El Partido Independiente de Color or PIC)

Preserving memory 

Miguel Barnet • Havana 

A CubaNews translation
by Odilia Galván Rodríguez
Edited by Walter Lippmann. 

As is usually the case, history is written by the conquerors and those who are defeated are described through the eyes and psychology of the ruling classes. Such was the destiny of the Independent Party of Color, humiliated and outraged by the politics and history written about them by the bourgeoisie, during the neocolonial republic. All Cubans, owe a great debt to those patriots who, on August 7, 1908, a day like today, one hundred years ago, led by Pedro Ivonnet and Evaristo Estenoz, in the latter's home, founded a party that was stigmatized for almost one hundred years. 

It is time to reflect on that movement in its historical context. Its founders were mainly veteran officers in the Liberation Army, who won sufficient merit on the battlefields for a Free Cuba. However, that same New Republic excluded them from what Martí had expressed as one of its important principles, "With all and for the good of all." 

The Morúa Amendment, – named for its author, Martin Morúa Delgado, a legislator from Matanzas, a mestizo, and the son of a Galician father and a Lucumí mother – was indiscriminately used to censure the Independent Party of Color.  It raised the illegality of political parties being composed of people from one race or skin color. In my opinion, Morúa’s amendment was not designed for this purpose – quite the contrary, he formulated it to avoid discrimination, so that political parties would be made up of all the races that make up our nationality; he himself was a mulatto, a pure mixture of Spanish and African. He had previously voiced his opposition to any trade unionist parties being formed. 

The party, apart from claiming civil rights for Cuban blacks and mulattos, had a broad social agenda for the public benefit of the more humble strata of society – irrespective of color.  This included the right to strike, the eight-hour workday, health and other benefits and the right to education including at the higher levels, which if achieved would have been an unprecedented social victory in the history of the continent. 

Not only were "people of color" -- as was the term of the day -- included in the party or among its sympathizers, the PIC was essentially a Cuban party. Those who did not comport themselves as patriots were their oppressors, the veritable traitors who committed an unforgivable holocaust. 

In the year 1908, Cuba was occupied militarily for the second time by Yankee soldiers. As we know, the nascent empire used all the methods at its disposal to economically and politically dominate our country.  Racial and social discrimination played a part in its strategy as it had also in the United States and this scheme instinctively applied to the island as well, which left traces which have yet to be erased. 

The occupation would continue, beginning May 20, 1909, and in 1912, the government of Major-General José Miguel Gómez, also well known as, "The Shark" – a name that also described his fellow supporters and godfathers, slaughtered members of the PIC.  This action not only demonstrated the government's deep racism, criminality, and attachment to the dominant northern and Creole oligarchy, it also violated the most basic ethical principles, as these were their former comrades-in-arms. As Salvador Cisneros Betancourt had already declared in the senate: "The numbers of Blacks in the war were greater than whites and there was never a revolt of blacks against whites. Blacks will never try to divide themselves from whites (…) ". Gomez’s so-called standing army was nothing more than a paramilitary army of the time, a gigantic death squad, which was a prelude to the repressive law enforcement bodies existing today in Latin America. 

Something similar had happened with his predecessor Tomás Estrada Palma, in la Guerrita (small war) of August 1906, when he ordered the assassination of the Major General of the Mambi Army, Quentin Banderas, stained by a republic which was becoming increasingly distant from the ideals of the Mambis. 

History has not done justice to Independents of Color movement. Cuba’s history has been one of genocides.  Beginning with our aboriginal peoples - the first inhabitants of the island – whose numbers decreased from several hundred thousand during the sixteenth century. To the conspiracy of la Escalera [1]; Valeriano Weyler’s[2] re-concentration camps in the last battle for liberty; the tyrant Fulgencio Batista’s demonstrated methods of torture and terror, which he displayed at Moncada, in city streets and during a rash of assassinations committed during the “Pascuas Sangrientas" [3] (Bloody Christmas); and the genocide of military aggression and terrorism against the Revolution. However, what is almost never mentioned is the genocide of the courageous Cubans who, between 1908 and 1912, defended the rights of Cuban people to join a political party, which at the time was the only one that represented dignity. 

Our best tribute to them this in this centennial year is commemorative plaque unveiled this morning as part of other activities that have taken place at various times throughout this year and that shall continue in following months. 

