Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Reflection on José Martí, Racism, and the Castro Regime

"Slavery does not imply inferiority in the enslaved race, since Gauls with blue eyes and blond hair were sold as serfs with shackles around their necks in the markets of Rome. This example helps make ignorant whites less prejudiced."  - José Martí "My Race" Patria, April 16 1893

Standing, left to right: Manuel de la Cruz, Jose Maceo,
Guillermo Moncada. Seated: Juan Gualberto Gomez,
Marti, Jose D. Poyo. Key West, Florida.
Reviewing José Martí on the subject of racism within the Cuban context is depressing, and especially the above statement on slavery. Fidel Castro's revolution over six decades enslaved an entire people. Regardless of one's race, religion, or class all were forced to be subservient to the Castro family or face exile, prison, torture, extrajudicial killings or firing squads. 

Reading The New York Times one must parse it in the same way than one does Granma, when reading anything they write or publish on Cuba. The Gray Lady recently published an opinion piece by French journalist and essayist Jean François Fogel that reports that Cuba under the Castro dictatorship is "a segregated society: 70 percent of black and mixed-race Cubans said they didn’t have access to the internet, compared with 25 percent of white Cubans. The racial wealth gap was also vast: While 50 percent of white Cubans had a banking account, only 11 percent of black Cubans said they had one. Moreover, white Cubans received 78 percent of remittances to Cuba, and they controlled 98 percent of private companies."

These numbers are questionable, but the underlying sentiment is that there is a racial divide in Cuba today. Worse yet the writer claims that selecting a white prime minister was a betrayal of racial equality in Cuba. This ignores the reality that both the president and the prime minister are puppets controlled by the Castro family.  

In order to justify the present sorry condition of Cubans, Fogel rewrites history claiming that "the dominance of the white political leader and the disenfranchisement of black Cubans have always been a part of the island’s history." This ignores the role played by strong black leaders that changed things for the better in the wars of independence and in the first half century of the Republic. It also ignores the mixed raced strong man who dominated Cuban political life for two decades. He was first elected president democratically in 1940 and later returned to destroy the democratic order taking power as dictator in 1952..  

This blog entry is an attempt to challenge François Fogel's false narrative highlighting some important historic figures.

Juan Gualberto Gómez Ferrer
Juan Gualberto Gómez Ferrer (July 12, 1854 – March 5, 1933) who together with José Martí conspired to revolt against Spain. In 1892 he founded the Central Directory of Societies of Color, a network that would spend the next sixty seven years pushing for Black advancement in Cuba.  Gómez Ferrer was captured on February 28, 1895 and imprisoned by the Spanish for three years. Upon his release he went to New York and continued the struggle for Cuban independence from exile. "In December 1898, he accompanied Major General Calixto García to Washington, D.C. as a member of the commission sent to negotiate for the funds necessary for the Cuban Liberation Army and recognition of the rebels."  In 1900 he was elected to represent Oriente in the Constituent Assembly. 

Following independence Juan Gualberto Gómez Ferrer  was deeply critical of "the Platt Amendment" stating that it had "reduced the independence and sovereignty of the Cuban Republic to a myth." He held seats in the Cuban House of Representatives (1914–1917) and Senate (1917–1925), representing the province of Havana.  Gómez Ferrer consistently campaigned to defend Black Cubans from discrimination, oppression, and violence. He wrote extensively, and books about him were published in Cuba on the centenary of his birth in 1954. 

Martín Morúa Delgado
contemporary figure to Juan Gualberto was Martín Morúa Delgado (1856-1910). He published newspapers, magazines, and novels that opposed slavery and racism while advocating integration and independence for Cuba from Spanish rule. Morúa Delgado was Cuba’s first black Senator following Cuba's independence from Spain while still under U.S. occupation in 1901. He would go on to be Cuba's first black Senate President in 1909, and passed away in 1910 in the position of Minister of Agriculture. 

Cubanidad, the ideology of a Cuban identity that transcends races, was first put forward by Jose Marti in the independence struggle, would continue in the Republic, and by the 1930s embracing African culture as intrinsically part of Cuban identity was seen as a way to resist American imperialism by most Cubans, regardless of their racial origins. 

