Ladies in White

Ladies in Black, An Ignored Antecedent / Dimas Castellano

Dimas Castellanos, Translator: Unstated

In 1915, the wives of the members of the Independent Party of Color

managed something the Ladies in White have been denied in the 21st

century. Article originally published in Diario de Cuba.

Marking the 100th anniversary of the crime committed against black

Cubans in 1912, data and facts previously relegated to history have come

to light. These information — in addition to showing how the conflict

was mishandled — offer evidence of various similarities with the

present, such as the chapter in which black women played a starring

role, which allows me to nominate them as the Ladies in Black.

The story of the massive rebellion of blacks in Cuba started with the

uprising of the slaves in the El Cobre copper mine in 1677, repeated in

the same place in 1731, manifested in the insurrection led by Jose

Antonio Aponte in 1812, and in the Ladder Conspiracy of 1844. Later,

blacks fought in the Ten Years War in 1868, in the Little War in 1879,

and the War of Independence in 1895. Nevertheless, in the Republic, this

group continued to be the victim of social injustice and racial


With peaceful roads closed to them, blacks chose violence. They

participated in the Little War of 1906 against the reelection of Tomas

Estrada Palma, and in 1907 founded the Independent Party of Color (PIC).

The reasons for its founding were expressed in Prévision (Forecast), its

official organ, with the following words: "Cubans of color can expect

nothing from the procedures used to date by the political parties

because nothing significant has been done for us… We are going to show

that an election in which all the candidates are people of color,

outside the political parties, no one will be able to deny that however

small the minority may be the result will always be better than what has

been achieved until now…"

In 1910 the Congress of the Republic adopted an amendment to the

constitution, according to which, "In no case will any association made

up exclusively by individuals of one race or color, nor by individuals

of one class with regards to birth, wealth or professional title, be

considered as a political party or independent group."

In response to this the PIC developed a campaign directed at repealing

the Law, which came to a head in an armed uprising on May 20, 2012. The

response of the government was to mobilize the Rural Guard, the Standing

Army, and paramilitary forces, united under the command of General Jose

de Jesus Monteagudo.

A little over a month after the start of the uprising, on June 27,

Evaristo Estenoz, its principal leader, died. From that moment the

movement, already weakened, lost control to the government forces. The

Constitutional Guarantees, which had been suspended, were reestablished

on July 15. On July 17, the mambí (War of Independence) General Pedro

Ivonnet, another of the most important figures in the uprising, was

captured and killed, which put an end to the insurrection. According to

Cubano Libre, of the 6,000 insurgents, 3,500 had fallen in the conflict

and 1,500 were put to death by the public forces in ambushes and along

the roads.

The Ladies in Black

Once the movement had been suppressed, the civil struggle began for the

release of those imprisoned who, indiscriminately, had been detained

because of their relationships with a rebel, had taken up arms, or had

been captured during armed encounters. At this time the women's

movement, arising in Europe at the end of the 19th century, had been

felt in Cuba, where women, despite having participated in the political

processes — as shown by their presence in the War of Independence where

some 25 achieved military rank, among them one general, three colonels,

and more than 20 captains — where they were almost always subordinates

in roles defined and planned by men.

Thus, consistent with the patriarchal and macho culture, the PIC's

program did not contemplate issues of gender, but many black women

identified with the aspirations of their peers, which was expressed

through the establishment of women's committees of women in all

provinces. These committees, like the women's clubs of the Cuban

Revolutionary Party of the late nineteenth century, had a male president

of honor, which was no impediment to their meetings and rallies, women

pronounced themselves in favor of women's rights such as the vote and

divorce, which places them within the feminist movement in Cuba.

In September 1912, these black women, relatives of the rebels, including

some who had faced legal charges, began a campaign for the adoption of

an amnesty law, that is, extinction of the liability incurred in the

uprising. This initiative had at least two antecedents in Cuba: one,

when in 1861 the Spanish government granted amnesty to the conspirators

and allowed the return of exiles to Cuba; two, when in the amnesty after

the Pact of Zanjon Cuban exiles were allowed to return to Cuba,

including key figures such as José Martí, Juan Gualberto Gómez, Antonio

Maceo and Calixto Garcia.

One of those women, Rosa Brioso Tejera, wrote to the special judge of

Santiago de Cuba denouncing the mistreatment of prisoners in the Moncada

Barracks, appealed to the Attorney General, and chaired a committee of

women who requested that Governor Rafael Manduley, mediate before

Congress for the issuance of an amnesty for the prisoners and prisoners.

Rosa traveled to Havana, where he met with several representatives of

the Senate. The amnesty was not approved until March 10, 1915, but it

was approved (!), something that has not yet been achieved for the

current political prisoners.

The Ladies in White

Similarly, possibly without knowing these antecedents, wives, mothers,

daughters, sisters and aunts of the 75 prisoners imprisoned in March

2003 — not for taking up arms, but for exercising the right to freedom

of expression — immediately after the arrests, still in the 20th

century, began to denounce the conditions of confinement, and the

impoverishment suffered by their relatives, in the interrogations and

trials without due process. These women have emerged as the Ladies in White.

The main difference between the scenarios that led to the actions of

black women at the beginning of the century, and the Ladies in White (of

all races) at the end of the century, is that civil liberties in Cuba

have suffered a considerable setback during that period. Now the Ladies

in White, plus their families have not been granted amnesty, they are

victims of acts of repudiation, something that — at least to date —

historical research into the massacre of 1912, has produced no evidence of.

14 June 2012

Tags: , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

June 2012
« May   Jul »
Recent Posts
We run various sites in defense of human rights and need support with paying for servers. Thank you.
  • An error has occurred, which probably means the feed is down. Try again later.