¡Viva España! ¡Muera a autonomía!
Cuban Liberalism, Slave Emancipation, and the Limits of Loyalty
By David A. Sartorius
Either darkness had fallen on Cienfuegos unnaturally early on October 20, 1886, or none of the city’s residents wanted to tell authorities who initiated a disturbance in front of the Teatro Zorrilla that night. Cienfuegueros gathered for the Partido Liberal Autonomista meeting at the theater as early as six o’clock, including many of the black and mulato residents from the surrounding neighborhood. Yet most people who the police questioned in subsequent days claimed that it was far too dark to identify the specific individuals who produced a tumult so uncharacteristic of their city.
Perhaps there were too many suspects to choose from. The Teatro Zorrilla, built a year earlier to accommodate around three hundred people, was bursting with over one thousand individuals by the time the meeting began at eight o’clock. They had come to hear the province’s two newly-elected liberal deputies to the Cortes, Rafael Fernández de Castro and Miguel Figueroa, less than two weeks after a royal decree from Spain formally abolished slavery. Fernández de Castro began his speech by criticizing the Spanish government, prompting an outburst of cheers and jeers. Next, he claimed that the abolition of slavery was the result of the efforts of the Partido Liberal, which led to a second interruption, some people shouting approval, others yelling "¡Mentira!" ("Lie!") and "¡Fuera a autonomia!" ("Out with autonomy!").
Once guards had quieted the audience again, Fernández de Castro reiterated that liberals had secured abolition for those Cubans who remained in bondage. Outside the theater, over fifteen hundred cienfuegueros began shouting "¡Viva España! ¡Muera a autonomía!" ("Long live Spain! Death to autonomy!"). Some threw sticks, rocks, and bottles at the theater; someone fired a revolver repeatedly. Inside the theater, people broke chairs as audience members clambered out of doors and windows and as people outside tried to push their way into the building. Fernández de Castro and Figueroa slipped out of the theater through a side door and fled the commotion, leaving behind over ten percent of the city’s residents in the throes of disorder. A rumor circulated in newspapers in subsequent days that a moreno named Pedro Jiménez had been killed during the upheaval, and authorities spoke of "an excitement among the people of color" in the city that had sparked the conflict. One eyewitness from the meeting said that the theater and street were "completely full of people of bad appearance and for the most part people of color, in shirtsleeves." A guard at the theater, however, insisted to investigators that the commotion had nothing to do with racial tensions, that instead "it is a question of Liberals and Conservatives." How these contrasting descriptions coexisted, and what that implied about the political loyalties of African-descended cienfuegueros, are the subjects of this essay.
Although 1886 marked the end of slavery in Cuba, historians have understandably downplayed the significance of its legal demise. Slavery had been in decline since the beginning of gradual abolition in 1870, and in the final years of slave apprenticeship, known as the patronato, so many slaves had obtained their freedom that it made sense to deputies in the Spanish Cortes to end the period two years prior to the 1888 target date. Planters and other slaveowners were already exploring alternative labor arrangements, and former slaves adapted to economic and social conditions somewhat removed from their new legal status. Moreover, racial prejudice and labor exploitation remained so ubiquitous following emancipation that the continuities with slavery tended to outweigh the changes that accompanied the transition to free labor.
But abolition mattered enough that politicians like Rafael Fernández de Castro and Miguel Figueroa embraced it as a political triumph for their party, and that over two thousand cienfuegueros violently disagreed. Politicians had been tinkering with the laws that regulated slavery and abolition for years, and in many respects the end of the patronato was as much a success story for a new partisan politics as it was a non-event for many ordinary Cubans. The disorder at the Zorrilla dramatized both official and popular struggles over the meaning of formal abolition in the context of other colonial reforms. In 1878, separatist rebels and Spanish officials signed the Pact of Zanjón (1878) that ended the Ten Years’ War, Cuba’s first armed struggle for independence. As a concession to rebels and reformists, the Spanish government authorized political parties on the island and gave Cubans increased representation in colonial affairs. It also consented to an unprecedented expansion of the public sphere that loosened press censorship and sanctioned associations. Because these reforms overlapped with gradual abolition, Spain’s enhanced efforts to maintain colonial order also laid the institutional groundwork for an integrated postemancipation society. The flaws in that groundwork became evident as Cubans tested the limits of the reforms and as liberal and conservative politicians debated their merits. People of African descent, including former slaves, sought inclusion in a fractious political and social environment. And the liberal and conservative factions that had delineated the legal conclusion of gradual abolition also increasingly defined local networks of patronage and clientelism. On October 20, 1886, cienfuegueros disrupted the Partido Liberal meeting based on an understanding of liberalism’s politics of division.
This essay examines the dynamics of the nascent post-Zanjón public sphere—the institutions that mediated interactions between the colonial state and Cuban society—in order to understand how African-descended Cubans figured into the politics of the "ever-faithful Isle." Emilia Viotti da Costa has argued that liberalism can best be understood by examining its contradictions, in particular the contradictions between its ideals, slavery, and patronage. In late nineteenth-century Cuba, liberal politicians like Rafael Fernández de Castro toured the island to seek the public support of ordinary Cubans, many of whom had little or no electoral power. They spoke in theaters whose very space had become highly politicized in the wake of the post-Zanjón reforms, and they gave speeches that frequently drew upon a racialized and divisive vocabulary. The changes in the public sphere that the Partido Liberal had championed revealed the possibilities and limits that people of African descent faced in making their voices heard in a contentious postemancipation urban society. Slavery’s demise, as a political event, prompted a reconsideration of the relationships between politicians and their supporters, and of the terms on which those relationships operated. The turmoil at the Teatro Zorrilla, and the events leading up to it, revealed the conflicts that some African-descended cienfuegueros saw between the liberalization of the public sphere and their associational affiliations through which they affirmed their loyalty to Spain.
The Politics of Liberalism in the Post-Zanjón Détente
Institutional divisions between liberals and conservatives were relatively new in Cuba, a product of concessions made by the colonial government in the Pact of Zanjón. The peace settlement authorized municipal elections and the selection of twenty-four Cuban representatives to the Spanish parliament. Initially, the main founders and supporters of the Partido Liberal were creole planters and property-owners. Primarily, they sought greater control over the wealth that they generated and relief from the excessive influence of peninsulares. Established in July 1878, the Party articulated its reformist positions over the course of several months, on the heels of a rapid conservative response with the formation of the Partido Unión Constitucional later that autumn. Whereas propertied Spaniards and other defenders of colonial rule comprised the membership of the Unión Constitucional, the Partido Liberal came to attract supporters ranging from former insurgents to moderate reformers. Liberals had their economic interests at heart when they demanded the abolition of all duties on Cuban exports, further reductions of tariffs and customs fees, and increased laxity on trade with other countries such as the United States. They sought the full extension to Cubans of the rights guaranteed under the 1876 Spanish constitution and the separation of political and military authority on the island. Ultimately, they sought self-government for Cuba in the control of local institutions, albeit under the continued tutelage of Spain. In 1881, the Party amended its name to the Partido Liberal Autonomista, and "autonomist" frequently stood as a synonym for "liberal" in subsequent years.
Liberals fought a near-constant battle against claims by Spaniards and members of the rival Partido Unión Constitucional that labeled them separatists in autonomists’ clothing. In fact, liberals occupied an uneasy space between separatists and loyalists that contracted in the final years of colonial rule. Although they clashed with peninsulares and conservatives over the degree of decision-making power to be placed in the hands of Cubans, they also recoiled from the radical solutions proposed by the independentistas that would threaten their dwindling economic success. Liberals like Rafael Fernández de Castro argued that colonial rule protected Cuba from the disorder that characterized the struggling independent nations in mainland Latin America. In an early speech, he warned against a Cuban strain of "the germs of disorder and revolt that have undermined the existence of the Spanish American republics, condemned to perpetual uprisings between class antagonisms, racial hatred [odios de raza], the despotism of caudillos, the passions of sects, and the lawless appetites of civil and military bureaucracies." Liberals hoped to channel those sectarian passions into a new institutional politics that included them. In the face of constant harassment by peninsulares and questionable electoral results that usually kept conservatives in control of local government, liberals sought and invoked popular support to bolster their claim to a political voice in colonial politics.
In part, cultivating a popular clientele echoed a broader concern among deputies in the Cortes, who worried about a strained, if not hostile, relationship with Cuba’s provinces. War and emancipation had created a countryside of free people whose loyalty to Spain needed confirmation. Deputy José María Carbonell expressed this sentiment in 1886 when he argued that the provinces were no less important to political order than municipalities, "the foundation of Spanish nationalism." National integrity—a synonym for the preservation of empire—depended on conscientious attention to "the voice of the countryside, nothing less in a country eminently agricultural and in which, for that reason, rural aspirations and interests need to be more guaranteed." These sentiments provided the impetus for the excursiones políticas of the sort that Fernández de Castro and Figueroa undertook in 1886. Liberals maintained an uneasy relationship with Cubans and national politics alike, and they sought to reach out to ordinary Cubans to prove themselves as legitimate and loyal representatives of the Spanish government.
