It was known at the time as “la guerra de razas” and “la guerra racista.” It still is. White Cubans had been dreading it for almost a century. Its probability had been long presumed, contemplated with a mixture of apprehension and readiness. It was a spectre that loomed large over the then colony. It did not diminish in the early republic. In 1912, white Cubans’ worst fears were confirmed: blacks rose up in armed rebellion. The long-dreaded race war had arrived—or so it seemed.

The perception of the 1912 uprising as a race war took hold immediately, and has held on since. It has persisted as one of the enduring truths of the historiography of the early republic. Inside Cuba and out, before the revolution and after, the historiography has displayed a remarkable adherence to lines first drawn in 1912.1

The conventional historiographical wisdom concerning 1912 is not without some basis in fact. Race was indeed an issue. A decade after independence, Afro-Cubans found their position in the republic no better than their place in the colony. Nothing had changed—a condition to which blacks were not reconciled. Having sought unsuccessfully to obtain redress through the political system, black leaders rebelled against the political system. The central tenets of the historiography have not, hence, entirely misrendered the events of 1912. The causes of rebellion were indeed racial and political. The sources of rebellion, however, were social and economic.

The prospects of independence had filled black Cubans with hope. For countless tens of thousands of people of color, the struggle for self-determination involved more than a striving for self-government. It implied a new society, and a new status in that society. This was the promise of the republic, and Afro-Cubans did not hesitate. A movement dedicated to the establishment of a new country became a force devoted to shaping a new society.

Afro-Cubans responded to the separatist summons in vast numbers and with great expectations. “To arms for liberty!” Antonio Maceo exhorted black Cubans. “Drive out of Cuba the government that exploits you in order to tyrannize your race. Yes, expel those enemies of black humanity who are the cause of your misfortune.”2 “When independence comes,” José Martí vowed, “every individual will be free in the sanctity of the native home. Merit, the tangible, cumulative of culture, and the inexorable play of economic forces will ultimately unite all men. There is much greatness in Cuba, in both blacks and whites.”3 “No one will be excluded from public positions for reasons of color,” one official of the Cuban Revolutionary party vowed in 1896.4

Afro-Cubans distinguished themselves in the war of independence. They advanced rapidly within separatist organizations. In every sector of the revolutionary polity, on the island and abroad, in the party and in the provisional government, as soldiers and as civilians, Cubans of color occupied positions of prominence, prestige, and power. The Afro-Cuban presence was especially significant in the Liberation Army, where blacks made up almost half the enlisted ranks and an estimated 40 percent of the senior commissioned ranks.5

Peace changed everything. Gains made during the war were annulled. The expatriate juntas disbanded, the provisional government dissolved, and the Liberation Army demobilized. Suddenly, all the institutional expressions of Cuba Libre in which Afro-Cubans had registered important gains disappeared, and with them the political positions, military ranks, and public offices held by thousands of blacks.

These developments were hardly noticed in 1899, for Cubans were then preoccupied with matters of greater urgency. The war was over, and all Cubans who had survived the conflict, participants and pacíficos alike, were anxious to resume their lives. Vast numbers returned to their origins: the land. And for the vast majority of Afro-Cuban veterans, the land of their origins was Oriente Province.

Generations of Cubans of color had found hope and haven in the eastern province. Oriente offered improvement for the impoverished, opportunity for the oppressed. It also offered land to the landless and livelihood to the unemployed. The lure was irresistible. Fugitive slaves and freed slaves,6 after emancipation in 1886 former slaves and after 1898 former soldiers, migrated eastward. Between 1887 and 1899, years during which all of Cuba suffered a 10 percent population decline, Oriente experienced a 20 percent population increase: from 272,379 residents to 327,716.7 In the years following emancipation, thousands of landless former slaves migrated east, in search of work and land. Between 1887 and 1899, the total population of color in the three western provinces declined by 16.6 percent; the number of colored males diminished by 25.7 percent. During these same years, the total population of color in Oriente increased by 22.4 percent, while the number of colored males grew by 23.6 percent.8

Oriente was a place of parity and proportion, of equity and equality. The sex ratio was exactly 50/50: 163,845 males, 163,870 females—the only province in Cuba where the number of women actually exceeded the number of men. Cubans of color constituted almost as large a portion of the population as native whites, and nowhere in Cuba was it higher: 44.7 percent to 51.2 percent.9 Greater diversity of agriculture persisted in Oriente than elsewhere, and this diversity guaranteed a greater variety of land-tenure forms. Sugar was only one of many products cultivated in the east. Oriente enjoyed an agrarian economy that was remarkable for its variation and versatility. Ingenios coexisted with cafetales, cacao fincas, banana plantations, fruit orchards and coconut groves, vegetable farms, tobacco vegas, and cattle ranches.10

The effects of this diversity in land use were striking. Whereas the sugar latifundio emerged as the principal agricultural form in the west, mixed small farms persisted as the prevalent form of land tenure in the east. No other province had a lower population ratio per finca than Oriente: Oriente, 15.2 persons per farm, followed by Pinar del Río with 16.6, Santa Clara, 22.1, Camagüey 37.0, Matanzas 49.5, and Havana 68.9. The 1899 census data underscored the contrast between the west and east. Not including Camagüey province, where land was given extensively to cattle grazing, Matanzas had the smallest number of farms (4,083) with the largest average acreage (247 acres). Havana followed with 6,159 farms at 135 acres. Oriente, at the opposite end, contained the largest number of farms with the smallest average acreage. Only .05 percent of the farms in Oriente were over 330 acres, comprising only 26.9 percent of the total area of land under cultivation. The average size of the 21,550 farms in 1899 was approximately 80 acres:11

Oriente claimed not only the highest number of individual landowners, but also the highest number of renters, a total of 43,721.

But it was not only that more land was worked by more people. Striking, too, was the social character of land tenure. Nowhere else in Cuba did tenure patterns reflect as accurately the racial composition of the island as in Oriente. Afro-Cuban managers, both as owners and renters, operated 41 percent of the farms. This was almost numerical parity with white proprietors. A somewhat less striking, but no less noteworthy, aspect of tenure in Oriente was that 26 percent of the total land in use was under Afro-Cuban cultivation. Set against the total acreage under Afro-Cuban management elsewhere on the island, the percentage in Oriente was nothing short of remarkable. Pinar del Río was the second highest, with Afro-Cubans working 11.4 percent of the land, followed by Santa Clara (6.7 percent), Camagüey (4.5 percent), Matanzas (3.8 percent), and Havana (3 percent). Oriente was also well above the national total of 10.8 percent. Put another way, almost 75 percent of the total land owned outright by blacks in Cuba and nearly 50 percent of land worked by Afro-Cubans as renters were located in Oriente.12 The distribution of the total number of farms in Oriente was as follows:13

The pattern repeated itself in the size and number of the 5,218 ingenios in Oriente. Not including Camagüey, Oriente had the smallest average acreage, among the largest number of sugar estates, and the largest number of white and colored owners and renters farming the smallest tracts of land:14

Tobacco vegas in Oriente displayed similar features:15

One other aspect of agriculture in Oriente displayed a significant feature. In the production of coffee and cacao, among the principal crops of the small farmer, colored cultivators constituted a decisive majority:16

Similar patterns prevailed in other small-scale agriculture, where 47 percent of the total malanga acreage was cultivated by Cubans of color. So was 42 percent of rice and 42 percent of yams (ñames).

Traditional land tenure systems survived in the east, and the opportunities for all Cubans, white and black, were nowhere greater. But there was more. One other important feature distinguished the east from the west. It was not only the adaptability of land tenure, it was the availability of land: nowhere else was more land available. This was in large measure the principal source of attraction for migration to the east. As late as the 1870s, official maps of the island described vast areas of the province as “waste and uninhabited mountains” and “uncultivated and unexplored regions.”17 In 1899, only 22 percent of the total area of the province was in the possession of private farms, and only 11 percent of this total (203,914 acres) was under cultivation.18 Large parts of Oriente remained undeveloped and unowned. Indeed, the full dimension of these lands was itself unknown. What was known, however, was that it was huge. Long after public lands had ceased to exist in Pinar del Río, Havana, and Matanzas, vast expanses of land in Oriente remained in the public domain. Fully more than twice the area under cultivation in 1899, approximately 500,000 acres, was held in the form of public lands. Much of this land was forest and woodlands, located in the remote and inaccessible interior regions of the province. Boundary lines were vague and often ill defined, and in many instances detailed surveys of state lands had never been completed. Thus, estimates of the total area of public land were only approximate, and many believed the actual size of the state patrimony to be far in excess of official calculation.19

