In spite of the fact that the rumor had traveled from mouth to mouth, the information from the Ministry of Public Health on January 16 left the Cuban people astonished. Twenty-six patients had died at the Psychiatric Hospital in Havana. After attributing these deaths to low temperatures, patient’s risks factors, biological deterioration, respiratory infections and other ailments, a note issued by the Ministry attributed these deaths also to the inadequate measures of care, and announced that the people responsible for these events would be taken to the corresponding court of justice, which indicates that the cause is somewhere else.
A disaster of such magnitude -in a hospital where the services were depressing until 1959 and to which enormous human resources, technicians and financiers were dedicated to make it a leading institution in mental health care- requires other explanations.
Love goes before medicine
Fifteen centuries after Avicena and Claudio Galeno wrote medical treaties in the II Century, these texts have continued to be the basic ones for this discipline. In spite of the thrust given by Italian universities during the Renaissance, we had to wait for the development of chemistry, biology and biochemistry and for the treatment of diseases. It was not until 1628 that an Englishman called William Harvey discovered blood circulation, the function of the heart and refuted Galeno’s theories. At the end of the XIX Century, the Frenchman Luis Pasteur elaborated the theory of germs and founded Microbiology. In regard to Psychiatry and the mental health diseases, a design of a system of identification and classification for these problems that did not appear until the last decade of the century. In the case of Cuba, it was Dr. Tomas Romay in 1834 who inaugurated the class of Medical Clinic in the hospital ward. It was then that medicine on the island started down the scientific path
These events demonstrate that man’s diseases precede medical science and treatment precedes the emergence of science. It also explains how people who practiced this occupation for so many years without any specialized preparation, although armed with a principle that, to parody Jose de la Luz y Caballero, could be summarized as: anyone can attend the sick, to heal, only those capable of practicing the love for the neighbor.
Since the XVI Century, when the first hospitals were founded in Cuba, members of different Religious Orders took care of the treatment for the sick. One of them, the Hospital San Juan de Dios, was under the care of the Juaninos Brethren since the year 1603 when they arrived in Cuba. From that date on, any type of illness, including mental patients, were treated in their facilities. In 1942, many centuries after, the same Order inaugurated the Sanatorium San Juan de Dios, especially for Psychiatric illnesses. It is symptomatic that in spite of lack of medical knowledge, their facilities never were the object of criticism, as has occurred now with the Psychiatric Hospital in Havana. It was not by chance that all of the 16 private sanatoriums owned for nervous patients that existed in Havana, were nationalized in May of 1964, with the exception of San Juan de Dios, an act demonstrating the importance that love has in the treatment of patients, especially the mentally ill.
The Psychiatric Hospital in Havana
Even though the forceful seclusion of the mentally ill patients was initiated in 1804, it was in 1857 that the “Casa General de Dementes de la Isla de Cuba” (Home for the Mentally Ill of the Island of Cuba) known popularly as Mazorra, was inaugurated. The common denominator of that Institution -reflected by the media before and after 1959- was the malnutrition of the patients, disease transmission and early death. In January of the same year, Commander Eduardo Bernabe Ordaz Ducunge was put in charge of this Institution. He remodeled the facility, transformed the caring system and introduced a scientific emphasis in the medical treatment directed towards the rehabilitation of patients. It was under his direction that concert bands, baseball teams the psychoballet were formed and the publishing of a specialized magazine started. As the years went by, Mazorra seemed to be part of the past, to the point that in the Central report to the Cuban Communist Party, Fidel Castro said: The National Psychiatric Hospital was during the Capitalistic era a warehouse filled of patients, where horrible things were happening and many times the patients died of hunger and abuse to the extreme that some directors were doing business with funeral homes. To mention Mazorra was to mention Dante’s Inferno.”
The question is whether what happened is a single occurrence or a manifestation of decline. It is illusory to think that in any society, where all the elements are interrelated that one of them, say public health or any other, may function with efficacy when all the others do not. It only requires mentioning three aspects without which efficiency in health care is impossible: the manifest productive incapacity, the insufficiency of salaries that makes all workers seek any additional source of income, most of the time illegally, and the moral decadence that all these factors bring about.