Among those itinerant liberals were the men who Paul Estrade calls "paradigmatic exponents of ‘historical’ creole autonomism." Rafael Montoro, Antonio Govín, Eliseo Giberga, and Rafael Fernández de Castro constituted the handful of party chiefs and deputies who remained powerful members of the Partido Liberal party even during the 1895-1898 war for independence. Their public speeches, alongside partisan newspapers, constituted the means by which ordinary Cubans educated themselves in colonial politics, and many of the Partido’s founding statements took place in Cienfuegos. Like the parties themselves, expanded rights of association and free press derived from the reforms promised in the Pact of Zanjón. Not surprisingly, the early statements of Partido Liberal leaders pledged their continued loyalty to Spanish colonial rule, setting a simultaneously oppositional and conciliatory tone. Rafael Montoro inaugurated the Partido Liberal in Cienfuegos on September 22, 1878, declaring that "the base of our politics, as many eloquent orators before me have said, can be nothing other than national unity, and the widest regimen of public freedoms." He warned of conservatives "who want to monopolize power" and called on cienfuegueros to wage a "legal and peaceful struggle in which the triumphs cost not one tear and are of inexhaustible productivity in public benefits." Antonio Govín affirmed the "national unity" of Spain and Cuba several days later in another meeting in Cienfuegos: "the peninsular has in Cuba his home, his heaven, his patria; the Cuban, at the same time, has in Spain his home, his heaven, his patria [. . .] Together they are the sacred soil of the patria." Liberals thus treaded gingerly between conservative complacency and radical antagonism to present a unified voice for reform. In contrast to liberal leaders in other provinces, members of the junta of Santa Clara province, which included Cienfuegos, had neither rebelled during the Ten Years’ War nor led earlier reformist efforts. Thus, as Montoro and Govín oversaw the election of Tomás Terry, Aurelio Rodríguez, and Laureano Muñoz as President, Vice-president, and Secretary respectively of the Liberal junta in Cienfuegos, they worried about more unpredictable leadership elsewhere and had good reason to publicize the moderate approach to post-Zanjón reformism that characterized political life in Cienfuegos.
In its policy agenda, the Partido Liberal made top priorities of ending slavery (with compensation for slaveowners) and the establishment of the patronato. Once that system took effect, liberals championed its early termination in order to end slavery altogether before the end of the eight-year process. From an electoral perspective, this was pure political strategy. The Pact of Zanjón fixed the number of deputies to be elected to the Cortes according to the number of free men, which discounted the population of former slaves. As Montoro pointed out in his first speech to the Cortes in 1886, the Spanish government reaped significant political benefits by abolishing slavery in 1880. But the number of Cuban deputies (24) never increased after the law passed:
Now then, I ask: What is the legal condition of the patrocinados? Are they free men or are they slaves? Are they free men? Then correspondingly increase the number of deputies. Are they slaves? Well then you should make this declaration. I should add, however, that in the course of these eight years, the number of patrocinados has diminished notably.
Additional representation for Cuba offered, at most, more seats for liberals in a crooked electoral system that almost always saw constitucional victories. At the very least, it augmented the Cuban bloc in the Cortes and worked toward the autonomist aspiration of giving more Cubans a louder voice in colonial politics.
Beyond political maneuvering, slave emancipation had moral, economic, and social rationales that a broadly defined liberal philosophy embraced. If the question of abolition sometimes divided the party, with slaveowners such as Fernández de Castro frustrated by the radical abolitionism of colleagues such as Miguel Figueroa, the division was sufficiently malleable for those two men to campaign together in 1886. In Cienfuegos, newspapers weighed arguments for ending slavery in moral and social terms. One writer in El Crisol, the city’s Partido Liberal daily, characterized emancipation as a natural extension of Spanish ideas of freedom. It represented the crucial step towards bringing Cuba and Spain closer together, for "when freedom opened its gates to the people of Spain, they saw that on the distant shores there was an enslaved race, and they could do no less than proclaim the emancipation of those disgraced beings." The hypothetical reunion of separated slaves mingled with the metaphorical one of national unity: "the virgin slave will be protected by her lover, and the orphan will not remain unsheltered, because it will be reunited with its family."
The conservative newspaper in Cienfuegos, La Lealtad, would have none of it. In 1883, it portrayed liberal slaveowners and Spanish abolitionists as ignorant of Cuban realities—Spaniards for having never even visited Cuba, liberals for their hypocrisy. The liberal planter who sought to accelerate emancipation was the same man, a writer in La Lealtad argued, who calmly read political pamphlets on his porch next to "the negrito in chains," pausing between puffs of tobacco and cups of coffee to "order shackles put on Mateo for having broken the spurs on a fine cock the day earlier." The newspaper especially mocked the praise showered upon the liberals by the London Times for their efforts to end slavery, so much more vigorously than even the British had famously done that Cuban liberals seemed "more papist than the Pope."
But the transition to free labor, irrespective of party opinions, raised new social concerns. Planters frequently invoked a labor shortage as the inevitable result of emancipation, a means of comprehending the unpredictability of postemancipation sugar production and of cloaking their desire to suppress wages. Liberals addressed this apprehension with a sustained commitment to encouraging immigration from Spain. Although migrant workers had been coming to Cuba from China and Yucatán since the middle third of the century, they did not provide the adaptive, coöperative workforce that planters and liberals desired. One of El Crisol’s writers argued that if the "Hispano-Cuban provinces" attracted white laborers, the population would not feel "the evils that racial heterogeneity brings with it." Chinese workers in both rural and urban Cienfuegos exemplified these evils:
It is such an exclusive race, so devoted to its habits and customs, that despite years of living in this country it has not been able to vary its dress or customs; its stores contain goods from its country and that they consume themselves: clothing, medicine, china [. . .] there is nothing from our country, for it seems that they despise it, to the extent that if they cultivate a piece of land they do not scatter seeds other than those of their own country.
Legal restrictions had once prevented the free migration of Spaniards to Cuba, forcing planters to use labor "that converted the countryside of this fertile land into a cemetery of the Ethiopian and Asiatic races, such that by natural law one can conclude that their introduction should always be prohibited." White Spanish workers, on the other hand, would contribute to what Fernández de Castro would call "the harmony of the Spanish family," already accustomed to the routines and practices of "Hispano-Cuban" life. In concert with other liberal aims, the capacity and initiative of Spanish workers to cultivate wheat, cotton, cacao, and coffee would reduce Cuba’s dependency on imports and foreign competition, augment foreign trade, and thus compel the colonial government to reduce tariffs. Spanish immigration, then, complemented the most basic assumptions of Cuban liberalism as it offered a comprehensive solution to the social, political and economic tensions of the 1880s. As colonial policy, it institutionalized racial preferences based on the assumption that the populations of African and Chinese descent constituted a degenerative force in Cuba’s economy and society.
Questions of emancipation and immigration resonated among the residents of Cienfuegos, where by 1886 the effects of gradual abolition were in plain view. According to censuses, the slave population in the region of Cienfuegos (including the plantations in the city’s hinterland) had dwindled from over 11,000 in 1877 to 5,447 by 1883. In the city itself, only 346 patrocinados remained in apprenticeship in 1886, compared to 1,710 two years earlier. The precipitious drop had not drastically decreased the number of workers in the sugar industry. Other transformations of rural labor had a more profound effect on sugar production, especially the centralization of sugar mills and tenant cane farming. But the transition to freedom offered former slaves additional mobility, and ledger books from the Santa Rosalía estate near Cienfuegos note brief, periodic departures by workers "to the city" in the months following their emancipation. Canary Islanders and Galicians were arriving in larger numbers to the city and countryside, where, as North American planter Edwin Atkins noted, they "worked with the negroes in the cane fields."
Planters also identified a related phenomenon that fueled their arguments about a labor shortage: the migration of African-descended workers to the Isthmus of Panama to build a canal. As patrocinados became free, some of them responded to calls for workers to leave Cienfuegos altogether for new work in a new place. The canal project drew labor from many Caribbean islands and surrounding mainland regions. The number of migrants was still small in Cuba, but a comparison to Jamaica startled conservatives. Nearly 25,000 Jamaican workers had left to work in Panama in 1883 alone, and a proportional exodus from Cuba could have devastated the sugar economy. Locally, contractors had recruited two hundred workers to leave Cienfuegos in December 1885 on a schooner bound for the canal zone. The Diario de Cienfuegos pleaded for awareness of the grim working conditions that awaited workers in Panama: "We hope that no more emigrants from Cuba will leave for this slaughterhouse," which promised workers "elevated wages that are perfectly illusory." The North American overseer of the Soledad estate changed his perspective on migration dramatically in the course of several months. He wrote to Edwin Atkins in October 1885 that "laborers still continue to go to Panama, but at present we have more than we require;" by January 1886, he complained that "our greatest difficulty in the future I fear will be the labor question and our only remedy to pay higher wages as so many laborers have been taken to Panama and St.Jago. This meaning all the white laborers refused to go to work and the greater part of them have gone off." The Cortes and the Ministerio de Ultramar had intended gradual emancipation to circumvent crises brought by sudden legal changes. But in Cienfuegos and elsewhere in Cuba, the end of the patronato and other forces generated real and imagined concerns about the future postemancipation society and economy.