In 1899, Oriente was still a land of opportunity, and most of all it was an opportunity of land. And the opportunity appeared almost limitless. Oriente was the place for Cubans to start anew. For decades tens of thousands of Cubans had migrated to Oriente in search of new occupations and new land. This was the promise that lured thousands to the province, from the desperate to deserters, the displaced and dispossessed, soldiers, settlers, and squatters from all regions of Cuba. They were not disappointed. That had always been the promise of the east: a place of new beginning, but most of all, a new freedom. The attraction of Oriente continued after the war. Indeed, after the war, the attraction increased. The postwar surge of population in Oriente was nothing short of spectacular. By 1907, the province neared the half million mark, increasing by more than 127,000—almost a 40 percent increase, from 327,716 in 1899 to 455,086 in 1907, and almost a 70 percent increase in the two decades since 1887.20

The Changing Face of Oriente

It was not only that there were more people arriving to Oriente. Numbers were not a problem. Purpose was. Cubans were not the only ones to recognize the promise of Oriente. North Americans, too, saw the opportunities in the province, and their presence was at once ubiquitous and overwhelming. They arrived first in 1898 in the form of an army of conquest and a government of occupation. They arrived later as brokers and vendors, homesteaders and settlers, speculators and investors, and they all came for the same thing: land. They arrived with capital resources well out of proportion to their numbers, and with an equally disproportionate advantage in an impoverished economic environment. They possessed the capital to buy up what land was available, and the political connections to make available what land could not be bought. Vast expanses of land passed under control of foreigners. And in this new order of things, it was not entirely clear what place Cubans would occupy—what place they could occupy. The signs boded ill. Impressionistic observations at the time tended both to confirm these developments and foresee their consequences. Remarked a North American traveler to Cuba in 1911: “Foreigners own ninety percent of all the land in Cuba that is worth working, and, since this is the case, the more foreign capital that comes in, the better for the country. In other words, the only outlook for the Cuban is to serve as a hired man.”21

Transactions and transfer of land in the east proceeded rapidly during the first decade of independence. The form of land tenure was changing, so was the character of land tenants—all at once, from public to private, from minifundio to latifundio, from communal to corporate, from Cuban to foreign. And it happened quickly. Railroad construction proceeded apace, and served to accelerate at once the transfer of land and the transformation of land use. The expansion of transportation facilities set in motion a succession of interrelated developments. The Cuba Company line connected Santiago with Santa Clara in 1900. Two years later, Santiago was connected directly to Havana, completing the rail linkage of all six provinces. Provincial railroad expansion followed quickly thereafter. In 1905, Alto Cedro was connected to Nipe Bay, giving rise to the new port city of Antilla. A year later, a rail link joined Cacocún with Holguín. Rail service was also established between Martí in Camagüey east through the Cauto Valley to Bayamo, Palma Soriano and San Luis. Shortly thereafter, Bayamo was linked with Manzanillo.22

The process thrived on its own success. The expansion of railroads made other developments possible. Sugar estates expanded rapidly during these years. So did mining. Real estate speculators and land developers acquired some of the most productive land in Cuba, and everywhere in Oriente North American colonization schemes were in full development.

An inexorable, and fateful, cycle ensued. Across Oriente, farmers and peasants were losing control of the land. It was especially pronounced in the southeast. Land passed under the control of railroad companies—for terminals, for construction zones, for town and depot sites, and for rights of way. Mining companies expanded.23 During the early 1900s, North American settlers established 12 agricultural colonies in Oriente, accounting for tens of thousands of acres. The Cuban Agricultural and Development Company alone acquired 135,000 acres in Guantánamo. But most of all land passed under the control of the sugar latifundios. It mattered little whether it was in the form of corporate-owned land (administration cane) or colono-owned estates. The results were the same. Farmers and peasants were displaced, pushed deeper onto the interior sabanas or higher into the foothill regions of the northern and southern mountain chains.

All forms of peasant land tenure were subject to usurpation, but none more than the hacienda comunera, a system of joint ownership distributed in allotments and held in the form of shares (pesos de posesión). At the turn of the century, the hacienda comunera was one of the principal forms of land tenure in eastern Cuba. Pesos de posesión guaranteed an owner (comunero) title to a certain portion of the tract, but not a good and clear title to any specified part of the land. Pesos de posesión provided a right to the land, to some of it somewhere within the larger boundaries of the tract. The land itself was not divided; rather, comuneros obtained a right to work the land in direct proportion to the number of pesos de posesión owned. Rights to the land multiplied in the course of time, and ownership was often hopelessly confused and continuously contested, inevitably creating a chaotic web of ownership and occupancy. Tracts of land were rarely surveyed and boundaries were inexact, unofficial, and not easily verifiable. Boundaries consisted typically of a forest, hill, stream, marsh, or other natural features or arbitrary points mutually agreed on. A cut in a tree or fallen log or a small creek often served as boundary points. And just as often when the tree with the mark was felled, or the log rotted away, or when the creek changed course, all traces of landmarks disappeared. Sometimes boundaries were known only in tradition, in the collective memory of the community. In one litigation in 1909, when farmers were asked how they recognized the boundary of their finca, one comunero responded: “the line has been there from time immemorial and has been respected by the co-owners.”24

It was precisely this type of ambiguity that made peasant lands susceptible to usurpation. To the already confused conditions of ownership and boundary demarcations, the war of independence—fought the longest in the eastern province—contributed even further. Deeds and titles had disappeared during the war. Vast numbers of titles were hopelessly tied up in uncertain ownership and unclear possession, and every uncertain claim was vulnerable to litigation.

These conditions favored the large and powerful over the small and powerless. Real estate speculators, railroad companies, and sugar corporations were quick to challenge local ownership. For the large numbers whose titles were imperfect, incomplete, or otherwise flawed, the adjudication process was usually the first step toward dislodgement and displacement. The procedures required the completion of a judicial survey (deslinde) by a court-appointed tribunal in which the validity of the pesos de posesión was examined. Expensive judicial surveys, commissioned by the plaintiff, fixed new and detailed boundaries. Attorneys and surveyors petitioned courts to ratify new boundaries and sanction new titles of ownership. The outcome was usually a foregone conclusion. Wrote sociologist Lowry Nelson after several years of fieldwork in rural Cuba:

The sugar companies purchased land from the peasants where the latter could show a title, but where titles were in question—as so many of them were—recourse was had to the courts. There can be no doubt that the contest in the courts was one-sided affairs in which the companies had overwhelming advantage. They could employ the best lawyer who knew the loopholes in Cuban land law. They could if necessary corrupt the officials, high and low with bribes.25

The loss of land occurred at the same time as a dramatic increase in population. The pressure would eventually affect all Oriente, but it was experienced first in the southeastern region of the province, in the cluster of the five contiguous municipios of Alto Songo, El Caney, Guantánamo, San Luis, and Santiago. The southeast had long served as a place of refuge—in the late nineteenth century for runaway slaves before emancipation and freed slaves afterwards. In the early twentieth century, it became refuge for the veterans of the war as well as for the victims of the war. In fact, outcasts of all social types over three generations had found opportunity in the southeast. The municipios were located largely within the impenetrable high country, within or near the foothills and valleys of the Sierra Maestra mountain range—“a terra incognita,” wrote one geographer in 1907, “unexplored, undescribed, and unmapped.”26 It was broken land, irregular, a succession of rising terraces, traversed and intersected by countless small valleys. It was also fertile land, bountiful and productive, without rival anywhere else in Cuba.

The southeastern municipios were different in one other respect. In no other region of Cuba was the total percentage of the Afro-Cuban population as high. Over the two census cycles of 1899 and 1907, people of color constituted a distinct population majority:27

The population surge in Oriente between 1899 and 1907 was especially pronounced in the southeast. Three of the five municipios registered a population growth significantly above the 40 percent increase in the province. Alto Songo rose from 12,770 (2,814 families) to 20,553 (3,963 families), a 61 percent increase in population. In several towns and villages within the municipio, specifically Jarahueca, Loma del Gato, Socorro, and La Maya, the principal coffee and cacao zones in Alto Songo, the population almost doubled in size. The population of El Caney increased 78 percent, from 9,126 (1,743 families) to 16,215 (3, 147 families). Guantánamo experienced a 54 percent increase, from 28,063 (6,596 families) to 43,300 (9,804 families). Even higher increases were recorded within the municipality, including Palma de San Juan (351 percent increase), Indios (279 percent), Isleta (208 percent), Sigual (180 percent), Bano (162 percent), and Caridad (123 percent). Only in San Luis and Santiago de Cuba did the population growth fail to surpass the overall provincial increase, the former increasing by 22 percent, from 11,681 (2,344 families) to 14,212 (2,990 families) and the latter 18 percent, from 45,478 (10,292 families) to 53,614 (12,163 families).28

Several developments appeared to be occurring at once in the southeast. After several years of declining fertility, the region experienced a sudden and spectacular increase in the birth rate. Stability and security returned to the lives of orientales after the war of independence. The women were released from reconcentration camps. The men returned from the army. This was occurring everywhere in Cuba, of course, but it had particular significance in Oriente. Most of the soldiers returning to civilian life were originally from the east, and it was to the east they returned. Oriente had contributed heavily to the liberation of the island. An estimated 80 percent of the men of Alto Songo had joined the Army of Liberation, comprising nearly half of the original invading force.29 At the same time, the majority of Cuban army units disbanding between 1898 and 1899 were located in the eastern half of the island. The First Army Corps was stationed in Santiago, the Second Corps was located in Manzanillo, the Third Corps in Camagüey, and the Fourth Corps in Santa Clara. Approximately 35,000 officers and soldiers out of 50,000 were disbanded in the three eastern provinces.30 After the war, married soldiers returned to their wives, single soldiers returned to marry.