These and other elements, missing from the note of the Health Department Ministry, explain the lost of food, clothing and medications in Mazorra, as well as the lack of attention to the mentally ill. It is not until the authorities proceed to make profound structural changes, from the economic to the ethical education and the love of thy neighbor that it will be possible to come out of this state of deterioration. These changes are impossible without the corresponding civic liberties and without the political willingness to confront them.
The guerrilla style and the voluntarism have been exhausted. It is not enough to give patients in a matter of hours what they never should have been without and that those supposed guilty be punished, since the original causes, as they lay somewhere else, will provoke, here today and there tomorrow, similar or worst effects.
Translated by: David Fernandez
As soon as Spain occupied the presidency of the European Union (EU), the Cuban authorities prohibited the Spanish Member of the European Parliament, Luis Yanez, from entering the national territory. Yanez arrived at the Island on a tourist trip accompanied by his wife, the Deputy Carmen Hermosin. The prohibition, regardless of whether Yanez had or had not the intention of meeting any dissident, goes against the understanding of the EU that “High Level Officials visiting Cuba, may converse with the peaceful opposition”.
For Cuba, the visit of Yanez constituted an excellent opportunity to demonstrate that it really wished to better its relations with the EU and support the Spanish Minister of Foreign Relations, in favor of the suspension of the Common Position which consists in “encouraging a process of transition to a pluralistic democracy, respect for Human Rights and the Fundamental Freedoms, as well as a sustainable recuperation and the betterment of life’s condition for the Cuban people”.
The message implicit in this event could be read this way: It does not matter whether they are Socialists, Liberals or Conservatives. It does not matter if they have a moderate and constructive position or that they may criticize Human Rights violations. It does not matter if they come as politicians or tourists. Simply said, we are not going to change anything. We prefer to have a confrontation. The reaction came immediately. The President of the European Council, Jose Luis Zapatero, who up to this point was in favor for the EU to change its position in dealing with the Cuban authorities, declared that: “The policy of the EU towards Cuba it not a priority during our presidency”, and “Europe must show a demanding position before the Cuban Government.”
The EU, the largest supra-national organization of the world, composed of 27 countries, and the United States of America, the major economic and military power of the world, form two important forces in the international arena with defined policies in regard to the internal situation of Cuba. Such policies are in accord with respect to the declared ends, yet different in respect to the legitimacy and methods employed.
Since the Trade Embargo of the United State against Cuba started, the policy of confrontation between both governments was that of animosity as oppose to dialogue. That policy, illegitimate on the basis of International Law, did not help us in strengthening our position but it made it more difficult. Instead of protecting us against the arbitrariness of the State, it collaborated with it. Instead of promoting the appropriate climax for the advance of Human Rights, it made it regress. On the other side, the Council of EU1 adopted in 1996 the Common Position based on dialogue and collaboration, which was ratified in 2005.
Fourteen years after the adoption of the Common Position, it has not attained its proposed objectives. In the Spring of 2003, when the inclusion of Cuba in the accords of Cotonu was being discussed, the relations were interrupted due to the repressive wave by the Cuban government against the Internal Opposition. Later, in 2008, when the relations were re-established, the possibility that the policy of the EU based on critical dialogue would predominate over the policy of confrontation emerged. More recently, in 2009, with the change of policy of the present U.S. Administration towards Cuba and the weakening of the confrontational line, the hegemony for critical dialogue was created.
The importance of the critical dialogue -much more prominent in this time of globalization- is based on the social processes of change within countries, depending on internal factors as well as external ones. Contingent on the greater or lesser force of the first ones, the second ones assume a larger or smaller importance. In the case of Cuba, the weakness and destruction of the potential subjects related to change, explains and conditions the importance of the exterior forces.
The Common Position, in its new context, arrives at the right time to accomplish the pending objectives: the transition to a pluralistic democracy, the respect for Human Rights and the Fundamental Liberties. If the Cuban Government intends to conduct those relations by way of confrontation, the response of the EU must not be to renounce to the dialogue, much less to favor the suspension of the Common Position, given that the Cuban Government has not done anything that can justify it. Nor do the difficulties in the negotiation processes, nor the unfounded expectations of change, constitute reasons to discontinue such policy.