Because these changes affected ordinary Cubans, the institutions of public opinion sanctioned by the Pact of Zanjón developed at a propitious time, for they offered unprecedented potential for open discussions of political issues. African-descended Cubans faced limits on their abilities to participate in the new colonial politics, but not insurmountable ones. Black and mulato public figures in Havana such as Rodolfo de Lagardère and Rodolfo Fernández Trava founded the Casino Español de color, an auxiliary association to the patriotic Casinos Españoles throughout the island, and they gave speeches and published newspapers affirming colonial rule while subtly pressing for reform. Juan Gualberto Gómez, a mulato living in Madrid during the 1880s who would later figure prominently in Cuba’s war for independence, wrote articles in liberal publications in Spain and became a vocal member of the Sociedad Abolicionista Español. Nevertheless, most African-descended Cubans lacked the material and educational resources to cultivate such public personae. In Cienfuegos, the Casino Español had no counterpart among residents of color, and attempts to make private opinions public centered on the development of other clubs, societies, and associations and on the spaces where they could prosper.
The Theatrics of Public Space and Associational Life
The reforms emerging from the Pact of Zanjón included expanded rights of press and association, and the year 1886 marked an especially momentous year for government officials and ordinary Cubans to test the limits of those reforms. One particular clash over associational rights in Cienfuegos sparked broad inquiry into the racial and political leanings of the relatively new centros de espiritismo. Clemente Pereira y Casines, the pastor of the Cienfuegos’s main church, halted a meeting of espiritistas at the Teatro Zorrilla on March 31, 1886. He appealed to the Gobernador Civil to deny their request for official authorization of their center. In letters to local newspapers, Pereira reminded readers that Article 11 of the Spanish constitution proclaimed Catholicism the official state religion, even as it nominally affirmed religious tolerance. Espiritismo, he argued, challenged Christianity and disturbed "conscience, family, and society." But the alcalde of Cienfuegos, Juan de Campo, attempted to quell the conflict by explaining that his hands were tied. The Ley de Reuniones públicas from 15 July 1880 approved of gatherings like the "lyrical-literary meeting" ("velada lírica-literaria") that the espiritistas had planned.
A subsequent island-wide investigation of espiritismo yielded numerous examples of meetings attended primarily by African-descended Cubans, "in which they pronounce against the white race and Spanish Nationality." But the espiritista group in Cienfuegos petitioned the Gobernador General in Havana to revoke the suspension of their meeting at the Zorrilla based on "the legal precepts that help us." They referred to the public reunion law from 1880 and to a royal decree from 1881 that extended the law to Cuba to regulate the exercise of rights proclaimed in Article 13 of the Spanish Constitution—that is, the right of every Spaniard to associate peacefully. The espiritistas had complied with the stipulation in the 1880 law requiring groups to inform local authorities in writing twenty-four hours in advance of a meeting. Espiritista meetings in Cuba had been advertised in three legally-sanctioned newspapers, La Luz de los Espacios, El Buen Deseo, and La Nueva Alianza, that were "dedicated to the advertisement and defense of the doctrines of Espiritismo." The espiritistas cienfuegueros asked, "If in Havana and Matanzas . . . these meetings take place with the protection of the Laws, what motive, what legal reason, can exist for this city, under the protection of those same laws, not to be able to celebrate meetings of the same nature and disposition?"
This question represented only a fraction of the confusion in Cuba and Spain over the limits of free association. Generally, secular groups encountered less interference from local authorities, who allowed the virtually unquestioned organization of political, scientific, artistic, charity, and social groups. Officials continued to monitor the proliferation of associations in terms of their potential loyalty or disloyalty to colonial rule, while Cubans of all backgrounds showed a remarkable literacy and agility with the associational laws.
The flourishing of associational life in which the espiritistas organized in the early 1880s also made possible the formation, or officialization, of clubs, societies, and other groups of African-descended people. The new laws not only encouraged new associations, but they also elevated and formalized the status of older ones, including cabildos and cofradías. As Philip Howard has argued, "Pan-Afro-Cuban societies" constitued important sites for mutual aid and consciousness-raising in order "to ameliorate the worst aspects of the caste system." Their membership often drew from and overlapped with those of cabildos and cofradías that predated the new associational laws, and they formed a close relationship to new newspapers and publications for Cubans of color. The three weekly and monthly periodicals begun by and for black and mulato cienfuegueros in 1886 attest to the presence of a literate, self-aware urban public.
The societies enjoyed the same rights of public reunion and followed the same regulations as philanthropic groups, trade unions, and patriotic clubs such as the Casinos Españoles. In this sense, societies of color joined an amalgam of associations that constituted post-Zanjón civil society in Cuba, most all of which recognized new political potential. If the societies of color fomented racial identity, they simultaneously fashioned a civic identity as participants in a multiracial community. They allowed a wider spectrum of African-descended people to express and debate political ideas than the few who voted in elections or the slightly larger number that attended liberal or conservative party functions. Abolition affected some members of the societies of color personally as well as politically, but it also allowed a point of entry into colonial politics writ large as liberals and conservatives attempted to define the contours of postemancipation public life.
By 1886, societies of color formed a complex network with other associations in Cienfuegos. These organizations often took shape within the physical spaces that they claimed in the city. The spaces included centers and schools, but the size and versatility of theaters gave them special prominence in public life. Theaters obviously housed public entertainment, including the compañías de bufo, which offered the most popular form of public entertainment with their comic plays and vignettes. But political meetings and speeches, plays, dramatic readings, and dances by different organizations could all take place in the same theater. The Teatro Zorrilla, after all, hosted not only the Partido Liberal meeting that ended in chaos but also the espiritista meeting earlier in the year. Victoria María Sueiro Rodríguez has argued that following the Ten Years’ War, the colonial government attempted to impose a reactionary character on the activities of theaters, to transform the theater into "an instrument contrary to the aspirations of the independence of the people." This frequently divided public space along racial and ethnic lines, with many theaters converting themselves into "purely Spanish" enterprises: the Teatro Albisu, for example, almost exclusively performed Spanish zarzuelas. Other groups proceeded accordingly. In 1883, a theater opened exclusively for Chinese-descended cienfuegueros that housed performances by a company of Chinese actors.
At times, societies with African-descended membership followed suit. A further indication of the post-Zanjón associational boom came in 1883, when the conservative Cienfuegos newspaper La Lealtad reported that "the youth of the class of color have opened a new Center on Bouyon street" that included a school for children. This new center was on the same street as the building of the Sociedad La Amistad, one of Cienfuegos’s main societies of color, whose meeting space La Lealtad described as sufficiently "spacious and ventilated" for residents of Cienfuegos to attend its functions. The Centro La Amistad regularly held evening meetings with entertainment for men, women, and children. Activities of the Centro La Amistad ranged from magic shows by "Sr. Jimenez, El Negro Brujo" to poetry readings and plays to dances. The educational and mutual aid functions provided members with the tools that the municipal government, to say nothing of the Ministerio de Ultramar, were slow to offer.
In other moments, however, members of La Amistad acted as part of a larger civic community that expressed loyalty to Spaniards, if not Spanish government itself. Throughout September and October 1885, the theater at the Centro La Amistad held widely publicized benefit performances by a conspicuous new attraction. A Compañía de bufos de color, "the first company of people of color that has begun to travel throughout the principal populations of the island," had arrived in Cienfuegos for several months. It was directed by Federico Pedrosa, a well-known bufo author, a former performer, and, according to the local newspaper El Fénix, "a young man of color." Pedrosa directed his own works for the benefits. But the proceeds from his performances did not help the members of the company or La Amistad. Instead, they went to Spain to help "the disgraced provinces of the Peninsula," "the disgraced who suffer the consequences of cholera in the Mother Country."
News of a cholera epidemic in Spain in 1885 had reached as far as the rural communities, farms, and plantations around Cienfuegos. Charitable efforts ensued. Patrocinados and free workers on the Santa Rosalía sugar estate, for instance, donated small portions of their meager wages to help victims and their families. Centro La Amistad’s more centralized, organized, and lucrative fundraising garnered widespread praise from newspapers and municipal leaders alike. As much as the society’s activities may have affirmed a racial identity as a patron of performers of color, their public self-fashionings did not simply assert an "Afro-Cuban" identity. It also staked a claim to membership in a larger colonial political community, one that might have promised more symbolic than material rewards for the loyalty of La Amistad’s members, but one that benefited nonetheless from their civic and financial contributions.
A multiracial civic identity sometimes allowed for some flexibility within the general segregation of associational space, as various centros and sociedades in Cienfuegos similarly lent out their buildings to other organizations for functions. The Junta General of the Gremio de Obreros del Ramo de Tabaquerías, the cigar makers’ union and the principal union in Cuba between 1878 and 1886, held a meeting on a Sunday morning in October 1885 at the Centro La Igualdad, the space held by the similarly named sociedad de color. A performance of Pedrosa’s Compañía de bufos de color moved, on very short notice, to the nearby Centro Artesano. In the middle of May 1886, the Casino Gran China, advertised a three-day series of "fiestas de costumbre," to which were invited "all of the Asians (asiáticos)," and, "on the last day, the class of color (clase de color)." But the newspaper El Fénix reported that police took a pardo to their headquarters in late August for throwing rocks at the Casino Gran China. The socially fragmented spaces offered periodic opportunities for groups to connect, but they still revealed a fractured public sphere—or, at the very least, an interest on the part of police and journalists in highlighting racial and ethnic tensions between cienfuegueros of different backgrounds.
