Sunday, October 10, 2021

October 10, 1868 Grito de Yara's Double Significance for Freedom in Cuba: How Castroism betrayed both of them

 Independence and Emancipation


The Grito de Yara on October 10, 1868 has a double significance for Cubans, and Black Cubans specifically. It was the initial cry for independence that marked the start of the "Ten Years War" that seriously challenged Spanish colonial rule, and the institution of slavery.

 This day marked an immediate and concrete start of liberation.


Plantation and slave owner Carlos Manuel de Céspedes del Castillo, sounded a bell that gathered enslaved black Cubans together to begin the work day, but on October 10, 1868 he freed them instead.


Carlos Manuel de Céspedes del Castillo

This slave owner then invited them, if they chose, to take up arms and join him in a new struggle for independence. The nearest town to his plantation was called Yara and this cry for freedom became known as the "Grito de Yara." 


Carlos Manuel not only promised independence from Spain, but the abolition of slavery in Cuba. 


This was a day of choosing for black Cuban slaves and over the next decade they fought for freedom, together with free blacks, and white Cubans. 


On October 10, 1878 in the Pact of Zanjón slaves that had taken part on either side of the fight were freed, but those who remained on the sidelines would not be freed until October 7, 1886. 


General Martínez Campos and General Antonio Maceo meet

Not everyone agreed with the pact. General Antonio Maceo was summoned by Martínez Campos to Los Mangos de Baraguá on March 15, 1879. General Maceo refused to accept the conditions established in the agreement. He demanded full independence and the complete abolition of slavery. This became known as "La Protesta de Baraguá" where  General Antonio Maceo told his Spanish counterpart: "We do not understand each other". 


Juan Gualberto Gómez Ferrer, a free Cuban black, and leader of the independence struggle defended the rights of Black Cubans for his entire career. In 1892 he founded the “Directory of Colored Societies” - the same year that slavery ended in Cuba. 

 The Central Directory of Societies of Color would spend the next seventy six years pushing for Black advancement in Cuba.   


It would be a fair assessment to define October 10, 1868 as not only the beginning of Cuban independence, but a day to celebrate black liberation from 373 years of bondage beginning with the arrival of the first African slaves to Cuba in 1513. Over 900,000 Africans would be taken from West Africa and brought to Cuba over 350 years.

Juan Gualberto transmitted the order that began the 2nd war of independence on February 24, 1895. 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 funds necessary for the Cuban Liberation Army and recognition of the rebels" by the United States.


 In 1900 Juan Gualberto Gómez Ferrer was elected to represent Oriente in the Constituent Assembly.  


Following independence he was deeply critical of the Platt Amendment. The United States military had occupied Cuba from 1898 to 1902, and the bitter price of independence was accepting the Platt Amendment in the 1901 Cuban Constitution, which permitted U.S. interference in Cuban internal affairs to preserve order and protect American interests, put into question the status of Cuba's Isle of Pines as a possible U.S. possession. 


Gómez Ferrer held seats in the Cuban House of Representatives (1914–1917) and Senate (1917–1925), representing Havana. 


Juan Gualberto Gómez Ferrer

Between 1886 and 1962 in Cuba, free black people were able to organize in a network of societies founded by Juan Gualberto Gómez Ferrer to press for black social, economic and political advancement in Cuba.

Cuba during the later colonial period, and during the Republic wrestled with the legacy of slavery, and racism, but it was part of the public discussion – with its high and low points.   

Ugly periods, such as the 1912 race war, and private discrimination persisted, but so did black agency to advocate for each other.

General Pedro Ivonnet Dufort was a Mambi officer killed in 1912

Political leaders had to answer to these black societies, and provide patronage to them, and in a vibrant free press, and in publishing houses debates on race, and racism, and the need for redress took place.

The Central Directory of Societies of Color, founded by Gómez Ferrer in 1892 succeeded in lobbying for the 1940 Constitution to address racism in Articles 10,  20,  74, and 102.

And although incomplete and too slow, progress had been made in the 1940 Constitution, and in labor legislation to provide greater inclusion for black Cubans over the next 20 years.

All of this came crashing down with Castro’s communist revolution.  

“Of the 256 Negro societies in Cuba, many  have had to close their doors and others are in death agony. One can truthfully say, and this is without the slightest exaggeration, that the Negro movement in Cuba died at the hands of Sr. Fidel Castro.” … “Yet this is the man who had the cynical impudence to visit the United States in 1960 for the purpose of censuring American racial discrimination. Although this evil obviously exists in the United States, Castro is not precisely the man to offer America solutions, nor even to pass judgement,” reported Cuban nationalist Juan René Betancourt in his essay in the NAACP's publication The Crisis in 1961. 

Juan René Betancourt

Some of the more prominent clubs that are still remembered are the Sociedad Buena Vista ( Buena Vista Social Club), Amantes del Progreso, Unión Fraternal, Progreso, Nueva Era, and El Club Atenas.

Between 1898 and 1959 the relationship between Black-Americans and Black-Cubans was based on their race and being black minorities.  The relationship between the two diasporas ended when the Castro regime ended autonomous black civil society in 1962. 

It was replaced by Castro and his white revolutionary elite allying with Black elites in the United States, and Africa.  The Castro regime would selectively target black elites in the NAACP, the Nation of Islam, and representatives of newly liberated nations in Africa. This was exemplified by Fidel Castro meeting with Malcolm X on September 19, 1960.

The elimination of Afro-Cubans from this dynamic demonstrated how the new communist revolutionary elite transformed what race meant within the island while at the same time turning it into a political tool outside of Cuba to advance the Castro regime's communist agenda.

This ended black agency in Cuba for decades, and replaced it with a policy based in obedience, submission, and gratitude to the white revolutionary elite, and this was reflected in official propaganda with racist tropes.

From the Castro regime's publication Verde Olivo 1, no. 29 (October 1, 1960) a cartoon depicting Fidel Castro meeting with African Americans in Harlem in a pro-regime publication. On the left capitalists, and on the right Fidel Castro with black Americans featured with racist stereotypes.

Cuban blacks today that would have been political leaders in the 1940s and 1950s are dissidents persecuted, hunted and killed by the secret police.

The regime claims there is no racism in Cuba while poverty disproportionately impacts black people, and black voices are silenced.


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