Maritza Elias Dañez, History Professor
in La Maya, Cuba
Specialist on the Racial Crisis Of 1912
Dialogue With Maritza Elias
On the Massacre of 1912 in La Maya, Cuba
by Eugene Godfried, Caribbean specialist/Journalist
Radio Havana Cuba and Radio CMKS in Guantánamo
EUGENE: It's a great pleasure for us to share this microphone with our guest, Maritza Elias Dañez, history
professor, here in La Maya, province of Santiago de Cuba. Professor, thank you very much for accepting our invitation.
MARITZA: Well, were are at the disposal of you, who invited us, and we are willing to answer all you want to know with regards to this village. We are in condition to clarify what you need depending on our modest and little knowledge.
Thank you very much for being so gracious. La Maya is a historic place. First of all let us by describe the etnographic characteristics of La Maya. What can you tell me in this respect?
The first thing we have to say is that La Maya emerged at the end of the independence wars as all historians state. But, the most correct definition is that it was founded at the end of the Ten Years War. The data we could find referring to the history of the municipality, shows that at the end of the Ten Years War there already existed settlements. Among them were establishments in Concepción, Ti Arriba, and San Nicolás de Morón, in the
neighborhood of El Socorro in Songo and in La Maya itself. Of all these settlements, the first one corresponded to the
neighborhood of San Nicolás de Morón and Ti Arriba. According to all information we gathered, La Maya got its name in the century before last. By then
commercial activities were done by mules and horses. This village was the major communication point between Guantánamo en Santiago de Cuba. In order to protect the locations of the merchants and their mules and horses from assailants, the whole surroundings
were covered with ‘maya’ trees. From that moment the village became known as La Maya. So the name is related to the maya trees.
O.k. those were the maya trees as they are in nature. Let us talk now about the human beings, who populated this region. I can imagine that here too as in the rest of Cuba that the first inhabitants were the indigenous. As we talk about merchants it seems to me that those were immigrants from Spain and the workers were essentially those people brought in condition of enslavement from Africa. Am I right?
Our territory counts with the presence of different ethnic group. The plantation economy had the same characteristic in all Cuba. We have the presence of French immigrants in this territory. They found refuge in the eastern part of Cuba in the era of the Haitian Revolution. Beside, there are black Africans who brought to work in the plantation economy, mainly the sugar industry, which at that time was a stronghold of our economy. At that time sugar and coffee were strongholds of the economy of this territory. After the middle of the century we counted also with the presence of Chinese immigrants. We also have the presence of Moors, especially from Arabia,
Morocco whose descendents still are in the territory.
Clear, we have now an economic and commercial outlook as it existed. Man comes first and we talked about the factor of immigration in this
La Maya in this part of the colony was an important colonial centre because of the economic activities I mentioned like the sugar and the coffee industries. During the colonial era there were more than sixty sugar mills registered. Later in the neocolonial period only two were left as a consequence of the wars. These are the same ones we still have nowadays:
“Salvador Rosales”, and “Los Reinaldo”, formerly known as, “Algodonal y
Precisely, Professor Maritza Elias Bañez. There is a lot of history here. Let us concentrate now on the period after independence. Which were the repercussions of the racial conflict of 1912. What happened in La Maya?
If there was something that restrained the process of formation of the Cuban nationality and the creation of the nation
it was, precisely, the “the fear of the blacks”. I think that the abolition of slavery was one of the contributions of the Ten Years War. Slavery was not abolished by the Ten Years War itself, but it was proclaimed in the epoch known as the fertile truce. Undoubtedly,
the war contributed to that success. I would say that the war contributed to everything. It was a fact that the slaves joined the liberation army and were accepted by each of their military chiefs regardless the color of their skin. All they were interesting in was independence and liberty and that forged unity. Martí refers to that in his commemorative discourse of October 10th in which he said “The man who is a friend of Benny, or as he says, from Congo, who went to fight and give his life together with the men of the color of the tyrants”, referring here to the white Cubans. We have precedents of those men in the history of Cuba, who broke with those taboos and social
conventions. I would say, although it continued to exist in this territory after ’95 until the doorsteps of the neocolony. Just like in the whole of Cuba here too the lashings of racial discrimination were suffered. The old veterans of the war saw
Martian ideals frustrated -- the independence ideals of social equality as projected by Martí in the Montecristi Manifest. In that he also stated that the republic should be just for all and for the wellbeing
of all, without distinction of race, sex, social positions. None of that was
followed by the neocolonial system. With the United States, the neocolony began to
develop and this motivated the rise of different manifestations of more popular and humble sectors which included blacks and mestizos in this country. From there groups like the Independiente de Color emerged and had a large
assembly on a national level. The Morúa Delgado Ammendment contributed to a great extent…
What year was that and what was the content of that Morúa Delgado Ammendment?