The unconditional liberation of all the political prisoners, the end of repression, the persecution for political reasons and the ramification on the part of the Cuban Government concerning the Political Rights’ Pact and the Social Economics and Cultural Pacts, signed in 2008, bring about three problems of great importance in order to measure the fulfillment of the objectives of the Common Position. These three things are so crucial for the society and for the dignity of the Cuban people that they cannot be subjected to any other type of demands, as was the intention of the Cuban Minister of Foreign Relations when during a visit to the Commission of Human Rights in Geneva he declared that: “If the EU were to depart from the sterile vote at the Commission of Human Rights in Geneva,” Cuba Would be willing to sit down with the EU to agree on a program.” And that Cuba, “would feel the moral debt to go along with the EU decision and would sign a Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Pact the following day acknowledging that we have started a new agenda in our relations”.
Among the objectives of the EU in its relations regarding the critical dialogue with the Cuban Government, the unfolding of contacts and interchanges with the civil society must be taken into consideration so that its citizens may emerge gradually from the political marginality in which they find themselves and may be able to participate in the conformation of Cuba’s democratic future. The inability of the actual model based on determined “free” medical and educational services in exchange for the lack of liberties and basic rights, has led to the general deterioration from the economic to the cultural, going through a state of increasing moral crisis which will be the most difficult thing to fix in the future.
Were the EU to decide to full re-establish the cooperation without taking into consideration the demands contained in the Common Position, it would be helping to strengthen the immobility and sustainability of a situation that is threatening the existence of the Cuban nation.
Translated by David Fernandez
In regards to civil rights, the Cuban government insists not only in living in the past, but actually to regress. In recent times the Ministry of Higher Education released a document for the Reorganization of Political-Ideological Work in the Universities that, among other things, declared that the University for all will become the University for revolutionaries only.
The Civil and Political Rights, as well as the Freedom of Conscience, Word, Press, Reunion, Association and the Right to Vote, constitute the basis of communication, as well as of interchange of opinions, of conduct, of decision making and the formation of associations, through which the individual or groups’ interests can be expressed. They constitute the guarantee for citizenship’s participation in the public life and in the nation’s main definitions.
The decision no only constitute the negation of Marti’s precept that says: Con Todos y para el Bien de Todos” (With All and for the Good of All), but it also negates our Constitutional History. For example: In January of 1959, when the first Governmental Council was formed, instead of reestablishing the Constitution of 1940 as promised, and as stated in “La Historia Me Absolvera” (History will Absolve Me), it was reformed without popular consultation in order to confer the Prime Minister the faculties of Chief of Government, and to the Minister’s Council the Congress’ functions. This was a modification similar to what Batista had made with the Statues that substituted the Constitution after the coup d’etat of 1952. It was right after that it was proceeded to dismount the Civil Society and all its instruments, including the University’s autonomy.
In January 1959 the first government cabinet was formed, instead of the promise of restoring the 1940 Constitution, as stated in History Will Absolve Me, it was reformed without popular consultation, to give the Prime Minister the powers of Chief of Government and of the Council of Ministers the functions of Congress; an amendment similar to what Batista had done with the statutes that replaced the constitution after the 1952 coup. He then proceeded to dismantle the civil society and all its instruments, including university autonomy.
The previous University Reform in the Island dated January of 1923. It was then that the University’s Student Body, influenced by the Manifiesto de Cordoba (Cordoba’s Manifesto) hoisted by Argentinian students in June of 1918, demanded the free Superior Education and the University’s Autonomy.
Taking advantage of the conflict between students and professors for the ousting a student from the School of Engineering at the University of Havana, a Superior Council of Universities’ professors and students of the three University Centers of the country was formed, including Government representatives. Such Council undertook the work that concluded with the University’s Reform presented January 10, 1962. That same year, the Communist leader, Carlos Rafael Rodriguez, in an article published in the Press, summarized the achievement of the Reform with three questions: “What”, “How”and “Who” will be studying? The “what” and the “how” responded to the new situation created by the arrival of the revolutionaries to power. As for the “who”, this was the essence of the problem. The new University, he said, will be run in conjunction with professors and students, being the students’ participation, originated in the ’30’s battles, almost a requirement. Nevertheless he clarified that, “In the same measure that the University’s revolution is the result of a real Revolution and that Socialism presides the transformations, it is not possible to think of professors and students as antagonistic groups…Juan Marinello, a professor to whom he referred as having a revolutionary conscience, oriented by Marxism-Leninism and militant of that ideology during many years, will not need of the student’s vigilance in order to run the University because he will have the sufficient maturity to focus on the Superior Educational problems with a well-aimed criterion.”
