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Cuba Libre: The Rise and Fall of a Movement

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Cuba Libre was an ideology and movement that materialized in Cuba while it was dominated by Spain. The idea that Cubanness transcended race was the core belief.  It sought to unify Black Cubans with the White, in order to have the manpower to achieve independence from Spain. Cuba Libre broke into multiple factions with differing views, motives, and contentions.

The largess of the task Cuba Libre sought to achieve is considered a source of its fracturing. “Reflecting the multiple tensions and contradictions it was supposed to solve, the nationalist ideology was open to different interpretations” [1].

Addressing and reworking race’s deep seeded roots within societies requires a level of dedication, involvement, and pure intention that elite white Cubans did not. 

Fracturing of the Movement
Alma de Cuba

There branched two very different approaches to Cuba Libre. Race and class were the dividing factors on the island. “Elite interpretations were frequently couched in a deliberately vague language that tended to further obscure the issue of race” [1]. 

One of the leaders of Cuba Libre was writer Jose Marti. Marti, “suggested that rather than being seen as a racial threat, blacks should be seen as grateful recipients of white generosity – constructing the process what Ferrer has termed the image of the ‘subservient insurgent’” [1]. Cuba Libre was beginning to form lopsidedness.

Conflicting Motives

The black Cuban community was working towards a true Cuba Libre, but was encountering obstruction. “Black intellectuals and activists repeatedly stressed that the only way to achieve real racial fraternity was to acknowledge the existence of a race problem and to discuss it openly” [1].

The Cuban white elite began washing their hands of the work of Cuba Libre. “Blacks’ social subordination was presented as a black problem – not a social one” [1]. This act of blaming the victim stagnates progress. It is an attempt to bypass race; however, this stance is, itself, racist.

Alejandro de la Fuente writes on the critical studies of Afrocubanismo, which shines light on the motives of the white Cuban community. “Critical studies of Afrocubanismo thus emphasize that black popular culture was accepted mainly on white, middle-class terms or that the movement served to conceal and reproduce Afro-Cubans’ subordination in society” [1].

False Union

The white Cuban approach to Cuba Libre was manipulative and cruel. Alejandro de la Fuente continues, “these authors interpret the movement as a reconstruction of the elite’s hegemony through what Winant calls, ‘the incorporation of oppositional currents in the prevailing system of rule’ and ‘the reinterpretation of oppositional discourse in the prevailing framework of social expression’” [1].

A true racial alliance on Cuba would have entailed white elites opening access for blacks, instead, they consolidated and revealed their intentions to have been illusory and insincere.

Vivo en un pais Libre

The U.S. had a heavy hand in Cuba at the time and it contributed to the polarization. “Although Cuban physicians and health practioners, like many of their Latin American colleagues, were influenced by French and Spanish scientific ideas, the U.S. occupation and influence in Cuban affairs facilitated the transmission of the North American ‘science’ of race” [1]. The United States’ occupation of Cuba takes on a racially imperialistic dynamic.

The white Cuban elite had no interest in achieving real racial fraternity. If so, they’d not be ascribing, projecting all the blame to blacks and squashing discussion on the topic of race in Cuba. Black Cuban intellectuals viewed Cuba Libre as a real opportunity for Cuba to progress into racial equality. With the intentions of both the white and black Cuban communities apparent, Cuba Libre was destined to failure at its inception.

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Bibliography

  1. Alejandro De La Fuente A Nation For All: Race, Inequality, and Politics in Twentieth-Century Cuba. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2001.

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