with Cuba?
 
All the territories that Spain conquered in America were incorporated into the Crown and were part of Spain. In other words, Spain never considered those territories as a colony or as something inferior, they were just another part of Spain, like Burgos, Valencia or Murcia. So it is this consideration of, let's say, being Spanish citizens and being part of the Crown and the Kingdom, which gives them that special stamp and that relationship. Cuba, perhaps because it was the position that was with us the longest, and perhaps because of its character and the way the Cuban population was linked to the Spanish population, always had something special and, as you rightly say, it remains to this day, and we all feel that there is a very special relationship between Cuba and Spain.

Cuba 1895, La Partida
Cuba 1895, La Partida

 
And returning a little more to the work itself, it caught my attention after having published Terror Global and Visión Global, two works of a different style to this one, which focus on analysis and even on the compilation of articles. What was the motivation for writing this new work, which is a little out of the trend of the previous ones?
 
It's new, but it's the one I started writing in the first place. Writing this novel has taken me quite a few years and it all began because, due to circumstances, I discovered that a relative, an ancestor, in this case my wife's, fought in the war in Cuba. He was an officer, like me, and fought in the war in Cuba, from 1995 to 1998. I began to take an interest in the subject, to read documentation, to get his service record, and when I got my hands on his service record and saw what he had experienced on the island, what actions he had taken part in and how the conflict unfolded as seen through the eyes of a lieutenant leaving Spain and going to war, I saw that it was a very interesting story to tell. And also, as the war in Cuba is still a forgotten war, perhaps also because of what I said before, because of the blow of losing the island and the conditions in which it was lost, it is an event in our past that is a little left to God's own devices. And it was also a way of honouring the memory of thousands of Spaniards, most of them very young people of very humble origins who were taken into the ranks and went to a place where they didn't know where they were, and they left their health, their youth and, in most cases, their lives there. And even though they were forced to go there, many of them carried out heroic deeds and heroic deeds that very few people know about. So I think we have a duty to them to bring them out of oblivion and to honour them. And I think this novel was a nice way of doing that.
 
It is, shall we say, a tribute to that period in Spanish history, which 130 years later has changed enormously. Spain's image is at a totally opposite point, between dictatorship and democratic transition. How do you assess Spain's current situation in these times of instability in relations with countries as important as Israel, with whom relations have come to hang by a thread, and with whom diplomatic relations have even been on the verge of breaking off?
 
Despite the fact that Spain today obviously has many problems, as do many countries, and we complain about many things and there are many things to improve, that is obvious, there are always things to improve. When you have experience of travelling the world and living for a long time in other countries of a different type, with a different culture and so on, you end up realising that with all our problems and all our miseries and all our problems, we are still privileged. We live in a country that, to put it bluntly, we often don't deserve. When you go out and live abroad and you simply have to go to a doctor or need some kind of help, or go to some official body and so on, you really realise what a luxury we live in and that we don't really appreciate it.

It is true that Spain's luck is what has changed the most in international relations. Because it is true that given where Spain comes from, the current situation, as you say, is really privileged, often undervalued by Spaniards themselves. But in the international diplomatic arena, this evolution that Spain has undergone, especially in recent years, has led to perhaps more delicate situations in the international arena. How do you assess Spain's current image in this context, in this panorama, especially at a time of instability in Israel, in Ukraine, in the Red Sea, with the latest events... What role does Spain play in this international diplomatic framework?
 
Spain also, despite what I often thought when I was inside, has an image of respect and of a serious country from the outside. I repeat, with our problems, our mistakes and our failures, obviously that cannot be denied. But we are still a country with weight, an important country and a country that is generally loved and respected abroad, contrary to what we Spaniards often think, that we are our own worst judges. I will give a very clear example. With regard to our membership of NATO and Spain's contribution to collective defence in the East, Spain is one of the countries that is putting the most meat on the grill. We are seen as a fairly serious ally. I think that often the image we have from the inside is a little distorted to what you see from the outside once you are working abroad and you see and work with other countries.