Making reality with ever more revolutionary conscience, the social justice advocated by those who carry forward our Martían, and Fidelist socialist project - which involves full social equality, is to also recall Ivonnet and Estenoz and all the patriots who followed them. It serves to recognize the human right to knowledge of historical truth. It prevents crimes like that of la Guerrita from reoccurring. It is preserving the memory, of men like Aponte, Estenoz and Ivonnet, which must remain, even one more day, in oblivion. 

Glory to them.  

*These words were shared on August 7, 2008, at an event marking the centennial anniversary of the founding of the Independent Party of Color.


Translators notes:

1- Year of the Lash (in Spanish, Año del Cuero) is a term used in Cuba in reference to 1844. In that year, the Spanish colony was racked by accusations of a planned slave revolt known as the Conspiración de La Escalera. The term "Year of the Lash" refers generally to the harsh response toward the revolt by Cuban authorities, whereby thousands of African-Cubans (both slave and free) were executed, imprisoned, or banished from the island. La Escalera (the ladder) alludes to the fact that slave suspects were bound to ladders and whipped with the lash when they were interrogated.

2- After Marshal Campos had failed to pacify the Cuban rebellion, the Conservative government of Antonio Cánovas del Castillo sent out Weyler, and this selection met the approval of most Spaniards, who thought him the proper man to crush the rebellion. While serving as a Spanish general he was called "Butcher Weyler" because hundreds of thousands of people died in his concentration camps.

He was made a governor of Cuba with full powers to suppress the insurgency (rebellion was widespread in Cuba) and restore the island to political order and its sugar production to greater profitability. Initially, Weyler was greatly frustrated by the same factors that had made victory difficult for all generals of traditional standing armies fighting against an insurgency. While the Spanish troops marched in regulation and required substantial supplies, their opponents practiced hit-and-run tactics and lived off the land, blending in with the non-combatant population. He came to the same conclusions as his predecessors as well--that to win Cuba back for Spain, he would have to separate the rebels from the civilians by putting the latter in safe havens, protected by loyal Spanish troops. By the end of 1897, General Weyler had relocated more than 300,000 into such "re-concentration camps," believed by many to be the origin of the name for such tactics used by the British in the Second Boer War and thus evolved into a designation to describe such methods used by twentieth century regimes as Hitler and Stalin. Although he was successful moving vast numbers of people, he failed to provide for them adequately. Consequently, these areas became cesspools of hunger and disease, where many hundreds of thousands died.

3- Around midnight on December 24, a massacre of revolutionaries was carried out in Holguin, Mayarí, Banes, Puerto Padre, Las Tunas and Victoria, cities on the eastern end of Cuba. The victims were violently taken from their homes, over the protests of family members, by murderers dressed in yellow uniforms, The next day, 23 corpses, mostly of militants of the M-26-7 movement and the PSP, were found riddled with bullets, others were found hanging from trees or horribly tortured. The monstrosity failed to cause panic among the people, on the contrary, their reaction was indignant condemnation, which helped forge a strong unity among all revolutionary organizations and show that insurgency was the only way possible to overthrow the tyranny.

ORIGINAL: http://www.lajiribilla.cu/2008/n380_08/380_08.html



Perpetuar la memoria

Miguel Barnet • La Habana

Como casi siempre, la historia la escriben los vencedores y, por tanto, los vencidos se observan con la psicología y la visión de las clases dominantes. Tal suerte corrió el Partido Independiente de Color, humillado y ultrajado por la política y la historiografía burguesas durante la república neocolonial. Los cubanos todos, tenemos una gran deuda con aquellos patriotas que el 7 de agosto de 1908, hace cien años, un día como hoy fundaron, encabezados por Pedro Ivonnet y Evaristo Estenoz, en la casa de este último, un partido que fue estigmatizado por casi cien años. 

Es el momento de hacer algunas reflexiones sobre aquel movimiento y su contexto histórico. Sus fundadores eran, fundamentalmente, oficiales veteranos del Ejército Libertador, con suficientes méritos ganados en los campos de batalla por Cuba Libre. Sin embargo, aquella república los había excluido de la máxima martiana de “Con todos y para el bien de todos”. 

