We Don’t Understand Each Other: The Myths and Facts of Baragua

The meeting between both generals, the Spaniard and the Mambí, took place on March 15th, 1878, at a remote point in the rural geography of Cuba.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 3 September 2019 — The phrase is attributed to Antonio Maceo, general of our Wars of Independence and one of the essential pillars of the foundational theogony of the Cuban nation, whose feats and proverbial value in the insurgent camp, added to his majestic bearing and mestizo complexion, earned him the nickname of The Bronze Titan.

“We don’t understand each other,” it’s said to be the definitive answer given by the famous Cuban warrior to Spanish general Arsenio Martínez Campos, architect of the Covenant Agreement or Pact of Zanjón, under which the colonial power of the Island put an end to a bloody war that had extended for almost 10 years between the Spanish army and the Cuban insurgent forces.

The meeting between the two generals, the Spaniard and the Mambí, took place on March 15th, 1878 at a remote point in the Cuban rural geography, Los Mangos de Baraguá, and since the Pact of the Zanjón imposed peace without having achieved either Cuban independence or the abolition of slavery -the main objectives of the insurgent army’s fighting program- General Maceo refused to accept it, and declared a truce of only eight days before the continuation of a war that, clearly , the Cuban patriots had already lost.

Writings exalt the intransigence of the distinguished Mambí leader, and has been impressed on the national imagery from times of the Republic to the present day as an example of dignity and patriotism

For purposes of instrumentation of History it matters little that just 55 days after proclaiming the continuity of the armed struggle, the leader himself appealed to the mediation of his adversary, Arsenio Martínez Campos, to leave the Island for Jamaica — supposedly to raise funds and support for the independence cause — leaving in the mountains of Baracoa a handful of guerrillas without sufficient supplies and with hardly any food, who ended up surrendering and accepting the capitulation of the Zanjón in mid-June 1878, thus accentuating a defeat that is not reflected in the official teaching textbooks in Cuba.

Writings, on the other hand, exalt the intransigence of the distinguished Mambí leader, a fact that ended up in the History of Cuba as the “Protest of Baraguá” and has been impressed on the national imagery since the era of the Republic to the present day as an example of the dignity and patriotism of the hero who refused to lay down his arms, even though most of his fighting companions, in obvious “betrayal” of the patriotic ideals and the blood spilled on the battlefields, had embraced surrender.

Perhaps there is no hero as conducive to the official discourse of the Castro regime as Antonio Maceo. He is the epitome of national identity, both for his remarkable physical appearance and for the strength of his character. Tall, handsome, strong, elegant, patriotic, intelligent, energetic, brave and — as icing on the cake — mulato, Maceo not only embodies the patriotic ideal of independence, sovereignty and Cubanness embroiled in the heat of the independence fights, but he also symbolizes it from that racial mixture that distinguishes us as a people, the result of the fusion of the two most representative anthropological components of the Cuban ethnos: the Spanish white conqueror and the black African slave.

Thus, beyond the warrior’s will, Cuban historiography mutilated Maceo into a rigid archetype and Baraguá marked the starting line of an almost infinite succession of “symbolic victories,” a phenomenon that has become increasingly recurrent in the last six decades, consisting of putting on glory makeup and selling every defeat as a victory.

Dismal fate for a hero who, with intelligence and courage, demonstrated the ability to win numerous battles against his adversaries in arms, to be remembered for an episode where his stubbornness and ineptitude for civilized dialogue were revealed, and to accept the futility of the sacrifice of continuing an already lost war.

That said, and beyond the obvious manipulation of history, it is not difficult to understand that Maceo transcended his simple human dimension to become a national legend — an unblemished hero, so pure, elevated and unattainable that made him seem divine — and in addition, his legacy as a uncompromising warrior was transmuted into a legitimizing myth of a political power and a communist ideology, which are hard to compare with the avatars and true yearnings of the famous Titan.

These days, when tensions between the governments of Cuba and the United States are increasing after the activation of Chapter III of the Helms-Burton Act, the spokesmen for the Castro regime have once again recalled the unfortunate episode at Baraguá, decontextualizing it through TV spots in which a famous actor repeats the well-known phrase as a mantra, which in no way relates to the powerful enemy to the North: “We don’t understand each other.”

Dismal fate for a hero who demonstrated the ability to win numerous battles against his adversaries in arms, to be remembered for an episode where his stubbornness and ineptitude for civilized dialogue were revealed

Few Cubans today know that, after the setback Zanjón entailed for the longings for independence in the 17 years of tense peace between the end of the Great War and the outbreak of the one in 1895, the definitive abolition of slavery took place, and Cubans were granted the exercise of rights that are currently denied to us, such as the existence of political parties — autonomists and reformists — that played an important role in the awakening of the political interest of large Creole social sectors, as well as new press, literature and opinion spaces that exerted a definite influence for the impulse of Cuban national thought.

Moreover, the Zanjón Covenant recognized the independentistas as legitimate interlocutors, a sign of respect that the Cuban dictatorship refuses to show before a growing opposition that has been in an unequal peaceful struggle for decades.

The Pact of Zanjón, even with the defeat it meant for the independentistas, opened spaces in a Cuba approaching the end of the 19th century which today, 20 years after the end of the 20th Century, constitute aspirations. So, after all, it turns out that the phrase applies with more reason today than at Los Mangos de Baraguá, because when speaking of autocratic power and the governed, it can be said, with all relevance: “No, we do not understand each other.”

Translated by Norma Whiting


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