Poyo differentiates between the development of nationalist sentiment among liberal elites and popular groups and reveals how these distinct strains influenced the thought and conduct of Martí and the successful Cuban revolution of the 1890s.
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"With All, and for the Good of All"
The Emergence of Popular Nationalism in the Cuban Communities of the United States, 1848â"1898
By Gerald E. Poyo
Duke University PressCopyright © 1989 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
Origins of Cuban Émigré Nationalism
The growth in commerce between Cuba and the United States and the increase in political dissatisfaction on the island combined during the nineteenth century to produce small but flourishing Cuban communities in the Gulf and Atlantic coastal cities of the United States. Although numerically insignificant in the context of United States immigration history, the Cuban centers exerted substantial influence on Cuba's political development and on relations between North America and Spain throughout the century.
Originally settling in New York, Philadelphia, and New Orleans, Cubans arrived as early as the 1820s. By 1830 Cuban exports to the United States already exceeded the island's exports to Spain, and by the late 1850s almost fifty percent of Cuba's exports went north. This commercial relationship not only prompted North Americans to establish economic interests in Cuba, but encouraged Cubans to seek opportunities in the United States, where many founded commercial houses in New Orleans and New York. Also, breaking with tradition, Cubans increasingly sent their children to the United States to be educated, although Europe was still preferred by most of the Creole elite.
Prior to the 1860s Cuban immigrants to the United States were primarily white professionals, merchants, landowners, and students. Relatively few in number (probably less than 1,000), they did not form communities, but maintained loose-knit political and social institutions through which they expressed their cohesion. After the United States Civil War, however, Cubans arrived in larger numbers than before. Some left the island for political reasons, but most sought employment in a flourishing tobacco industry in Florida and New York, where integrated immigrant communities formed.
From the very beginning Cuban émigrés engaged in separatist politics, and many went into exile specifically for that purpose. Efforts by Cubans to gain their freedom from Spain began during the Spanish American wars of independence. Throughout 1810–1830 Cuban separatists conspired to lead the island along the path blazed by Latin American liberators Simón Bolívar and José de San Martín. During 1824 and 1825 the first Cuban separatist newspaper published in the United States, El Habanero, called on the island's inhabitants to organize, revolt, and establish an independent nation. Edited by an exiled priest, Felix Varela, the newspaper became a symbol of Cuban separatism, but forces of continuity on the island ensured Spanish dominance. In the midst of a sugar boom and a prosperous slave trade, Cuban and Spanish planters and merchants had no desire to break with the metropolis. Added to this was the widespread and long-standing fear that rebellion might easily lead to a repetition of the tumultuous social revolution that had devastated Santo Domingo.
The Spanish position in Cuba was further secured by United States and other international resistance to change in the island's political status. Strategically and commercially crucial in the Caribbean, Cuba represented an important prize for many nations, but it could not be obtained without considerable international repercussions. The United States preferred a continuation of Spanish control to British or French rule, or, what would be even worse, an independent and unpredictable republic. The British and French likewise did not want Cuba to fall into the hands of the United States. Accordingly, in the mid-1820s when Colombia and Mexico flirted with the idea of supporting Cuban exiles in Vera Cruz who were interested in invading the island, United States Secretary of State Henry Clay warned against foreign involvement in Cuban affairs. Like other United States officials before him, Clay believed that Cuba would one day fall into North American hands. Until that time, Spain's position should be ensured. The British also opposed the Mexican-Colombian invasion plan, fearing it would disturb international relations sufficiently to pose a threat to their own possessions in the Caribbean. For all concerned, then, Spain's continued rule was the most convenient situation and, as a consequence, after Spain's final withdrawal from Latin America, Cuba and Puerto Rico remained under her domain. For the rest of the century, until 1898, Cuban separatists struggled against Spanish rule without the active and material support of any organized government.
Efforts by some Cubans to achieve independence during the 1820s reflected a growing sense of national consciousness among the island's inhabitants, which most Cubans sought to express only in cultural terms. During the first three decades of the nineteenth century, a new generation of Cubans evolved a cultural nationalism, expressed in literary fashion, that strengthened their sense of separateness from the mother country. Enlightenment ideals and the appearance of cultural and economic societies and colleges all contributed to producing a Creole elite with a distinct sense of cubanidad. In addition to a Hispano-Cuban cultural tradition, Creole nationalism included a liberal vision characterized by elite political representation, capitalist development, and commercial freedom. At the same time, Creole nationalism was deeply racist and highly exclusive, and did not easily accommodate the island's mixed racial character. Indeed, Creoles feared black influence so much that, as we will see, they used their political clout to try to halt the slave trade and encourage Spanish immigration to the island.
Political nationalism—or the desire for an independent state—was not integral to the thinking of this new generation. Instead, they sought solutions to their political and socioeconomic grievances (which grew along with their sense of separateness) within the Spanish colonial system. Most Cuban Creoles resented their colonial status, and during the 1830s and 1840s, led by José de la Luz y Caballero, José Antonio Saco, and Domingo Delmonte, among others, they demanded significant reforms in colonial policies that would give them autonomy and freedom to express their nationality.