And so, the University’s Autonomy, conquered by students during students’ battles in the Republic, and authenticated in Article 53 of the 1940 Constitution which says: “The University of Havana is autonomous and will be governed according to its Statutes and the Law to which they must adjust, ceased existing, without being annulled.”
From that time, the University, one of the most important sources for social changes in our history, was rendered useless for that intent. One of the worst consequences consisted in that under the control of the totalitarian State, the University hoisted the motto that the University was for the revolutionaries, a motto that resulted in the separation of hundreds of students and professors who did not agree with the system’s ideology. Nevertheless, with the later universalization of the Superior Education process, it seemed that the University, even without its autonomy, would again be for all. Now, in plenty XXI Century, in the midst of the worst crisis of our history, instead of reestablishing the Civic Rights, the Cuban State has decided to go backward with the University’s declaration that the University is only for the revolutionaries.
Translated by: David Fernandez
Tomas Romay Chacon (1764-1849), an energetic man of delicate sensibility, a true catholic and consistent friend, was one of the great Cuban figures of the last part of the VXIII Century and first half of the XIX. He excelled as a medical doctor and hygienist, writer and poet, speaker and historian, as well as a university professor and lover of legal sciences. He participated in the foundation of Papel Periodico de La Habana (Periodical Paper of Havana) and of the Sociedad Economica Amigos del Pais (Friends of the Country Economic Society). He was professor of the Real y Pontificia Universidad de La Habana (Royal and Pontifical University of Havana) where he occupied the Faculty Chair of Philosophy and Medicine. He made contributions to Apiculture and to the beginning of the literary movement of his time. He was the director of the Junta Central de Vacuna (Central Vaccination Board) and was an advocate for free primary instruction. He also linked the study of Natural Sciences with the battle against Scholasticism.
As a politician, he was a man of his time and of his rank, defender of the established system and an admirer of the Spanish Monarchy. On May 20, 1820 he published Purga Urbem, an article in which he proclaimed himself to be an intransigent enemy of revolutionary liberalism and of the independence of the American Colonies, an irrefutable proof that one can move forward in science, culture and nationality, without being a revolutionary. History belongs to all those who contribute to it.
In spite of his exhaustive labor, it was in medicine -the first professional career that was a taught in the colony and which he considered the most beneficial for humanity- where he made his major contributions. It was in this science that he obtained the degree of Professor of Pathology and the degree of Doctor of Medicine after defending his thesis on the Spread of Tuberculosis, in 1792. Two years later, before the Junta Ordinaria de la Sociedad Patriotica de Amigos del Pais (The Ordinary Board of the Patriotic Society of Friends of the Country) -the first scientific meeting of Cuban doctors- he presented a Dissertation concerning the Malignant Fever, commonly known as Vomito Negro (Black Vomit),an epidemic illness in the Eastern Indies, an essay that initiated the medical bibliography in Cuba and for which he was designated Miembro Correspondiente de la Real Academia de Medicina de Madrid (Correspondent Member of the Royal Academy of Medicine of Madrid).
His major contribution was the introduction of the Chicken-Pox Vaccine in Cuba, three years before the discovery of the preventive inoculation against Chicken-Pox was announced by the British Dr. Edward Jenner in 1798. Romay had already published an article concerning this subject. It was after the colonial authorities decided to introduce the inoculation by means of the cow’s virus, that the Cuban scientist went throughout the Island seeking for the cow-pox with no avail. It was accidentally that he learned of the arrival of a family from Puerto Rico with three children who had been recently vaccinated against the Chicken-Pox and who were in active suppuration state. Romay contacted the children’s mother, took the pox from the children and inoculated dozens of persons of all ages, sex and conditions.
It was after the defamatory campaign carried out by the inoculation enemies that he proceeded to vaccinate two of his children and others in the presence of the Real Tribunal de Protomedicato (Board of Royal Physicians) with positive results. From that moment on and during more than thirty years he dedicated himself to the Chicken-Pox vaccination. In February of 1833, at the age of 69, Romay participated in the battle against cholera disease that appeared in Havana, an illness that killed more than 8,000 people in 54 days, his first born daughter among them.