That was of 1910. We are referring to a historical personality of color, who did not know how to honor
either the place he should have chosen or the side he should have defended. The Morúa Ammendment brought
consequences to the black and mulatto population of this country. Why?
Because of the prohibition of political parties [of people of color]. Many historians
have lready exhausted this theme and still it is discussed a lot, about the
tactical errors of a man of the stature of Pedro Ivonnet…
This name sounds Haitian, Ivonnet.
Yes, his ancestors comes from over there. Pedro Ivonnet, just like his followers
and those of Evaristo Estenoz, the maximum representative. I am now talking about the case of the blacks,
mulattos, and mestizos, who at a national level formed the group Independiente de Color
and made some tactical errors. Because, the name itself they gave the group was a tactical error. Since they should never have...
But, why tactical error?
Because I consider that they should never have called it Movement of the Independents of Color. All attacks that the blacks,
mulattos, and mestizos received were based on that. The problem of independence was not only a
problem of blacks and mulattoes. It was also of the whites and all who were oppressed.
If we analyze this from an ethnological and a linguistic point of view then, I am inclined to think that the formulation “INDEPENDIENTE”, would
mean that they did not want to be dependent neither on the Liberal Party nor
on the Conservative Party of that moment. And they must have had their reasons! Or were they not capable of thinking?
On the contrary. We wrote on the history of the ethnical composition of our area and I was so lucky to get that assignment. We did a rigorous analysis and went through the census data and
figures which could show us the ethnical composition of our territory. We came to the conclusion, to our honor, and I say, to our honor, because they say that where the blacks,
mulattos and mestizos are, there is Cuban identity. It is proven and it is still the same, that one of the territories with major composition of blacks, mulatoes and mestizos is in the municipality of Alto Songo
[of which La Maya is a part]. So, I have always wondered very deeply, that if the Movement of Independientes de Color, as many stated, and
as bourgeois historiographers still maintain, that this movement was racist, then how would it be possible that this movement could be so deeply rooted here and that La Maya would be the only village of Cuba that the Independientes of Color took and burned?
And, the members of the Partido Independiente de Color were not only people of dark skin or of color.
There were also whites!
Descendants of Spaniards or Iberian – Spanish, as I usually refer to them. Look at the terminologies created or invented in slave trade epoch. Some people tend to forget that stage, Profesor Maritza. What
happened? At first the Portuguese and the Spaniards referred to people from Africa as “piezas de India”. You remember that, right? Afterwards they invented terminologies
such as “negro”, “mulato”, “sambo”, and those became the
official language of the slave trade which was worse yet than slavery.
Much more inhumane!
Well, there is the situation. Nowadays we say: “african descendents”. Africa has gotten all
Who does is not from the Congo is from Carabalí!
Thanks to the fact that we are here, right?
Yes sir, thanks to that.
Of course! Let us go back to the Partido Independiente de Color, it seems to me that a society like this which knew the prohibitions of all gatherings and organization of
cultural associations by people of African descent that the existence of cabildos was inevitable to solve problems within the this social group
After independence one could see that nobody followed the guidelines of the Protesta de Baraguá, but they did
follow the guidelines of Pacto of Zanjón.
That is why!!
Calixto García belongs to that group. If it was not like that, today we would not have the United States naval base, precisely, in Guantánamo! If Maceo
had been there he would never have accepted that joke!
Those are ideological tendencies which go on and on, they rise and come down over and again, Unfortunately, our reality is like that. The plantation
economic system wherever it existed with different classes and nationalities or races, if one wants to define it like that, always manifests itself in the same manner. The Partido Independiente de Color, it seems to me, was then a response to the social disorder introduced and left behind by the same colonial and neocolonial systems.
That is exactly so. Furthermore, blacks, mulattos, mestizos and other humble sectors saw limitations being imposed on them with the support of the government. They did not see their yearnings and interests satisfied.