As a consequence of the associational boom, organizations and wealthy residents built new theaters. Construction finished in 1885 on the Teatro Zorrilla at Castillo and Bouyón streets, which lay approximately four blocks west of the city’s main square. It opened early in 1886 with enough space for up to three hundred people, it competed with other medium-sized theater spaces in the city. It featured numerous performances of a compañía de bufos that performed pieces with such titles as "Liberales y Conservadores" and "Conflicto Municipal." As politics premiered at the Zorrilla in these comic presentations, formal political meetings tended to take place in other venues. Predictably, the Partido Unión Constitucional continued to hold its meetings at the Casino Español, the conservative pro-Spanish club, which hosted a vociferous debate on the differences between the Partido Liberal and the separatists in mid-January. The Paritdo Liberal meetings often occurred in the Teatro Pabellon Campo, one of the city’s most prominent venues.
By February 1886, some degree of conflict or rivalry appeared to be brewing between the Teatro Zorrilla and the Centro La Amistad. On February 27, the Diario de Cienfuegos abruptly announced that "tonight [the compañía de bufos] works in the Centro La Amistad, as a result of having terminated the dates that they had with the Business of the Teatro Zorrilla." Two days later, the newspaper reported that the Zorrilla would begin performances by a "new zarzuela company organizing these days," while the Compañía Bufa gave two performances over the weekend at La Amistad, "where they hope to remain for some time." Weeks later, the Zorrilla boasted such large audiences that it scheduled additional performances of such works as "La mulata de rango" ("The ranking mulata") and "La mala raza" ("The bad race"). On October 17, just two days before the disturbance erupted at the Zorrilla, the theater hosted a meeting of the Galician-born Spaniards in Cienfuegos to explore the formation of a Sociedad de Beneficencia, a charity and mutual-aid society. Although sources do not reveal details about the theatrical companies, the performances, and the audiences, the increasing polarization between the Zorrilla and La Amistad suggests that the urban population by October felt loyalties to particular theaters that delineated racial solidarities. As African-descended Cubans sought a presence in public spaces, associations, and forums, they confronted social impediments that tipped the resources of public opinion in favor of less marginalized groups. Their exclusion—voluntary or not—from the Zorrilla and from some of the public and political events that took place there may have amplified the controversy surrounding the Partido Liberal meeting on October 20.
Liberalism, Now in Theaters Near You
Into this environment fragmented by race, associational affiliation, and public space, Rafael Fernández de Castro and Miguel Figueroa attempted to cultivate popular loyalty to themselves and to the Partido Liberal. In 1886, the men campaigned for two of the six seats in the Cortes reserved for representatives of the Santa Clara province, which included Cienfuegos. Throughout the year, they visited countless cities in Santa Clara and other parts of Cuba. Although Figueroa was no less prominent than Fernández de Castro in party politics, he took a supporting role in the excursiones políticas and rarely gave speeches. Together, they appeared at centers, clubs, and associations with varying connections to the Partido Liberal, and, of course, at local party meetings themselves, in the same milieu of theaters and associations that existed in Cienfuegos. By the end of 1886, they had visited Santa Clara, Sagua la Grande, Cienfuegos, Remedios, Sancti-Spiritus, Trinidad, and other small towns in the province. Fernández de Castro later called this tour an "excursión política," the first trip he had taken with Figueroa, "my unforgettable friend and compañero." He had made a similar trip several years earlier with Rafael Montoro, in what constituted the most direct contact that Liberal politicians had with the Cuban populations for whom they spoke. In light of the worries that Cortes deputies expressed earlier in the year about their tenuous ties to Cuba’s provincial population, the excursión had added significance as an attempt to communicate ideas about colonial government to the public.
In pivotal moments during his excursión, Fernández de Castro peppered his remarks with discourteous swipes at conservatives. During a speech in Cerro in September, he cautioned against taking for granted the liberal presence in Spanish politics. The battle with the Partido Unión Constitucional required sustained vigilance:
. . . our constitucionales are simply and essentially the conservatives of this society; but not of the style of the conservatives of European people, rather, in the style of primitive African organizations: they are the ferocious reactionaries, systematic and eternal enemies of the freedom of this land in which they have received all that they have and where they have achieved all that they are and all that they are worth.
The struggle against conservatism, then, did not confront high-minded political ideas as much as what Fernández de Castro saw as Cuban society’s most dangerous and retrograde elements: African-descended people and their primordial notions of loyalty. In the months preceding the formal end of slavery, he bore witness to the ideological compatibility of abolitionism and racial superiority.
One week before the elections, Fernández de Castro once again appealed to racial antagonisms when he spoke in Cienfuegos on Monday, March 29 at the Teatro Pabellón Campo. He came accompanied not by Miguel Figueroa, who was in Remedios "to make good," but with Antonio Govín, the secretary of the general committee of the Partido Liberal Autonomista. The secretary did most of the talking during the two and a half hour meeting, but Fernández de Castro gave brief opening remarks. Although the Diario de Cienfuegos reported that he spoke "with a certain moderation," he blamed conservatives for Cuba’s problems and proceeded "to depict the class of color with the same point of view as Saco, that is, as an inferior race that was not right for Cuba. It goes without saying the effect that such words had in one part of the auditorium." Fernández de Castro referred here to José Antonio Saco, the early nineteenth-century creole planter and intellectual who warned of slavery’s social menace and who advocated white immigration to ensure the success of the island. Whether Fernández de Castro warranted the newspaper’s comparison to Saco by underscoring previous liberal calls for Spanish migration is unclear. But given the critical tone of the Diario de Cienfuegos article, it was likely an unflattering association, and even more likely that African-descended cienfuegueros filled the "one part of the auditorium."
If Fernández de Castro’s racist blunder raised eyebrows in Cienfuegos, it had little effect on his campaign. He won the fourth largest number of votes in the election of deputies to represent Santa Clara province in the Cortes. Candidates with the five highest vote totals won Santa Clara’s seats; Miguel Figueroa came in fifth, behind Fernández de Castro and three Unión Constitutional candidates. Constitucionales won eighteen of the twenty-four Cuban seats, leaving liberals to continue their appeals to public support. That Fernández de Castro and Figueroa did not end their excursión política after the elections suggests that winning seats in the Cortes was not their only objective in crisscrossing the island.
The deputies interrupted their tour to make the two-week voyage back to Madrid for a momentous Cortes sessions in July. Fernández de Castro, Figueroa and their colleagues tended to administrative matters including military reform in Cuba. Although the Ten Years’ War and the Guerra Chiquita had ended six years earlier, Fernández de Castro still saw provincial Cuba as a breeding ground of disloyalty, of theft and vagrancy and unruliness. The Ministerio de Ultramar had nevertheless decreased the military presence in Cuba in the early 1880s. Those soldiers who were still on the island had ill-defined responsibilities, while the onerous burden of maintaining public order fell upon municipal police forces and veterans. In late July, Fernández de Castro made his case for allowing Spanish soldiers to assume partial responsibility for public order, thus increasing greatly the amount of work that this obligated the military to carry out. He singled out Cienfuegos as the city which would most benefit from such measures, not only by shifting the attention of the many local battalions and militias to public order but also by saving cutting costs. He even provided statistical data regarding cost-effectiveness with specific recommendations for the Ayuntamiento of Cienfuegos. His political fortunes secure, he set himself to the task of making potentially unpopular decisions about the province he represented to the highest levels of colonial government and to municipal leaders as well.
Ending slavery, however, was the main event of the Cortes session. After six years of liberal advocacy for ending the patronato early, most patrocinados had already obtained freedom. Political debates over abolition in Madrid and Havana had proliferated during the economic downturn of the mid-1880s, and the Spanish government, as Rebecca Scott notes, was "eager to dispense with the issue once and for all." When Fernández de Castro spoke to the Congreso de Diputados in late July, he attempted to assuage recalcitrant planters and conservatives who still opposed abolition. As Cubans, he pleaded, "we faithfully understand that in order to explain all of the vices from which social order suffers in the Antilles, they are explained by the slavery that has disturbed moral order and by the military despotism that has disturbed the order of law." Free of slavery, he argued, Cuba would be more capable of managing itself economically and politically while still remaining a Spanish colony. On July 30, after brief and dispassionate debate, the Senate passed a resolution to end the patronato for good.
Conservatives in Cienfuegos were less than enthusiastic to receive the news. The Diario de Cienfuegos ran a lackluster story that began "Laws are made by necessity, and it is necessary to comply with them," and ended with the cautionary tale of an ill-prepared Matanzas planter whose ingenio had just failed when he had no replacements for his former slaves, now given to "theft, gambling, and drunkenness." In Havana, however, news of the decision in Madrid stirred a more positive reaction. A crowd of African-descended habaneros gathered outside the Miguel Figueroa’s residence in a "testimony of gratitude" on August 31. Figueroa emerged from the house and "reassigned" their good thanks to all of the deputies from the Partido Liberal, and offered the well-wishers drinks from the nearby El Louvre restaurant.