Thanks to the influence he had over his own students that the development of medicine and science took place in Cuba. So was the case of Dr. Jose Esteves and Cantal, who, besides being the best chemist of his time, consolidated a new branch of Therapeutic: Medical Hydrology. Esteves performed an analysis of the waters of San Diego, the most famous of our miner-medicinal fountains for the utilization of its curative properties. It was through Esteves that Botanical, Chemical and Mineralogy were introduced in the Island, a major contribution to the development of the cultural and scientific reformed movement.
Romay stood out in the introduction of scientific methods in the practice of medical teaching. He became the first professor of the Medical Clinic class when it was officially inaugurated in 1834. His thesis consisted in that a Specialty had to be learned by the patients’ bed. He introduced the course of Anatomy using cadavers, and Clinical studies in the Hospital Ward. He took the students to the patients’ wards and also to the morgue for autopsy practices. It was after that moment that the regular and methodical Clinic teaching began in the hospitals.
As a doctor, his job had always a predominant social character. He was Assistant Doctor in the Marine hospitals; Assistant Doctor of the patients’ ward established in the Convento de Belen (Belen Convent); Doctor, since its foundation, of the Real Casa de Beneficiencia (Royal Charity Home); Doctor of the Religiousness of Santo Domingo; Doctor of the school for girls of San Francisco de Sales; Doctor of the Santa Catalina Monastery; Doctor of the Real Colegio Seminario de San Carlos (Royal Seminary College of San Carlos); General Assistant Doctor of the Military Hospital, established outside the city walls, and Chief Doctor of the Military Hospital of San Ambrosio.
Because of his contributions to the study of Yellow Fever, his activities in disease prevention which made him the first great Cuban Hygienist, the introduction of scientific methods in the teaching practice, his battle against scholasticism in education, his influence over students and the introduction of new methods of thinking, he laid the foundation of science principles in Cuba. Tomas Romay, one of the founders of our national culture is a vivid example that the service to the country is not limited to military battles. The country can also be served in any field, independently of political ideas: a lesson for all, especially for those in government.
Translated by David Fernandez
Parallel to the work of Arango y Parreño, the Priest Jose Agustin Caballero y de la Barrera (1762-1835) engaged in the reform of thought as a premise for the advancements of science and culture. Caballero, Philosopher and Theologian, headed the See of Philosophy at the Seminary and after, to the end of his life, the See of Holy Scripture and Moral Ethics. Endowed with encyclopedic knowledge, acute sensibility, ethical behavior and illustrious ideas, he confronted from the viewpoint of Catholicism, the scholastic prejudices that impeded the advancement of the Colony.
With the support of the Governor, Caballero pointed out that the main reason for the cultural stagnation in the Colony was the result of obsolete forms of thoughts. To achieve his objective, he re-directed his theoretical-practical activity exposing an innovative philosophical thought which led to the initiation of the reform of the old medieval philosophy. It was for that reason and for that purpose that, from the stand of Metaphysics, Physics and Ethics, he re-structured his Elective Philosophy (1797), being this the first intent in accommodating it to modern thoughts, and one of the first efforts to systematize the philosophical knowledge in the Island. The elected surname for his philosophy suggested the non-adaptation of absolute truths or the submission to the authorities in philosophic or scientific matters. He compared this method with the one through which a person, thinking for himself, remounts to the general principles, examining them, and then discussing and extracting his own conclusions, a method in which Scholastics was rendered useless.
On one opportunity, referring to those contributions, his maternal nephew Jose de la Luz y Caballero wrote: “…he was the first who echoed the doctrines of Locke and of Condillac, of Verulamio and Newton in our classrooms. He was the first to tell his students of experiments and experimental physics.”
According to Torres Cuevas, his solution to problems did not provoke rupture, but rather conciliation, between the old system of ideas and the new. “His pretension,” said Cuevas, “was to develop the criticism of Scholasticism, eliminating everything that was an obstacle to science, but without breaking the fundamental pillars of the system”. On the other hand, Temerovoi, in his La Filosofia en Cuba (Philosophy in Cuba) 1790-1878, established that “in logic as in all his philosophy, Caballero was consistent to the end, evading turbulent problems and coming closer to materialism and atheism.”