As a class they saw themselves marginalized, rendered invalid to occupy public and political positions. All this because blacks,
mulattos, and mestizos were being too marginalized. And much more was done in this sense during the government of Tomás Estrada Palma. As we know,
this was the first government of the neocolonial republic in which the grounds for
imperialist penetration was laid. A direct USA intervention took place around that
period of the neocoloniy. And we know also that direct interventions were
solicited and applied by the North American government any time they saw their interests in danger or there existed the possibility of a revolutionary situation
on the island. Precisely in1912, due to the emergence of the Movement of Independientes de Color, there was a direct intervention of North American imperialism. The objective was to try to suffocate this movement, which had chosen the eastern zone as the preparation center of their
actions. Their major leaders came to the eastern zone and very much so in Alto Songo in the area of Santiago de Cuba.
Are we also speaking of La Maya?
Yes, we are speaking of La Maya. Well, we say Alto Songo, because from of the political administrative point of view, the municipality was termed like that, but now it is known as Songo La Maya.
It is undeniable that the incidence and participation of the movement took place in La Maya. The party had a very big reception by the people. Precisely, when one takes into account the composition and the big amount of militants of the Partido Independiente de Color who were present in this territory of La Maya, Yet, the situation was difficult for the Partido Independiente de Color. They encountered negative attitudes from the business people here who refused to supply them with provisions.
Businesmen of what ancestry?
European, Iberoespaniards, fundamentally, sometimes French, who had all their interests over here.
So, they refused to give them food, military supplies and things that the Independients needed. Because, it was not the idea of Estenoz and Pedro Ivonnet to estabish themselvese
definitively in La Maya. I want to make the question of the fire very
clear. The refusal of a businessmen to provide to the Independientes annoyed one of the
Independientes terribly and he threatened the businessman with burning his establishment down if he would not sell him the provisions. The area historically knew the problem of water shortage, which does not exist at present. The threat of the Independiente was put into practice, but I would say it was not premeditated. He did not calculate the consequences that such a fact could bring with it. From an
urban planning point of view, the majority of the houses were made of wood. All the business establishment were of wood. By setting fire to that store, the fire extended itself throughout the village and there was no way to extinguish it because of the scarcety of water. From there it became a tradition to shout “Alto Songo. se quema La Maya”, “Alto Songo. La Maya is burning” , asking Alto Songo for help because La Maya was really in flames.
Not one single moment can we think that the Partido Independiente de Color had the intention
of burning La Maya down, because if the greater numbers of the party were in La Maya, it was impossible that they could act against the interest of their comrades. And neither would they take those type of measures when they were aware of the fact that
a major percentage of blacks and mulattoes were concentrated in La Maya. I want to also say that there is an anecdote which is being narrated with regards to
the actions of the Independientes. It is about a young white railroad worker who was injured in the actions of that day. When he was brought to the presence of Evaristo Estenoz, they asked him: What shall we do with him? We should remember the bad reputation they used to impose on the Independents. The slanders employed to express that they even used to abuse white women and that they dedicated themselves to beat up white men. The intention was to make the movement be seen as something racial
acted on by blacks against whites to found a republic of blacks in Cuba. That is not at all true!
And it is a very grave historical error to state that! Moreover, I think that a bit of wickedness is
applied to discredit this important sector of the country’s population. So, when the boy was conducted to the presence of Estenoz, he impeded and forbade
that any type of reprisals be taken against the boy and freed him, let him go away immediately.
I was also lucky to interview when we started our research work Elena Sumitiel, who presently does not live anymore, who was a member of the movement and even occupied a position in the party. We discussed exhaustively on aspects related to that history in our territory. We examined data which could approve or disapprove all those affirmations that the bourgeois historiography dedicated itself
to producing regarding the Independientes de Color and the pacification of La Maya. Still that does not make me deny the problem of the fire was a tradition in the history of this village. It is also redundant to say that during the independence war it was a tradition to set fire as mechanism.
In La Maya a big quantity of sugarcane and fields and mills were set on fire during the independence war. One of the reasons why, after the Great War and the ‘fertile period,’ the number of sugar mills
was considerably diminished in this area was due to the daily application of this
Besides, the fact that those mills were not highly development and their proprietors did not have a privileged economic situation either. The majority of them lived a meager life and were absorbed by the big factories which appeared at the beginning of the neocolony. Those were ‘Baltoni’ and ‘Algodonal’.
Perfectly, Professor Maritza Elias Dañez, history professor here in La Maya. I think when hearing you speak about the different stages of struggle of the people of this village, especially in 1912, that a lot was said against men like Antonio Maceo, Pedro Ivonnet, and Estenoz. A lot of slander was said even against the people of La Maya as well those of Oriente.
