October 30, 1834
c. August 22, 1906
Quintín Bandera was among the most significant black leaders in the struggle for Cuban independence from 1868 to 1898, a struggle that overlapped with the process of slave emancipation and in which questions of race and citizenship were highly prominent.
Bandera was born in Santiago to free black parents. He worked as a bricklayer, rural day worker, and a cabin boy and fuel stoker on a ship. When the first war of independence (Ten Years' War) began in 1868, he joined as a private and was among the last to surrender as a lieutenant colonel in 1878. With other notable black and mulatto rebel leaders, he participated in the Protest of Baraguá in March 1878, when these and other leaders took a public stance against the peace pact signed by the highest ranking Cuban officers, a pact that accepted peace without the achievement of either independence or abolition. Bandera also participated in the second war of independence, the Guerra Chiquita, or Little War, from 1879 to 1880.
But it was in the final war of independence against Spain, which began in February 1895 and ended in August 1898 (several months after United States intervention) that Bandera became most prominent (and controversial). He was among the first to rise up on February 24, 1895; indeed he appears to have participated in some of the preparatory work done in the months before the outbreak of war. He was an important figure in the insurgent invasion of the western regions of the island, a march led by Antonio Maceo and Máximo Gómez, that began in October 1895 in Oriente and successfully entered the western provinces of Matanzas, Havana, and Pinar del Rio by the end of that year. During that invasion, Bandera was the target of racist rumor and propaganda, as the Spanish press and others portrayed his troops as "exotic" blacks wearing nose rings and loincloths. In July 1897, Bandera, by then a division general, was relieved of his command by Máximo Gómez, head of the Cuban Liberation Army.
The decision was not without controversy. The disciplinary action has generally been interpreted as punishment for his lack of military activity and for shunning his duty in order to remain near a mistress in the south-central area of Trinidad. Bandera himself offered a different explanation, arguing that he had served honorably, that he was simply a humble man, and that he had been badly treated by local, white insurgent leaders around Trinidad. Whatever the reason, the punishment meant that the end of the war in August 1898 found Bandera back in Santiago still stripped of his command.
The controversy that surrounded him late in the war continued into the postwar period. In 1899 he founded the Cuban National Party of Oriente and, in 1900, toured the island, visiting towns where he was received by local authorities and notables. At the same time, however, revisionist historians point to his marginalization in the republic inaugurated in 1902—the denial of full payment for military service, his difficulties in obtaining suitable employment, his need to conduct fund-raisers for his own benefit—to make a larger point about the ways in which black veterans of independence were sidelined in the republic their labor and patriotism created. In 1906, in the midst of an armed rebellion against the first president of the republic, Bandera was ambushed and killed by a white veteran of the Cuban Liberation Army. A year later, when authorities allegedly uncovered a black conspiracy, the signal for the start of the projected uprising was to be the assassination of the man who had assassinated Bandera.
In many ways Bandera is emblematic of the complex and highly charged relationship between race and nationalism in late-nineteenth-century Cuba. On the one hand, he exemplifies the prominence and recognition achieved by black men of humble origins in the independence struggle. On the other, the controversy and racism he confronted throughout his career speak to the thorny limits of that same inclusion and recognition.
See also Maceo, Antonio
Diccionario enciclopédico de historia militar de Cuba. Tomo 1. Biografías. Havana: Ediciones Verde Olivo, 2001.
Ferrer, Ada. Insurgent Cuba: Race, Nation, and Revolution, 1868–1898. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999.
Fuente, Alejandro de la. A Nation for All: Race, Inequality, and Politics in Twentieth-Century Cuba. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.
Helg, Aline. Our Rightful Share: The Afro-Cuban Struggle for Equality, 1886–1912. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995.
Padrón, Abelardo. General de tres guerras. Havana: Editorial Letras Cubanas, 1991.
ada ferrer (2005)