Cuba, Political Movements, Nineteenth Century

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Cuba, Political Movements, Nineteenth Century

Nineteenth Century Cuba: Political Movements. Cuban political attitudes in the nineteenth century were conditioned by a number of factors, particularly the hardening of Spanish colonial rule after the loss of the South American mainland colonies in 1825 and the development on the island of a prosperous sugar industry (1790–1830) that depended on the importation of an increasing number of African slaves. As a result, during the first half of the century the majority of Cuba's population was black or mulatto. In those days, slaves represented a great asset but also a menace. In 1791 there had been a slave revolt in Haiti that had lain waste the island, wiping out its white planter class. Haiti's specter never ceased to haunt Cuban slave owners.

A land like Cuba, therefore, was not receptive to political extremism. When the sense of national identity matured among Cubans, a process that roughly coincided with the sugar revolution, some small groups, encouraged by events in continental Spanish America, began to consider seriously the prospect of independence. But the planter class and the leading intellectuals refused to support the movement. Although they, too, were disgruntled with the existing order, they favored evolution over revolution; and whenever they became too impatient with Spanish despotism, they sought to preserve their wealth by making Cuba one of the slave states of the United States. These two attitudes gave rise to the two major political movements of the first two-thirds of the century: reformism and annexationism.

Generally speaking, reformists opposed abolition of slavery, proposing instead that the slave trade be suppressed and white colonization promoted. Some, like José Antonio Saco, dreaded Cuba's absorption by the United States, and others at times could live with it, but all of them dreamed about "building a fatherland," as José de la Luz y Caballero put it, and believed that Cuba was sufficiently rich and powerful to force Spain to make concessions.

Annexationism was basically supported by slave owners who feared that England would compel Spain to free the slaves in Cuba, although there were some who joined the movement for other reasons. Its influence pervaded the Cuban political milieu, either overtly or implicitly, until the eve of independence, but it reached its peak with the two futile attempts made in 1850 and 1851 by a former officer of the Spanish army, Narciso López, to carry the "annexationist revolution" into Cuba. In both cases López had U.S. backing.

Annexationism was little more than a dream after the U.S. Civil War, and the same fate befell reformism after the failure in April 1867 of the Junta de Información convened by the Madrid government to discuss the reforms that were necessary in Cuba. After this new setback, Cubans, who were then feeling the impact of an international economic crisis, began to think again that armed rebellion was the only way out of their predicament. And so it was that a group of planters and patriots rose up on 10 October 1868, the start of the Ten Years' War. The war was unsuccessful, but its consequences were lasting. It began the process of integration of all the various elements that made up Cuban society and solidified the nationalistic spirit that ultimately ignited the 1895–1898 war of independence. As far as Cuba is concerned, the history of the last third of the nineteenth century is the history of the rise and culmination of independentismo, the third great political movement of the period.

See alsoSlavery: Spanish America; Slave Trade.


For a discussion of the subject in English, see Hugh Thomas, Cuba: The Pursuit of Freedom (1971). Further details are found in José Ignacio Rodríguez, Estudio histórico sobre el origen, desenvolvimiento y manifestaciones prá cticas de la idea de la anexión de la isla de Cuba (1900); Francisco Figueras, Cuba y su evolución colonial (1959); Ramiro Guerra, Guerra de los diez años, 1868–1878, 2 vols. (1972); Sergio Aguirre, "Seis actitudes de la burguesía cubana en el siglo XIX," in his Eco de caminos (1974); Ramiro Guerra, Manual de historia de Cuba (1975); and Pedro Roig, La guerra de Martí (1984).

Balboa Navarro, Imilcy. La protesta rural en Cuba: Resistencia cotidiana, bandolerismo y revolución 1878–1902. Madrid, Spain: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 2003.

Childs, Matt D. The 1812 Aponte Rebellion in Cuba and the Struggle against Atlantic Slavery. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006.

Ferrer, Ada. Insurgent Cuba: Race, Nation, and Revolution, 1868–1898. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999.

                                     JosÉ M. HernÁndez