In the 1940s concrete successes were finally seen by many Cuban blacks on the political front. The network of mutual aid associations that Juan Gualberto Gómez had established in 1892 and their constituent parts would play an important role in obtaining anti-discrimination planks in the 1940 Constitution, and additional reforms against racism in the workplacce in 1950.

Fulgencio Batista
Unlike Fidel Castro, Fulgencio Batista had been elected president of Cuba in free and competitive elections in 1940. He served out his presidential term from 1940 through 1944. President Batista had been discriminated against and denied membership in the Havana Yacht Club on account of his being of mixed race, despite being President of Cuba at the time. He left Cuba in 1944 and returned in 1948 when he was elected to the Cuban Senate, and in 1952 staged a coup that returned him to power as dictator. This opened the way to Fidel Castro's violent take over in 1959. Nevertheless, a non-white president had been elected to hold real political power in 1940 by a free people. Batista is a tragic figure that first helped to build up a democratic order only to tear it down 12 years later.

Nevertheless, challenges persisted through the prism of race relations leading to more radical solutions being proposed in the 1950s.

A more radical critique of how to confront race problems in Cuba would be made by Juan René Betancourt. Betancourt was a lawyer by profession and member of the Sociedad "Victoria" in Camaguey and cultural secretary of the Provincial Federation of Black Societies of Camaguey. He was politically active from 1940 through 1959 and pushed for black consciousness and economic uplift through black solidarity and pushed for a more radical approach.  Like many, he initially joined the 1959 revolution, but quickly became disenchanted and critical with the communist takeover in Cuba.

Black civil society, that had played an important role in empowering black Cubans over the first six decades of the 20th century, was systematically dismantled by the Castro regime. This was a disaster for black empowerment in Cuba. Today, the results can be seen in the numbers presented by Jean François Fogel. However, Cuba watchers should be aware that this legacy has not been completely disappeared, but is to be found among those hounded and persecuted by the Castro dictatorship.

Juan René Betancourt
In exile Juan René Betancourt would criticize Cuban exile for not having a political vision that included black empowerment, but he did cite one exception, and that was the Cuban Christian Democrats. Their ideological descendants in Cuba today are the Christian Liberation Movement.

Erneido Andres Oliva Gonzalez presents Brigade Flag to President Kennedy
The deputy commander of the Brigade 2506 land forces that invaded Cuba in an effort to oust the Castro dictatorship in April of 1961 was Erneido Andres Oliva Gonzalez, a black Cuban. On December 29, 1962 he presented President John F. Kennedy the Brigade Flag during a ceremony at the Orange Bowl. President Kennedy pledged ""Commander I assure you that this flag will be returned to this Brigade in a free Havana."  Erneido worked closely with Attorney General Robert Kennedy in Operation Mongoose that staged commando raids on the Castro regime's military installations. Following the assassination of President Kennedy by Castro sympathizer Lee Harvey Oswald in November 1963 the new President, Lyndon Johnson, shutdown Operation Mongoose.

Oliva Gonzalez participated in the U.S. intervention of the Dominican Republic in 1965 where he served over a year, and helped prevent the rise of another communist dictatorship in Latin America. He ended his career in the U.S. military with the rank of Major General. He continued to yearn for a free Cuba.

Furthermore, black leadership would continue to advocate for freedom in Cuba. Manuel Cuesta Morúa ( born 1962 ), a Cuban dissident leader, claims ancestry from Martín Morúa Delgado, on his mother’s side, Mercedes Morúa.  He is part of the movement seeking a restoration of democracy and human rights in Cuba, has spoken at international gatherings, and carried out campaigns to empower Cubans in the island.

Manuel Cuesta Morúa
These individuals outlined above are not puppets put into power by a dictator, as is the case of Miguel Díaz-Canel, and others identified by Fogelin in his opinion piece, but free individuals that sought and are seeking a Cuba where black Cubans are full citizens with equal rights and opportunities along with their fellow country men and women of different races. 

The Castro regime claims José Martí  as the intellectual author of their ideological project, and that is a lie. The regime in Cuba is the anti-thesis of what the Cuban poet advocated. 

The true legacy of Juan Gualberto Gómez Ferrer and José Martí lives on in the democratic opposition in Cuba, and the Cuban diaspora around the world that continue to resist the Castro tyranny..  

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for sharing part of our history and keeping it alive and calling out falsehoods when you see them....we appreciate your efforts...