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Ricardo Riquenes Herrera

Eugène Godfried
in Dialogue with 
Ricardo Riquenes Herrera

on the Partido Independiente de Color
&
the 1912 Massacre of Blacks In Guantánamo, Cuba

EUGÈNE: It is a pleasure sharing this microphone with the distinguished colleague and friend Ricardo Riquenes Herrera, historian and History Professor at the Humanities Faculty at the Pedagogy Institute here in Guantánamo, capital of the most eastern province of the Republic of Cuba, which bears the same name of Guantánamo. Professor, thank you for accepting our invitation. 

RICARDO: Thanks to you for inviting me.

EUGÈNE: The pleasure and honor are ours. Guantánamo is a very important territory, but people from outside do not know much about it. When I say this I am thinking of very important events which took place in this zone since the colonial epoch started in 1492 when the Genovese Christopher Colombus representing the Catholic throne set foot on soil here trying to get to Asia, China, Japan and India looking for land and wealth. Today we mainly are going to talk about Guantánamo, the Partido Independiente de Color and the massacre of 1912. Still I suggest to first of all have a look at some unknown characteristics of this territory. What does the name Guantánamo mean in the Arawak language of the Tainos?

RICARDO: Land between rivers.

EUGÈNE:

Land between rivers. Indeed, there is a significant amount of rivers in this zone. As far as I know the Tainos used to name it ‘WATANABO’, but the Spaniards changed it into ‘GUANTANAMO’. Yet, nobody asked for those changes and nobody asked them to come and organize anything here. I am putting myself in the place of the Tainos. How would you characterize the demographic and ethnographic composition of Guantánamo? 

RICARDO:

Guantánamo is a big melting pot just like the whole of Cuba. The population is comprised of immigrants from abroad and also from other Cuban areas. In other words, our ethnic surrounding has been formed according to the influx of migrants coming from the island itself and from the exterior. That makes us generally a ‘mulato’ people. And we could say that without any fear.

EUGÈNE:

Excuse me Professor, we are talking about immigrants from where? 

RICARDO:

I am talking about immigrants from Europe and the Caribbean region. The latter is even stronger than that originating from the European region. There were important moments. I am not referring to the initial stage of the colony, but especially when the migratory force became stronger at the end of the Spanish colonial domination and the beginning of the influx of Catalan and Asturian immigrants who settled in Guantánamo. That epoch knew the stimulation of Antillean immigration. So, I am referring to those streams of immigrants, who are the last component who determined the outlook of the Guantanameran population.

EUGÈNE:

I assume there also was an African presence among the immigrants who were brought as enslaved men, women and children from Africa and the Caribbean to Cuba?

RICARDO:

Oh, yes, there was a strong presence of Africans in the Guantanameran region. This zone was economically based on sugar and coffee production. And it is known that the coffee plantations in Guantánamo depended on Haitian immigration. That immigration came in mainly around the Haitian Revolution that led to the proclamation of independence by Jean Jeacques Dessalines on December 1st of 1804. There is African presence here of Africans imported directly from Africa, either through official or clandestine channels. We know that there existed a strong clandestine slave trade on the Guantanameran coasts. That is proved! Guantánamo because of its natural characteristics was proper for the settlements of Cimarrones, or Maroons not only from around here but also from other parts of Cuba. They used to come from Matanzas and La Habana. This area had the highest figure of ‘palenques’. The most significant one among all was: “El Frijol”.

EUGÈNE:

Let us clarify for audience and readers what is the meaning of ‘palenque’.

RICARDO:

Palenque means: a place where a community of black maroons settled. That is a palenque. Here in Guantánamo more than twenty (20) palenques, were located all over the area known as Sierras de Sagua Baracoa. From “El Frijol” over there in the vicinity of Baracoa to Maluala to the western angle of the territory close to Holguín. So there was a tremendous quantity. Even the press of that epoch and the writings of the colonial government stated that these were the strongest palenques of Cuba. 

EUGÈNE:

Precisely, Profesor Ricardo Riquenes Herrera. We are speaking of the maroons, the African presence, the Iberospanish presence in all its variety as you pointed out in a very illustrious manner. Now when speaking also of the Tainos, the first inhabitants, I simply do believe that there are descendents of Tainos here in Guantánamo, as far as I can see around me. Or, I am very much mistaken and will have to change my glasses? 

RICARDO:

I do believe that there are descendents of Tainos in Guantánamo. But Tainos themselves as such are not present here.

EUGÈNE:

Well, since our purpose is different today, we will hold a special dialogue on this issue with you sometime in the near future.