In reference to these criteria, I consider that when evaluating the conduct of any historic figure, one must take into consideration his time, space, interests and own formation. Caballero was a man of the Church, a Theologian, member of a social class in formation, and so, anyone who becomes a protagonist in a time of transition, assumes rupture or evolution, in other words, revolution or reform. Caballero opted for the second one. Formed as a Scholastic, he initiated his disavowal from it through reform. Temevoi judged Caballero from the viewpoint of Marxist philosophy as a person beyond his time, as if the lustrous Cuban was a simple Marxist professor, ignoring that his grandeur consisted in what he did with scholasticism and from the Seminary classrooms, long before the emergence of Marxism. His purpose, which he completely accomplished, was to create a method of knowledge in order to promote the scientific and social development. It was through his reformatory action that he became the last Cuban scholastic of the XVIII Century, and the first philosopher of the XIX, founder of philosophy and co-founder of science in Cuba. That is an indisputable merit, reason for which not only ought we to remember him and be thankful to him, but also to face, as he did, the challenges of our time.
In the matter of education, he was the first one to pronounce himself for the abolition of Latin, the implementation of Spanish in the schools, the generalization of the free primary education, and making education available to women, elements that constitute part of his work in the educational reform. He was also the first one to speak about physics experimentation in Cuba, a subject to which he dedicated various works and discourses, among them: “Discurso sobre la Fisica: (Discourse on Physics) 1791; “Educacion de los Hijos” (Children’s Education” (1791); Pensamientos sobre los Medios Violentos de que se valen los Maestros para Educar” (Thoughts about Violent ways used by Teachers to Educate” (1792); “Reflecciones sobre el Verdadero Filosofo” (“Reflexions about the True Philosopher”) (1792); “Ordenanzas para las Escuelas Gratuitas de La Habana” (“Statutes for Free Schools in Havana”) (1794); “Discurso sobre la Reforma de Estudios Universitarios” (“Discourse onReform of University Studies” (1795); and “Discurso sobre la Educacion de las Mujeres” (Discurse Concerning Women’s Education” (1802). His cultural activity extended to the rest of the institutions of his time, among them the Patriotic Society, called by Marti “the highest mentored of the Cuban societies”. He also realized innumerable contributions, ideas and projects produced by his pen which were disseminated through the society in Havana, through the pages of the Papel Periodico de La Habana (Paper Newspaper of Havana).
At the beginning of the XIX Century, Caballero conceived and prepared the first autonomous government project for Cuba, a legislation inspired by the English Public Right, the only document in which he shows his interpretation of the political doctrines. This was also a project of reforms by which he proposed to continue the modification of the Colonial system in correspondence with the interests of the creole oligarchy. In 1813 he took charge of his nephew’s education, Jose de la Luz y Caballero, which represented a new and valuable contribution. Had his work been limited to this last effort, it would have nevertheless taken a relevant place in our history.
Nevertheless, his main contribution consisted in understanding that the transformations of the XIX Century were not possible with the existing teaching methods and in acting accordingly. It is in this that the imperishable of his works consisted, for even if there are two centuries that separate us from his death, in today’s Cuba, as the one of yesterday, the education reforms in culture and in the society in general, constitute an imperious necessity. Jose Agustin Caballero constitute, by his legacy, one of the main functional cornerstone of our nationality.
Translated by David Fernandez
After the British withdrawal in 1763, Charles III abolished the commercial monopoly, fit out the Spanish ports for merchant traffic with Cuba, and contracted the import of slaves. These were a series of measures that offered the creole oligarchy the opportunity, to realize their dream of transforming Cuba into the world’s primary producer of sugar and coffee, an economic project — the best structured in our history — in which Francisco de Arango y Parreño (1765-1837), politician, lawyer and economist rose as its main figure.
His ideas concerning the promotion of the economy are essentially contained in two works: In Discourse on agriculture in Havana and ways to promote it (1792), he comprehensively analyzed the characteristics of an industrial enterprise beginning with its production, and continuing with the work force, its finance, distribution, and the markets; and in his 1794 report, How the refinery process done in Europe resulted in great detriment for Cuba (1794), he cited the mechanisms employed by the European cities for colonial domination. This was the first critique of mercantilism produced in a Spanish colony and is therefore a pioneering work of economic thought.