That so much of the war had been fought in the east, moreover, and that so many of the soldiers from the east had served away from home during the war, combined to make the number of marriages and the rate of births in Oriente the lowest in all Cuba:31

The return of the soldiers had a sudden and dramatic impact on the rate of marriage and fertility in the province. A population surge followed almost immediately. In 1899 alone, the number of marriages in Oriente increased to 471, while births reached 2,829.32

Fertility increased everywhere in Cuba. Between 1899 and 1907, the total population under five years of age increased 162 percent, from 130,876 to 342,652. Oriente province registered a slightly higher increase of 164 percent, from 32,156 to 84,788. The increase in the southeastern region was also significant, with three of the municipios well above the national and provincial average: 33

These developments had one further implication. The population increase in Oriente occurred through a combination of both high fertility and low mortality. Between 1907 and 1916, Oriente province had the lowest death rate in all of Cuba at 10.07 Per 1,000.34 The most significant increases were registered within the dependent age population, specifically groups under the age of 15 years and over 65 years. The 1907 census indicated that 40 percent of the total population (185,270 out of 455,086) was under 15 years of age, with another 10,598 over the age of 65.35 Within the population of color, further, more than 41 percent was less than 15 (81,177 out of 196,092), and 5,669 were over 65.

The estimated increases by 19x2 were even more telling. The average annual increase in the oriental population was approaching 16,500, while the annual death rate for these years averaged to approximately 5,000. By 1912, the percentage of the total population under 15 years of age had reached almost 50 percent (302,265 out of 608,078). A similar ratio was registered within the population of color, with 112,000 out of 225,000 under the age of 15. The high postwar fertility produced a total population with a large proportion of persons below the normal work age, thereby creating a high number of dependents per adult.

The burgeoning postwar population added new pressures on limited resources, but most of all pressure on the land. By 1907, the population density of southeastern Oriente was among the highest in Cuba. With the exception of Guantánamo, all the municipios were above the national average of 18 inhabitants per square kilometer. Santiago de Cuba counted 78 inhabitants per square kilometer, San Luis 29, Alto Songo 22, and El Caney 21.36

Only Guantánamo stood below the national average, with eight inhabitants per square kilometer. But developments of another kind were transforming the largest southeastern municipio, and were themselves suggestive of trends elsewhere in Oriente. Everywhere in Guantánamo small farms and family lands were disappearing. Sugar production increased and land concentration expanded. More and more land passed under fewer and fewer owners. Across the Guantánamo valley the sugar estates consolidated control over the land. By 1912, the valley was dominated by ten sugar mills, all foreign. The “Soledad,” “Isabel,” and “Los Caños” were owned by the Guantánamo Sugar Company. Guantánamo Sugar was incorporated in 1905 in New Jersey and owned outright an estimated 55,000 acres of land in the municipio, as well as the majority stock of the Guantánamo Railroad. The “Santa Cecilia” estate was the property of the Santa Cecilia Sugar Company, an enterprise incorporated in Maine in 1904 and owning more than 12,000 acres in Guantánamo. Other estates included the “Santa María,” owned by the Santa María Sugar Company (United States); “San Miguel” and “Esperanza,” property of Oriental Cubana (France); “San Antonio,” owned by St. E. Montlue (France); “Confluente, ” property of Confluente Sugar Company (Spain); and “Romelie,” owned by Brooks and Company (England).37

Sugar cultivation expanded elsewhere in the southeast. In San Luis older mills “Unión” and “Santa Ana” and a new mill “Borjita” increased production. In Alto Songo, the “Almeida” estate expanded cultivation.

The expansion of the sugar system foretold the extinction of small fincas and the expulsion of farmers. It was occurring in varying degrees everywhere in Oriente, but it was happening especially fast in the southeast and happening concurrently with the fastest rate of population growth in Cuba. The data are incomplete and imperfect, but they suggest the magnitude of the collapse of independent farms in Oriente. Between 1899 and 1905, the total number of fincas in Oriente diminished by almost half, from 21,550 to 10,854. In the southeast, the demise of the small farm was particularly acute:38

Between 1905 and 1911, further, the number of fincas in Guantánamo declined from 1,154 to 419.39

The increasing population density told a similar story from another perspective, and the signs were no less ominous. The increase of the population together with the increase of the number and size of families placed new demands on the land. The rise in the population was occurring simultaneously with the decline of available land. The peasant population was increasing as the land available for subsistence agriculture was decreasing. The number of peasant households without adequate land multiplied. The land was passing into sugar cultivation in the form of the latifundio, reducing both the number of small farms and the amount of available land. A vicious cycle ensued, one of land hunger, rising land prices, and usurious debts. More and more people were crowding onto less and less land. It was not only an increase of population—it was this concurrent with a decrease of resources, principally in the form of diminishing land supply.

Every parcel of land converted to sugar production meant a corresponding loss of land available for subsistence agriculture. But expansion of sugar into Oriente during the early 1900s displayed one other notable feature: the introduction of cheap contract labor from Haiti and Jamaica. The timing was portentous. Sugar producers had experienced difficulty in completing the 1911 harvest, complaining of insufficient labor for the cane fields. Producers freely predicted ruin for the next year. Three new sugar complexes prepared to commence operations with the zafra of 1912: “Morón” in Camagüey, “Delicias” in Puerto Padre, and “Manatí” in Las Tunas, creating an estimated demand for an additional 10,000 cane cutters. This did not include new operations launched by several smaller mills including “Río Cauto” (Bayamo), “Ermita” (Guantánamo), “Borjita” (San Luis), and “América” (Palma Soriano), requiring another estimated 3,500 field hands.40 The year 1912 registered the first significant migration of West Indian labor into Oriente. A total of some 2,000 Jamaicans and Haitians were known to have entered Santiago de Cuba to work the .expanding cane fields.41

This was a legally sanctioned and properly processed influx of contract laborers. In fact, however, the number of West Indian workers was generally believed to be considerably greater. No one knew precisely how many West Indians were entering eastern Cuba unlawfully. What was known was that illegal immigration had assumed serious proportions and the population of illegal immigrants had reached significant size. Unlike regulated contract labor arrangements, whereby workers returned to their homes after completing the harvest in Cuba, illegal migrants usually remained in Cuba permanently. In fact, Cuban authorities were losing control over the eastern coasts, and no one knew quite what to do about it. Only days before the outbreak of large-scale disturbances in late May 1912, Antonio Masferrer, the chief administrator of Santiago customs, had publicly warned about the uncontrolled and illegal migration of West Indian workers into Oriente province. “The coasts of Oriente are in a state of abandon,” Masferrer complained. “This lack of vigilance has permitted clandestine immigration, some 10,000 individuals of color from Jamaica, Santo Domingo, and Haiti.”42

Foreigners in large numbers were arriving, and were displacing Cubans from the fields, the farms, and the factories. In the mines of El Caney, on the sugar estates of Guantánamo, along the railroads, and in the mills, cheap foreign workers glutted the local labor market and depressed local wages. An estimated 11 percent of 85,044 agriculturists in Oriente were foreigners; so were 26 percent of the 7,328 day laborers. Almost 96 percent of the 1,603 miners were foreigners.43

Cuban unemployment was on the rise, in some instances dramatically. By 1907, more than 20 percent of the total male population over the age of 17 years was classified as unemployed (sin ocupación lucrativa). This included 16.7 percent in El Caney, 18.0 percent in San Luis, 19.2 percent in Alto Songo, 20.6 in Guantánamo, and a staggering 35.1 percent in Santiago.44

Other telling trends provided additional insight into the developing rural crisis. Between 1899 and 1907, the percentage of Afro-Cuban men engaged in agriculture declined from 40 percent to 35 percent, while the number of Afro-Cuban women decreased by more than half. Both developments suggest the decline of family agriculture as the number of small fincas diminished. At the same time, wage employment increased. These years recorded an increase in the proportion of Afro-Cuban men in manufacturing and Afro-Cuban women in domestic services.45

Hardship was not confined to those who lost their land. Depression occurred simultaneously with dispossession. The value of the small farmers’ principal cash crops, coffee and cacao, was in decline. The international depression in the coffee market between 1900 and 1910 plunged Cuban growers into crisis. Low prices for cash crops reduced the ability of small farmers to meet past financial obligations or contract new ones. Many simply could not make it, and many failed. By 1911, Cuban coffee production had declined to the point where it could meet only one-fourth of the local demand, the balance provided by imports from Puerto Rico.46 The following year witnessed the lowest production of coffee at the lowest prices in a decade.47 In the space of two years between 1904 and 1906, the number of cafetales declined from 1,220 to 1,029.48 Although coffee prices increased again, by 1919 the total number of coffee fincas had dwindled to less than 200.49

These developments were occurring at a time of rising consumer prices. Farmers’ earnings were diminishing, and the value of diminished earning was decreasing. By 1912, the price of basic foodstuffs had reached an eight-year high, increasing an average of nearly 33 percent since 1904:50

The income on which heads of households were required to maintain a family was becoming increasingly inadequate. Despair stalked rural households, as men failed to discharge their responsibilities as providers.51

There was neither enough land on which to subsist nor sufficient work with which to survive. The size of peasant plots was dwindling and family lands were disappearing. The implications were clear: the next generation would be landless. Cubans of color, especially, faced the grim prospect of ending in worse conditions than their parents began. The loss of self-sufficiency portended the default of a promise, and more: it denied Afro-Cubans all possibility of promise. Generations of Afro-Cubans had found land and livelihood in the east. They had gone to Oriente as both a place of first choice and last resort. They were now facing the collapse of their world, and they had nowhere else to go.