Throughout the century, Spanish policy was torn between continued authoritarian colonial rule and granting Cubans some measure of self-government. After a short period of Cuban representation in Spain's cortes, in the 1830s Spain reimposed absolute rule by the captain generals that ended all hopes for political and economic liberalization in the foreseeable future. This failure at achieving reform in the 1820s led some Cubans to consider a separatist solution, and by the 1840s many reform leaders and their disciples began to agitate for Cuba's annexation to the United States.
The annexationist leaders included Creole slaveholders, such as Cristóbal Madan and José Luís Alfonso, and a considerably larger number of professionals, merchants, and intellectuals like Gaspar Betancourt Cisneros, Porfirio Valiente, José Sánchez Iznaga, Juan C. Zenea, and Cirilo Villaverde. Exiled in New York, New Orleans, and other North American cities, these men shared the reform movement's liberal vision and strong sense of Cuban national identity. How then could they justify what was clearly an antinationalist solution to Cuba's colonial oppression?
As as an independent nation Cubans could build their liberal system and enjoy the satisfaction of a distinct nationality, but most Creoles considered this impractical. As Betancourt Cisneros wrote to José Antonio Saco, "I would like to see us both as citizens of an independent and free nation. But let us understand and agree that the homeland should come before nationalist vanity." "Annexation," he noted, "is not a sentiment but a calculation ... it is the sacred right of self-preservation." While Betancourt and other annexationists clearly possessed a sense of their distinctiveness as a people, political and socioeconomic considerations convinced them of the necessity of joining the much admired North American republic. Betancourt believed that political realities in Latin America since independence held a lesson for Cubans. He lamented their lack of democratic rule and, as sons of Spaniards, he noted, Cubans would face the same fate without the guidance of the already proven North American system. But this lack of confidence in Cubans' ability for self-rule was actually of secondary concern. Had this skepticism been an exclusively political concern, perhaps Betancourt and other liberals could have been convinced otherwise, but the real dilemma was Cuba's socioeconomic reality, more specifically, slavery.
The boom in the sugar economy during the first thirty years of the century had increased dramatically the number of slaves on the island. Despite a Spanish agreement with Great Britain in 1817 to prohibit the slave trade, over the years captain generals closed their eyes to this lucrative activity, for which they were amply compensated. Cuban reformers feared that the rapidly growing slave population would eventually outnumber whites; deeply troubling for a people obsessed with the "horrors" of Santo Domingo. The Haitian revolt and its consequences remained strongly imprinted on the Cuban psyche for over fifty years, making it difficult for the Creole elite to contemplate too much resistance to Spanish authority. In fact, they clearly believed the constant Spanish threats to unleash the mass of slaves should Cubans rebel. Moreover, they considered the presence of so many blacks a threat to their interpretation of Cuban cultural identity, which they understood as essentially Hispanic. Some people of color could be assimilated into Cuban Hispanic culture, but a continuation of the slave trade would surely lead Cuba into complete cultural degradation. Finally, in their view, the risk to Cuba's cultural identity posed by the continuing introduction of slaves was unnecessary since they believed that slavery would soon be economically obsolete. Cuban planters increasingly sought to mechanize their industry, and many thought that free labor would be more effective within such an environment.
The reform movement of the 1830s had championed the abolition of the slave trade, and within a decade some had even suggested a gradual indemnified abolition. Indeed Saco had been exiled from Cuba for daring to challenge the illicit trade. Nevertheless, even the reform leaders were cautious in their treatment of the slave issue, and Britain's aggressive diplomatic campaign against the trade and slavery from the late 1830s through the 1850s caused considerable apprehension among Cuban reformers and sugar entrepreneurs alike.
An abortive slave conspiracy in 1844 particularly motivated Cubans to seriously consider annexation. While British pressures against the slave trade may have been welcome to Cuban reformers, the abolitionist propaganda of the British consul in Havana, David Turnbull, was not. His activities apparently inspired a conspiracy by slaves and free mulattoes against Spanish rule. Known as the Escalera conspiracy, the affair struck terror in the hearts of Cuban whites of all political persuasions and they responded with terrific brutality. The Escalera affair persuaded a significant number of Cuban Creoles that they needed an association with the United States. This not only represented an alternative to Spanish rule, but an alternative, many believed, that could be achieved without massive political and social turmoil. Furthermore, while most Creoles admired the United States as a model of liberalism, they also considered that under the umbrella of the North American republic, Cuba could evolve relatively autonomously and work toward a gradual and peaceful solution to the slave question. They clearly hoped that under United States tutelage Cuba would eventually rid itself not only of the slave trade but of slavery itself.
