Cuban History Marches Backward / Dimas Castellanos

For any society, it will be frustrating if its history, instead of progressing forward, heads backwards by leaps and bounds. This is the case for Cuban society, whose situation with regards to freedom and rights is the same or worse than it was leading to the Ten Years’ War.

In mid-nineteenth century Cuba, when the contradictions between a colony and a metropolis seems to be approaching a reformist solution, events took a different path. The Information Board, convened by the Overseas Minister with the participation of the Cuban commissioners in order to outline a colonial reform project, failed. Instead of the island reducing its tax contribution to 6%, a tax of 10% was imposed, which affected the interests of the island’s landowners, especially in the eastern central region.

Let’s look briefly at some of the decisive events.

On September 15, 1868 the Spanish monarchy was replaced by a provisional government, which continued to deny for the Island the freedoms claimed for Spain. The confluence of increased taxes, the lack of freedoms and a growing national sentiment, coupled with external factors unfavorable to Spain, resulted in separatist insurrection becoming the order of the day, which was structured from the Grand Eastern Lodge of Cuba and the Antilles (GOCA)*, an irregular Masonic body that became the center of discussion and investigation of social and political issues.

On October 10, 1868, the independence movement started in the East and in a short time extended to the center of the country. The need to coordinate the efforts of rebel groups led to the convening of the Assembly of Guáimaro, on April 10, 1869, which enacted the first Cuban Constitution of an eminently democratic character, based on the division of powers. However, ten years after the start of that civil-military exploit, the conflicts between military leaders, and between them and the President of the Republic, and between the legislative and executive branches, together with the warlordism and regionalism, put paid to the patriotic effort.

On November 14, 1876, when General Maximo Gomez had to leave the command of the invasion of the West — the largest operation of this war — the strategic initiative, both militarily and politically, was taken over by Spain. The enforcement of the policy of pacification policy enforcement fell on fertile ground. In September 1877, troops from Holguin established an independent canton, one of the regiments of Jiguaní faced the enemy, and in October, President Estrada Palma was taken prisoner. A few days later, representatives of the Chamber entered into conversation with the Spanish forces. And finally, the Central Committee, in charge of peace negotiations, on February 10, 1878, signed a document that ended the independence project; a war which, as José Martí said, “No one let us down, but we let ourselves down.”

From the historical point of view, the result of this enormous effort can not be measured only by the failure to achieve any of its basic objectives, but also by the current state of Cuban society, separated by a century and a half from the Cry of Yara, which had launched the war on October 10, 1868.

Then and Now

At that time, in exchange for independence and the abolition of slavery, between 1879 and 1886 the Press Law, the Law on Meetings and the Law on Associations were approved and put into effect and endorsed in the Spanish constitution. Thanks to these were created news organizations, economic associations, cultural, fraternal, educational, mutual aid and instruction and recreation, trade unions and the first political parties in Cuba. Thanks to the amnesty provided for in the Covenant and the permissibility for the exiles to return to Cuba, José Martí, Juan Gualberto Gómez and Antonio Maceo were able to set foot on Cuban soil once again.

The result speaks for itself: when he arrived in Cuba Gerardo Castellanos, sent by Marti to prepare the new uprising on the island, found a movement already organized in several provinces.

Currently, in the XXI century, those freedoms are limited, but those favoring the continuation of the struggle for independence are absent. Even worse. Each year, upon arrival at October 10, the official press, in tribute, recalls the uprising with events, articles and speeches, while at the same time meticulously going after every civic demonstration of freedom, as evidenced by the continuing repressive actions and the huge number of peaceful opponents arrested.

What did all this immense effort for independence, freedom and dignity of Cubans bring to the present in which we live? How is it possible that people who bled and suffered in the name of freedom are now in such a state?

*Source: Torres-Cuevas, Eduardo y Oscar Loyola Vega. Historia de Cuba 1492-1898, Formación y liberación de la nación. La Habana, Editorial Pueblo y Educación, 2001, p.210

November 14 2011