RICARDO:

Alright that is fine, as you wish.up.gif (925 bytes)

EUGÈNE:

We will fly now to 1903 and we reach to the Platt Ammendment. Cuba is already independent since 1898. Quintín Bandera had to revolt. Others had to rise up too, because as representatives of the poor and humble sectors especially of African descent they did not see their dreams come true after independence of the nation. On the contrary, things were serious for these sectors as we can interpret from history. I simply do not want to believe that Quintín Bandera did not know was he was doing! Many said even more horrors of him. Many also said that Antonio Maceo did not know what he was doing and had a series of questions on his actions. They said that he wanted to re – introduce the Haitian Revolution on Cuban lands among other absurd statements of that nature. They even said that he was a racist, e.g. man like Calixto García. While others bear the name of ‘Father of the Homeland’, ‘abolitionist’ and all that. Maceo never had one slave! 

RICARDO:

No, absolutely no!

EUGÈNE:

We saw that in the year 1912 there was another problem in Cuba which affected the people of African descendent. Under the leadership of personalities like Evaristo Estenoz, Pedro Ivonnet and others, they necessarily had to create the Partido Independiente de Color. What could you tell us in that regard? 

RICARDO:
Well, 1912 has its historical antecedents. I will mention them quickly. Since the beginning of the colonial period in Cuba, especially in 1515, when the first black slaves called ‘negros ladinos’ were introduced in Cuba, from that moment till the end of the colonial era, a population of free blacks was created who for different reasons got their freedom. Because, no Black man came as a free man to Cuba. Yet, most likely to show the ‘charitative’ image of their masters some were put into liberty on religious festive days. Many times those were the older ones among them. Others for merits gained or because their price was taxed and the money could be obtained through the one thousand different forms in which enslaved African hand labor was employed in Cuba. The possibility was even also created for the Black man to own black slaves while he himself was black. So it was not only a problem of the white man towards the black man, but also of the black man towards himself which was produced in this symbiosis, this cultural, social and political amalgam in Cuba of those moments. 

Now, it should be pointed out clearly that the most interesting antecedents were the ‘fear for the blacks’ and the possibility of a ‘race war’. That way of thinking was not a typical phenomenon restricted only to the Cuban Spanish immigrants (‘criollos’). It was part of what we could call a sinister policy of the Spanish government.. By encouraging the fear for the blacks and the possibility of a race war in Cuba they managed to manipulate their domination over both the ‘criollos’ and the blacks at the same time. So, the ‘criollo’ was shaped with the concept of a race war to be provoked by the blacks. The ‘criollo’ was also used to separate, denigrate and humiliate the black man. Martí denounced this policy stating, “how the Spanish government used the negro to divide the Cuban people”. These manifestations were not only characteristic to the revolutionary stage. In Cuba a racist society was formed while at the same time the Black man was occupying a space in the Cuban society as a free element. 

We can say that hand crafts were almost forbidden in Cuba. That was seen as something not for whites, not for noble people. And, the Black man found in this broad spectrum of activities a way to, inclusively, elevate himself culturally and economically. That converted him into a competitor in the cultural and economic fields with the masses of the white population. The Whites could not allow this to be the case to the benefit of the Blacks. Moreover, this led to the strengthening of racism, especially in las Villas, Matanzas, and in la Habana, where the plantation economy was the strongest. In the rest of the territory, the economy did not have the same weight as in the western zone. Therefore, in the western zone of the country a staunch racist society was created. In the central and eastern zone, given the population component, that was not alike. This makes me state that at the beginning of the neocolonial republic the remnants of this racism represented by the Cuban sugar oligarchy, as well as the commercial and banking sectors of the country, which were the ones to finally indirectly seize power in Cuba, gave continuity to the same racial traditions with which this social class manifested itself in Cuba during the colonial epoch. Imperialism rested upon them in order to strengthen its domination over the country. A class possessing neither prestige nor political leadership in Cuba. Thus, the people did not follow them since they were not revolutionaries and they were always against the revolution. Yet, they boarded the intervention wagon and at the time of victory they showed up among the group of winners. 

The Spaniard was treated as an ally and the Cuban who had been the ally of the North American militaries was then treated as belonging to the conquered people. That was said by Gómez in his reflections of the moment. Periquito Pérez, Pedro Agustín Pérez, Military Chief here in Guantánamo also said the same thing. Therefore, the character of racism on the side of colonialism far from lessening itself in the just born republic on the contrary accentuated itself more. The Black man who was imposed all types of limitations in the epoch of colonialism, now in the epoch of independence realizes that the same ones who exploited him before, the same ones who ruled before are the same ones ruling him now again. There were no changes. 

