The Centenary of the Death of Estenoz
An analysis of the role violence has played in Cuba history is long overdue. Looking back on death of Evaristo Estenoz in June, 1912 provides not only an opportunity to pay tribute to this man but also to focus attention on how the negative impacts of violence led to a fatal outcome.
Evaristo Estenoz returned to Cuba in May 1896 on a ship, Three Friends, captained by Rafael Portuondo. The expedition landed on the shores of Baconao on May 30, 1896 to join in the struggle for independence. It took part in several military actions by the Mambí Army, which was under the command of generals José Maceo and José María Aguirre. At the end of these actions he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant.
After the war he worked as a building contractor, headed the bricklayers’ guild and organized one of the era’s most notable strikes in Havana — a strike in which the bricklayers were demanding a reduction in working hours and an increase in pay. In the search for social justice and an end to racial discrimination against blacks, Estenoz, like many black Cubans, joined the Liberal Party. He participated in the armed uprising of 1906 against the re-election of President Tomás Estrada Palma, a rebellion in which he served as adjutant to General Quintín Banderas and during which he achieved the rank of general.
A frustration with the list of candidates for the off-year elections in June, 1908, as well as concern over the suffering of blacks throughout Cuban history, led Estenoz to the decision to organize a political party independent of the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party. On August 7 he founded, along with other black leaders, the Independent Association of Color, later renamed Independent Party of Color (PIC), in which he served as president. He also became the director of Previsión (its official publication) and was the driving force behind an advanced and comprehensive but, given conditions at the time, unfeasible social program.
In the first issue of Previsión he outlined his reason for its founding with the following words:
“The colored race in Cuba can expect nothing from the measures used up till now by the political parties because they have done nothing for us that can be considered appreciable. . . By putting forth a slate in which all are candidates of color and not affiliated with political parties, we will demonstrate, so that no one will be able to deny, no matter how small this minority might be, that the results will always be greater than what has been delivered so far.”
Once the PIC was established, he sought its legal recognition, which was granted by Enoch Crowder, president of the electoral commission during the second American intervention in Cuba.
The PIC platform espoused equality through racial integration. The verbal violence characteristic of our culture, however, allowed his enemies to accuse him of favoring racial separation after lambasting in Previsión the owners of a Havana hotel who had responded negatively to his request to provide services to him, a black Cuban. Outraged, Estenoz wrote, “Any man of color who does not immediately kill the coward who mistreats him in a public establishment is a wretched disgrace who dishonors his country and his race.” These and other unfortunate outbursts were used by the enemies of the PIC and by the government of General José Miguel Gómez as a rationale for shutting down and confiscating the publication, arresting Estenoz and encouraging racial hatred against blacks.
For this action Estenoz was arrested on February 6, 1910, charged with violating press laws and sentenced to 60 days in prison. Five days later he was sentenced to another 120 days for the same offense. On February 23, 1910 he was freed after being granted a congressional amnesty. Upon his release from prison he was taken by his supporters to the gates of the presidential palace where they carried out a demonstration against President Gómez.
During the time that Estenoz and others of his colleagues were detained, an amendment to the electoral was discussed in the Senate, introduced by Senator Martin Morúa Delgado aimed at prohibiting the existence of political parties composed exclusively of individuals of one race. The amendment was approved on February 14, 1910 in the Senate, with three dissenting votes, and passed the House where it was adopted on May 2, when Senator Morúa had already died.
From that moment the PIC launched a nationwide campaign aimed at repealing the law, so that by the end of April 1910, Estenoz and other members of the PIC were arrested for conspiracy and acquitted in December of that year during a trial on the matter.
While on bail, before he was acquitted at trial, despite the fact that the PIC was outlawed, its members could hold rallies and public demonstrations to demand the repeal of the Morúa Law and they could have an interview with the President of the Republic, as happened on February 17, 1912 and March 21 with Gerardo Machado, then Minister of Interior, who had issued a circular prohibiting such meetings. Something that in Cuba today would be a dream.
As a result of intolerance the conflict led to the armed uprising of May 20, 1912, conceived as a mechanism to pressure for the repeal of the Law. The government’s response was to throw all its forces against them.
On June 27, 1912, in the Alto Songo, the main leader of the PIC, Evaristo Estenoz, was killed or perhaps assassinated, as suggested by the fracture of the occipital discovered during the autopsy. From that moment the movement was weak and controlled by government forces.
This painful and tragic event, silenced for so long, deserves and requires further analysis and attention with the objective of extracting experiences valid for the present, including the nefarious role of physical or verbal violence in our history
July 4 2012