When the royal decree ending the patronato finally came on October 7, celebrations occurred throughout the island. African-descended people took to the streets in Havana: bands and orchestras played while representatives of cofradías and cabildos from Havana and ten other cities marched towards the Parque Central. Many of them carried banners commemorating abolitionist politicians and the Sociedad Abolicionista Española. The procession ended with a large coach, flanked by four smaller horse-drawn carriages, carrying a youth who represented freedom and who wore the colors of the Spanish flag. In Santiago de Cuba, the Círculo Español built a triumphal arch that stretched its building to the main plaza, and it organized festivities on a Sunday evening that included fireworks. The Círculo planned the celebration with "a few members of the clase de color," but without much publicity. Few individuals attended, and rain showers further dampened the occasion.
Residents of Cienfuegos reacted with little fanfare when the city’s 346 remaining patrocinados became free. The only newsworthy public activities occurred the weekend earlier, when the church in the main square held a mass, sermon, and fiesta for the Virgen de Caridad (Virgin of Charity) on Saturday evening and Sunday morning. It was attended by members of the local Carabalí cabildo—the lay brotherhood of people of African descent identified with the ethnic Carabalí nation—whose patroness was the Virgen de Caridad, and who carried an image of the Virgin in procession throughout the city to "the Cabildo house of the Carabalí nation (grey carabalí)." The final abolition of slavery, then, found no public commemoration in Cienfuegos as it did in other parts of Cuba (and, in fact, the rest of the Americas). Less than two weeks later, Fernández de Castro would learn the consequences of trying to stage one of his own.
"Con piedras, palos, y revolvers": Fernández de Castro at the Teatro Zorrilla
The first sign of trouble on Wednesday, October 20 appeared with the very arrival of Fernández de Castro and Figueroa at the train station in Cienfuegos at midday. They came accompanied by liberal colleagues from neighboring Sagua, Santo Domingo, Lajas, Cruces, and Palmira. Liberal sympathizers were waiting to welcome them as they proceeded to the residence of Rafael Cabrera, one of the local party officials and organizer of the meeting at the Teatro Zorrilla where they would speak that evening. African-descended cienfuegueros figured prominently in the entourage, throwing kernels of corn at the houses of prominent constitucionales that they passed.
The Teatro Zorrilla was a last-minute choice for the party meeting, "after having looked at other locales that did not want to cede the space, despite the owners’ being affiliated in the party." By early evening, authorities noted how quickly the Zorrilla had filled with "the people of color from that barrio, having invaded the locale to the extreme of being absolutely impossible to penetrate the theater." Suspicions arose that many of the people gathered had heard "some rumor that had been delivered to them, as a consequence of the speeches given in Sagua, Santo Domingo, and Palmira." Despite the effusive protestations of darkness that witnesses invoked to excuse themselves from identifying individual instigators, nearly all of them agreed on the conservative overtones of the initial "dark" presence: constitucionales circulated along with African-descended people. The group assembled thus defied easy categorization. One official offered the tepid compliment that "within the locale and despite being mostly people of color, there was a diversity of opinions." But consistent narratives of the event ended here. At the point when Fernández de Castro began his speech, every account of the meeting told a different version of the basic narrative. The concern that this prompted from authorities sparked an in-depth investigation that irritated local partisan adversaries who had seized on the disorder to intensify the wrangling they had been engaged in for years.
Local liberal and conservative newspapers bristled with antipathy for their political opponents. El País, the liberal daily, condemned the "rude interruptions of the conservatives" throughout the "highly conciliatory and governmental sentiment" of Fernández de Castro’s speech. It chastised the alcalde, Juan de Campo, who "crossed his arms" while the deputies were in physical danger, and scorned him for doing nothing in the immediate wake of the incident while "the houses in which our friends sleep were the objects of violent threats." The Diario de Cienfuegos, on the other hand, expressed a modicum of remorse for the violence that broke out, but asserted that events were beyond the control of conservatives or liberals. "Insupportable apostrophes, gratuitous suppositions, and at times scoffing" were bound to produce conflict and alarm, especially with "2,000 people of all classes at night." It claimed that "similar conditions" had produced similar disorders as far away as Tapaste, Madruga, and San Antonio de los Baños. Most of all, the newspaper took offense at Fernández de Castro’s claim that the Partido Liberal, not "the government of the Nation, Spain" should receive credit for the abolition of slavery: "The gratitude of the raza de color that has received that benefit, should be complete, and we do not doubt that it is Spain, the noble Spanish nation, whose glorious flag is and will always be the protective aegis of their rights, of their well being and their progress." Not only, then, were the terms of partisan bickering at stake in the Zorrilla tumult. The loyalties of people of color, derived from the "protective aegis" that each party offered them, held a prominence for each party disproportionate to the political or public role that African-descended Cubans played in the region.
The overtones of patron-client maneuvering raise an important question. Were the corn-throwers who escorted Fernández de Castro and Figueroa from the train station, then, hired or coerced into a staged performance? Several of the people interviewed in the subsequent investigation thought so. And a curious incident in nearby Trinidad the day after the Zorrilla commotion raised further doubt about the welcome extended to Fernández de Castro and Figueroa throughout their excursión política. The two men were scheduled to appear in Trinidad to speak at another Partido Liberal meeting. The autonomists in Trinidad had built a platform in the Plaza de Serrano just for the occasion, "so that they could be heard easily by the public that attended the meeting, to which they were invited the night before." El Imparcial, the conservative newspaper in Trinidad, noted that "it seems that from the countryside come people, principally of color, excited to hear them." But the people of color in the city planned a more elaborate welcome:
The cabildos de negros of this city descended on the train stop, carrying flowers and bouquets, with the object to welcome the autonomist orators, in the erroneous belief that to them is owed the complete extinction of the patronato. A musician, too, waited at the stop; a musician that, at the sound of the train whistle, would begin to play, with those from the cabildos prostrating themselves to receive the orators in this position.
Fernández de Castro and Figueroa never appeared. They took a train back from Cienfuegos directly to Havana, where they waited until their excursión could safely continue. The crowds of negros in Trinidad returned to their homes and cabildo houses disappointed because, as El Imparcial noted, "they believed that they were going to greet expressly authorized representatives of the National Government." Yet again, liberals stood separate from popular understandings of who or what constituted the Spanish government. Conservatives in Trinidad, like those in Cienfuegos, expressed frustration that liberals took credit for the final abolition of slavery. The added insult was that "those fine people" of African descent properly esteemed the Spanish government but were duped by liberals who made a mockery of their loyalty and, the Diario de Cienfuegos editorialized, "abused the right of association (derecho de reunión)." Apparently, black and mulato cienfuegueros had been a bit wiser.
The municipal and provincial governments took less interest with the competition for loyalty than with guaranteeing public order and sound associational laws. It launched an investigation layered with questions of authority, public order, race, party affiliation, and social status. Within hours of the conflict, telegrams shot from Cienfuegos to Santa Clara to Havana and back asking for procedural clarification and promising a quick return to order. Rafael Correa, the Gobernador Civil of the Santa Clara province, placed cardinal importance on the question of whether the numerous people in the theater violated "the use of the right of the Constitution of the State and the mentioned Law guaranteed to all citizens." With the same rapidity and with the same extensive mandate that the Órden pública investigation of espiritismo carried, the disturbance in Cienfuegos became the subject of a broad-ranging inquiry. While authorities expressed rapt interest in the sources, origins, and instigators of the outbreak, their investigative approach focused equally on the behavior of the police and municipal authorities in promoting, maintaining, and restoring public order. Correa sent representatives to Cienfuegos to speak "with persons of distinct classes of society in Cienfuegos, as well of distinct political colors" about what happened on October 20 at the Teatro Zorrilla.
In the course of two weeks, Correa and his subordinates had interrogated thirty of the city’s residents, including theater guards, Partido Liberal organizers, meeting attendees, and Juan de Campo. Correa visited the Teatro Zorrilla to count broken chairs and bullet holes. His investigation weathered a suspicious intervention when de Campo demanded new scribes and interrogators after two witnesses suggested names of possible instigators who were closely aligned with the alcalde. Witnesses observed exemplary behavior on the part of police, complimenting them for not using arms to control the uprising. Correa questioned only two African-descended residents, a mulato barber who attended the meeting, and the mother of the moreno Pedro Jímenez, to ascertain whether or not he died from wounds suffered during the melee, as newspapers in Cuba and Spain had reported. (He lived.)
Juan de Campo himself was one of the first cienfuegueros to testify, enumerating a small disturbance in the Zorrilla and in the streets outside between 8:15 and 8:30, and a second one ten minutes later that the police could control inside the theater but not in the street. The third outburst could not be contained, he explained, because the more orderly people from inside the theater spilled into the crowd outside and those in the streets scrambled to enter the building. Chairs broke and rocks flew accordingly. But de Campo was quick to emphasize how quickly municipal authorities reëstablished order. He claimed that many residents of the city had assisted the police in calming the unrest, but noted Teniente Coronel Primer Jefe de Voluntarios Manuel Rivero and José María Aceval in particular. Various newspapers had recently maligned them "treating them as rebellious, being the contrary," and de Campo wanted to acknowledge their devotion to public order. De Campo said that he had received word late in the evening that the home of Rafael Cabrera—where Fernández de Castro and Figueroa were staying—had been attacked "and other news of a private character that made [me] understand that the personas de la clase de color had risen up." Yet when he dispensed the Guardia Civil to the Cabrera residence, all was calm.