The Estrada Palma government did not operate with a policy which made it possible for the black man to occupy an outstanding place in the Cuban population, besides some ‘white Negroes’, such as Martín Morúa Delgado. He was an autonomist who called the blacks to join autonomism when Martí called everyone to unite in function of Cuba’s independence. This one who later incorporated the feat of independence and who was not really in combat at all, but who never was really in function of giving total support to the process in which the island was enclosed at that moment. This is one of the men who appear in the constitution, or one should better say, in the constituents of 1901 and from the beginning signed in favor of the Platt Amendment. He said, that otherwise the North Americans had to leave Cuba if the Amendment was not signed. So, the Americans did not leave. But, there he was. Moreover, it must be said that he had the influence of some fighters for Black rights in the United States. He sided with the ideas of Booker T. Washington who upheld reformist positions calling for equalitarianism of the the Blacks in the United States. He started to impose the same ideas from then. 

There is an interesting element in Martín Morúa Delgado that I think pertinent to point out and that is the following. Since he has no leadership position from a revolutionary point of view, and since he combated Juan Gualberto Gómez , who did win the prestige of the Blacks since the founding of the Societies of Colored people in Cuba, Martín Morúa Delgado tried to convert himself based on his presence in the power organs of Cuba into the leader of the Cuban Black movement. Inclusively, there are some authors who quote him as a leader of the workers when he in reality did not represent the interest of workers. It is also a fact that he was one of the few Blacks who succeeded in being a member of the Cuban Senate from the early days. He became the President of Senate and through his mediation appeared the Morúa Amendment in 1910, which will disable the Partido Independiente de Color. up.gif (925 bytes)

EUGÈNE:

Thus, it was this Morúa Amendment which opened the way for the abolition of the Partido Independiente de Color. Is that what I understand that you are saying?

RICARDO: 

Yes, that is right. By means of this law, which more than a law, it was always stated that it was an addition to the Cuban electoral code or to the Cuban electoral law. This law with which the whole process to disable the Party of the Independientes de Color was initiated. Of course there is something that calls the attention. Martin Morúa Delgado is black and why a Black man proposing an Amendment to eliminate a party founded by Blacks? It has to do with what we stated earlier on. Martín Morúa Delgado in his Ammendment which was a proposal, he was the President of Senate and the right arm of José Miguel Gómez, President of Cuba. 

EUGÈNE:

To which political party did he belong then?

RICARDO:

Partido Liberal, the ruling party at that moment. Fine, but I say it calls one’s attention that it was a Black man, because to the party it was precisely important to attract Black people in its ranks and files. And no one else better than a Black man to propose the Amendment. In so doing any type of charges of racism would be taken away from what could be seen as an action of the Whites inside this liberal party.

EUGÈNE:

Yes, yes quote and quote, yes.

RICARDO:

It should also be said that Martín Morúa Delgado was a very valuable figure to José Miguel Gómez. 

EUGÈNE:

¿José Miguel Gómez was the leader of the Partido Liberal/Liberal Party?

RICARDO:

He was the leader of the Partido Liberal. However, this party had other characteristics, which we could touch on afterwards. But, Martin Morúa Delgado proposed the establishment of the national lottery and he became the first president of the national lottery. 

EUGÈNE:

Ahaa, that is how they paid him!

RICARDO:

That also contributed to the reestablishment of the hazard games with cocks. So that indicates how far things went.

EUGÈNE:

Cock – fighting and that? 

RICARDO:

Cockfighting, yes and that shows where the corrupt thinking of this man reached, who could have done much more as a journalist. He could have denounced a lot in his articles, but in practice he converted himself into a henchman of the administrative apparatus in power at that time. That is why I call him a ‘white negro’, rather than a ‘negro,’ a real ‘negro’ [black man].

EUGÈNE:

Very clear. On the other hand, you mentioned Juan Gualberto Gómez, also a Black man, right? 

JUAN GUALBERTO GOMEZ

RICARDO:

Also a Black man. Juan Gualberto Gómez is Martí’s friend. Martí’s man of confidence in Cuba. He is the representative of the Partido Revolucionario Cubano in Cuba. He is the man who adopted the principle of the need of cultural uplifting of the Black man so that he could be able to contribute to the social economic and cultural developments in the new conditions of the nation. But, the precedent element was to incorporate the Black man from the ‘sociedades de color’/societies of colored people’ to the independence struggle whenever the revolution breaks out. Martin Morúa Delgado says that these were the most inappropriate organizations to ever have been created in Cuba. The objective was different. They were rather created in order to organize the Blacks for the uprising to come about with the outbreak of the revolution. 

EUGÈNE:

Fine, speaking of Sociedades de Color. Which were the examples of those societies here in Guantánamo? 

RICARDO:

Of that historical moment we are talking about at the beginning of the neocolony, there were no Sociedades de Color yet established here. On the contrary, there existed in Cuba a lot of Sociedades de Blancos/Societies of Whites. After the occurrences of 1906 the Societies of Coloreds started to be formed.

