Sunday, May 27, 2007

BUCL and The Black Legend: Using Racism to "Liberate" Cuba

Quiero a la tierra amarilla
Que baña el Ebro lodoso:
Quiero el Pilar azuloso
De Lanuza y de Padilla.

José Martí (1853-1895)
Versos sencillos

I am going to do something now which I am sure nobody has ever done before and nobody will ever do again — I am going to compare Henry Gómez and Val Prieto to Thomas Jefferson. When he was drafting the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson included a paragraph attacking the English king for forcing slavery on the Thirteen Colonies. The hypocrisy of such a statement would have invalidated every truth in that document and Jefferson was prevailed upon to remove it. Of course, it was not the British Crown that compelled men like Jefferson and Washington to own thousands of slaves. And, indeed, the British abolished slavery in their territories a generation before the Americans did and without the necessity of a Civil War. Just like Jefferson overextended his hand in his criticism of Great Britain, so too have Val Prieto and Henry Gómez in their their campaign against Spanish "explosion" (i.e. exploitation) of Cubans. It is Cubans, not the Spaniards, who exploit other Cubans. Spanish exploitation would not exist in any guise if Cubans did not facilitate and encourage it. It is not Spain that handed Cuba to Castro on a silver platter. It was the U.S. government and media which installed Castro in power in 1959 and have maintained him there for 48 years, not Spain. If Val & Henry knew anything at all about Cuban history they would know that. Spain's relations with Cuba over the last 48 years have hardly been exemplary and there must be a settling of accounts when Cuba is free which will deprive Castro's entrepreneurial partners of all their ill-gotten gains, but the actions of individual Spaniards or even Spain's Socialists are nothing compared to the Bay of Pigs or the Kennedy-Khrushchev Pact, the Elián affaire or the "Dry Foot/Wet Foot" policy (to choose among hundreds of betrayals).

It was especially troubling to see Val Prieto raise the specter of The Black Legend in BUCL's Campaign Against Spain, accusing Spaniards of "forcing religion" on Cubans. The Black Legend, created in the 16th century by the English, purports that Spaniards are more cruel, barbarous and bloodthirsty than any other European people. No matter that Spaniards were the greatest agents of civilization and Christianity in history. No matter that the English Inquisition (yes, there was such a thing) burned more "witches" at the stake than did the Spanish Inquisition. No matter that Spaniards actually married the indigenous peoples they conquered and raised their "half-breeds" as their sons and heirs, unlike the English who, when they mixed at all with the natives, enslaved their own progeny. No matter that Americans murdered more Indians over 40 years in the enlightened 19th century than Spaniards ever did in 500 years of colonialism. Their language, their history, their culture, their customs and their religion, their pride and sense of honor, their courage and their indominable spirit, all these things the Spaniards bequeathed to us. Their faults are also our faults, and even their faults are more ennobling than the virtues of their detractors.

The "Black Legend" is not just an affront to Spain, but to all her descendents, including and particularly Cubans, who carry the largest quantity of Spanish blood of any Latin Americans, because we all have Spanish parents, grandparents or great-grandparents whereas others must go back 3 or 4 centuries to find any Spanish forebears, if, indeed, they have any. If we who are their closest relatives by blood will not defend the Spaniards against the "Black Legend," then who shall? Whatever the predations of Spanish capitalists in Cuba, or the shameless conduct of Spain's Socialist government towards Cuba, no honest Cuban can condemn his own relatives for it, no more than any honest Spaniard could condemn their Cuban relatives for Castro's wholescale robbery of 100 years of Spanish work and achievement in Republican Cuba prior to the Revolution.

The indigenous population added to our folklore but nothing else. Africans contributed greatly to our culture and indeed transformed it in immeasurable ways, enriching everything they touched, but, above all, they had the greatest share in forging Cuban independence, since they made up the majority of our Army of Liberation. All this said and duly acknowledged, the root of Cuban culture is still Spanish. To that tree many nations and cultures have been grafted over 500 years, but the root which nourishes it and us is Spanish. To deny that fact is to deny our history, indeed, to deny everything we are as Cubans. Spain is our motherland; we have no other and should want no other. Even the roots of our independence have their origin in Spain, in the Spain of Padilla and Lanuza, as Martí acknowledged in his famous verses; and, of course, Martí himself, the architect of our nationhood, was the son of Spaniards.

The greatest enemy of Spanish power in Cuba, Martí nonetheless wrote: "I love Spain as only those who have felt her whip across their backs can love her." Stop a moment to reflect on the spiritual greatness of that statement (so eminently Spanish in character). This is the reason that a Spanish historian called Marti "El Cristo de Cuba." For Martí did not only die to redeem his countrymen but the Spaniards who persecuted them as well. The Spain that Martí loved, a democratic and modern Spain, free of dogmaticism and provincialism, is the Spain that honors Martí over and above all the men who opposed him. That is why on the centenary of Spain's defeat in the misnamed Spanish-American War, in 1998, Spain did not issue postage stamps commemorating its 19th century politicians and generals who had pledged to fight "to the last soldier and peseta" to keep Cuba as a colony, but honored instead José Martí, who represents the highest expression of the Spanish character in Spain or the Americas, as Spaniards now realize and proclaim, for Martí was the liberator that liberated both oppressed and oppressor.