Despite the consensus that African-descended cienfuegueros had been the major actors in the disturbance, Correa’s commission never clarified who, if anyone, led them. Of course, interrogators never bothered to ask. They questioned Spaniards and white island-born residents disproportionate to their involvement in the events, excluding the hundreds of black and mulato eyewitnesses from constructing an accurate portrayal of the events. Esteban Cacicedo, one of the town’s wealthiest planters and businessmen, did not even attend the meeting but made a statement nevertheless. Pledging "complete impartiality," Cacicedo conceded that some people of color threw corn, but he argued that the Partido Liberal meeting should never have taken place in the first place because "its promoters really should have realized that this is a pueblo eminently contrary to its ideas." Moreover, he claimed, Fernández de Castro and Figueroa came preceded by the disturbing rumor ("mala fama") of their recent dishonor, "according to the Voluntarios at the Teatro Uriarte in Sagua la Grande."
Rumors of disparaging remarks about the voluntarios emerged in several of the testimonies. As one witness recalled an "insult" directed at the Spanish government at the beginning of the meeting in Cienfuegos, several more witnesses claimed that Fernández and Castro aimed his criticisms in Sagua at the military. In light of Fernández de Castro’s call in July to reduce the military presence on the island, the voluntarios in Sagua may have perceived Fernández de Castro as a threat to their institution’s vitality—and to the social status that accompanied military participation. A rumor of this tenor would have struck a note among many of Cuba’s urban African-descended populations, who maintained a longstanding respect for military participation as a marker of status and as a means of material gain.
The resentment generated by Fernández de Castro’s past speeches that insulted people of color or that threatened military institutions emerges from the testimonies as the most plausible explanation for the October 20 unrest. Joaquín Fernández, another prominent planter and businessman in Cienfuegos, placed the blame on the black and mulato residents of the neighborhood surrounding the Teatro Zorrilla, but he also noted the presence of outside commissions ("comisiones forasteros") from Sagua. Like Cacicedo, he explained "that this population is contrary to the doctrines" of the liberals and that "the spirits were excited" by the news of the insults towards the voluntarios and of the corn thrown at the houses of constitucional leaders.
But agreements like this among the witnesses were rare. Workers, planters, and city officials offered radically different interpretations of the events at the Zorrilla. One guard claimed that the individuals from Sagua were sympathetic liberals. One lone witness, in defiance of the famed darkness that enveloped Cienfuegos on October 20, actually named names. Antonio Castiñeyra accused one Spaniard, Diego Riverón, of taking orders from Juan de Campo, and another, José María Aceval, of denouncing liberals in flight from the theater as traitors and insurgents. But both men denied it. Aceval claimed that he and a few of his friends had simply overheard news of the meeting earlier in the day at the Café El Escorial. The police chief of Santa Clara tellingly closed his summary without making a formal accusation against any of the people mentioned as possible instigators of the eruption. He doubted the validity and objectivity of any individual accusation and admitted that "personal quarrels exist among them of that locality."
Of all of the cienfuegueros questioned, the liberal organizer of the October 20 meeting had the strongest obligation to plead with officials to interpret the events as a local squabble and not as a sustained threat to public order from black and mulato Cubans. Rafael Cabrera admitted in his testimony that liberals and conservatives in Cienfuegos bitterly resented one another, but that he had extended a personal invitation to local constitucional leader José Pertierra to attend the meeting at the Zorrilla. He added that the violence had its origins and targets in Cienfuegos, not in broader political configurations, and that he lamented what had happened "as a citizen and loyal observer of the Law." Finally, and unlike other residents of the city, Cabrera tried to distinguish between the liberal-conservative feud and what he saw as a less politically-charged outburst by African-descended cienfuegueros. According to the testimony, he
had recorded in his declaration that there had been alarm among the clase de color; but this was produced as a consecuence of what had occurred at the Zorrilla, and was general, able to be considered as a true protest of the grave illegality committed, and under no concept as an attitude manifestly contrary to the Government nor, consequently, to nacionalidad.
Cabrera likely anticipated a double condemnation of the Partido Liberal by colonial authorities in Havana and Madrid: for the clash with conservatives and for the disturbance by the population of color. To distant observers, the apparent overlap between those groups might evince a failure of both liberal politics and liberal principles. If the Partido Liberal on the whole took credit for emancipation, its local organizer in Cienfuegos now headed off accusations that Cubans—especially those of African descent—were, at best, ill-prepared to exercise their new rights and, at worst, disloyal to the Spanish state. Cabrera tried to reiterate that the post-Zanjón reforms created public spaces for making claims to inclusion in the colonial political community, not for disrupting urban life and heightening racial discord. Attesting to the loyalty of Cienfuegos’s black and mulato residents protected the principles, if not the party, of liberalism that valued the free circulation of ideas among free men. In this brief instance, Cabrera privileged the ethos of liberalism over the ethos of patronage.
When the Cortes met in November, Fernández de Castro had no opportunity to offer his own account of the flare-up. Liberal and conservative deputies agreed on two matters as they discussed the events in Cienfuegos: that questions of race were subordinate to partisan issues, and that there was no concrete solution to the problems that they raised. Beyond that, they disagreed vociferously on matters of fact and interpretation alike, and Fernández de Castro remained conspicuously silent. Furious liberal deputies condemned the manner in which "voluntarios, in union with constitucionales, had determined to obstruct Autonomist propaganda." Conservative deputies, on the other hand, did not take such a clear position. They tried to portray the violence that erupted as the direct result of Fernández de Castro’s inflammatory remarks, not a commotion caused by some of their own supporters. They questioned whether Cubans "have the aptitude, loyalty, and sensibility" to deserve the rights of organization and press that they had recently won as a concession in the Pact of Zanjón, but they recognized the favorable political tenor of the disorder. Disloyalty to the conventions of the burgeoning public sphere had, ironically, affirmed loyalty to Spanish rule.
Following their troubles in October, Fernández de Castro and Figueroa attempted one more time to spread the good news of liberalism to the people of Cienfuegos. In mid-November, four municipal guards on horseback escorted the men from the docks to the houses where each of them would sleep separately. The next day, Juan de Campo foiled their plans to hold a meeting in a storehouse on the city’s northern limits when he excused the Ayuntamiento from providing guards and security for such an isolated location. Local liberals quickly secured the meeting rooms of the Liceo but municipal officials again blocked the men from speaking, citing the public reunion law that required advance notice of twenty-four hours. In turn, the deputies departed Cienfuegos for good, leaving the city’s conservative leaders to dominate local—and island-wide—politics until the outbreak of the final war for independence in 1895.
At heart, Fernández de Castro’s gaffes throughout his excursión política reveal a profound ignorance of local realities. As a wealthy planter from Havana province, his claim to represent the population of Santa Clara was weak at best, but representative politics on the island was not the only issue at hand. Building and strengthening a political relationship between politicians in Madrid and subjects in provincial Cuba took a more important role. To this end, Fernández de Castro and other liberal colleagues attempted a political experiment of reaching out to disfranchised Cubans with an eye towards preparing the island for self-government. In 1881, during a speech in Guanabacoa, he expressed sympathy for "cities to impede the political invasion of the State that threatens their local initiative." In 1886, local initiatives in Cienfuegos had sparked their own invasion.
By February 1887, Rafael Fernández de Castro had ended his excursión política for good and had returned to Havana. He ensconced himself in more cosmopolitan circles, taking in a show by Sarah Bernhardt and mixing with his autonomista colleagues. He gave a speech to the Círculo Autonomista that showed a tireless determination to challenge Spanish prejudices about Cuba’s unpreparedness for self-rule. But he also used colorful vocabulary to describe those negative assumptions, informed, perhaps, by the recent memory of gunfire and flying rocks and sticks on October 20. He faulted Spaniards for viewing Cubans as "worthless, ignorant people," those who "thought without reason and spoke without agility, that we here are ‘Indians in frock-coats’ or mimicking monkeys of the most depraved customs in the world." Despite his faith in Cubans, he underscored the economic and social problems that the island had to contend with: "To give an exact idea of the social chaos in which we live, there are neither words nor concepts in the language of political men."
Indeed there were no sufficient words or concepts for African-descended residents of Cienfuegos in 1886—or at least none that they could utter through formal political institutions—because even their loyalty to the Spanish government did not earn them the status of "political men." Neither the ethic of liberalism nor the ethic of patronage offered a wholly secure approach to claiming or exercising rights. When hundreds of black and mulato cienfuegueros swarmed the Teatro Zorrilla and its surrounding streets to shout "¡Viva España! ¡Muera a autonomía!" they expressed the social chaos of an expanding public sphere that still denied them full participation in public life.