EUGÈNE:

What happened in 1906, Professor?

RICARDO:

In 1906 there was the war known as ‘la guerrita de agosto/the little War of August’ against the reelection pretensions of Estrada Palma. The first treason of the Liberal Party to the Black people who supported it at that time and which led, and I always remember this episode, to the assassination of Quintín Bandera, the General of the three wars. I said that at that moment the liberals betrayed the Blacks, because for a handful of money they finished the conflict, since they had already reached their objective. 

EUGÈNE:

Did that conflict involve Quintín Bandera?

RICARDO:

It was a conflict between political parties for the presidential succession.

EUGÈNE:

Liberal and Conservative parties?

RICARDO:

Liberal and ‘Nacional’ parties, because the Partido ‘Conservador’ was born afterwards.

EUGÈNE:

Perfectly, and we proceed, Professor Ricardo Riquenes, with these very clarifying explanations you are providing us in this very important dialogue on the occurrences which are related to the popular history of Cuba, especially of Guantánamo. Now, let us get back to 1912, the maneuvers of Martín Morúa Delgado, which led to the prohibition of the existence of the Partido Independiente de Color. What happened after that decision was taken? 

RICARDO:

First of all we must state that the betrayal by the Liberal Party of the interests of the Black leaders, such as, Evaristo Estenoz, Pedro Ivonnet, Surín, made it clear to these leaders that the Black man would never achieve any benefits within the framework of the parties existing at that time. And, therefore they started to propose the creation of an organization of the Blacks themselves, which could be able to channel the interests of the Black population in the complex political panorama of those days. Because, they did not feel themselves represented elsewhere. Inclusively, in the partial elections of 1908 they proposed a number of leaders on the Liberal lists searching a post for a representative, not even for president. And, those leaders were excluded from the lists. Therefore, this finally proved to them that they could not obtain anything from those parties. In the year 1908 right after those elections they decided then to found the Partido de los Independientes de Color. The Partido Independiente de Color started to structure itself firstly in the western part of the island and thereafter in the rest of the nation. They also participated in the 1910 elections, but were not successful at all, since they had not reached the necessary strength yet to deal with the two established hegemonic parties on the national public ring. However, they already gave notion of strength at that moment and they were beginning to convert themselves into a serious opponent. That reality was becoming visible. It is also true that the Morúa Ammendment, which appeared precisely in the year 1910, indicates of the fear the elite.up.gif (925 bytes)

EUGÈNE:

Those political parties feared that the Partido de los Independientes de Color would convert itself into a political force which should to be taken into consideration. So, is the Morúa Ammendment then of 1910?

RICARDO:

It was created in 1910. However, there are some authors like for example a Jamaican by the name of Lauren Lewis, who claimed that the Amendment was put into effect in 1929. It seems to me that there is a mistake here. He stated that the Party was installed in 1906. By then the movement did not exist as a party yet. But, anyway the appearance in 1910 of the Morúa Amendment is an indicator that the party was already becoming a considerable force which was menacing the hegemonic policies of both Liberals and Conservatives. Because, the Conservatives had just established themselves as a party after the disintegration of the National Party. And the Liberals were fearing because of other questions. Above all they feared the big internal division. And, it is my opinion that Martín Morúa Delgado feared to lose the support of the Black element inside the Liberal Party, for he would be left without a social base on which he could continue to stand as representative in the political organs of the country. Therefore, the Amendment came into life at that moment as an action disabling any type of party to be formed considering race or economic interests of one group. That is what Martín Morúa Delgado stated. But , when we analyze the program of the Partido Independiente de Color it did not at all propose the separation of races. Inclusively, it gave space to everyone. There were members of the Party who were not Black, but White. Of course they were not high in number, yet there were members who were White. 

On the other hand, it supported the labor movement. It demanded the eight hours per day work shift, free education, labor right, labor protection, the establishment of tribunals between capital and labor to solve any type of conflict, and the elimination of death penalty. In other words, this was a party with a very advanced program for that historical moment. 

EUGÈNE:

Very humanistic!

RICARDO:

Very humanistic! Sometimes I get the impression that their program was very populist. Especially, since it always searched for the recognition of all the exploited sectors of the country. Maybe this quite advanced projection made it become a potential enemy of the traditional parties whose programs did not at all define any type of concrete action to solve the problems of the masses.

I believe that from that moment on the traditional parties deliberately started the big fight against the Partido Independiente de Color. They were also the ones who supported the Morúa Ammendment. 

EUGÈNE:

So then in 1910 the Morúa Ammendment was proposed and two years later the 1912 conflict broke out. What happened really? 