This Spanish spirit also lived in Maceo, who refused to be called black because he embraced both his African and Spanish origins. In fact, Maceo said that if the Americans ever invaded Cuba, he would fight alongside the Spaniards to repel them, and would then continue the war against Spain.

Shameless in conception and ridiculous in execution, BUCL's "Campaign Against Spain" should be abandoned immediately, not that it ever amounted to much. The only purpose which it has served is to demean those who conceived it and their sponsors and sow gratuitous confusion and division among our fellow Cuban bloggers, who should now demand the end of this cannibalistic exercise.


Agustin Farinas said...

funny you should mention the English never "mixing" as you say, with any of the colonial peoples they conquered. When I first saw the movie Ghandi, I was surprised to see Ben Kingsley the British actor who played the main role, was half Indian and half British since I never heard of anyone who was of British-Indian descent. As you say 200 years the British were in India and they did not mix with the Indian nation to any great degree. The Spaniards on the other hand procreated with all the colonials peoples of all races and had millions of offsprings. Maybe in that sense they were not as racist as the British. The whole campaign against Spain is misdirected since there are others more consequential such as the USA which trades with Cuba to the tune of several millions dollars of goods every year but no one is thinking of starting a boycott against them although I must admit I have read once or twice critical postings about individual US states trade deals with Cuba. Besides there are many people in Spain who are on our side and despise Castro as much as us.

Songuacassal said...

Very eloquent post!

Actually spending a brief time in Spain, I found more in common with the Spainards than with any other Latin American culture. And so when it comes to the roots, I agree, Spain is the source of nourishment. Moreover, all the Spaniards I encountered (and especially this one from Burgos) detest fidel and what has happen with Cuba. So I agree that to generalize Spain's support for fidel's Cuba is wrong.

However, what I did notice among all the Spaniards that I encountered is that the view of what Cubans are to the Spanish is very similar to what Jamaicans are to the English: an exotic island of the Americas full of sexy people from African slave ancestry who have some how been imprinted with a European culture, while all of those with European ancestry eventually fled the island and never returned. Again, tengo vis-abuelos de Islas Canarias y Burgos, and so to stereotype this among all the Spaniards would slam myself and my people. However, this stereotype and almost comodification of Cubans was pretty rampant in my touring through Spain.

Claro, I was only on the north side, there is still so much more to Spain.

Vana said...


Merle Oberon the great actress of the 30's and 40's was also of mixed Indian- British blood, she was very ashamed of her mixed ancestry and tried to hide it, it was so that when her mother herself of mixed Anglo-Sinhalese blood came to live with her in Hollywood she introduced her as her maid, because her mother was dark skinned, upon her mother's death she commisioned someone to paint her portrait and insisted they lighten her skin, how sad it must be leading a life where you have to hide from yourself, sad indeed.

Manuel A.Tellechea said...


The saddest thing was that society not only made Merle Oberon ashamed of who she was, but compelled her to be someone else in order to enjoy a career at the highest level of her profession. Another Anglo-Indian who concealed his origins was Boris Karloff, who was not in the least Russian.

Among Hispanics, many have successfully "passed" as white, which is precisely what they were. The two most famous "closet" Hispanics were Walt Disney and Ted Williams.

Sammy Davis, Jr. also claimed to be black and Puerto Rican, when in fact he was not Puerto Rican but Cuban. (The poor man thought that if he admitted to being part Cuban he would be banned from the Kennedy circles).

Manuel A.Tellechea said...


Thank-you for your kind words. It is undoubtedly true that Northern Spaniards look on Cubans as exotics, but they also think of Southern Spaniards in that way.

Spaniards, as you no doubt have heard, are notoriously partial to women of color. It is not surprising that images of African-Cuban women should be used in advertising to lure Spanish tourists to Cuba. Of course, this is no deception, since they will certainly not be disappointed in that respect if they visit the island.

What should disappoint Spaniards and what they ought to protest is Castro's systematic destruction of Cuba's Spanish patrimony.

The Spanish entrepreneurs in Cuba today think that they are building a new Spanish patrimony. Of course their "patrimony" is rather squalid and will be soon obliterated when Cubans regain control of their country. These vultures, however, which are found among all nations, do not represent the real Spain, which, as you point out, detests Castro and wishes his reign to end. No Spanish monarch of the Houses of Hapsburg or Bourbon, by the way, has ruled longer than Fidel Castro.

Vana said...

Manuel you have blown me away I always thought Boris Karloff was of Russian descent, Ted Williams and Walt Disney, WOW, you further blew me away when you say that Sammy was half Cuban, this I did not know, guess I will have to read more into their lives.
Thanks Manuel for opening my eyes, WOW