Partido Independiente de Color
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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[who?] 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 (a part of the Spanish–American War). It was composed largely of veterans from the war, specifically the officer corps. 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 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 in view of the number 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 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 Gómez 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 of 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
By 1912, the PIC’s attempts at reform of the existing system had been effectively boxed out of the political arena and the movement was no longer able to even attempt to represent their views through the political system as it existed then. In addition, their appeal for support under article II of the Platt Amendment had also been rejected by the US government. As a result of this extreme level of disenfranchisement, protests were mobilized through Oriente province and Cuba more generally. These protests and the disruption to the socioeconomic status quo which they posed led these protests to be depicted through the most powerful and racially charged lens possible at the time. This can be seen in newspapers such as El Día which described the protest and the broader movement which it represented as:
“a racist uprising, an uprising of blacks, in other words, an enormous danger… Such uprisings are moved by hatred, and their purpose is negative, perverse; they are only conceived by something as black as hatred. They do not try to win but to hurt, to destroy, to harm, and they do not have any purpose. And they follow the natural bent of all armed people without aim and driven by atavistic, brutal instincts and passions: they devote themselves to robbery, pillage, murder, and rape. These are, in all parts and latitudes of the world, the characteristics of race struggles.”
Because of this racial depiction and the threat to the status quo which this movement represented, it was met with repression and violence. The Cuban government even appealed to the US government for support to quell the protests under the Platt amendment and received support from US marines. with the assistance of US troops, 3,000-6,000 Afro-Cubans were killed in a choreography of violence which sought to reinforce the status quo and continue the exploitation of Afro-Cubans.
Pedro Ivonnet, a leader of the PIC, characterized the exclusion from the political sphere as “the epilogue of the trial of la Escalera.” His statement and the article reflect the reality that this outburst of violence was yet another event in a much longer struggle for the relationship between free blacks and the state in Cuba. The two sides of this debate, the reformers who sought to reform the existing system and the revolutionaries who wanted to entirely reshape the landscape can both be seen in the post-independence period. With the reformers having already failed, the protests of 1912 represented the revolutionary wing’s attempt to influence and reshape the landscape, but the violence it was met with prevented them from achieving their goals.
The Cuban Race War was short lived but the repression in the aftermath was 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.
- Perez(1), 167
- El Día, May 26, 1912. as cited in Aline Helg, Our Rightful Share: The Afro-Cuban Struggle for Equality, 1886-1912, (University of North Carolina Press, 1995)
- Musicant, I (1990). The Banana Wars. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co. pp. 70–71
- Aline Helg, Black Men, Racial Stereotyping, and Violence in the U.S. South and Cuba at the Turn of the Century. Comparative Studies in Society and History. (University of North Carolina Press, 2000) 576 - 604.
- Ivonnet, Pedro (11 September 1910). Copia de la carta del general P. Ivonnet al general y presidente de la asamblea municipal de Santiago de Cuba. Archivos Nacionales de Cuba: Reivindicacion.
- 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[permanent dead link], 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, JSTOR 2503962
- Helg, Aline. "Race and Black Mobilization in Colonial and Early Independent Cuba: A Comparative Perspective", Ethnohistory, 44. 1 (1997), 53-74, JSTOR 482901
- 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, JSTOR 2515461