- On Pan-Antillean Politics:Ramón Emeterio Betances and Gregorio Luperón Speak to the Present
Throughout the mid- and late-nineteenth century, Ramón Emeterio Betances and Gregorio Luperón led Pan-Caribbean anticolonial and antislavery political movements that did not merely seek independence or the abolition of slavery, but rather challenged white supremacy in the continent. Betances and Luperón antecede the "black and masculine global imaginary" examined by Michelle Ann Stephen in her historical study of Marcus Garvey, Claude McKay, and C. L. R. James.1 Like these men, Betances and Luperón demanded the political and economic enfranchisement of people of African descent by mobilizing constituencies across national and colonial boundaries. In the midst of independence struggles in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, Betances and Luperón dreamed of an Antillean Confederation that would protect the independence of Caribbean island-nations and the political rights of non-Europeans.
Renowned revolutionary figures, Betances and Luperón participated in a variety of Pan-Caribbean and transatlantic networks committed to Antillean independence and the abolition of slavery. In 1875, Puerto Rican exile Ramón Emeterio Betances (1827-1898) enjoyed the hospitality of General Gregorio Luperón (1839-1897) in Puerto Plata, the Dominican Republic. Along with Cuban and Puerto Rican exiles, they published the anticolonial newspaper Las Dos Antillas (The Two Antilles), later known as Las Tres Antillas and Los Antillanos. They actively collaborated with the New York-based Junta Central Republicana de Cuba y Puerto Rico (1865) (Republican Council of Cuba and Puerto Rico) in their efforts to obtain the abolition of slavery and independence for Cuba and Puerto Rico. Both participated in the organization of the 1868 insurrections—Grito de Yara in Cuba and Grito de Lares in Puerto Rico—that attempted to free both islands from Spanish rule. Their exiles in and support of various Antillean territories, including Haiti, Jamaica, St. Thomas, and Curaçao, as well as abolitionist work in Spain, France, England, and the United States, bear witness to their commitment to antislavery politics and the constitution of a confederation of independent Antillean nations.
Closely examining Betances's and Luperón's Pan-Antillean rhetoric requires us to move past a celebration of their deeds as iconic national heroes of the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico and to engage seriously the political implications of how they answered questions that remain with us today: Who are we, caribeños? How should we formulate a decolonial Pan-Antillean agenda? What is the role of the United States, Europe, and Latin America in a Pan-Caribbean project? [End Page 142]
I explore two aspects of Luperón's and Betances's political rhetoric that shed light on these ideological and strategic questions. First, I am concerned with Betances's and Luperón's representations of the ethno-racial composition of the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Both refused to claim whiteness to describe these territories in order to demand their right to self-government. Anteceding twentieth-century Antilleanist thinkers by, at least, a century, Betances and Luperón developed a decolonial critique of whiteness by articulating a creolized approach to Caribbean demographics and politics. They embody the spirit of creolization described by Nicole King in C. L. R. James and Creolization through a constant questioning of "colonial systems of categorization and their emphasis on order, absoluteness, singular national narratives, and fixed identity" (10). Through distinct narratives of creolization, Betances and Luperón interrogated the equation of whiteness with the right to self-determination that justified the system of slavery and colonialism.2 Their regionalist political discourses were not invested in notions of purity or mimicry of European political models. Both Luperón and Betances publicly acknowledged their mixed-race status and their black heritage to assert the political rights of people of color, while drawing from European and Spanish-American political thought.3 They narrate ethnically and racially heterogeneous social spaces. Invoking the symbolic value of creolization theories, I situate Betances and Luperón within a multi-lingual Pan-Antillean and Afro-diasporic decolonial tradition. Examining the politics of two Antilleanists with roots in the Dominican Republic and strong ties to Haiti, I center...