RICARDO:

In 1912 the conflict and why the conflict? Because, the Independientes de Color started to, precisely, denounce the Amendment. They said that the Amendment could not be applied to them, because they had nothing in common with what the Amendment pursued. But, before entering further into the conflict allow me to tell you two things. The Amendment provoked a big division inside the political force of the country and at the same time inside the nation’s Congress. Between slanderers and benefactors. 

Some were liberals and others Conservatives. I think that it is for the first time in Cuba there were these two sides of Liberals and Conservatives. Quite like in the United States. In the eyes of public opinion these were two sides where one could change from one end to the other. For example, the war that England waged against the North Americans in 1807 brought division in North America. So, now here you find a group of former Liberals on one side or we should better say of republicans and on the other side a group of generalists. And when the conflict arose the parties were changing from one side to the other. That happened exactly with the Morúa law, notwithstanding the fact that the parties continued to exist. There were Liberals who supported the existence of the Partido de los Independientes de color, like there were Conservatives who also did support. But, what calls the attention the most is the defense to outright harsh expressions made by the Conservatives through Biondi.

EUGÈNE:

Through whom?

RICARDO:

Through Biondi, Biondi. What happened? As I see it, the Conservative Party above all had to win over the support of the Independientes de Color, since the Liberals were also looking for that support. And they needed it, because in terms of political hegemonism the Conservatives were below the Liberals. They were in opposition, but still they knew they were below the Liberal Party. The force of the Liberals had two elements. Firstly, the historical Liberals with the President and secondly, the pure Liberals of Zayas.

EUGÈNE:

Alfredo Zayas?

RICARDO:

Yes, Alfredo Zayas. Two veins of liberalism divided among themselves, because the secret formula of the liberal pact was not met with. That was the candidacy of Zayas to become president of the country. And, moreover, neither did José Miguel Gómez give away the seats to the Zayists as was convened. That led to division inside the party. The Conservatives, therefore, knowing that they were in disadvantage tried to seek the support of the Independientes de Color. Till the last moment they expressed their aversions of the Morúa Ammendment. On their side, the Liberals knew that if the Independientes de Color grew as a party with their membership mainly comprised of blacks, that this would weaken them too. As a matter of fact they would not come out as the winner of the 1912 elections. 

That is why reaction from that moment on began a ‘racist crusade’ against the Partido Independiente de Color. They disabled the public acts of the Partido de Independientes de Color.

EUGÈNE:

Could we say that it was an action of both Liberal and Conservative parties?

RICARDO:

It was a racist action of the most reactionary elements of the Cuban society! They dominated the press organs, especially “El Diario de la Marina”. From the start they were among those to most fiercely attack the Independientes de Color calling them racists for what they were doing. While the whites were the first ones to install institutions only for whites, pavements only for whites, parks only for whites, schools only for whites. And, now they are calling others racists for the mere fact that they came together to defend their rights assured to them by the constitution of the republic. This disabling will provoked the occurrences of 1912.

EUGÈNE:

You were narrating the prohibitions, which were they?

RICARDO:

They were forbidden to hold public programs. All political parties which participate in a campaign hold public programs be it in theatres, streets, etc. Like what happened here in Guantánamo, for example, in the village of Jamaica. Evaristo Estenoz held a public discourse in the open air with a tremendous amount of public. Here in Guantánamo he was received by a great number of persons. It means then to say that they were holding these public acts even though they were forbidden. But, the government allowed it to happen. And why did the government admit it? It would be interesting to reflect on that. It seems to me that was behind what happened in 1912 there was a whole political maneuver. I would say that liberals needed a strike effect in order to win elections of 1912. Coincidently, these occurrences took place in 1912 and elections were in November 1912. The Liberal Party needed a letter of victory, as I see it. The Conservative Party could not allow itself to remain outside of the winning forces against the Independientes de color. That is why the whole country followed the racist line the phenomenon presented in May of 1912.

EUGÈNE:
In March or May, which one was it? 

RICARDO:

In May, in May of 1912. The uprising initiated in the finca of Velona.

EUGÈNE:

Where is that?

RICARDO:

That is in the vicinity of the village of La Maya. In the farm at Velona. 

EUGÈNE:

La Maya before belonged to Guantánamo.

RICARDO

Yes it belonged to Guantánamo. There the uprising led by Pedro Ivonnet took place. Evaristo Estenoz was not there then.

EUGÈNE:

Pedro Ivonnet used to live in the eastern zone of Cuba?

