History is a succession of events, first experienced, and then interpreted by men, a peculiarity that impregnates them with a certain subjective component. The difference between those two moments — the experience and the interpretation — is one in which objective events happening at a concrete moment can suffer various explications over time, depending on interests and ideologies. Thanks to this peculiarity it is possible to return to the events of the past and draw new interpretations, as valid as those that preceded them.
The signing of the Pact on Zanjón, on February 10, 1878, was a practical and consistent manifestation of what was possible at the time, and so contains valid lessons in matters of politics. However, in Cuba, where intransigent acts have always been given precedence over those that did not completely and immediately result in victory, they are denigrated and so lose whatever utility they might contain.
Much has been written and diverse are the opinions of that February 10132 years ago, when the Cuban forces capitulated to the Spanish, but those prevailing are those that correspond to the dominant ideology, which has been nurtured by the Marxist thesis that considers violence as the engine of history. Such views are widespread through official information and the system of education that simplifies our history to present it as the united march of a people against its enemies. Hence the prominence of the Protest of Baragua over the Pact of Zanjon.
According to the Colonel in, and historian of, the War of Independence, Ramón Roa, the failure of that war lay in the internal problems, including indiscipline, mutinies and uprisings that occurred from 1874 until the end of the war. “A country’s independence,” said Roa, “was tied to personal independence,” an abyss from which emerged deep mistrust of all men. He added, “We welcome the theme of Independence or Death; but never dreaming we would have to struggle with it ourselves: I don’t mean to say the vast majority of Cubans, who were indifferent, who were with Spain, or who could not manage to save us, but with ourselves. “
For his part, General Maximo Gomez, he argued, “Has tried to find a victim who make responsible, but has not attempted to study the facts, know the state of the army, and resources that he could have had, the more or less aid … received from the emigres and howthe people of Cuba have responded in general to the call of their liberators. During the war, in its most brilliant period, which was1874 to 1875, the army could count on 7,000 men ready for combat.”
For these reasons Gómez demands that “the responsibility be divided among everyone, the blame belongs to the Cuban people and not the heroic few.” On another occasion the Generalissimo reminded us of the atrocities committed by the Cuban volunteers. There wasn’t a village in the country, however small, that did not have a section of volunteers, all Cubans and with Cuban leaders.
The undisputed historical fact is that the War, which began under the leadership of white plantation owners, ended under the leadership of blacks, poor whites and mulattoes, and the war which reached the central provinces ended up confined to certain regions of the East. To this regional and sociological evolution corresponded different attitudes, which explains why the war culminated in two ways and two scenarios: The Pact of Zanjón in Camaguey and the Baragua Protest in the East.
On February 10, 1878 inZanjón, most of the forces accepted the peace plan presented by General Martínez Campos. In exchange for independence, Cuba would receive the same political, organizational and administrative conditions enjoyed by the island of Puerto Rico; in exchange for the abolition of slavery,freedom was granted to the Asian settlers and slaves who made up the insurgent ranks. As the pacts are an expression of the correlation of forces of the parties, the Zanjón was simply a reflection of it.
In Mangos de Baragua, a place chosen by Antonio Maceo, there was the famous interview-protest. The Bronze Titan (as Maceo was known), explains Figueredo Socarras, decided to protest against the manner of ending a war that had lasted a decade, but if the protest were energetic and eloquent, new hostilities would break out. The end result was reflected in the words of Captain Duarte Fulgencio “Muchachos, el 23 se rompe el Corojo,” a statement of intention to break the pact on March 23, which served as support for the next attempt for independence.
In the 15 days between March 23, the day hostilities were resumed, and on April 7, the day the fighting stopped, Cuban troops attacked the Spanish forces and they, in compliance with superior orders, did not respond to the machete charges, and instead merely responded with cries of Viva the Peace,” until finally the Cuban troops stopped the attacks. Then the representatives abroad returned their powers and resigned their positions, and by agreement of the Provisional Government, General Maceo left for Jamaica on May 9, 1878.
Zanjón was not everything, but it was what was possible at the time, so it was a political fact. They did not achieve independence from Spain nor the abolition of slavery, but there were the freedoms of press, association and assembly, which specified in detail in publications and associations within the island (political parties, trade unions, newspapers, etc.) that strengthened the activity of Cubans and paved the way for the resumption of the struggle for independence. Those liberties gained with the Pact of Zanjon, and now removed, were the foundation for all subsequent social movements, including those that culminated in the seizure of power in 1959.