Lucas Martín Serrano, teniente coronel
Lucas Martín Serrano, expert international analyst

 And now moving a little outside Spain's borders. I also wanted to refer to the situation in Gaza. Evidently it does not have a very clear horizon, much less one in which one can be optimistic, at least for the moment. At the beginning there was talk of a rapid intervention by Israeli forces on the tunnels built by Hamas, but the conflict continues to drag on, the suffering of tens of thousands of Palestinians and Israelis continues to drag on, we must not forget. And in the meantime there is the escalation of tension in the Red Sea, accusations of genocide before the International Criminal Court... What fate do you foresee for the Palestinian-Israeli cause? Is it going to continue to escalate to a point of perhaps no return?
 
First of all, what is normally known as the Palestinian cause has been "mortally wounded" since the signing of the Abraham Accords. And I say "mortally wounded" because let's say that these agreements, which in turn is what provoked Hamas's reaction on 7 October, deprived Iran of the piece that it used to use to move the Arab world in favour of its interests. The current conflict, as I have been saying from the beginning and as I have commented several times on De Cara al Mundo, Israel is very clear that what happened on 7 October is not going to happen again, it is not going to allow it to happen again. And this current war or this confrontation is not going to end until Israel considers that Hamas is out of the equation. In fact, they are proving it. They have cleared the entire northern part of the Strip, the central part, and now they are going to clear the southern part, in the Rafah area. And until this task is completed, however long it takes, and whatever loss of reputation it entails, Israel is not going to stop. Moreover, I would go so far as to say that once Hamas is finished, the next step will be Hezbollah, because it continues to be a danger, just like Hamas, and no one can assure Israel that as long as Hezbollah remains south of the Litani River, the same thing will not happen again in northern Israel. And, in fact, Netanyahu has already said, they want Hezbollah north of the Litani. I don't think Israel is going to open a second front right now, but when this operation in Gaza is over, I think it is very likely that we will see another similar operation in southern Lebanon.
 
I just wanted to refer to this possible extension of the conflict because it is true that Hezbollah has been mentioned on numerous occasions by Benjamin Netanyahu. Could this conflict spread to more corners of the region? Because if we are talking about Hezbollah, Lebanon, Iran of course, the Houthis, financed and supported by the Ayatollah regime... How far can it spread if this chain of conflict continues in which Israel can, for example, try to wipe out Hezbollah in the same way that it is trying to wipe out Hamas?
 
I think that nobody, and when I say nobody I mean the main actors, that is, Israel, the United States, Iran and the rest of the Arab countries in the area, nobody is interested in an extension of the conflict. Therefore, even if that happens or the scenario you have suggested materialises, I believe that all the actors, as has been the case so far, will take special care to try to prevent the conflict from getting out of control and spreading throughout the region. The issue of the Houthis is a particular issue, because being a proxy militia of Iran, financed, armed and trained by the Quds forces, which belong to the Revolutionary Guard, I think that, in a way, Iran has lost some control over the actions of the Houthis, and they are playing a bit of a free-for-all. We'll see how this plays out, but perhaps these attacks that we're seeing by the United States against the Houthi militias to try to secure navigation through the Bab el-Mandeb and the Red Sea, maybe it doesn't hurt Iran at all to cleanse the militia of those fractious elements that have come to the point where they are starting to move on their own. I think they are being very careful not to overdo it. And the example is in the recent attack in Syria against an American mass that killed three Americans, that even the American response has been measured, warned not to cause Iranian casualties and, of course, not just Iranian, everybody is very keen that this does not spread.
 
The possible linkage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, not because they are directly related, but because Zelenski has said on numerous occasions that he has lost focus of the war in Ukraine, perhaps inevitably. He has even said that aid to Ukraine has been sidelined, despite approving new packages such as the latest one of 50 billion euros. Do you agree with Zelenski's idea that Ukraine has been sidelined, that the focus has been lost too much?
 
It has not been sidelined, but it is clear that the focus was totally shifted towards Israel and that this has affected Ukraine, that is undoubtedly true. Some of the aid that was being sent to Ukraine was diverted to Israel because it was needed for this operation. But, as you say, the focus has not been completely removed, countries are still helping Ukraine. The pause in aid has much more to do with domestic political issues in the United States and the elections than with the conflict in Israel. Europe remains committed and, in fact, another European aid package for Ukraine was recently approved, even thinking that, for whatever reason, or because of the change of government in the United States, or because of domestic political issues, if this aid decreases, it will be replaced by the European side, which is what we are trying to do. Has the focus changed and has the tension decreased? True, that is undoubtedly true, but it is also true that we are trying to maintain it.