The Race Issue in Republican Politics

Developments in Oriente were simultaneous with mounting discontent elsewhere. The deteriorating condition of people of color in Oriente was not dissimilar to those experienced by Afro-Cubans everywhere on the island. Cubans of color had not fared well in the republic. For many, in fact, conditions had actually deteriorated. Their contribution to the cause of Cuba Libre had been on a scale well out of proportion to their numbers. Their compensation from free Cuba was well below the proportion to their numbers. They had been promised political equality and social justice. They received neither. “During the colonial days of Spain,” Arthur A. Schomburg wrote during a visit to Cuba in 1905, “the Negroes were better treated, enjoyed a greater measure of freedom and happiness than they do to-day.” Schomburg continued:

Many Cuban Negroes curse the dawn of the Republic. Negroes were welcomed in the time of oppression, in the time of hardship, during the days of the revolution, but in the days of peace . . . they are deprived of positions, ostracized and made political outcasts. The Negro has done much for Cuba. Cuba has done nothing for the Negro.52

“After the war ended,” ex-slave Esteban Montejo later recalled, “the arguments began about whether the Negroes had fought or not. I know that ninety-five percent of the blacks fought in the war, but they started saying it was only seventy-five percent. Well, no one got up and told them they were lying, and the result was the Negroes found themselves out in the streets—men brave as lions, out in the streets. It was unjust, but that’s what happened.”53

The condition of Afro-Cubans in the early years of the republic was exacerbated by the vast flow of immigration, particularly Spaniards. Between 1902 and 1912, an estimated 250,000 Spaniards emigrated to Cuba.54 Competition for employment on this scale served at once to expel blacks from the labor market and to increase the urgency to accommodate Afro-Cubans within the expanding state bureaucracy. In fact, however, white Cubans were facing similar pressures, and showed little disposition to share public revenues with black Cubans.

The effects were striking. Afro-Cubans were underrepresented in elected office, in appointed positions, in the armed forces, and in the civil service. Cubans of color made up 30 percent of the total population, approximately 610,000 out of 2 million. Census information in 1907 offers only suggestive data concerning the status of Afro-Cubans in the public life of the republic. Three census categories clearly defined as public positions were teachers, soldiers and policemen, and “government functionaries” (funcionarios de gobierno). Cubans of color were underrepresented in each:55

A profound sense of betrayal settled over the Afro-Cuban community. Black political leaders had initially joined the established political parties. Apart from the success of a small number of individual Afro-Cuban politicians, however, conditions did not improve for blacks. Appeals to white political leaders and elected officials fell on deaf ears. As early as 1902, Afro-Cuban political leaders met with President Tomás Estrada Palma to protest the shabby treatment of blacks in the new republican government. Liberal party leader Generoso Campos Marquetti complained that the meager numbers of blacks in the rural guard and police, and the discrimination against blacks by the civil departments of government, underscored the neglect “towards a race that had valiantly spilled its blood in defense of the Cuban cause.” “The truth is, Mr. President,” Campos Marquetti protested, “this is not what we expected from the Revolution and things can not continue like this.”56

In 1907, many black political leaders took the first step toward a portentous political realignment. They withdrew from the established political parties to organize a new movement, first in the form of the Agrupación Independiente de Color and later into a full fledged political party, the Partido Independiente de Color. The new party advocated honest government, improved working conditions, and free university education. Its principal concerns, however, centered on issues of race, specifically demands for increased representation of Afro-Cubans in elected office and public positions, including the armed forces, the diplomatic corps, the judiciary, and all civil departments of government.57

The organization of the Partido Independiente de Color challenged the existing parties for control of the black vote. This challenge was particularly serious to the ruling Liberal party, for its status as a majority party was dependent directly upon the vital margin of support provided by the Afro-Cuban electorate. The Liberal administration of José Miguel Gómez (1908-1912) did not hesitate. In 1910, the Afro-Cuban Liberal leader of the Senate, Martín Morúa Delgado, introduced legislation to proscribe the new party. The passage of the Morúa law prohibited the organization of political parties along racial lines. By 1912, Cuban politics had polarized around the issue of race.

The formation of the Partido Independiente de Color served to direct attention to a wide range of injustices—to the fact that the color of Cubans was as much an unsettled issue in the republic as it had been in the colony. But Afro-Cuban political objectives found little endorsement and less enthusiasm among vast numbers of people of color in Oriente. Efforts at political organization in Oriente were unsuccessful. Most of the 200,000 people of color in Oriente (approximately 40 percent of the provincial electorate) looked on indifferently to the party’s appeal. Indeed, the independientes failed to secure even the minimum number of signatures required to nominate candidates in the 1908 provincial elections.58

In fact, the source and substance of Afro-Cuban grievances in the republic were varied, and they were not all the same for all people of color. Significant social distinctions existed within the population of color. The new Partido Independiente de Color tended to represent the interests of Afro-Cuban politicians, former ranking officers of the Liberation Army, professionals, and intellectuals, generally representatives of black petite bourgeoisie—those Cubans who aspired to gain entree into the expanding state bureaucracy, through either elected positions or appointed posts. The independientes directed their attention to institutional racism, to the formal practice of racial discrimination that obstructed their participation in the public life of the republic they had contributed to creating. The party charter addressed itself almost exclusively to matters political: it addressed grievances to government authorities and the leaders of the ruling political parties.

These were issues of only marginal interest to Afro-Cuban farmers, peasants, and rural workers in Oriente, who were, in any case, at the time of the party’s formation, in serious crisis and preoccupied with urgent matters of subsistence and survival. It was not that they were unsympathetic with the political purpose of the new party. Rather, they were essentially unconcerned with political matters in the republic. Their lives were in disarray, their communities were in despair.

Southeastern Oriente was in the throes of social unrest. Lawlessness was on the increase, announcing the onset of disintegration and disruption. “There exists at Guantánamo, and the surrounding country,” reported the United States consul at Santiago, Ross E. Holaday, “a state of lawlessness that is calculated to cause considerable apprehension among the good citizens.” Traveling through Guantánamo in 1910, Holaday learned that resident foreign businessmen had “received letters demanding money, and threatening to burn their property, or take their lives, or that of some member of their family, if they refused to comply with the demands of the unknown writer.”59

The accumulating ills were compounded by immediate ones. Disorders in May 1912 coincided with the onset of the tiempo muerto, and the immediate sources of the disturbances were no less compelling than the longterm ones. In a very real sense, they were one and the same. The peasants and farmers were losing their sources of livelihood even as they lost the claims on the land. With every passing year the crisis deepened. Tiempo muerto had always brought on hard times, but times became harder as the opportunities for subsistence agriculture became fewer. “The result is,” United States Minister John B. Jackson reported fully two years before the uprising, “that when the crop is over there are many idle persons left in the country districts with practically no means of support. The majority of these are improvident negroes, not well to do at any time, but especially ‘hard-up’ this year.” Jackson warned in concluding: “It seems certain that there will be a good deal of real destitution during the coming summer. All this will contribute to a general discontent.”60

Frustration ran deep and wide among the dissident Afro-Cuban politicians, and rebellion offered one last desperate recourse for a movement apparently doomed to defeat and disintegration. The Independent Party of Color had not fared well in the arena of electoral politics. Established Afro-Cuban Liberals and Conservatives publicly repudiated racial politics. At the same time, mainstream black politicians seized the independiente challenge to the ruling party to further their own political fortunes. They effectively parlayed the threat of racial polarization into sinecures and patronage for their Afro-Cuban constituencies. Not without some irony, the independiente movement did indeed produce political opportunities for blacks, but in a fashion calculated to counteract the appeal of the new party of color. Then, too, the Morúa law was having the desired effects. In municipal and provincial elections, the independientes were systematically barred from seeking office; but the lack of recorded popular protest revealed they were without significant political support, even in precincts with predominantly Afro-Cuban electorates.