In many respects, the tumult in Cienfuegos illustrates a familiar story of nineteenth-century Latin America: of liberals and conservatives vying for power in a political climate that favored clientelism over democratic participation, dramatic acts over substantive debates. On the whole, the competing factions shared a number of assumptions that were plainly racist and protective of the propertied classes. In Brazil, for example, liberals and conservatives combined forces to pass electoral "reforms" in 1881 that stymied the entrance of tens of thousands of freedmen into electoral politics and virtually guaranteed that African-descended Brazilians would not play a significant role in postemancipation party politics. In Spain and Cuba, the end of slavery occasioned disputes from Cienfuegos to Madrid between liberals and conservatives over who better served the interests of African-descended Cubans. That both groups lamented the presence of lo africano in Cuban society attests to the limits of the debate. Fernández de Castro, Figueroa, and other leaders of the Partido Liberal Autonomista actively sought popular support as they traveled from town to town, but they seemed remarkably unconcerned with reconciling liberalism’s inclusionary pretensions with their exclusionary practices. In their excursiones políticas, their reach exceeded their grasp.
At the same time, liberalism in late-nineteenth-century Cuba did not conform neatly to the model elsewhere in Latin America that repudiated the colonial past. In fact, liberals consciously fought off accusations of independentismo as they sought legitimacy within the colonial system. And ordinary Cubans of all backgrounds struggled to understand liberal-conservative politics in the context of colonial rule. They did so as conservative propagandists tried to delegitimize liberal claims to political authority by branding them separatist and seditious, as evidenced by the widespread confusion over what political entity could justifiably claim responsibility for slave emancipation. Colonial officials had to adapt to rapidly changing conditions in late nineteenth-century Cuba as their demands for loyalty exacted an increasingly heavy toll on Cubans’ political aspirations.
In this sense, the events surrounding the Teatro Zorrilla outburst might fit as comfortably within the historiographic context of monarchism and loyalty in late colonial Latin America. An autonomous, much less revolutionary, future was by no means certain to most Cubans, and they strategically professed loyalty to Spain as various political factions solicited and boasted popular support. The racist assumptions under which Fernández de Castro cultivated followers chafed against the multiracial composition of those who celebrated the Spanish government for ending slavery. As Rebecca Earle has recently argued in the case of late colonial Mexico, "attempts to map the divisons between the loyal and the disloyal in terms of race or place of birth proved impossible." The shouts outside the Zorrilla, however, differed from the "Long live the king, death to bad government!" slogan that colonial subjects in mainland Latin America invoked in earlier periods, for colonial politics now operated under different terms and new vocabularies of nationhood, government, freedom, and citizenship. What Fernández de Castro’s excursión política offered to ordinary Cubans, besides racist denunciations and exclusionary rhetoric, was an important and imperfect education in key political languages. That African-descended Cubans were becoming fluent enough to gather at political party meetings and claim loyalty to Spain testifies to the possibilities of the post-Zanjón order. That such a declaration had to be voiced in such a confrontational context reveals its limitations.
Over the next decade, African-descended Cubans would become
increasingly disillusioned with the Partido Liberal and colonial politics in
general. Colonial loyalty as a political strategy depreciated as the independence
movement increasingly adopted an explicitly anti-racist and race-transcendent
vision of Cuban nationalism. Juan Gualberto Gómez, for example, abandoned
his measured support for the Partido Liberal and eventually joined the separatist
movement. Simultaneously, he devoted his energies to ameliorating racial inequalites.
In 1892 he organized the Directorio Central de las Sociedades de la Raza de
Color, which united seventy-five black and mulato associations across the island
to contest the regular and widespread denial of civil rights, while his newspaper,
La Igualdad, circulated throughout Cuba.
These institutions worked in concert to facilitate island-wide demonstrations in 1894 protesting the exclusion of blacks and mulatos from public establishments. In the process, African-descended Cubans debated political strategy in the pages of La Igualdad. A lone white contributor called for restraint, explicitly warning against the incivility and violence that characterized the incident in Cienfuegos in 1886. He deplored the "immoderate note" that recently struck Matanzas, "placing it at the level of Cienfuegos, the intransigent city that threw stones at the Cuban deputies Figueroa and Fernández de Castro." For Gómez and other editors of La Igualdad, this stance diminished the significance of the struggle at hand, and they accused the Matanzas newspaper that published Trelles’ letter of speaking "of the negro as if we still lived in barbarous, feudal times." Thus, on the eve of an independence war fought for a nation "not of blacks or whites, but of Cubans," the Cuban public recognized the racial motivations behind the melee at the Teatro Zorrilla eight years earlier, but it disagreed on its efficacy. As African-descended Cubans discovered the limits of the post-Zanjón public sphere, they simultaneously learned the limits of loyalty.
|1||Extensive documentation of this event can be found in two complementary archival files: "Reunión autonomista en Cienfuegos," Archivo Histórico Nacional, Madrid, Sección Ultramar (hereafter AHN SU), Legajo 4896 parte 1o, Expediente 174, and "Expediente|
|2||Emilia Viotti da Costa, The Brazilian Empire: Myths and Histories (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), 55.|
|3||See Elsa Barkley Brown, "Negotiating and Transforming the Public Sphere: African American Political Life in the Transition from Slavery to Freedom," Public Culture 7 (1994): 267-302, and C.K. Doreski, "Reading Riot: A Study in Race Relations and a Ra|
|4||On the symbolic significance of emancipation in a wider context, see Gad Heuman, "Riots and Resistance in the Caribbean at the Moment of Freedom," Slavery and Abolition 21 (September 2000): 135-149.|
|5||Debates about monarchism and slave emancipation in Brazil have produced instructive disagreements that inform this investigation. See George Reid Andrews, Blacks and Whites in São Paulo, Brazil, 1888-1988 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Pres, 1991),|
|6||On the Partido Unión Constitucional, see Inés Roldán de Montaud, La restauración en Cuba: El fracaso de un proceso reformista (Madrid: CSIC, 2001), Chs. 3 and 6.|
|7||On Cuban liberalism, see Marta Bizcarrondo and Antonio Elorza, Cuba/España: El dilema autonomista, 1878-1898 (Madrid: Editorial Colibrí, 2001); Mildred de la Torre, El autonomismo en Cuba, 1878-1898 (Havana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1997); Pau|
|8||Rafael Fernández de Castro, Para la historia de Cuba. I. Trabajos políticos (Havana: La Propaganda Literaria, 1899), xxv.|
|9||Spain, Cortes, 1886, Diario de Sesiones: Senado (Madrid: Imp. de los hijos de J.A. García, 1887), 9 July 1886, 2:1002.|
|10||Estrade, "El autonomismo criollo y la nación cubana," 157. Fernández de Castro, in fact, served during those years as Gobernador Civil of Havana province.|
|11||Rafael Montoro, "Discurso pronunciado en Cienfuegos el 22 de septiembre de 1878, al constituirse el partido Liberal," in Obras, 3 vols. (Havana: Cultural, 1952), 1:3, 6-7.|
|12||Antonio Govín, Discursos (Havana: Burgay y Cía., 1955), 5, originally published in El Triunfo, 28 September 1878, cited in Estrade, "El autonomismo criollo y la nación cubana," 158.|
|13||De la Torre, El autonomismo en Cuba, 49-50. Municipal government generally remained under the control of consitucionales, although Santa Clara, Santiago de Cuba, and Puerto Príncipe routinely had liberal majorities. A. de las Casas, Cartas al pueblo a|
|14||On the patronato, see Rebecca J. Scott, Slave Emancipation in Cuba: The Transition to Free Labor, 1860-1900 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985), Ch. 6.|
|15||Montoro, "Primer discurso en las Cortes," in Obras 1: 144-145.|
|16||De la Torre, El autonomismo en Cuba, 101.|
|17||"La Libertad," El Crisol, 28 May 1884.|
|18||"Mas papistas que el Papa," La Lealtad, 23 August 1883.|
|19||"Inmigración blanca," El Crisol, 18 February 1884.|
|20||"Población blanca," El Crisol, 8 July 1884.|
|21||Violeta Rovira González, Cienfuegos desde el Pacto de Zanjón hasta 1902 (Cienfuegos: Partido Comunista Cubana de Cienfuegos, 1983), 8-9.|