RICARDO:

He owned a farm in Velona near to La Maya. That is the farm where the uprising took place. People were invited to a party in the farm at Velona. That was the point of departure for the rebellion, which entailed all the territory in a triangular form between Santiago de Cuba, San Luis, and Guantánamo, including Caney de las Mercedes. All that happened around the area surrounding the city. But it includes hot areas like Yateras, the Vínculo region, which were also in movement and uprising. I want to say that this movement came into being in protest against the Morúa Ammendment and for it to be abolished. I would say that following what was almost established as a tradition in Cuba, every time a President did not accept the results of a situation then the opposition would stand up and react. That is what happened in 1906 with the Liberals against Estrada Palma. I think that the Independientes de Color understood that through force they would have achieved having the Morúa Ammendment annulled. But, they did not succeed. I think that liberalism made use of that momentum to obtain the patent they thought they needed for their projections in the presidential elections. That is why they let the Independientes de Color go ahead and continue to move on and on. They just let the movement boom to then turn around and harshly crush it.

EUGÈNE:

They just let them run.

RICARDO:

They just let them run. They allowed them to burn down some sugarcane plantations, some small bridges. And, I would say that other structures alike were burnt down by the owners themselves so they could charge their insurance companies. The same thing was done by the owners of the railway system themselves, just to get the insurance money. So the Independientes de Color did not commit that many abusive acts as alleged against them. The propaganda published by the Diario de la Marina was morbid. I remember an article in the Diario de la Marina which said something more or less like this: “Don’t you feel the black grip on your white face”. Because they were accused of being violators of women, thieves, robbers, trouble makers. The only thing they really wanted to achieve with this so called “armed” movement, which they called “armed protest” was the annulment of the Morua Ammendment and to simply go to elections. Because, Evaristo said it: “If they do not allow us to go to elections, nobody will go and vote in Cuba!” A great number of Blacks were mobilised in the uprising at the farm of Velona. The movement struck the country. 

EUGÈNE:

In Guantánamo?

RICARDO:

Now the movement struck the country, but the fundamental force of the movement was here in Oriente, the East where the major Black population of Cuba was concentrated at that moment.

EUGÈNE:up.gif (925 bytes)

Is it the area known nowadays as Guantánamo, Santiago de Cuba, Holguín and Las Tunas? 

RICARDO

A part of Holguín. The movement did not have great strength in Las Tunas and neither in Camagüey.  In Camagüey, from the early moments of the outbreak of the rebellion some 400 Blacks of the Independientes de Color branch of Camagüey issued a public proclamation which came out in ‘El Camagueyano’, saying that they did not support the movement. Other leaders over there were put in jail right away. 

Therefore, Oriente was where the protest was really active. In Oriente as always.. Oriente was the first to stand up in 1868, then in 1895, and it was again the first one to rise up in 1912. That means that Oriente always played a leading role in those types of popular movements. But, they let them run, I would say they let them run intentionally in order to mash them down with the kind of violence they mashed them down with. Moreover, the movement did not have arms. Some say that they were armed and that they got those arms from the US naval base. No, the US naval base did not give them any arms. When you analyze the actions by themselves you will notice that there was no confrontation, since there were no arms. They had some revolvers, some machetes and so on. Yet, when you hear the reports, for example, sent from Guantánamo to the governor of Santiago de Cuba informing that a pair of rural guards dissolved a party, then the following question arises. How could only two soldiers make a party with numerous members flee and still there was absolutely no harm done to either one of them? So in practice there was a lot of misinformation, the dimensions of the uprising was grossly exaggerated and that led to the violent form in which it was crushed, in addition to orientations received from the United States.

EUGÈNE:

Profesor Ricardo Riquenes, how was the violence applied by the elite forces?

RICARDO:

Well, the National Army started operations after an exchange of communications took place between the governments of the United States and José Miguel Gómez. Because, they told José Miguel Gómez that if he did not solve the problem of Cuba rapidly that they would be obliged to carry out a new intervention in the country. That also motivated the letter of Sanguily, Secretary of Government.

EUGÈNE:

Who was the President of the United States then? 

RICARDO:

Teddy Roosevelt was the President of the United States at that moment. The correspondence took place between him and José Miguel Gómez. That motivated the protest by Manuel Sanguily, Secretary of Government then, saying it was not necessary.

EUGÈNE:

His name was, Sanguily..? 

RICARDO:

Sanguily, Manuel Sanguily, Secretary of Government of Cuba, who informed them that there was no need for any intervention in Cuba. A solution could be given to the internal conflict from inside the country itself. The letter sent by the United States government in this regard motivated the beginning at that time of the actions by the National Army. 

EUGÈNE:

It incited it.

RICARDO:

It incited and set it in motion and at the end of the day it was this National Army which conducted the big repression which took place in Mícara. 

EUGÈNE:

¿Mícara? Where is that located? Near to Guantánamo? 