The Rebellion

The uprising began as an organized political protest, an armed movement designed to force the Gómez administration to repeal the Morúa law. However, the purpose of the independiente leadership was never clearly defined or well publicized. In a published newspaper interview in late May, party leaders Evaristo Estenoz and Pedro Ivonet announced their intention to provoke United States intervention as a means of toppling the Liberal government if the Gómez administration refused to abrogate the Morúa law. “They want equal rights with whites,” the correspondent concluded tersely, “or they will put an end to the Republic.”61

The rebellion appeared organized around a plan for separate but coordinated and simultaneous uprisings centered in Pinar del Río, Matanzas, Las Villas, and Oriente. Everywhere outside Oriente province, however, the movement was either stillborn or shortlived. Mass arrests of party leaders and suspected sympathizers in Pinar del Río, Matanzas, and Santa Clara ended all prospects for a coordinated national rebellion. Scattered armed bands took to the field in some western zones, largely in Las Villas province around Cienfuegos, Sagua la Grande, and Cruces, but these were early and easily defeated by government forces.62

It was different in Oriente. Disorders in the east broke out sometime in early or mid-May. Newspaper accounts were not clear, possibly because the kind of desultory lawlessness that announced the onset of rebellion had for so long been part of the recurring daily disorders in the east.63 What was certain, however, was that by the end of the month conditions had intensified, by which time it was also apparent that disorders were no longer sporadic and scattered incidents of individual discontent but something akin more to a spontaneous and sustained outburst of collective rage.

In Oriente, the original independiente movement quickly became something larger. Political grievances ignited social protest. They were not unrelated, but they were separate. Afro-Cuban politicians demanded a place in the republic, and mobility. Afro-Cuban peasants demanded a place on the land, and permanence. Not for unrelated reasons, they were failing at both. But the origins of these grievances in 1912 were sufficiently distinct and markedly different.

The uprising in the east spread swiftly—spontaneously it seemed. Disturbances were extensive in Oriente, and particularly intensive in southeastern Oriente. The example of rebellion spread rapidly by word of mouth, from town to town, without the separate bands concerting a common policy or coordinating a common action. Many of the original insurgents were the party functionaries and the rank and file.64 Their political grievances were real, and by 1912 despair and frustration ran deep and wide among the local independientes. But party members were not the only participants. In fact, it is not certain that they were the majority. The uprising baffled observers: no pronouncements, no proclamations, no palpable purpose. “It [is] highly improbable,” commented United States Minister Arthur M. Beaupré in late May, “that the negroes at the head of the Independent Colored Party would be capable of engineering a movement of this scale. The negroes now in revolt are of a very ignorant class.”65 Several weeks later, Beaupré wrote again: “I can only say that the entire situation is surrounded by a pronounced element of mystery. It is quite impossible to determine who is responsible for the present movement, what are the intentions of the negro leaders or what danger there is of disturbance in Havana and other provinces. ”66

It soon became apparent that this was no simple political disorder. Something more was stirring. One North American military observer discerned an important distinction between the independientes in arms and other Afro-Cubans in the field. The disturbance in Alto Songo, Major Henry C. Davis reported in June, was caused “by small bands of men whom it appears difficult to identify as revolutionists; they are acting rather as outlaws and I am of the opinion they are nothing but bands organized to steal.”67 The United States consul in Santiago had a better understanding of the character of the uprising and its implications. Wrote Ross E. Holaday:

That there is much danger to be apprehended on account of the present disturbed political condition admits of no doubt because, however good may have been the intentions of the leaders of this movement not to destroy or take life, the mere fact that their thousands of irresponsible followers are continually obliged to live by pillaging and to continually evade authorities of the law will, if allowed to continue, result in anarchy and a complete overthrow and derogation of organized society under the law throughout the province. The leaders will not be able to control them or their actions for any considerable period of time and they will not hesitate in a short time to destroy property.68

What occurred in eastern Cuba in 1912 was only marginally related to the armed movement organized by the Partido Independiente de Color. The independiente protest set in motion a larger protest. The political spark ignited the social conflagration, and the countryside was set ablaze. Disorders quickly assumed the proportions of a peasant jacquerie: an outburst of rage and the release of a powerful destructive fury directed generally at the sources and symbols of oppression. As is often the case with peasant movements, the uprising possessed a formless and desultory character. It was a popular outburst, born of social distress and directed not at government but at local social groups and specific conditions of abuse. It was without a program of reform, without commitment to a unifying program, without organization, without defined policy, and without formal leadership.69 The protest gave expression to collective rage, and for all its spontaneity and ambiguity, it was not without method and meaning. As an outcry against injustice, it sought at once to destroy the dis-possessors and expel the expropriators in one surge of violence and destruction. The protesters attacked property, they plundered and pillaged mostly foreign property, and mostly sugar property, and together these activities served to define the essential character of the uprising. The yearning for the old ways served as the source for the destruction of the new ones.

These were veterans of the war of liberation: they had once before waged war with fire. Arson was a weapon of rural protest long familiar to the farmers and peasants of Oriente, and they used it to great effect. “It is daily becoming more apparent,” reported the United States consul in Santiago, “that those in revolt are not insurgents but incendiaries who may destroy in an hour property representing millions of dollars in value and that has taken years to construct.”70 And most especially the target of insurgent incendiarism was the cane fields and the sugar mills. The destruction of sugar property was the most common insurgent gesture. Everywhere company stores were sacked and livestock stolen. All principal sugar mills in Guantánamo reported damages. Nearly 100,000 dollars worth of standing cane on the “Esperanza” estate was destroyed. The “Santa Cecilia” mill reported extensive damage to the company railroad lines. The “Limones” estate was torched and 2,500 tons of cane went up in smoke. The “Romelie” mill was attacked several times. Several buildings of the “Confluente” mill complex were destroyed. The manager of Fidelity Commercial and Trading Company in Guantánamo reported that the insurgents were “burning up our cane, buildings, stealing our horses and cattle and sacking three of our stores.”71

Property was attacked everywhere. Railroads made easy targets. Tracks were destroyed, rail bridges were burned, railroad stations were razed.72 Trains were halted and held up. On a number of occasions they were derailed, and then held up. The larger coffee fincas were destroyed. The “Olimpo” cafetal in Alto Songo was torched.73

Country stores, the bodegas and cantinas, largely Spanish-owned, suffered high losses. Spaniards were the merchants and shopkeepers, and collectively these rural retailers were party to transactions that took in 70 percent of the wages paid to local laborers. Shopowners served as local financial agents, lending money and providing credit. They also frequently charged usurious rates of interest, and moved easily into the role of villain as mounting indebtedness pushed peasants and workers ineluctably into indigence. “They are money-lenders in the small districts,” wrote one traveler of Spanish merchants in 1911, “and furnish the farmers, at exorbitant rates of interest, with the means of raising and marketing their crops.”74 Perceived as one more source and symbol of oppression, the rural bodegas and cantinas were plundered everywhere, freely and frequently. Shops and stores were sacked, in Guantánamo, San Luis, Santiago, La Maya, El Caney, Alto Songo, El Cobre, Daiquirí, Palma Soriano, and Holguín. The attackers made off with money, machetes, tools, arms and ammunition, clothing, supplies, and food. The shops were looted, and then razed.75

The insurrectionary torch was also applied to towns and villages. The towns of La Maya and Jarahueca in Alto Songo were all but totally destroyed. Insurgents sacked Caney del Sitio in the municipio of Palma Soriano, razing a good part of the village and making off with an estimated 100,000 dollars in money and merchandise. The town of Palma Soriano was threatened more than once; so were San Luis and El Cobre.76

The attacks against the towns were not solely for plunder. An even more important purpose impelled the insurgents toward urban centers. Farmers and peasants had lost their lands in litigation and in the courts, they were bested by documents and depositions, and the new order of things was duly recorded and ratified in municipal registries and records offices. Hence, every successful incursion into municipal centers resulted in the destruction of the local archives and records offices. The insurgents fell on public records purposefully, and not as wanton acts of destruction. At every opportunity, public buildings were razed. It was a particular type of destruction, and taken together the acts suggest method and meaning. The gesture was at once symbolic and substantive, an instrumental act designed to destroy the documents that had ratified the despoliation of their lands. The first building destroyed in La Maya was the land registry office. The archives of Tacamara, San Juan, and Bijarú in the municipio of Holguín were destroyed. The records of San Ramón de las Yaguas in El Caney were saved only because a local judge had removed the documents before the destruction of the registry office.77

Reports from the disaffected regions underscored the socioeconomic sources of the disturbances. “Whatever may have been the immediate object of the threatened uprising of the blacks,” reported one North American naval officer, “its real cause was due to the existing economic condition of the blacks.”78 One marine brigade commander arrived at a similar conclusion, if in slightly different terms: “So called rebels [are] malcontents and men out of employment, fighting in order to loot and riot without cause or justification.”79

