The Provincial Archive as a Place of Memory: Confronting Oral and Written Sources on the Role of Former Slaves in the Cuban War of Independence (1895--98)
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Few questions of historical interpretation are more passionately debated than those that have become intertwined with a national narrative and with the deanition of how a country came to be what it is imagined to be. For the island nation of Cuba, political independence was forged in a lengthy series of wars against Spanish colonial rule, ending in a direct encounter with U.S. expansionism. Those wars began in 1868 and concluded in 1898 with the departure of Spanish troops, followed by a military occupation of the island by U.S. forces. In 1902 the arst Cuban republic emerged, but it was bound by the infamous Platt Amendment, which guaranteed to the United States a right of renewed intervention. The wars themselves were thus both a triumph and a defeat, a touchstone for national pride, and—in the outcome— a source of nationalist disappointment. Each political generation in Cuba interpreted the wars of independence anew, trying to incorporate the heroes and the dynamic of those wars into a story that legitimated —or, in the hands of critics, challenged—the subsequent order of things. After the victory of the Cuban revolution in 1958–59, the new leadership undertook a process of socialist construction that was also a refusal of U.S. hegemony, and the active recollection of past struggles became a key element in the legitimation of current ones. By the 1970s the sweep of Cuban history came to be ofacially described as cien años de lucha, “one hundred years of struggle.” The 1895–98 war and selected members of its pantheon of heroes—particularly José Martí and Antonio Maceo—had been folded into a continuous battle against external imperial enemies and domestic antipatriots, and the 1959 triumph construed as the apotheosis of the formation of the Cuban nation.1 Such an interpretation required that one of the most delicate questions in Cuban history—that of race and slavery—be handled in a somewhat gingerly way. Some of the heroes of the arst war for independence (1868–78) had been slaveholders. In the postrevolutionary context it became important to emphasize the moment at which they liberated their slaves rather than the long years during which they had proated from slave labor or the constraints they had imposed on those they nominally freed.2 Other ofacers and soldiers in the wars of independence had been former slaves or the descendants of slaves. In the climate of revolutionary enthusiasm after 1959, these earlier black and mulatto rebels came to be seen as the embodiment of a struggle for social justice as well as for national independence, their efforts to break the chains of colonialism a continuation of prior struggles to escape or break the chains of slavery. But it was important that they be seen to have struggled primarily as Cubans, striving toward a transracial national liberation and not as black rebels locked into an inconclusive conbict with a hesitant white nationalist leadership. In the postrevolutionary view, black and white rebels by 1895–98 shared ideals of racial “confraternity” that were later betrayed by the compromised twentieth-century republics but then vindicated by the more recent revolutionary process.3 In describing the national narrative in this way, I do not 280 ⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮ The Provincial Archive as a Place of Memory The Role of Former Slaves in the Cuban War of Independence (1895–98) Rebecca J. Scott ⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯ mean to suggest that it was merely a convenient invention or a conscious distortion. The story of the achievement of Cuban national independence is a stirring one, and the transracial ideal of Cuban nationality that held sway at the turn of the nineteenth into the twentieth century was an ideological and social achievement of remarkable dimensions to be impressed by Cuba’s accomplishment, one has only to contrast it with the Anglo-Saxonism that had developed in the United States by midcentury or the systematic disfranchisement of African Americans allowed to stand by the U.S. Supreme Court in a key decision in 1903.4 The 1901 Cuban constitution, though often scorned for its incorporation of the Platt Amendment , was equally notable for its categorical guarantee of universal manhood suffrage, despite pressures from the U.S. occupiers to institute more restrictive measures.5 Cuban society, just afteen years after slave emancipation, endorsed a formal deanition of citizenship that mirrored the famous statement attributed to Antonio Maceo—that in Cuba there were neither whites nor blacks but only Cubans. This forthright assertion was grounded both in Maceo’s...