Haiti’s ruin and the soaring prices of sugar and coffee, caused by the revolution in neighboring island, created the conditions for Cuba to occupy its place in the international market. The main obstacle for the creole land-holders was in the slavery work force, and so they opted in a resolute way for a pure economy outside the boundaries of ethics. Thanks to his February 6, 1789 report, Arango, as Havana’s City Hall attorney, was able to bring before the Metropolitan Government the free import of slaves into the Island, first for two years and afterward for an additional six years. Fourteen Royal Cells, Orders and Decrees between 1789 and 1804, furthered the business of importing blacks which lead to the modern system of Black exploitation and the base for capitalistic growth. Sugar converted the Island in a great plantation that radically changed its geography, its economic structure and all aspects of the colonial society. In the decade of 1830, Cuba became the first global exporter of sugar, coffee, honey, rum and cooper, and was among the first in the world in wax, bee-honey and tobacco, at a time when the Black population was greater than the white.
Two consequences of Cuba’s new position were: 1.- The financial interests of the creole land-holders kept them away from the battle for independence that was taking place in the whole continent during the first quarter of the XIX Century. The war implicated their ruin as social class. They were trapped in a conflict that had no solution. They needed freedom for their ranks and slavery for the Blacks. 2.- Fear of the Blacks brought with it a major preoccupation concerning slave uprisings, bringing with it additional repressions. Facing such reality, Arango y Parreño made the slaves’ land-holders’ feelings known before the Spanish Courts, where more or less he stated: “Freedom only for his class before freedom for the slave; the Spanish before the Africans; the citizens before people of color.” These were the principles on which the Cuba of plantations, colonial, slavery and burgess were founded.
Subjected to slavery for life in the plantations, the slaves formed human associations, practically excluding women and breaking the family concept. It was a bit later, when the end of the Black trafficking was evident, that our noble statesman was able to attain the freedom to introduce slave women for reproductive purposes. In his Sugar Mill -the world’s largest of his time- during the decade of 1820 all the sugar cane was cut and lifted exclusively by Black women. The rearing of slaves was similar in image and style as that of animals, generating such horrible effects that the mothers of children chose infanticide as “acts of love” to eliminate their descendants, so that they would not have to suffer the horrors of slavery.
In order to dominate slaves’ disobedience, a series of punishments were used that generally were executed at the entrance of the hut as a wall to curb the rebelliousness spirit: The whipping, the face down, the novenary, the ladder and the bayonet were part of the repertoire. Of such infernal life conditions -more like death- the cimarron (runaway slave), the Palenque and the conspiracies emerged. Such violence manifested in all its nakedness during the slavery uprising. It is worth mentioning the insurrection led by Jose Antonio Aponte y Ulabarra, a free Black whose objective was to abolish slavery and defeat the Colonial Government. The escalated violence came to its peak in 1844 with the horrible repression known as “Conspiracion de la Escalera” (The Ladder Conspiracy). It was during the investigative processes of this conspiracy that more than four thousand Blacks and Whites were killed by shooting, 817 were incarcerated, 334 were deported and more than 300 resulted dead, not counting the many Black Cubans and Mulattoes exiled in Mexico.
The pragmatism of sugar profits constituted an intent to develop an economy based in the subordination of one-third of the Island’s population. It is in failing to remember the course of our history up to this day that the germs of the outcome are to be found. Arango spoke to the Cubans about “country”, but of a excluding country. One of Arango’s major and least mentioned contributions was to have demonstrated how pernicious and difficult the progress of any project for the advancement of a social group can be at the expense of another. It is possible to grow in the economic aspect or any other one for some time, but it is not possible to advance if a nation is built on ignoring the rights of its citizens. Cuba became the first sugar exporter in the world, but ended sunk in horror and blood, hate and racial prejudices that still exist today.
Translated by David Fernandez
Between approximately 1510 and 1550 the economy of the Island of Cuba was based on mining and the forced labor of the Aborigines. From that date on and to the end of the XVII Century, cattle raising and the military maritime prevailed, a period in which the development of the city of Havana was based in the maritime and construction services. In that context the figure of Jose Martin Felix de Arrate y Acosta (1701-1764), first ideologist of the Havana Oligarchy, emerged.
That sector of society, integrated by families with similar origins and common interests, adopted a sense of identity and destiny that needed a voice to represent it. Of that necessity Felix de Arrate, author of “Llave del Nuevo Mundo Antemural de las Indias Occidentales” (Key to the New World, Fort of the West Indies) emerged. It is here where he narrates the history of Havana, where his status as a citizen allowed him certain political participation that at the same time excluded the Blacks, Mulattoes and also the Whites engaged in manual labor. Here, he also revealed the demand for the expansion for power of his own social class.