An estimated 10,000 Afro-Cubans participated in the uprising, largely in southeastern Oriente province. The assault was against property, not persons. The Cuban press, for all the lurid accounts of the “race war,” attributed few deaths to insurgents. Rebels did not engage government troops. On the contrary, they sought to avoid all contact with the army. The insurgents, La Lucha editorialized as late as June 27, “have limited themselves to fleeing every time they see a glimpse of the yellow [army] uniform, without offering even one serious battle.”80 At another point, La Lucha accurately if unwittingly underscored the character of disorders:

Robbery, looting, and fire are the weapons with which they fight; that is to say that it is a war against property and private wealth, not a war for a political ideal nor to overturn a government. . .: everywhere, rural shops and stores sacked and burned, bridges destroyed, and sugar mills under the power of the torch of the rebels who exact money under the threat of death and destruction.81

The extent of the popular support given locally to the insurgents is not clear. Not a few observers believed they enjoyed widespread sympathy from the noncombatant population.82 The United States minister reported learning that “many of the so-called peaceful elements are in more or less open sympathy with the rebels and may at times join forces with them.”83 “Given the enormous extension of the vast zone,” La Lucha editorialized in June, “the most dangerous insurgents are not those in the woods, but those who are pacific in the villages, who by day gather intelligence concerning the movement of the armed forces, pass it on to the insurgents, and by night join them to plunder and pillage.”84 The Cuban army command apparently concurred, and in early June the government suspended constitutional guarantees for all of Oriente and ordered all noncombatants out of disaffected zones.85 Reconcentration camps reappeared in Oriente. For the second time in as many decades, thousands of peasant families were forcefully removed from the countryside, and contending forces laid siege on the productive capabilities of the land.

Order was restored at a terrible cost. In late May, the United States landed marines in Oriente province to protect North American property. Released from the responsibility of garrison duty, the Cuban armed forces undertook a ruthless and grisly pacification. The armed forces killed indiscriminately: by decapitation, by hanging, and by firing squads. Unknown numbers were killed, allegedly while “trying to escape. ” Military authorities let it be known, one observer in Palma Soriano reported, that the army “was cutting off heads, pretty much without discrimination, of all negroes found outside the town limits.”86 “They have lopped off the heads of probably some six thousand negroes in this province,” reported one North American resident in Guantánamo, “and the rest as a whole have had the fear of God drilled into their souls.”87 “It is reported by parties coming from San Luis, “cabled the United States consul in Antilla, “that prisoners falling into the hands of the government forces are shot down or beheaded unmercifully without any form of trial, my information being that not a single prisoner was allowed to escape alive at that place.”88 One naval officer later reported:

Since the withdrawal of the constitutional guarantees several negroes . . . have been hanged, presumably by the soldiers, but no one believes that these negroes were really rebels. As a rule the bodies are left hanging to the trees, or left lying by the roadside, no effort being made to bury them or to fix the responsibility for the executions. The execution of innocent negroes may have served the purpose of intimidating the disaffected ones.89

When it was all over, the final casualties revealed the magnitude of the carnage: murder, massacres, and mass graves everywhere in Oriente. Race and gender converged in deadly combination: black men were killed summarily.90 Nor were security forces inclined to make distinctions between black Cubans and black foreigners. Scores of Haitian contract workers fell victim to government repression.91 Few prisoners were taken, and only in the larger provincial towns. The government reported modest casualties: two rural guards dead, a few wounded.92 By the end of the summer, peace returned to Oriente. “The movement fell away,” wrote a slightly baffled Hugh Thomas 60 years later, “almost as mysteriously as it had begun.”93 Just in time, too, for preparations for the 1912-13 zafra were about to begin.

The events of 1912 were portents, stirrings of discontent everywhere on the increase. They announced the approaching end of away of life, not only for Afro-Cuban peasants in Oriente, but for all peasants in Oriente. A decade after independence, eastern Cuba was undergoing rapid social and economic change. It was not occurring everywhere at once. A variety of diverse agricultural activities survived into the twentieth century, and although the sugar latifundio had expanded its control over land, traditional tenure forms persisted. Coffee fincas, cacao farms, tobacco vegas, ranches, banana fields, fruit and vegetable farms, and forests flourished in different regions of the province. So did family renters, owners, and squatters. Yet all this was changing, gradually, but steadily. The events of 1912 suggested that change had affected some districts and some Cubans more adversely than others.

The southeast, and especially Guantánamo, had been particularly hard hit. To be sure, in 1912 grievances were not clearly articulated, only acted out, with the inevitable result that the meaning of those actions was left to others to explain. Not unexpectedly, nor perhaps even with the intention to deceive and dissimulate, the explanations advanced at the time, as well as subsequently, failed either to appreciate adequately the source of rebellion or interpret correctly its significance. The issue of race blurred the meaning of the uprising and obscured the implications of the protest. The uprising of 1912 was seen as one in a series of many political protests in the early republic. Class was subordinated to race, the social was eclipsed by the political. Even sympathetic renderings of 1912 did little more than to put a more favorable light on the same story line.

The emphasis on race had one other effect, if not function. The portrayal of the uprising at the time as the work of disgruntled black politicians and, concomitantly and as the inevitable corollary, the view that the protest was a race war, served to divide the peasantry along racial lines. It was clear that the rebels were mainly black, but it was not clear that the source of the rebellion was entirely racial. Not that the issue of race was unimportant. On the contrary, the independientes’ protest underscored the other attribute that many of growing numbers of dispossessed peasants shared in common: race. And, indeed, with the preponderance of the population in southeastern Oriente facing indigence made up of people of color, it was not at all unreasonable for many to perceive race as the source of their plight. It also offered a basis of unity for black peasants. But what served to unite black peasants contributed to dividing the oriental peasantry. Cuban authorities had compelling motives to represent the uprising as a race war. The construct served to unify the white majority in Oriente, and this unity tended to cut across class lines. It set black peasants apart from white peasants. It served as the basis of repression more, it facilitated repression. The conditions that drove black peasants to rebellion in 1912 were present everywhere in Oriente. The rendering of the protest as a “guerra de razas” directed by the Partido Independiente de Color, however, allowed white peasants to interpret the dispute as a political one and the cause a racial one—neither one of which had very much to do with them. Far-reaching changes were overtaking eastern Cuba. Although it was not immediately apparent, 1912 was the first collective response to those changes.


I wish to acknowledge with gratitude research assistance in the form of a summer stipend from the National Endowment for Humanities and a grant from the Joint Committee on Latin American Studies of the Social Science Research Council and the American Council of Learned Societies, with funds provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Mellon Foundation, and the Ford Foundation.


This includes materials spanning from contemporary accounts to recent works: Rafael Conte and José M. Capmany, Guerra de razas (Negros contra blancos en Cuba) (Havana, 1912); James B. Clarke, “The Cuban Revolution,” The Crisis, 4 (Oct. 1912), 301-302; Carlos de Velasco, “El problema negro,” Cuba Contemporánea, 1:2 (Feb. 1913), 73-79; Alberto Arredondo, El negro en Cuba: Ensayo (Havana, 1939); Pascual B. Marcos Veguer, El negro en Cuba (Havana, 1955); Serafín Portuondo Linares, Los independientes de color: Historia del Partido Independiente de Color (Havana, 1950); Rafael Fermoselle, Política y color en Cuba: La guerrita de 1912 (Montevideo, 1974); Hugh Thomas, Cuba: The Pursuit of Freedom (New York, 1971), pp. 522-524; Thomas Tondee Orum, “The Politics of Color: The Racial Dimension of Cuban Politics During the Early Republican Years, 1900-1912” (unpublished Ph.D. diss., New York University, 1975). Nor have the recent writings in socialist Cuba departed significantly from these central themes. See Teresita Yglesia Martínez, El segundo ensayo de república (Havana, 1980), pp. 328-373; Dirección Política de las F.A.R., Historia de Cuba, 3rd ed. (Havana, 1971), pp. 561-566; Julio LeRiverend, La república: Dependencia y revolución, 3rd ed. (Havana 1971), pp. 122-126; Sergio Aguirre, “El cincuentenario de un gran crimen,” Cuba Socialista, 2:16 (Dec. 1962), 33–51; Martha Verónica Alvarez Mola and Pedro Martínez Pírez, “Algo acerca del problema negro en Cuba hasta 1912,” Universidad de La Habana, 179 (May–June, 1966), 79-93; Leopoldo Horrego Estuch, “El alzamiento del doce,” Bohemia, 59:25 (June 23, 1967), 18–22; and Felipe Ruiz, “La matanza de negros en 1912,” Juventud Rebelde, May 22, 1973, p. 2.


