Role of AfroCubans in the War of Independence Essay

This essay has a total of 2720 words and 12 pages.

Role of AfroCubans in the War of Independence



What distinguished the final War of Independence (1895-1898) from the earlier Ten Years'
War (1868-1878) and the short-lived Guerra Chiquita (1879-1880) was the war's success
throughout the majority of the island, the final ousting of the Spanish through the
American intervention, the espousal of an egalitarian ideology by a radical multiracial
military leadership, and the iconization of the war's two most revered heroes: José Martí
and Antonio Maceo. As has been documented, the aims of the liberation were modified when
elite Cuban planters joined the insurgent cause beginning in 1896 and brought their social
agenda to bear on the civil wing of the separatist cause (Pérez 1983:125). The liberation
army under Máximo Gómez, however, sought to eliminate the very socio-economic basis of
Cuban society by razingl the sugar plantations as a means towards creating a more
egalitarian society. While the division between the civilian and the military was in fact
a deciding factor for the final outcome of the war and led to the intervention of the
United States, the tension between the two wings has gathered too much attention at the
expense of examining how class and racial conflicts before the final war were the source
of later divisions among the separatists (Ferrer 1995:283). By discussing the
historiography of Afro-Cuban nationalist discourse, a mythologized vision of nationalist
unity emerges which was reproduced and interpreted differently by diverse segments of the
separatist front, but nonetheless served to mobilize vast numbers of Afro-Cubans against
the Spanish in an unprecedented display of force.

Afro-Cubans participated in greater numbers during the final war, and while there were
divisions among them as well, a majority of these former slaves on the rebel side shared a
nationalist vision for a freer, more egalitarian Cuba (Helg 1995:44). The source of this
vision can be located in their struggle for liberation from slavery itself and their
participation in the failed rebellion of the Ten Years' War. Rebecca Scott (1994:81)
reports that in the early 1860s, 173,000 slaves resided on around 1,500 sugar estates in
Cuba. Before slavery was outlawed in 1886, over 100,000 former slaves had already gained
freedom through self-purchase, flight, legal means, and individual arrangements. In
addition the Pact of Zanjón with Spain at the conclusion of the Guerra Chiquita had
secured the freedom of all slaves who had fought for the rebel cause. It is in the
intermediary period after the Guerra Chiquita and before the War of Independence that the
debate over the Afro-Cubans' role in previous wars and their participation in future
liberation armies was to determine the character of their nationalist identity and the
eventual betrayal which Afro-Cuban veterans experienced after 1898.

The debate was over the question of gratitude. Focusing on the writings of Afro-Cuban
journalists in the early 1890s, Ferrer (1995:254-268) documents the reactions of Juan
Gualberto Gómez and Rafael Serra to the general feeling among white Cubans that the
abolition of slavery indebted ex-slaves and all people of the raza de color to political
allegiance with the Autonomist Party for voting purposes. According to Serra in 1893,
while not disputing that whites had led the previous war efforts, Afro-Cubans had not been
graciously freed by their white masters, but instead they had fought for their freedom in
the war and were thus 'entitled' to equality. This argument was rebutted by Manuel
Sanguily who reaffirmed white preeminence in the Ten Years' War and reasserted that black
indebtedness to white Cubans should be expressed by political allegiance.

To understand Gómez' conceptualization of Afro-Cuban nationalism, we must first turn to
the thoughts of Jóse Martí who espoused a qualified racial equality. An
anti-annexationist to the end, Martí was engaged in a counterdiscourse against Spanish
propaganda of the rise of 'another Haiti' while he advocated a revolution against the
Cuban social order. Afro-Cubans took Martí's statement to heart that, "the greater the
suffering the greater right to justice" (Pérez 1983:106). As the founder of the PRC
(Cuban Revolutionary Party) in 1892, Martí became the voice of the civil arm of the
revolutionary movement abroad, and Afro-Cuban nationals embraced his ideals as
justification for the affirmation of their "Cubanness" and the legitimization of their
call for equal rights (Ferrer 1995:266) .

Consequently, Gómez and others described their struggle not as an affirmation of their
Africanness, but as an effort to unite all Cubans. These Afro-Cuban journalists
characterized the civil rights struggles of the 1890s as "Cuban" struggles and countered
the accusation of the threat of a "race war" with the rebuff that it was in fact certain
white sectors' perpetuation of racist attitudes that posed the real threat to unity
(Ferrer 1995:266). In 1887, the Directorio Central de las Sociedades de la Raza de Color
was created by Afro-Cubans led by Juan Gualberto Gómez in order to challenge the Spanish
government's racist laws. The PRC publicly endorsed the Directorio's cause as opposed to
other major white party elements: the pro-Spanish Constitutional Union and the liberal
Autonomists (Helg 1995:45). However, even members of the white separatists like Manuel
Sanguily did not share Martí's views towards racial equality.

