Gómez, Juan Gualberto

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GÓmez, Juan Gualberto

July 12, 1854
March 5, 1933

Juan Gualberto Gómez y Ferrer was born on a Cuban sugar plantation to the slaves Fermín Gómez and Serafina Ferrer. Known throughout his life as a man of letters and a nationalist intellectual par excellence, he argued, perhaps more fervently than any other Cuban nationalist, that the problem of Cuban freedom was as much about the socioeconomic progress and political participation of African-descended Cubans as it was a struggle for sovereignty. Indeed, for many of his peers his pronouncements on race progress undermined the ideal of national racelessness and marked him as a troubling player in the national political arena.

In 1869, at age fifteen, Gómez traveled to Paris in the company of a wealthy Cuban landowner to learn carriage making, but his obvious scholarly aptitude quickly led to his enrollment at Paris's Munge School of Engineering and the Central School of Arts and Manufacture. For several years Gómez studied assiduously while also witnessing French revolutionary fervor and the devastation of the Franco-Prussian War (18701871). In the evenings he mixed with tradesmen at workers' clubs and attended parliamentary and public debates about citizens' rights.

The Pact of Zanjón (1878), which ended Cuba's Ten Years War and brought a partial and unsatisfactory peace to the island, coincided with the return home of a young man of considerable ideological maturity. Gómez's return, in fact, coincided with significant shifts in Cuba's social and political terrain: The Moret law (1870) of gradual abolition had granted slaves only partial emancipation; Cuban political parties had finally emerged (1878), albeit without Cubans' representation at the Spanish cortes; and repression by the crown rose even as liberal reforms established freedoms in the press, public assembly, and education. Gómez proved a formidable adversary for the state, founding and editing several publications that opposed colonial rule and supported socioeconomic advancement for the "colored race," until he was deported to Spain from 1880 to 1890 for sedition. Though Gómez organized all classes and colors, he proselytized in particular among black and mulatto artisans, insisting that African-descended Cubans, especially former slaves, would gain full political participation through education and enlightened thinking and behavior. In 1886, despite his exile in Spain, Gómez galvanized hundreds of black and mulatto social club members on the island to form a political bloc known as the Central Directorate of Societies of the Colored Race.

In the decades following the end of colonialism in Cuba in 1898, Gómez received prestigious appointments to Havana's Board of Education and the Cuban Academy of History, and he spearheaded a hearty but unsuccessful protest among fellow constitutional assemblymen to prevent the adoption of the U.S.-authored Platt Amendment in the new Cuban constitution. He also served in national leadership in the house (19141916) and senate (19161924). Gómez continued to advocate race progress and denounce political corruption in his newspaper, Patria (19251927), even attacking the despotism of President Gerardo Machado (19251933). Until 1932, when Gómez retired in relative poverty near Havana, Cubans from all sectors continued to request his counsel and intervention in employment, social, and political matters. Juan Gualberto Gómez died from pulmonary edema in 1933.

See also Afrocubanismo


Estuch, Leopoldo Horrego. Juan Gualberto Gómez: un gran inconforme. Havana: Editorial Mecenas, 1954.

Gómez, Juan Gualberto. Por Cuba libre. Havana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1974.

Scott, Rebecca. Slave Emancipation in Cuba: The Transition to Free Labor, 18601899. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1985.

melina ann pappademos (2005)

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