Antonio Maceo, “A los cubanos de la raza negra,” n.d., Fondo Donativos y Remisiones, leg. 525, no. 13, Archivo Nacional de Cuba, Havana, Cuba (hereafter ANC).


José Martí, “Mi raza,” Apr. 1893, in José Martí, Obras completas, Jorge Quintana ed., 5 vols. (Caracas, 1964), II, 488. For further discussion of Martí on race, see Armando Guerra, Martí y los negros (Havana, 1947) and John M. Kirk, José Martí: Mentor of the Cuban Nation (Gainesville, 1983), pp. 106–112.


Rafael María Merchán, Cuba: Justificación de sus guerras de independencia, (Havana, 1961), p. 41.


See Matías Duque, Nuestra patria (Havana, 1923), p. 143; Donna M. Wolf, “The Cuban ‘Gente de Color’ and the Independence Movement, 1879-1895,” Revista/Review Inter americana, 5 (Fall 1975), 403–421; Fermoselle, Política y color en Cuba, p. 26; and Orum, “The Politics of Color,” pp. 31-49. For biographical profiles of some of the most prominent Afro-Cuban leaders of the independence movement, see Juan F. Risquet, Rectificaciones. La cuestión político-social en la isla de Cuba (Havana, 1900).


The town of Palenque in Alto Songo traced its origins to settlements of runaway slaves. See Ricardo V. Rousset, Historial de Cuba, 3 vols. (Havana, 1918), III, 124. For a general discussion of fugitive slave settlements in Oriente, see José Luciano Franco, Los palenques de los negros cimarrones (Havana, 1973), pp. 102-116.


United States War Department (hereafter USWD), Office of Director of Census (hereafter ODC), Informe sobre el censo de Cuba, 1899 (Washington, D.C., 1900), pp. 78-79, 189. See also Centro de Estudios Demográficos, La población de Cuba (Havana, 1976), pp. 126-129, 139-140.


See Secretario, Gobierno de la Isla de Cuba, “Memoria: Censo de la población de la Isla de Cuba, 1887,” Nov. 12, 1889, Fondo Miscelánea, leg. 4041, no. 900, ANC. USWD, Informe, pp. 78-79; Kenneth K. Kiple, Blacks in Colonial Cuba, 1774-1899 (Gainesville, 1976), pp. 98-99. The designation of race and color in Cuban census categories is, of course, often untrustworthy and always uncorroborated. The censuses used in this essay employed such terms as “mestizo,” “mulato,” and “de color’ interchangeably and without consistent distinction. In some cases, Asians were no doubt included. In most instances, the designation “de color” or “bianco” depended wholly on the impressions of Cuban enumerators, whose judgments were in turn shaped by cultural norms, regional distinctions, and local conventions. Hence, a person designated as “blanco” in Oriente could have been just as easily deemed “de color” in Pinar del Río. In a larger sense, Cuban census data must be approached with no small amount of circumspection. The information is frequently inexact if not incorrect. For all their imperfections, however, the censuses provide a vast corpus of otherwise unobtainable information. Used with care, they can be made to yield vital insights into the nature of Cuban society.


USWD, ODC, Informe, pp. 204-212.


See Rafael Gutiérrez Fernández, Oriente heroico (Santiago de Cuba, 1915), pp. 103-104; Leví Marrero, Geografía de Cuba (Havana, 1951), pp. 634-636.


USWD, ODC, Informe, pp. 554, 567-568.


Ibid., pp. 556, 568-569.


Ibid., p. 572.




Ibid. See also Fe Iglesias, “Algunos aspectos de la distribución de la tierra en 1899,” Santiago, 40 (Dec. 1980), 170-171.


USWD, ODC, Informe, p. 571.


Antonio Carlo Napoleone Gallenga, The Pearl of the Antilles (London, 1873), p. 53.


Adolfo Sáenz Yáñez, secretary of industries, commerce, and public works, “Answers to the Questions Proposed to this Department by the Honorable John R. Brooke, Military Governor,” Nov. 9, 1899, file 1899/2594, Records of the Military Government of Cuba, Record Group 140, National Archives, Washington, D.C. (hereafter MGC/RG 140); Frank Steinhart, “Annual Report: Fiscal Year Ending June, 1903,” General Records of the Department of State, Record Group 59, National Archives, Washington, D.C. (hereafter DS/RG 59); and Leonard Wood et al., Opportunities in the Colonies and Cuba (New York, 1902), pp. 182-186.


F. de P. Portuondo to secretary of agriculture, Aug. 15, 1899, in John R. Brooke, Civil Report of Major-General John R. Brooke, U.S. Army, Military Governor, Island of Cuba (Washington, D.C., 1900), pp. 311-314. For data on individual municipios, see USWD, ODC, Informe, pp. 198-200; Cuba, Under the Provisional Government of the United States, Censo de la República de Cuba, 1907 (Washington, D.C., 1908), pp. 306-308; Cuba, Provincia de Oriente, Memoria sobre el estado de la provincia y sobre los trabajos realizados por el gobierno y el consejo provinciales durante el año fiscal de 1904 a 1905 (Havana, 1906), pp. 555-558.


Censo de la República de Cuba, 1907, p. 339.


Charles Harcourt Ainslie Forbes-Lindsay, Cuba and Her People of To-Day (Boston,


Cuba, Memoria sobre el estado de la provincia, p. 497.


See “Rollo de recurso de apelación establecido por el Ferrocarril de Guantánamo en las diligencias que ha promovido contra los esposos Sánchez Toca, sobre expropiación forzosa de una parcela de terreno del Ingenio ‘Confluente,’” Apr. 20, 1908, Fondo Audiencia de Santiago de Cuba, leg. 6, no. 5, ANC; “Rollo del recurso de apelación establecido por Ricardo H. Beathie y otros, en el expediente de expropiación forzosa promovido por The Cuban Eastern Rail Road Company de una faja de terreno de la Estancia ‘MacKinley,’” Sept. 8, 1906, Fondo Audiencia de Santiago de Cuba, leg. 17, no. 10, ANC; “Rollo del recurso de apelación establecido por la ‘Juraguá Iron Company’ en el expediente que tiene promovido sobre expropriación de una faja de terreno de la finca ‘Justisí,’” Sept. 3, 1910, Fondo Audiencia de Santiago de Cuba, leg. 11, no. 5, ANC.


“Rollo del recurso de apelación establecido por Pedro R. Rodríguez, síndico de la hacienda ‘El Canal’ contra el síndico y representante de la hacienda ‘Cabezuela,’ Sres. José Gálvez y Antonio Avila, en incidente de impugnación al plano de dicha hacienda ‘E1 Canal,’ June 21, 1909, Fondo Audiencia de Santiago de Cuba, leg. 7, no. 20, ANC.


Lowry Nelson, Rural Cuba (Minneapolis, 1950), p. 97. See also Rogelio de Armas y Herrera, Estudio sobre deslindes (Baracoa, 1913).


B. E. Fernow, “The High Sierra Maestra,” Bulletin of the American Geographical Society, 39 (1907), 257.


USWD, ODC, Informe, p. 212; Censo de la República de Cuba, 1907, p. 215.


USWD, ODC, Informe, p. 520; Censo de la República de Cuba, 1907, p. 584; and Regino Eladio Boti y Barreiro, Guantánamo (Guantánamo, 1912), p. 59.


Rousset, Historial de Cuba, III, 118.


See George H. Chadwick to Adna R. Chaffee, May 26, 1899, file 1899/2020, MGC/RG 140.


USWD, ODC, Informe, pp. 736-737, 742, 744.


Ibid., pp. 742, 744.


USWD, ODC, Informe, p. 215; Censo de la República de Cuba, 1907, p. 322.


Oriente was followed by Camagüey at 10.93 Per 1,000; Pinar del Río, 12.27; Santa Clara, 14.81; Matanzas, 16.59; and Havana, 18.18. See Cuba, Bureau of the Census, Census of the Republic of Cuba, 1919 (Havana, 1921), p. 254.


Censo de la República de Cuba, 1907, p. 376.


Ibid., p. 199.


See Irene A. Wright, “The Guantánamo Valley,” The Cuba Magazine, 2 (Mar. 1911), 15-22; The Times of Cuba, June 1917, pp. 68, 76; John Moody, Moody’s Analysis of Investments: Public Utilities and Industrials, 1917 (New York, 1917), pp. 997, 1174


USWD, ODC, Informe, p. 566; Cuba, Memoria sobre el estado de la provincia, p. 167.


Data derived from Cuba, Memoria sobre el estado de la provincia, p. 167 and “Expediente relativo a los estados que dispone el Artículo 310 de la Ley Hipotecaria y que elevan los Registradores de la Propiedad en abril de cada año y que han de ser elevados a la sección de los registros y del notario, según dispone el Artículo 310 de dicha Ley,” 1911, Fondo Audiencia de Santiago de Cuba, leg. 3, no. 17, ANC.


Juan Pérez de la Rivaet al., La república neocolonial, 2 vols. (Havana, 1975–1978), II, 25-26.