RICARDO:

In Mayarí, close to Santiago de Cuba. Mayarí Arriba. Over there in the zone of Mícara, in the Sierra de Mícara is where the most serious phenomenon occurred. Because that is where the army surrounded the zone according to the words of Monteagudo himself, who was then Chief of Staff of the army in action. People were hunted there. A real hunting of human beings. It is estimated that near to 3000 people were killed there. So, the people tried to come out, I remember now a movie in which a bush was put on fire and as the black slaves tried to flee they were then hunted and pursued. Exactly the same happened in Mícara. The Army was posted there to hunt down anyone who showed his or her head. 

EUGÈNE:

Now in May 1912! Right?

RICARDO:

In July, the killings took place in July of 1912. Those killings took place at Mícara. What happened afterwards? Well, in those killings, allow me to clarify, the leader of the movement Evaristo Estenoz died. They killed him there. The autopsy reveals he did not eat for three days. Only herbs were found in his stomach. Meaning that they resisted to the utmost. So, until they could not take it any longer. A few days later occurred the killings at Vega Batea, also in the neighborhood of Sierra de Mícara, which was the second most critical moment.

EUGÈNE:

Around Santiago de Cuba.

RICARDO:

Yes also in the zone of Santiago de Cuba. And, in the same way the death of Pedro Ivonnet took place near el Caney. So, Pedro Ivonnet succeeded to evade the circle imposed around Mícara, but was assassinated over there near to el Caney. About the protagonists of the crime there are also things said. It is said that he, the protagonist, was Arsenio Ortiz, who later became the butcher of Holguín. Arsenio Ortiz,was known in the dictatorship of Batista. There are also other people who claim that they were the ones who killed Pedro Ivonnet They were always members of the army, which indicates to us the way he was assassinated. Because, they captured and imprisoned him, they applied the fleeing plan and in that way they killed the other leader of the movement. Thus, that was done with great anger in their body. That uprising gave way to what became known as the second re-concentration of Cuba. Because, the population of Guantánamo, Santiago de Cuba were reconcentrated in the city. The countryside started to be abandoned, diseases broke out and there were even some deaths as a consequence of that second phenomenon. Now, it should also be pointed out that even though the North Americans said that if we did not solve the problem that they will come, even though the Cubans did solve the problem, still the North Americans meddled. In 1912 a third intervention took place with the disembarkment of marines in Guantánamo, and in Santiago de Cuba. But, moreover, its distribution along the entire railway until the village of San Luis with men at all the sugar factories.  [See 1912 Cuban Pacification Campaign, MARINE CORPS HISTORICAL REFERENCE PAMPHLET, A Brief History of the 2d Marines, 1970 and The 1st Marines in Cuba 1906-1913]

EUGÈNE:

In other words there was an active North American military presence during the occurrences of 1912. How about the US naval base at Guantánamo, did they operate from there?

RICARDO:

From there departed the contingents on the way to entering Guantánamo. However, I can’t say that they participated in combats, since it did not happen that way. They did not combat. Their mission was to protect properties of North Aamericans. But, the disembarkment occurred and the intervention did take place.

EUGÈNE:

And the menaces were manifested! 

RICARDO:

They were manifested, of course! Very seriously, very seriously, both in the eastern region as in La Habana. The President of the United States put pressure all the time on the government of Cuba to find a solution. It should also be stated that the movement served as an undercover for the robbery of the public treasury, because José Miguel Gómez was authorized one million to combat the movement. 

EUGÈNE:

To whom, I did not hear well?

RICARDO:

José Miguel Gómez, President of the republic.

EUGÈNE:

Oh yes, President Gómez.

RICARDO:

Yes, President Gómez, was authorized one million. He asked for seven thousand and they gave him one million to combat the uprising! 

EUGÈNE:

From the United States?

RICARDO:

¡No, no, from here, from here!

EUGÈNE:

From the bourgeoisie?

RICARDO:

From the National Treasury!

EUGÈNE:

From the National Treasury, Holy Mary!

RICARDO:

That is why I said that the movement served to cover up the robbery of the public treasury, because the repression of the movement hardly lasted a fortnight in the strongest areas. There was nothing else. When a movement is suppressed within only fifteen days that indicates two things. Firstly, the strength of the army by the number of arms and men it used. And secondly, the little strength of the opponent, which did not really provide resistance to it. Because, besides Mícara there were no combats around the protest of the Independientes de Color. That is why I say, that it was crushed with bitter anger. And the aspect of racism with which it was repressed was noted even when the soldiers of the army were returning to Havana. In Camagüey, the Blacks had lots of complaints. Because, in the wagons riding back the soldiers carried dolls representing Blacks hung on a stack. That also shows the racism with which the movement was repressed then.

EUGÈNE:

Racism broke loose completely!

RICARDO:

Completely loose! 

EUGÈNE:

Profesor Ricardo Riquenes Herrera, were there any leaders of the Partido Independiente de Color here in Guantánamo?