Attaining abolition in the United States seemed manageable and likely. In the late 1840s Betancourt Cisneros argued that the United States was already well on the road to a gradual, indemnified, and peaceful abolition. "In the end slavery will be eliminated, but it will be done as it should be," he noted; "the gangrene will be removed by an expert surgeon and not with a butcher's axe." Madan backed annexation because slavery would be guaranteed in the immediate future, but at the same time would not be "beyond the moral influence of civilization which slowly prepares for its [slavery's] peaceful termination." According to Madan, gradual abolition in a relatively short period was possible in the United States because the absence of the slave trade had produced a black population free "from superstitious, and ungovernable, and ferocious habits." A large Origins of Émigré Nationalism η percentage of Cuban slaves, he noted, were "savage" Africans too "disposed to engage in insurrectionary attempts" and not yet ready for freedom. Thus, eventual Cuban abolition required the definitive suppression of the slave trade, which would come with annexation.
At the same time that they argued for eventual abolition, however, separatist propagandists continually condemned all immediate efforts to rid the island of slavery. In their view a radical abolition not only threatened social stability and economic prosperity, but violated the sacred rights of private property. As noted in one prominent émigré newspaper, El Filibustero, edited by Juan and Francisco Bellido de Luna, "The [separatist] revolution will not mortally wound established interests; it will protect them; it will not incite disastrous and savage conflagrations; it will repress them." The émigrés reacted harshly to rumors during the early 1850s that Spain might adopt a British inspired plan to replace Cuban slavery with a contract labor program designed to provide the island with African apprentices. Such a plan, argued El Filibustero, would result in the introduction to Cuba over the next ten years of a million and a half "African savages" who would then pose an additional threat to Cuban white society. The separatists, as well as most white Cubans on the island, abhored what they perceived to be the continuing "Africanization" of Cuba. They believed that once Cuba joined the United States the influx of slaves would cease and white immigration would eventually overwhelm the resident black population. In fact, efforts to "whiten" the island through immigration promotion had been ongoing since the 1840s—an activity some prominent separatists (such as Betan-court Cisneros and Domingo Goicouría) had participated in before leaving the island. Ironically, racism and fear of blacks motivated separatists to seek alternatives to slavery.
Annexation, then, satisfied many Creoles' fears about their ultimate fate with regard to slavery and provided the means for maintaining the dominance of Cuba's white, Hispanic-derived culture over what they considered to be a growing African cultural intrusion. Separatists of the late 1840s and early 1850s accepted the idea that the Cuban nation-state would have to be sacrificed in order to ensure their homeland's socioeconomic stability and maintain the dominance of Hispanic cultural traditions. Although this sacrifice of an independent nation was perhaps not ideal, in their view it was necessary.
Throughout the late 1840s and 1850s scattered annexationist insurrectionary activities on the island kept Spanish authorities worried, but popular support never materialized. Many prominent Creoles initially backed insurrectionist conspiracies of one kind or another, but they quickly concluded that a United States purchase of the island was the safest approach. Led by Betan-court Cisneros, and financed by Havana separatists of the annexationist Club de la Habana, a separatist junta in New York worked in this vein for almost a decade beginning in the late 1840s.
In 1848 the junta flirted with armed revolt by providing financial assistance to the noted annexationist filibusterer Narciso López, who arrived in the United States after a failed insurrectionary effort on the island. With the junta's support, López organized an expedition to Cuba, but United States government opposition to the plan forced its abandonment. After this, the essentially cautious members of the New York junta no longer supported López. They not only feared the possible social upheavals associated with insurrectionary activity, but they also considered López an uncontrollable and dangerous adventurer. In a letter to López during early 1850, for example, the junta informed him that they could not collaborate on a second expedition. The first enterprise had convinced the New York émigrés that in the future they had to proceed with greater "circumspection and security." "Your intention to invade Cuba without the expressed and decided cooperation of Cuban property owners, without organization, sufficient force and adequate means ... would be a desperate act." Moreover, the correspondence noted that "without the proper consensus," an invasion could lead to "disastrous calamities," that López himself would eventually regret. Lacking the junta's support, López continued his operations with the backing of proslavery southern activists until he was captured on the island and executed in 1851.
After López's death, the New York junta began to raise an expedition of its own. It contracted with General John Quitman, a noted proslavery annexationist from Mississippi, to organize and lead the enterprise. But despite Quitman's zealous commitment, the junta considered the expedition to be of secondary importance and only an option of final resort. The junta preferred a diplomatic solution, the purchase of Cuba by the United States, which would be enhanced by the publicity associated with the expedition. As it happened, in 1855, the Pierce administration persuaded Quitman to drop the enterprise and the junta abandoned the whole scheme.
Excerpted from "With All, and for the Good of All" by Gerald E. Poyo. Copyright © 1989 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
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Table of ContentsContents
1 Origins of Cuban Émigré Nationalism 1848–1868
2 Émigré Annexationism During the Ten Years War
3 The Émigré Nationalist Movement During the Ten Years War
4 Consolidation of the Nationalist Ideal The 1880s
5 Class, Race, and the Nationalist Movement 1870–1890
6 Popular Nationalism: The Insurrectionary Catalyst 1890–1895
7 The Road to Compromised Sovereignty 1895–1898