See República de Cuba, Secretaría de Hacienda, Sección de Estadística, Inmigración y movimiento de pasajeros en el año 1912 (Havana, 1912), pp. 10, 12, 19. See also Mats Lundahl, “A Note on Haitian Migration to Cuba, 1890-1934,” Cuban Studies/Estudios Cubanos, 12:2 (July 1981), 21-36.


La Lucha, May 14, 1912.


See Censo de la República de Cuba, 1907, p. 577.


Ibid., pp. 322, 512.


USWD, ODC, Informe, p. 447 and Censo de la República de Cuba, 1907, p. 524.


Great Britain, Foreign Office, Diplomatic and Consular Reports, Annual Series (hereafter GBFO/DCR/AS), Cuba 1911 (London, 1912), p. 8.


Francisco Pérez de la Riva, El café: Historia de su cultivo y explotación en Cuba (Havana, 1944), pp. 214-215.


Robert B. Hoernel, “Sugar and Social Change in Oriente, Cuba, 1898–1946,” Journal of Latin American Studies, 8:2 (Nov. 1976), 230; GBFO/DCR/AS, Cuba 1907 (London, 1909), p. 7.


Cuba, Bureau of the Census, Census of the Republic of Cuba, 1919 (Havana, 1919). p. 58.


The Cuban Review, 10 (Oct. 1912), 16.


For a discussion of the importance of male support of the rural household see Stephen Gudeman, The Demise of a Rural Economy: From Subsistence to Capitalism in a Latin American Village (London, 1978), pp. 41-42.


Arthur A. Schomburg, “General Evaristo Estenoz,” The Crisis, 4 (July 1912), pp. 143-144.


Esteban Montejo, The Autobiography of a Runaway Slave, Miguel Barnet, ed., Jocasta Innes, trans. (London, 1968), p. 216.


Data compiled from Censo de la República de Cuba, 1907, p. 61 and Census of the Republic of Cuba, 1919, p. 183.


Censo de la República de Cuba, 1907, pp. 545-546. See also Arredondo, El negro en Cuba, pp. 60-61.


La Lucha, June 9, 1910.


For an excellent account of these developments, see Orum, “The Politics of Color,” pp. 158–212. See also Fermoselle, Política y color en Cuba, pp. 101-149.


Orum, “The Politics of Color,” pp. 153, 155; Mario Riera Hernández, Cincuenta y dos años de política: Oriente, 1900-1952 (Havana, 1953), pp. 105—113, 119-138.


Ross E. Holaday to John B. Jackson, May 2, 1910, 837.00/380, DS/RG 59.


John B. Jackson to secretary of state, Apr. 26, 1910, 837.00/377, DS/RG 59.


La Lucha, May 28, 1912.


This information is drawn largely from La Lucha and Diario de la Marina (Havana) for the period May 18-May 23, 1912.


See La Lucha, May 1912.


“Expediente referente a los alzamientos de negros, dirigidos por el Partido Independiente de Color, encabezados por Evaristo Estenoz y Pedro Ivonet,” Apr.–June, 1912, Fondo Secretaría de la Presidencia, leg. 110, no. 2, ANC.


Arthur M. Beaupré to secretary of state, May 24, 1912, 837.00/637, DS/RG 59.


Arthur 0M. Beaupré to secretary of state, June 4, 1912, 837.00/7013, DS/RG 59.


Major Henry C. Davis, United States Marine Corps, Guantánamo, to Captain Harry Law, June 25, 1912, 837.00/884, DS/RG 59.


Ross E. Holaday to United States Legation, Havana, May 25, 1912, 837.00/622, DS/RG 59.


More typically, Henry A. Landsberger suggests, jacqueries are “peasant uprisings in which the prime motive is reputed to be to gain immediate relief from pent-up frustrations through destruction of property and the commission of violence against persons.” Landsberger, “Peasant Unrest: Themes and Variations,” in Rural Protest: Peasant Movements and Social Change, Henry A. Landsberger, ed. (New York, 1973), p. 21. Chalmers Johnson characterizes the jacquerie as a “simple rebellion,” motivated by the “belief that the system had been betrayed by its elite; violence was invoked to purge the system of its violators, and, so to speak, to set it back on the tracks.” Johnson, Revolutionary Change, 2nd ed. (Stanford, 1982), pp. 123-124. See also Ekkart Zimmerman, Political Violence, Crises, and Revolutions: Theories and Research (Boston, 1983), pp. 339, 374, 546; Preconditions of Revolution in Early Modern Europe, Robert Forster and Jack P. Greene, eds. (Baltimore, 1970), pp. 2, 5-6. Developments in Oriente in 1912 conform also to the theoretical propositions linking rebellion with deprivation. “Men . . . are angered over the loss of what they once had or thought they could have,” Ted Robert Gurr wrote. And, indeed, the Afro-Cuban communities of southeastern Oriente were not experiencing disappointment of unrealized hopes, but deprivation of achieved expectations and the loss of future expectations. “Men who are frustrated,” Gurr added, “have an innate disposition to do violence to its source in proportion to the intensity of their frustration.” And bearing directly on the events in 1912: “Aggressive responses tend to occur only when they are evoked by an external cue, that is, when the angered person sees an attackable object or person that he associates with the source of frustration. . .. An angered person is not likely to strike out at any object in his environment, but only at the targets he thinks are responsible.” Gurr, Why Men Rebel (Princeton, 1970), pp. 34, 37, 46.


Ross E. Holaday to Arthur M. Beaupré, June 13, 1912, 837.00/763, DS/RG 59.


C. B. Goodrich to Ross E. Holaday, Oct. 10, 1913, Santiago de Cuba, file 350/1913, Records of the Foreign Service Posts of the Department of State, Record Group 84, National Archives, Washington, D.C. For accounts of the assault against property see G. C. Peterson, general manager, Guantánamo and Western Railroad, to M. H. Lewis, June 14, 1912, 837.00/834, DS/RG 59; Arthur M. Beaupré to secretary of state, May 27, 1912, 837.00/834, DS/RG 59; Arthur M. Beaupré to secretary of state, May 27, 1912, 837.00/623, and May 30, 1912, 837.00/642, DS/RG 59.


La Lucha, May 25, June 10, 1912.


La Lucha, May 22, 30, June 4, 1912.


Lindsay, Cuba and Her People, p. 111.


For accounts of these attacks see La Lucha, May 22, 27, 28, 1912; Diario de la Marina, May 27, June 1, 8, 1912; Orum, “The Politics of Color,” p. 248; Arthur M. Beaupré to secretary of state, May 27, 1912, 837.00/623, DS/RG 59.


La Lucha, May 24, June 3, 4, 1912.


Diario de la Marina, May 22, 28, 1912; La Lucha, May 23, 29, 1912; José A. García y Castañeda, La municipalidad holguinera (Comentario histórico) 1898-1955 (Holguín, 1955), p. 37.


Commanding officer, “U.S.S. Petrel,” to secretary of the navy, July 17, 1912, 837.00/908, DS/RG 59.


Lincoln Karmany, brigade commander, Guantánamo Bay, to commander, Fourth Division, June 10, 1912, 837.00/799, DS/RG 59.


La Lucha, June 27, 1912.


La Lucha, May 28, 1912.


See La Lucha, June 11, 1912.


Arthur M. Beaupré to secretary of state, June 4, 1912, 837.00/713, DS/RG 59.


La Lucha, June 11, 1912.


Diario de la Marina, June 8, 1912.


Charles Ham to Ross E. Holaday, June 25, 1912, 837.00/877, DS/RG 59.


C. B. Goodrich to M. H. Lewis, July 20, 1912, 837.00/911, DS/RG 59.


George Bayliss to Arthur M. Beaupré, June 15, 1912, 837.00/827, DS/RG 59.


Commanding officer, “U.S.S. Petrel,” to secretary of the navy, July 17, 1912, 837.00/908, DS/RG 59.


For estimates of the number of Cubans of color killed, see Juan Jerez Villarreal, Oriente (Biografía de una provincia) (Havana, 1960), p. 306 and Fermoselle, Política y color en Cuba, pp. 158-159, 166-167. Some estimates were as high as 35,000 deaths. See Marianne Masferrer and Carmelo Mesa-Lago, “The Gradual Integration of the Black in Cuba: Under the Colony, the Republic, and the Revolution,” in Slavery and Race Relations in Latin America, Robert Brent Topin, ed. (Westport, CT, 1974), p. 360.


See C. V. Carvalho to R. Manduley, May 27, 1912, Fondo Secretaría de la Presidencia, leg. 110, no. 2, ANC.


Captain Frank Parker, “Final Report as Instructed to Rural Guard of Cuba, 1909-1919,” Feb. 4, 1919, file no. 5586-19, Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, Record Group 165, National Archives, Washington, D.C.


Thomas, Cuba: the Pursuit of Freedom, p. 523.