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Hispanic American Historical Review 82.1 (2002) 202-204
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U.S. Protestant Missions in Cuba:
From Independence to Castro
U.S. Protestant Missions in Cuba: From Independence to Castro. By JASON M. YAREMKO. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2000. Appendixes. Notes. Bibliography. Index. xiv, 200 pp. Cloth, $49.95.
Though the title seems to include all U.S. Protestant denominations working in six provinces of Cuba 1898 to 1959 , this book deals with the work of three Protestant denominations in the two eastern provinces of Cuba, namely, Oriente and Camaguey: the American Baptist Home Mission Society (northern Baptists), Methodist Episcopal Church South, and American Friends Board of Foreign Missions (Quakers). According to the author, the purpose of the book is "to demonstrate . . . the role that U.S. Protestantism played in facilitating U.S. hegemony in Cuba while seeking to foster Cuban replicas of a U.S. Protestant church and citizen."
Protestant work in Cuba was initiated in the 1880 s by Cubans converted while exiled in the U.S., not by foreign U.S. missionaries, as asserted by the author. Their work received a positive response from nationalistic Cubans. After Cuban independence in 1898 , missionaries were sent from the U.S. and missionary boards took over the work. Major U.S. denominations such as American Baptist Convention, Southern Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, the Methodist Episcopal Church South, Congregationalists, and American Friends sent missionaries to Cuba.
U.S. military occupation following Cuban independence encouraged business investment. According to the author, three groups--military and government officials, businessmen, and missionaries--held a similar worldview which included the ideas that Cubans could not effectively rule themselves, had low morals, were dishonest, and needed to be "civilized." Sharing this worldview, the Protestant missionaries supported U.S. military occupation, assumed that Cuba would become part of the U.S., and supported the Platt Amendment giving the U.S. the right to intervene in Cuba as well as allow interventions. These views clashed with Cuban nationalism.
Close ties existed between U.S. businesses operating in Cuba and Protestant mission work. Mission stations and schools were frequently located in or near company towns and plantations. American Friends' work in eastern Cuba beginning in 1900 was heavily aided by United Fruit Company, headquartered there. The Friends, Baptists, and Methodists emphasized establishing schools, which, the author asserts, they saw as not only instruments of evangelism but as ways to civilize Cuba and to prepare Cubans for work in U.S. companies.
The author sees a clash between the missionaries' desire for Americanization and nationalistic feeling among Cubans. A 1909 letter from a group of Methodist Cuban pastors mentions insufficient salaries and the need for a greater indigenous role in administration. The author points out that denominational self-government continued to be denied to the Cuban pastors and lay members and that participation [End Page 202] in mission conferences remained very limited. The author concludes that, "As a whole, U.S. Protestant missions and missionaries, and their boards and churches in the United States, were products of North American culture and society. . . . At a fundamental level the shared hegemonic assumptions of U.S. secular and ecclesiastical interests in Cuba facilitated missionaries' association, identification, and collaboration with U.S. economic and political forces in Cuba" (p. 135 ).
In the end, Yaremko fails to make his case. He shows that some leading missionaries in eastern Cuba fit the pattern he describes in his book. However, by restricting his sources and study primarily to eastern Cuba, he does not tell the story of Protestants in Cuba as a whole. An example of a very different experience is that of the West Cuba Baptist Convention, one of the larger Protestant groups working in the four western provinces of Cuba and affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). By 1905 these Cubans had formed a convention and annually elected officers. U.S. missionaries were always a small minority in the Cuban convention compared to the number of Cuban pastors. Reports from the SBC missionaries did not put down the...