RICARDO:

Oh yes of course, Eugenio Lacoste. He was one of the most important ones.

EUGÈNE:

My name sake.

RICARDO:

Yes, your namesake. He was one of the most important leaders with the highest number of members in his branch of the party. And, there were eleven branches here in Guantánamo, which did not only include the zone around here, but also the zones further away like Yateras, Jamaica, and also the zone of Filipina. The movement was broad. There were eleven (11) branches and each one had a chief. What indicates to us also that there was no unity of action between the parties. Each one took its own little space.

EUGÈNE:

Communications were also more difficult in that epoch. I guess.

RICARDO:

That is right. The only means of communications was the railroad. The rest was done by walking or through the roads. 

EUGÈNE:

At present one communicates through computers, emails, internet and so on and so forth, but in that epoch those possibilities did not exist. Pofessor Ricardo Riquenes Herrera, you are Guantanameran, you defend the national flag and the history of your people here in Guantánamo by talking to us about the events of 1912. Is there anything else you’d want to add?

RICARDO:

I can tell you that 1912 marked the end of a moment of climax in the social struggles of Blacks for their total acceptance by the big social component of that moment. That means that from 1912 the constructing labor of the Cuban nation will not have the Black man as the major acting element, because of the limitations he had. Independently of some personalities who always excel such as the national poet Nicolás Guillén, who inspired Regino Boti, one of the most important poets of the first thirty years of the republic. But, as a matter of fact the Black man could not count on what he wanted. From the decade of the twenties he had to integrate his struggles within other sectors. Like with the farmers, for example, in Realengo 18. The labor movement, in particular with the sugar movement. But, with its own identity and as an organized political force, the Black man never had that again. 

EUGÈNE:

Was that forbidden by law? 

RICARDO:

By the law of the nation and above all by the law of men. From the most reactionary forces who never gave any space to the Blacks as an important element in the society. It wasn’t until way in the neocolonial era during the decade of the 30’s and 40’s, that men of the stature of Jesús Menendez will appear again in the Cuban Senate. 

EUGÈNE:

And, who was Jesús Menéndez, for the information of our audience and readers? 

RICARDO:

Jesús Menéndez was the most important sugar workers leader of the pre-revolutionary epoch. The man who struggled for the ‘diferencial azucarero/sugar differential’, who organized the sugar worker’s unions and impelled all the struggles in the sugar sector and Cuban labor movement at that time. Moreover, a brother of Lázaro Peña, our captain of the working class, founder of the CTC [Central de Trabajadores Cubanos].

Lázaro Peña, founder of the CTC

EUGÈNE:

¿Lázaro Peña was of which epoch?

RICARDO

Lázaro Peña covers the entire stage of the thirties. He was the founder of the CTC.

EUGÈNE:

And, Jesús Menéndez & Lázaro Peña are of African descent?

RICARDO:

The two of them are of African descent.

JESÚS MENENDEZ. 
Fighter for sugar workers rights



EUGENE:

Professor, you really inspired me. You make me restless in wanting to know more about the history of Cuba, Guantánamo, the eastern zone of Cuba. And I am convinced that the same applies to our listening and reading friends from around the world. They are also sensing the same things you woke up in me. 

RICARDO:

Thank you very very much.

EUGÈNE:

The sound engineer and photo-reporter, Luis Bennett Robinson, is making a sign to me indicating that I am cruel, because I had you talking for more than an hour without attending you correctly. Please, help yourself with this malt drink and let us finalize. What will be your message from the bottom of your Maceist, Martian, Guantanameran, Caribbean heart to the people of the Caribbean and the world?

RICARDO:

Well, to the peoples of the world my main message is: Struggle for solidarity among men to make the world one fatherland. That will also make a Martian aspiration real, that is to conceive the fatherland as humanity where all men have equal rights, equal conditions, a space in which we can contribute to enhance this, our natural habitat, the planet earth. 

To the Caribbean people, firstly, the affection and big hug from the people of Cuba, Secondly, let us unite and convert the Caribbean in our natural surrounding with all its beauty, so that all of us could enjoy it equally. Especially, Above all let us take care of it, because if we do not take care of it we shall be destroying our habitat and we would be destroying ourselves. 

EUGÈNE:

Professor Ricardo Riquenes Herrera, I believe that the teachings that Cuba gave us, especially the eastern regions like Guantánamo serve as a source of inspiration to our peoples of the Caribbean. Thanks a lot again. 

RICARDO:

Thanks to you for inviting me. 

May 6, 2001
Guantánamo City,
Cuba

PHOTO-REPORTER:

1. All photographs - Luis Bennett Robinson
2. Computer images: Engineer Emiliano Obret
3. Editing: Djibo Sobukweup.gif (925 bytes)

 

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