“La Llave del Nuevo Mundo” gathers the history of Havana, beginning with the fundamental events that shaped it. It deals with a civic memory in which the social sector that it represents, appears as an agent of what is being remembered. In it, the identity of a person living in Havana as a man with a history of citizenship was defined. It also contained a discourse that, having been pronounced from the Colony, could not be considered other than subversive. Concluding a bit before the invasion of Havana by the British, Arrate’s work ends in an era where the historic values of the nobility started to be replaced by a Bourgeoisie that from the point of the plantation’s economy, concentrates its ascent in the production process of goods for the international market.
History is not there by accident, says Moreno Fraginals, it is there to uphold the country’s history. In other words, Havana’s history. Its purpose is to ascertain the continuity of the greatness of those born in it: Havana’s Creole, a history that stands out and praises the virtues of the Creole Spanish in relation to those in the Peninsula. With the word “Country,” he evokes the love for the city, the chunk of earth in which one is born, emphasizes the characteristics of the climate, the geography, the vegetative ambiance, the superiority of Havana’s wood, the best in the world, used in doors, windows and the carving of El Escorial, the fruits of delicate taste and splendid aromas. It is also here that he associates the term “Country” with the family, the society, with and happiness, an exaltation through which he introduces the conclusive idea that the Creole can only be distinguished from the Castilian by the place where he was born. In that exaltation of the Natural Medium and the Spanish born in Cuba, the fundamentals for the comparison of rights between the Peninsulars and Creoles are found.
In praising the native Havanan, Arrate generated a subversive discourse by exalting all the natives, including Indians and Blacks. Nevertheless, as a member of the Havana’s White Oligarchy inserted in the metropolitan culture, his sense of comparison did not imply a rupture. It was not the moment to oppose the established social order and its scale of values. What was arguable was the place that the Creole Oligarchy occupied in the hierarchical scale. The Spanish Creole was at the service of the Empire and his merits flowed precisely from those services. It was a contradiction-claim. For that reason, Moreno Fraginals said that there are only complaints and claims, because it is that from the comparison of merits that the equivalence of positions emerge.
Arrates’ concepts reveal the double character of the contradictions of the Havana oligarchy. In the first place, because of the Creole/Peninsular position at the top of society. Second, at the base, the antagonism between Whites and Blacks, rich and poor. The values of the nobility are fed from both negations, they proclaim to be equals to the Peninsular Spanish and for that reason they have the right to occupy the highest official positions. At the same time, being men of pure blood, they have the right to demand submission from Indians, Blacks and poor Whites. These are the contradictions for which solutions were sought in the century following the wars for independence.
His praise and commendation of Havana and all that is born in it: Indians, Blacks, fruits, trees, swine, generate a Creolism which, even if limited in the social aspect, contained values that were accepted in the surging Cuba and recognized by the dominated classes themselves. The virtues of the earth which he praises in his work are found later in the Creole poetry: “Oda a la Pina” (“Ode to the Pineapple”), of Manuel de Zequeiera y Arango (1764-1846); “La Silva Cubana” (The Cuban Silva) of Manuel Justo de Rubalcava (1769-1805) [Silva is a metric composition without method or order]; “La Flor de la Cana y del Cafe” (The Sugarcane and Coffe Flowers) of Placido (1808-1844); and “Rufina. Segunda Invitacion”, del Cucalambe” (“Rufina. Second Invitation”, of the Cucalambe” (1829-1862), just to cite some examples of the thematic affinity between the Arate’s Creole and the song to nature in the Cuban poetry.
The validity of Arrate’s work became evident starting in the decade of 1760, when the Oligarchy in Havana was in the process of attaining a new objective: making Cuba the world’s leading producer of sugar and coffee. At that time, the Friends of the Country Economic Society, dominated by the new native intelligentsia, founded a history committee, and edited his work and published everything useful about their heritage. His work was the first major political argument that only Cuban criollismo could be at that time and those conditions: aristocratic, colonialism, slavery and racism. It was an attempt at class comparison combined with the exclusion of the rest of society which is the first link in the Cuban political history, a story that holds important keys to the interpretation of the present.
TRANSLATED BY DAVID FERNANDEZ