White separatist writers such as Ramón Roa, Manuel de la Cruz, José Martí, and Manuel
Sanguily focused on countering Spanish propaganda by characterizing the Afro-Cubans' role
in the Ten Years' War as a positive one. The black rebel was conceptualized as the
"obedient insurgent" who was inspired to fight by his former master and expressed
gratitude towards the independence leaders who had granted him his freedom (Ferrer
1995:229). The Afro-Cubans' role in the war was treated as secondary to the superior role
of the whites. Such a rewriting of history is certainly not unique and finds parallels in
Roosevelt's depiction of the Rough Riders' 'triumph' at San Juan Hill (Kaplan 1993).
However, in contrast to Roosevelt's negative portrayal of African-American soldiers, for
Martí, the Afro-Cuban soldiers were depicted as heroes who were crucial for the
construction of a free Cuban republic. Martí asked rhetorically, "How could a race war
erupt, when white and black Cubans had already fought together as brothers?" (Ferrer
1995:240) In this sense the Afro-Cuban journalists and the white separatist writers
shared the view that the Ten Years' War was a redemptive war for Cuba since it effected
the freedom of many slaves and offered reconciliation through the fraternity established
in the ranks of the army.

Afro-Cubans did not form a united front after they had freed themselves from the shackles
of slavery. Ferrer (1991:40) states that blacks were not united during the Guerra
Chiquita, that some served in the Spanish Army, edited pro-Spanish newspapers, and acted
as spies against the Afro-Cuban rebels. In the same section, Ferrer writes:


Alliances were not determined by factors of either race or class alone. Rather they
resulted from the inevitable confluence of race and class in a society dominated by the
institution of "racial" slavery and privileged, white property owners.


Therefore, while racial identity was a factor which led to Afro-Cuban alliances and a
growing sense that they were involved in a popular movement leading to social change, the
socioeconomic transitional situation of the majority of blacks following 1886 was a more
determining factor as far as the scope and success of alliance-building. Space does not
permit a thorough discussion of the technological transition in sugar production which
coincided with the emancipation of slaves and has been discussed elsewhere (see Ayala
1995; Scott 1985, 1994). The former slaves combined subsistence production with wage
labor, and had more ties to cities through the employment women were able to secure there.
There was a shift to seasonal wage labor in the sugar plantations, and this fact combined
with the decentralization of cane production made the plantations susceptible to rebel
activity. Moreover, in the new labor climate, white and Chinese immigrants worked beside
former slaves (Ayala 1995:96). When workers were displaced by the final war, these
segments would fight side by side. Helg (1995:32) points out that the racial barrier was
more fluid in the Oriente where there was already a large free black population before
1886.

The Oriente held the largest black population on the island and was the site of initial
rebel activity in both the Ten Years' War and the War for Independence. The Ten Years'
War was never successful in becoming an island-wide revolt and part of the reason for this
may be attributed to the effectiveness of Spanish propaganda that the Oriente blacks were
planning a race war to establish an independent black republic. Some white separatist
leaders were persuaded to lay down their arms under the Spanish pressure (Ferrer 1991:41).
In the early 1890s Afro-Cuban journalists claimed that blacks were too weak and passive
to effect a war against white rulers, whether Spanish or Cuban (Ferrer 1995:254). Their
argument was that such a war would counter the gains of the Ten Years' War under the
exemplary black leadership of Antonio Maceo and Guillermo Moncada. Ferrer (1995:274)
argues that while Spanish propaganda of a race war succeeded in dissuading potential
supporters in the early 1870s in Camaguey and in 1879-1880 in Oriente, in 1896 Havana the
claim was not successful. Doctors and lawyers from the white elite joined the movement
and revaluated their negative views of black insurgents. Helg (1995:234) offers a
different interpretation and argues that the propaganda of the threat of a race war was
perpetuated by the white Cuban elite after the Spanish were defeated, and it was still in
Continues for 6 more pages >>