|22||Fe Iglesias García, "La concentración azucarera y la comarca de Cienfuegos," in Espacios, silencios, y los sentidos de la libertad: Cuba entre 1878 y 1912, ed. Fernando Martínez Heredia, Rebecca J. Scott, and Orlando F. García Martínez (Havana: Edicio|
|23||"Libro No. 1 de los negros, Santa Rosalía," Archivo Provincial de Cienfuegos.|
|24||Edwin F. Atkins, Sixty Years in Cuba: Reminiscences of Edwin F. Atkins (Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1926), 39.|
|25||Edo y Llop, Memoria histórica de Cienfuegos, 627.|
|26||"Lo que pasa en el Canal," Diario de Cienfuegos, 4 January 1886. Imilci Balboa Navarro compares the rhetoric and reality of labor shortage in Los brazos necesarios: inmigración, colonización, y trabajo libre en Cuba, 1878-1898 (Valencia: Fundación In|
|27||J.S. Murray to Edwin F. Atkins, 13 October 1885 and 19 January 1886, respectively, in Edwin F. Atkins Papers Vol. 2 Box 1, Atkins Family Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.|
|28||Clemente Pereira to the editor of Diario de Cienfuegos, 31 March 1886, Archivo del Catedrál de Cienfuegos, Expediente contra la celebración de una velada espiritista, que se suspendió por órden telegrafica del Exmo. Sr. Gob. Gral., en el acto de comenza|
|29||Juan de Campo to Clemente Pereira, 31 March 1886, APCC Expediente 13.|
|30||Francisco de Acosta y Albear to the Gobernador General de la Isla, 28 August 1886, AHN SU Leg. 4835, Exp. 62.|
|31||Multiple authors to the Gobernador General de la Isla de Cuba, 3 April 1886, AHN SU Leg. 4835, Exp. 62.|
|32||Carmen Victoria Montejo Arrechea, Sociedades de Instrucción y Recreo de pardos y morenos que existieron en Cuba colonial, Período 1878-1898 (Veracruz, Mex.: Instituto Veracruzano de Cultura, 1993), 50-51.|
|33||Philip A. Howard, Changing History: Afro-Cuban Cabildos and Societies of Color in the Nineteenth Century (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1998), 149.|
|34||The Nuestra Señora de los Desamparados mutual aid society began La Caridad; the San Cayetano mutual aid society published El Socorro; and two individuals, P. Carell and Francisco Acosta y Monduy, published El Hijo del Pueblo and El Látigo. Edo y Llop,|
|35||Victoria María Sueiro Rodríguez, "Apuntes sobre la vida teatral cienfueguera del siglo XIX," Ariel: La Revista Cultural de Cienfuegos 2:1 (1999): 28.|
|36||A second theater opened in 1885, after the Ayuntamiento first rejected a petition from Pastor Pelayo, a Chinese resident, to open a theater in a part of town in which municipal ordinances banned wooden buildings. Edo y Llop, Memoria histórica de Cienfu|
|37||"Un nuevo centro," La Lealtad, 3 September 1883. The article applauded the group for making the effort "to educate itself and improve its social status."|
|38||"Función," La Lealtad, 18 August 1883.|
|39||"Compañía de bufos de color," El Fénix, 24 August 1885.|
|40||See "Función benéfica," 19 September 1885, and "Funciones" 28 September 1885, in El Fénix.|
|41||See the contributions made from the accounts of various men and women in "Libro No. 1 de los negros, Santa Rosalía," Archivo Provincial de Cienfuegos.|
|42||"Gremio de Tabaqueros," El Fénix, 3 October 1885.|
|43||"Bufos de Pedrosa," El Fénix, 7 September 1885.|
|44||"Casino Gran China, Calle de San Fernando – Casa de Montalvo," 15 May 1886, and "Policia," 31 August 1886, both in the Diario de Cienfuegos.|
|45||Rafael Rodríguez Altunaga, Las Villas: Biografía de una provincia (Havana: Imprenta "El Siglo XX," 1955), 284-285.|
|46||"Camino de la Autonomia," Diario de Cienfuegos, 18 January 1886.|
|47||"Los Bufos," Diario de Cienfuegos, 27 February 1886.|
|48||"Teatro Zorrilla" and "Teatro La Amistad," Diario de Cienfuegos, 1 March 1886.|
|49||"Los suevos," Diario de Cienfuegos, 12 October 1886.|
|50||Fernández de Castro, Para la historia de Cuba, xvii.|
|51||"Discurso pronunciado en la noche del 4 de Septiembre de 1886 en La Caridad del Cerro," in Fernández de Castro, Para la historia de Cuba, 89.|
|52||"Meeting autonomista," Diario de Cienfuegos, 30 March 1886.|
|53||"Resultado de las elecciones," Diario de Cienfuegos, 5 April 1886. The three Constitutional Union candidates, Julio Apezteguía, Martín Zozaya, and José F. Vergez, each received 243 votes; Fernández de Castro received 95, Miguel Figueroa received 93.|
|54||Diario de sesiones del Cortes: Senado (Madrid: Hijos de J. A. García, 1887), 29 July1886, 2:973.|
|55||Scott, Slave Emancipation in Cuba, 196.|
|56||"Discurso pronunciado en el Congreso de los Diputados el dia 27 de Julio de 1886, en el debate sobre el presupuesto de Cuba," in Fernández de Castro, Para la historia de Cuba, 48.|
|57||"Cumplase el Ley," Diario de Cienfuegos, 9 August 1886.|
|58||Bizcarrondo and Elorza, Cuba/España: El dilema autonomista, 227, quoting Elías Entralgo, La liberación étnica de Cuba (Havana: Universidad de la Habana, 1953), 101-113.|
|59||María del Carmen Barcia Zequeira, "La historia profunda: la sociedad civil del 98," Temas 12-13 (October 1997-March 1998), 32.|
|60||Emilio Bacardí y Moreau, Crónicas de Santiago de Cuba, 10 vols (Barcelona: Tipografía de Carbonell y Esteva, 1908), 7:177.|
|61||In May, the lottery had reduced the number of remaining patrocinados from 942 to 436. By October, 90 of them had already been freed. Edo y Llop, Memoria histórica de Cienfuegos, 635.|
|62||"Aviso religioso", 2 October 1886, and "Fiestas religiosas," 4 October 1886, both in Diario de Cienfuegos.|
|63||For this summary of Fernández de Castros and Figueroas visit, I rely on the introductory summary that preceded the longer investigation that comprises the expedientes found in Madrid and Havana. See Rafael Correa to the Gobernador Superior, 26 Octobe|
|64||"El motín de Cienfuegos," El Pais, 24 October 1886, quoted in its entirety in "Procedimientos de El País," Diario de Cienfuegos, 25 October 1886.|
|65||"Lo que era de esperar," Diario de Cienfuegos, 21 October 1886.|
|66||"Sepánlo todos," Diario de Cienfuegos, 22 October 1886.|
|67||"Oradores autonomistas," El Imparcial, 22 October 1886, quoted in its entirety in "La propaganda en Trinidad," Diario de Cienfuegos, 25 October 1886.|
|68||Rafael Correa to the Gobernador Superior, 26 October 1886, in "Reunión autonomista en Cienfuegos," AHN SU Leg. 4896 parte 1o, Exp. 174.|
|69||Testimony of Juan del Campo, 31 October 1886, ANC, AP, Leg. 81, Exp. 13. Enrique Edo y Llop suggests that African-descended people constituted a rival group at Cabreras house in opposition to that which was harrassing Fernández de Castro and Figueroa.|
|70||Testimony of Esteban Cacicedo, 23 October 1886, ANC, AP, Leg. 81, Exp. 13.|
|71||Free colored militias had been abolished in 1844 after the La Escalera revolt but reinstated in 1854 as a means to cultivate the loyalty of Cubas free people of color. During the Ten Years War, the government freed slaves who fought for the Spanish a|
|72||Testimony of Joaquín Fernández, 23 October 1886, ANC, AP, Leg. 81, Exp. 13.|
|73||Luis González to the Gobernador Civil, 1 November 1886, "Reunión autonomista en Cienfuegos," AHN SU Leg. 4896 parte 1o, Exp. 174.|
|74||Testimony of Rafael Cabrera, 26 October 1886, ANC, AP, Leg. 81, Exp. 13.|
|75||Diario de las Sesiones de Córtes: Senado (Madrid: Hijos de J. A. García, 1887), 24 November 1886, 3:1179-1182.|
|76||Edo y Llop, Memoria histórica de Cienfuegos, 641-642.|
|77||Fernández de Castro, "Discurso pronunciado el día 31 de Abril de 1881, en el meeting celebrado por los autonomistas de Guanabacoa en el "Salón de las Illusiones," in Fernández de Castro, Para la historia de Cuba, 4.|
|78||"En el Círculo Autonomista, Discurso pronunciado en la noche de 18 de Febrero de 1887," in Rafael Fernández de Castro, Clamores de libertad (Havana: Editorial Cuba, 1936), 48, 53. See also Bizcarrondo and Elorza, Cuba/España: El dilema autonomista, 24|
|79||Richard Graham, Patronage and Politics in Nineteenth-Century Brazil (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990), Ch. 7.|
|80||See Charles Hale, Mexican Liberalism in the Age of Mora, 1821-1853 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968), and Mark Thurner, From Two Republics to One Divided: Contradictions of Postcolonial Nationmaking in Andean Peru (Durham: Duke University Pres|
|81||On monarchism in late colonial Latin America, see John Leddy Phelan, The People and the King: The Comunero Revolution in Colombia, 1781 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1978); A.J.R. Russell-Wood, "Acts of Grace: Portuguese Monarchs and the|
|82||Rebecca Earle, "Creole Patriotism and the Myth of the Loyal Indian," Past and Present 172 (August 2001): 142.|
|83||Eric Hobsbawm locates a linguistic change in the concept of nación in the 1884 edition of the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española. While earlier editions had defined nación as "the aggregate of the inhabitants of a province," the term came to enco|
|84||See Oilda Hevia Lanier, El Directorio Central de las Sociedades negras de Cuba (Havana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1996).|
|85||La Igualdad, 20 January 1894.|