Event—Scholarly Seminars

Samantha Payne, Harvard University


The Massacre of the Partido Independiente de Color: An Atlantic Perspective, Samantha Payne

In the summer of 1912, an alarming report reached Havana. Evaristo Estenoz, organizer of the Afro-Cuban political party, the Partido Independiente de Color (PIC), was leading thousands of black workers in a massive rural revolt. In June, the Cuban Congress authorized 1 million pesos and as much armed force as necessary to crush the rebellion. By the end of July, official Cuban sources put the number of dead rebels at more than 2,000. This paper draws on Atlantic and comparative methodology in order to provide a new explanation for one of the distinctive features of the Cuban post-emancipation experience: the recourse to state-sponsored violence as a means of ensuring the disenfranchisement of black rural workers. I argue that it was ultimately the weakness of the Cuban planter class at the beginning of the 20th century that led to the state-ordered massacre. While the Brazilian planter class maintained political power throughout emancipation, and the U.S. planter class regained it in the 1890s, in Cuba planters emerged from 30 years of warfare with little to show for it. Black political power prevented them from imposing the same voting restrictions that had triumphed in the U.S. and Brazil, while U.S. imperial power made it impossible for them to concede to the revolutionary demands of this enfranchised black working class. As a result, they resorted to brute force to destroy the Partido Independiente de Color in 1912. While black Cubans continued to vote after 1912, the story of PIC suggests that they, like their counterparts across the Atlantic World, could not exercise this right in order to end their exploitation as newly proletarianized rural workers.