  • Role of AfroCubans in the War of Independence
    Role of AfroCubans in the War of Independence What distinguished the final War of Independence (1895-1898) from the earlier Ten Years\' War (1868-1878) and the short-lived Guerra Chiquita (1879-1880) was the war\'s success throughout the majority of the island, the final ousting of the Spanish through the American intervention, the espousal of an egalitarian ideology by a radical multiracial military leadership, and the iconization of the war\'s two most revered heroes: José Martí and Antonio Ma
  • Salsa
    Salsa Salsa Music Salsa Music a popular genre of Latin American music. Since its emergence in the mid-1960s, salsa has achieved worldwide popularity, attracting performers and audiences not only in Latin American communities but also in such non-Latin countries as Japan and Sweden. In terms of style and structure, salsa is a reinterpretation and modernization of Cuban dance-music styles. It emerged around 1900 as an urban, popular dance-music style in Cuba. It derived some features from Hispanic
  • Afro Cuban Music
    Afro Cuban Music Afro-Cuban Music African music has had a major influence on Cuban culture beginning in the early 1550’s through slave trade. Thousands of slaves were brought to Spain in the 1400’s and eventually migrated to Cuba. Since these “Ladinos” were accustomed to Spanish culture and language, they easily were able to get by in Cuba and even escape slavery. As a result, Slave owners in Cuba brought more slaves directly from Africa. In 1526, a Royal Decree allowed slaves to buy their free
  • Rock Roots
    Rock Roots ˙Rock Roots: Africa and Cuba - a synthesis between 2 traditions & 2 continents to form rock - rock is the unique tribute to the power of integration - upon closer inspection, rock appears to be a purely African addition to the western musical institution - Afro-Cuban + black music of Mississippi and Louisiana share common ancestry: in the early 19th C. the Haitan revolution sent the islands plantation owners packing. Many managed to escape with their African slaves , whose origins we
  • On Olofes Razor
    On Olofes Razor In order to understand this work better, it is important to have a bit of background information. This story between a man and a woman, a mother and her son, takes place in Cuba in the early to mid nineteen hundreds at a time of carnival. They are both mulattos. For the Afro-Cubans, and other Cubans alike, this time of carnival is a time of worship and praise. In the Afro-Cuban religion of Lucumi, or Santeria, the gods are worshipped and praised especially at this time of carniv
  • Dizzy Gelespie
    Dizzy Gelespie The people of today, raised by the sounds of The Beatles and Pearl Jam have forgotten all about the musicians that paved the way for these artists, and the musical styles that evolved into rock and roll, rhythm and blues and rap or hip hop. Unfortunately the music that once dominated the night clubs, restaurants, and radio stations is now heard only in elevators or when we go to a grandparents house to visit. What is left of jazz are small portions of the music that people take an
  • Jazz
    Jazz Early Jazz The earliest easily available jazz recordings are from the 1920\'s and early 1930\'s. Trumpet player and vocalist Louis Armstrong ( Pops , Satchmo ) was by far the most important figure of this period. He played with groups called the Hot Five and the Hot Seven; any recordings you can find of these groups are recommended. The style of these groups, and many others of the period, is often referred to as New Orleans jazz or Dixieland. It is characterized by collective improvisation
  • Postmodernism, Deconstructionism,
    Postmodernism, Deconstructionism, Postmodernism, Deconstructionism, and the Ethnographic Text Anthropology 575 Postmodernism In the late 1960\'s the social sciences (mainly anthropology and sociology) entered a crisis period in which traditional ways of conducting the study of the Other were re-examined in the context of their association with dominance-submission hierarchies and the objectification of the subjects of study. There was seen to be an association between Western imperialism\'s obje
  • Jazz
    Jazz Early Jazz The earliest easily available jazz recordings are from the 1920\'s and early 1930\'s. Trumpet player and vocalist Louis Armstrong ( Pops , Satchmo ) was by far the most important figure of this period. He played with groups called the Hot Five and the Hot Seven; any recordings you can find of these groups are recommended. The style of these groups, and many others of the period, is often referred to as New Orleans jazz or Dixieland. It is characterized by collective improvisation
  • Minkisi paper
    Minkisi paper African Minkisi Introduced Into American Culture: What Are Minkisi, and What Form Did They Take in the Americas? I. Introduction African Minkisi have been used for hundreds of years in West Central Africa, This area where they are traditionally from was once known as the kingdom of Kongo, when Europeans started settling and trading with the BaKongo people. Kongo was a well-known state throughout much of the world by the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The BaKongo, however, had
  • Latin jazz orchestra
    Latin jazz orchestra If I were to use one word to describe the "Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra" that word would be astonishing. At first, hearing that I was required to attend a Jazz concert I was completely turned off. I am very closed minded and automatically thought to myself that the kind of music would be dreadful. That is not the case anymore. This genre of music is amusing and very pleasing to the ears. The band members are some of the most talented musicians that I ever saw or heard. Standing
  • CUBA THE TOTALITARIAN REGIME THAT STILL GOES ON
    CUBA THE TOTALITARIAN REGIME THAT STILL GOES ON CUBA THE TOTALITARIAN REGIME THAT STILL GOES ON Introduction When Columbus came to Cuba in 1492, he and his predecessors would probably never have imagined of this island’s outcome within the centuries ahead. from conquering the country, to its independence, to the totalitarian regime put into it, all these major events have made the island what it is today. Before giving the whole story about the Communists, one must understand how the country was
  • CUBA THE TOTALITARIAN REGIME THAT STILL GOES ON
    CUBA THE TOTALITARIAN REGIME THAT STILL GOES ON CUBA THE TOTALITARIAN REGIME THAT STILL GOES ON Introduction When Columbus came to Cuba in 1492, he and his predecessors would probably never have imagined of this island’s outcome within the centuries ahead. from conquering the country, to its independence, to the totalitarian regime put into it, all these major events have made the island what it is today. Before giving the whole story about the Communists, one must understand how the country wa