La Enmienda Morúa, como se conoce por el apellido de Martín Morúa Delgado, legislador matancero, mestizo, hijo de padre gallego y madre lucumí, fue utilizada indiscriminadamente para reprender al Partido Independiente de Color. La Enmienda, en cuestión, planteaba la ilegalidad de partidos políticos integrados por personas de una sola raza o color de la piel; la idea de Morúa, no estaba concebida, en nuestra opinión, para esa finalidad sino todo lo contrario, para evitar las discriminaciones y que todos los partidos estuvieran matizados por los componentes de nuestra nacionalidad; él mismo era mulato de pura mezcla hispanoafricana. Y ya se había expresado contra todo tipo de partido gremialista. 

El partido, además de reclamar los derechos civiles para los negros y mulatos cubanos, tenían un amplio programa social de beneficio público para las capas más humildes sin distinción de color, entre ellas, el derecho a huelga, la jornada laboral de ocho horas, el derecho a la instrucción incluso hasta niveles superiores, a la salubridad y otros beneficios que habían sido conquistas sociales sin precedentes en la historia del continente. 

No solo fueron “personas de color” —según el término de la época— los que integraron el partido o simpatizaron con él, era un partido esencialmente cubano. Los que no actuaron como patriotas fueron sus represores, verdaderos jenízaros que cometieron un imperdonable holocausto. 

En el año 1908, Cuba estaba ocupada militarmente por segunda ocasión por la soldadesca yanqui. Sabemos que el naciente imperio empleó todos los métodos a su alcance para dominar económica y políticamente a nuestro país y la discriminación racial y social formaba parte de su estrategia como lo era en los propios EE.UU., cuyo esquema se aplicó a la Isla mecánicamente y dejó huellas que aún no se han borrado. 

A la ocupación seguiría, a partir del 20 de mayo de 1909, el gobierno del Mayor General José Miguel Gómez, con su consabido alias, de “El tiburón”, que se bañaba y salpicaba a sus padrinos y correligionarios y que demostró, en 1912, con la masacre a los miembros de este partido, su profundo racismo, su condición de criminal, su apego a la oligarquía dominante norteña y criolla y su olvido de los más elementales principios éticos, pues se trataba de antiguos compañeros de armas. Ya lo había dicho en el senado Salvador Cisneros Betancourt: “los negros en la guerra eran más que los blancos y jamás hubo una rebelión de negros contra blancos. Los negros jamás harán por dividirse de los blancos (…)”. El eufemísticamente llamado ejército permanente, organizado por Gómez no era sino un ejército paramilitar de la época, un gigantesco escuadrón de la muerte que preludiaba los órganos represivos de hoy en América Latina. 

Algo similar, había sucedido con su predecesor Tomás Estrada Palma, en la Guerrita de agosto de 1906, al ordenar el asesinato del General de División del Ejército Mambí Quintín Bandera, mancillado por una república que se alejaba cada día más de los ideales mambises. 

La historia no ha hecho justicia al movimiento de los independientes de color. La historia de Cuba ha sido la historia de los genocidios: el de nuestros aborígenes en el siglo XVI que disminuyó en varios centenares de miles a los primeros habitantes de la Isla, el de la conspiración de la Escalera, el de la reconcentración de Valeriano Weyler en la última contienda libertaría, el del tirano Fulgencio Batista que hizo gala de métodos de tortura y terror mostrados en el Moncada, en las calles de las ciudades y en las Pascuas sangrientas, el genocidio de las agresiones militares y terroristas contra la Revolución, pero casi nunca se menciona el genocidio a los valerosos cubanos que, entre 1908 y 1912, defendieron los derechos del pueblo cubano integrándose a un partido que en la época era el único que los representaba dignamente. 

Nuestro mejor homenaje a ellos en este centenario es la tarja conmemorativa develada esta mañana como parte de otras actividades que se han desarrollado en distintas ocasiones a lo largo de este año y que continuarán en los sucesivos.

Hacer realidad cada vez, con más conciencia revolucionaria, la justicia social que preconizamos los que llevamos adelante nuestro proyecto socialista, martiano, y fidelista, que entraña la plena igualdad social, es recordar a Ivonnet y Estenoz y a todos los patriotas que les siguieron. Es reconocer el derecho humano al conocimiento de la verdad histórica. Es evitar que crímenes como el de la Guerrita del 12 se repitan. Es perpetuar la memoria de hombres como Aponte, Estenoz e Ivonnet que no pueden quedar ni un día más en el olvido.

Gloria a ellos.

*Palabras pronunciadas en el acto del 7 de agosto de 2008, día del centenario de la fundación del Partido Independiente de Color.