Now, you said Estenoz, we did not talk about the lthe “preventive
intervention”. I refer to the imperialist intervention in the case of the
landing of the marines to crush the movement of Independientes de Color. It provides us with elements to prove the historical character of the hostilities and the way a big number of militants of the party of La Maya were massacred. Consequently most of them fled to a village belonging to our municipality known as Mayarí Arriba. Over there in Alto de Mícara, which was chosen as hiding places, they were besieged, harassed and more than three thousand (3000) Independientes de Color were executed.
In the case of Estenoz, he was…[Maritza remains silent, meditate profoundly] now,
I tell you with a lot of modesty, when that happened it could be said that the movement was beheaded, after the occurrences in La Maya!!
They killed the leaders!
They killed the main leaders like Estenoz, Pedro Ivonnet, and the way in which they were
massacred! A very…way! Yes, I think it is one of the questions which proves the inhumanity not only of the republican government of Cuba, but the hands of imperialism
which was also involved in all of this. The “big stick politics” was in force in Cuba. Those were the
periods of indirect interventions, afterwards followed the direct interventions through the ambassadors. But, I believe that the more cruel ways and methods
used by the United States against Cuba, precisely, was the landing of troops and marines over here in the zone of Santiago de Cuba. And, this was not the first
or the last time it happened.
You know that at that time since the Platt Amendment already in 1903 or much earlier, already around 1898 when the United States decided to participate in the war against Spain, they went to Cuba and there were a series of
events that preceded all that we have discussed. Archives tell us that
they were invited by some elements who still had ideas typical of the Pacto of Zanjón. Those were the folks who had nothing in common with the ideas of Antonio Maceo, on the contrary they hated and had severe contradictions with Maceo. Those were the people who called
in the American imperialists to participate in the war. And the American archives tell us that they decided to participate, because when looking at the ethnic composition of the liberation movement in Cuba, there was a significant representation of people of color. They then
said: “we cannot allow the darkies to take over after independence in Cuba”. That was one of the major
cultural motivations for their participation in the independence affairs of Cuba. And that was settled in the Platt
Amendment of 1903. To make headway with our dialogue I must say that both the elite in the United States and the elite inside of Cuba knew of all this. What else can we expect then? If we look at the press around 1812 issuing all
those caricatures of Estenoz, Ivonnet and other members of the Partido Independiente de Color, that was the most
horrible manifestation of what we know and remember of the Jim Crow epoch in the United States. All of
those who invited the United States to participate in the independence war knew perfectly well that that
that country was segregationist and racist by then. What else could be expected? You certainly would agree with me. Fine, we came here to inform us through dialogue with you
here in La Maya. And, this pre - university school’s name is?
“Elvira Cape Lombard”
Our guest Maritza Elias Dañez, historian par excellence. Leave all
modesty and let me talk. Because, I speak from my heart with you as a sign of solidarity with your people of La Maya and Alto Songo, which you represent, the people of the Master of Masters of radio hosts of Cuba…
Eduardo Rosillo y Charron…
If he hears me he knows that I mentioned the two surnames of his father..
No problem, I will tell him hear each and every thing of our dialogue with you. We want to thank
you very very much for your collaboration, Consider this a form of expressing our solidarity with the people of La Maya, above all with all the Brothers and Sisters of
the Partido Independiente de Color who perished in 1912. They have a very
dear spot in the heart and memory of our peoples of the Caribbean and the world. Our eyes are not closed and their example will forever be alive with us.
Many thanks to you too for giving me the possibility to disseminate a part of the our local history. For, I believe that the history of the territories is very important. It is the way that we have to make the world see what we have and how we have contributed even with a little grain of sand to the national history. And these question are the matters we have contributed to the history of Cuba. I believe that all of
us have always something to say. Besides it is beautiful that our history is disseminated and that the people get to know it. Sometimes there are people who maybe because of ignorance when evaluating facts and formulating criteria commit injustices, but this is a way to put everybody in the place they
Absolutely, I totally agree with you and we thank you once more. You inspired me to see reality with more clarity. I am closer to the heart of the people of and also to your heart Profesor Maritza Elias Dañez.
Many thanks again to you too.
Interview carried out in La Maya, Cuba: May 5, 2001
Photoreporter: Luis Bennett Robinson