Partido Independiente de Color
The Partido Independiente de Color (PIC) was a Cuban political party composed almost entirely of African former slaves. It was founded in 1908 by African veterans of the Cuban War of Independence. In 1912, the PIC led a revolt in the eastern province of Oriente. The revolt was crushed and the party disbanded. It is believed Esteban Montejo, subject of Miguel Barnets "Biografía de un cimarrón," was a member of this party, or had close associates who were.
The Partido Independiente de Color (PIC) in Cuba started after the Cuban War of Independence (often referred to as the Spanish-American War). It was composed largely of veterans from the war, specifically the officer corps.(Perez(1),167) The party was started by Afro-Cubans in response to the mistreatment they received at the hands of the revolutionary government. This was a result of the feeling of white superiority in early 20th century Cuba. The PIC advocated free university education as well as other civil liberties for the Black community. This movement eventually culminated in an armed struggle called the Cuban Race War in which U.S. Marines took part. This they did under the Platt Amendment, which authorized unilateral intervention by the U.S. in Cuban affairs. The PIC and its inability to find a diplomatic solution to Cuban racism can help us understand the political strife Cuba suffered in the early 1900s.
The Early PIC
The PIC was founded in 1908 by veterans from the Cuban Revolution. The Afro Cuban veterans felt the revolutionary Cuban government was mistreating them. Racist policies were being practiced in Cuba at the time including misrepresentation in the federal government of Afro Cubans. The PIC holds the distinction of being the first black political party in the western hemisphere.(Helg, 60) This is significant due to the amount of African Americans who were politically active at the time in the United States and elsewhere. Alin Helg would suggest that this is because Black people would conform to the white multi party system and support a candidate that didn’t have elitist views. By this logic the PIC was a radical new idea that involved building a new independent party. This had not been tried before due to the risk involved.
The Afro Cubans were experiencing problems of land restructuring. Since the war for independence, United States businesses had been quietly taking up the land in the Oriente. This was on the far eastern side of the island, where most Afro Cubans lived and worked. The peasant land was taken over by the United States, which caused a dramatic shift in the standards of living. With more of their land being taken by US companies the Afro Cubans were becoming disenfranchised.(Perez(3),517)
The Ideas of José Martí
José Martí was a martyr for Cuban Independence. He believed that all Cubans should concentrate on being Cuban regardless of race, ethnicity, or creed. Martí thought that the only way for Cubans to retain their sovereignty was through nationalism. He believed in presenting a strong unified front to oppose United States influence in Cuba.(Figueredo,123) The issue for the PIC was that they felt like they were being left out of this nationalist view. This presented the separation of worldviews between the PIC and Cuban Nationals with regards to the teachings of Martí. The PIC invoked the teachings of Martí stating that they were being left out of the nationalist dream. The federal Cuban government stated that they needed to conform to the nationalist dream as the government described it.
The PIC, upon its formation, took votes away from the ruling liberal party. It also stirred up such a conflict that President José Miguel Gomez was forced to take action. Gomez ordered the party disbanded under the Morúa law which outlawed political parties based on race.(Perez(1), 168) The Morúa law was aimed at creating the illusion Cuban nationalism while favoring the white Cubans. The Cuban white supremacist social construct was meant to repress the Afro Cubans. In some ways it was successful such as keeping the Afro Cubans from holding political office. The Afro Cubans also found ways to use the system to their advantage. They used the nationalist system to acquire education claiming that if there was no race division in Cuba they should be able to get a degree just like any other Cuban. This mindset allowed the Afro Cubans to use the nationalism, created to oppress them, to their advantage.(Fuente, 67)
The Platt Amendment
The Platt Amendment was used by the PIC much the same way they used the social constructs described by Alejandro de la Fuente. When the Morúa law was passed the party leaders sent a petition to Washington DC. The PIC wished to invoke the third article of the Platt Amendment. The third article of the Platt Amendment states that the US will protect the life, property, and individual liberty of citizens of Cuba. This plea for US help shows the PIC again being willing to call upon constructs not necessarily meant for them. The petition to President Taft asked: “to accept our most solemn protest in the name of the Independent Party of Color against outrages against our persons and our rights by the armed forces of the Cuban Government”. (Perez,(2),151) By calling upon the Platt Amendment the PIC was trying to do to the US government what they did to the Cuban Universities. They appealed to the idealistic words that the United States had put on paper to collect on these values. The United States didn’t accept the plea of the PIC.
The Uprising of 1912
With their political means of fighting gone the PIC resorted to armed protest to achieve their goals. Some foreign property was burned. Fighting broke out in May 1912. The PIC rebels were centered in Oriente. As a result, this is where most of the fighting took place. Some say as high as 3000 people were killed. Many of those killed were unarmed Afro Cubans who did not take part in the fighting. The US Marines participated in the action on the side of the Cuban Government but only engaged the rebels in one incident.
The Cuban Race War was short lived but the repression in the aftermath was just as brutal. Many Afro Cubans were killed whether or not they were involved in the struggle. This military action goes to show just how much race relations had deteriorated in Cuba. It also signified the instability of the revolutionary government.
- Race in Cuba After the War of Independence, History of Cuba.com.
- Aline Helg. Race and Black Mobilization in Colonial and Early Independent Cuba: A Comparative Perspective. Ethnohistory, Vol. 44, No. 1 (Winter, 1997), pp. 53-74.
- Aline Helg. Our Rightful Share: The Afro-Cuban Struggle for Equality, 1886-1912. The University of North Carolina Press (1995). ISBN 978-0-8078-4494-6
- Centenario de la fundación del Partido Independiente de Color, Fernando Martínez Heredia, prensa-latina.cu (2006).
- Spanish language Wikipedia's es:Partido Independiente de Color.
- Figueredo and Argote-Freyre, D. H. and Frank, A Brief History of the Caribbean, ed. New York: Facts on file, 2008.
- Fuente, Alejandro de la. "Myths of Racial Democracy: Cuba, 1900-1912", Latin American Review, 34. 3 (1999), 39-73, http:/www.jstor.org. (accessed 12-20-2011).
- Helg, Aline. "Race and Black Mobilization in Colonial and Early Independent Cuba: A Comparative Perspective", Ethnohistory, 44. 1 (1997), 53-74, www.jstor.org. (accessed 12-20-2011)
- Perez, Louis A., Cuba Between Reform and Revolution, 3rd ed. Latin American Histories, New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
- Perez, Louis A. Cuba Under the Platt Amendment, Pittsburgh PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1991.
- Perez, Louis A. "The 1912 "race war" in Cuba", The Hispanic American Historical Review, 66. 3 (1986), 509-539, www.jstor.org. (accessed 12-20-2011)