Claret’s Mediation in the Case Against the Camagüey Patriots
Antonio María Claret (1807-1870), after undertaking outstanding evangelistic work in Catalonia and the Canary Islands, Participating as co-founder of the Congregation of the Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Claretian Missionaries) and being ordained bishop, was sent to our country to become the Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba, which covered the territory from the provinces of Guantanamo to Ciego de Avila, a vast region where evangelical work had been poor due to the absence of the bishops for 18 years.
To better develop his mission, Claret prepared a pastoral letter addressed to the initiation into the Christian life with similarities to the current Social Doctrine of the Church, legalized thousands of marriages, founded the Brotherhood of Instruction in the Christian for evangelistic work, and together with Mother Maria Antonia Paris also founded the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Claretian). His pole star was always the dignity and priority of the needy as shown by the credit unions created for workers and farmers, the aid to women without dowries to marry, support for helpless widows, and his attention to agriculture, a sector for which he wrote two books on modern agricultural methods, established a farm in Camaguey for poor children and developed a plan intended to turn peasants into real owners.
His arrival to Cuba came when the slave trade was still throwing thousands of Africans on our shores. As the chance to abolish slavery was not in his hands, he called for, following the example of St. Paul, charity in the treatment of the prisoners, equality between blacks and whites, and the elimination of trafficking, while authorizing interracial marriage and demanding the enforcement of civil and ecclesiastical laws containing benefits for the slaves, as the Edict of Good Government, the Regulation of Slaves and the Synod Laws. The ethical value of his conduct lay in the fact that the colonial authorities forbade the clergy to criticize the existing legislation; as slavery was legal he had to face more than one proceeding against him.
Although Claret declared himself to be apolitical, he was actually a supporter of the monarchical system and against independence. However, as a man of the Church, he never turned away from his missionary work. In his autobiography he wrote: “I’ve never gotten into policy matters, I see and ponder the progress of things, but do not say a word.” Although he felt that direct political action was an impediment to the priestly ministry, the truth is that no one who cares about and deals with the poor, the sick, workers and slaves, can be seen as separate from politics.
The best proof of the foregoing Claret himself presented with his attitude during the trial, conducted in August 1851, which sentenced to death Joaquín de Agüero and other Camaguey patriots who rose up against the metropolis. He considered them patriots because, although they were supporters of annexation, he couldn’t ignore that their political views took in all those who admired the American model for its democratic character, and were not just advocating for union with the United States with the selfish concern of preserving slavery.
That was the case for Joaquin de Aguero, who started in public life by abolishing slavery in his own properties, nearly two decades before Carlos Manuel de Cespedes did the same in La Demajagua. The reason stemmed from the fact that, as annexation implied separation from Spain, those who had ideas of independence could not accept the participation in the first stage, that is the separation. The Marxist historian Sergio Aguirre, in Citizenship and Nationhood in Nineteenth-Century Cuba, referring to Joaquin de Aguero, Isidoro de Armenteros, Francisco and Ramon Pinto wrote: “They were all, it seems, annexationists. But were they motivated by, mistakenly, by a healthy democratic intention? Or were they mortgaged to the Cuban nationality in the interests of slavery? For whom was independence was the real target? Logically, the most likely seems Agüero. The least likely, Pinto.” Another historian, Oscar Loyola, in Cuba and Its History, acknowledges that the annexation was not a single unifying goal and he argues that Aguero rose up in defense of the separation of Cuba from the metropolis.
In support of those Cubans who fought for independence from Spain, Claret, who was a supporter of the monarchy, asked for that their death sentences be commuted in exchange for his own life: a courageous attitude with ethics consistent with the Christian principles.
In a letter to the Captain General of the Island, on July 26, 1851, wrote: “As Your Excellency is aware I was never involved in political affairs, but on this island religion and politics are so intertwined that one hardly can speak of the one with the other, even should one wish to.” For his conscientiousness he was the victim of several assassination attempts, including the incident in 1856 in the city of Holguin, where he was wounded in the cheek and right arm with a knife.
In 1857 Claret, on being appointed personal confessor of Queen Isabel II, left Cuba. As a result of the liberal revolution of 1868 he went into exile with the Queen and died a refugee in an abbey in France on October 24, 1870. For his work, the Latin American Bishops asked Pope Leo XIII for his beatification, the cause was introduced in 1887, he was declared Venerable in 1890, beatified in February 1934 and canonized by Pope Pius XII on May 7, 1950.
Similar to Bishop Pedro Agustín Morell, who mediated and defended the slaves of El Cobre in 1731, San Antonio María Claret, interceded for the lives of a group of patriots from Camagüey. Little-known facts, which are part of our history and they contain many lessons for the present Cuban.