Haiti Revolts While Cuba Complies: How Revolutionary Movements Differ in Haiti and Cuba Often the term “revolution” makes one think of the Revolutionary War in the American colonies. However, a revolution implies grand economic, political, and/or social change and the colonies’ standing in all three of these spheres remained relatively the same after the war was over.
However, in their ‘backyard’ Saint Domingue (present day Haiti, but I will be referring to it by its colonial name unless speaking about it after its revolution) was on its way to a revolution and during the mid to late 1800s multiple wars were fought in Cuba for their independence from their colonial rulers. From logistical perspective, both attempts at revolution had several similarities. Both islands were under colonial rule; Saint Domingue overseen by France and Cuba by Spain. They also had agricultural economies driven by slave labor.
In both of these nations, slaves fought against colonial rulers against France and Spain. Though there are these similarities, ultimately Saint Domingue (Haiti) succeeded in revolting (though not entirely, perhaps) did not finish their revolution and suffered many setbacks. Haiti was able to turn the previous system upside by having former slaves and people of mixed race hold and exercise power over their nation, once France withdrew from the island and recognized their independence.
On the other hand, while Cuba did gain independence from Spain by the end of the nineteenth-century the interference from the U. S. as well as the racial divide between white Cuban elites and former black slave kept Cuba from truly having a revolution. In 1971, the inhabitants of Saint Domingue were discontent with how France was running the colony and issues started to boil over the edge. France was struggling with slaves running away or forming small rebellions against their masters while free people of mixed races were calling for their rights to be upheld by France. Grand blancs and petit blancs on the island wanted France to include them in the decision-making process.
There slaves that resisted used multiple methods, including, running away, sabotage, faking sicknesses, self-mutilation mocking of authorities, etc. During the Insurrection period in Saint Domingue from about 1791 to 1798 there were three different groups fighting against France; slaves, free people of mixed race, and whites. Each group had different reasons why they were unhappy under France’s rule. In the end France made concessions to the whites and free people of mixed race to keep the island calm and make sure their slave economy could stay in place.
This, however, did not last long as both groups soon learned that France would repeatedly go back on the bargains it made with different groups. The conflict with the Spanish helped escalate problems, but eventually a black slave named Toussaint switched sides and helped France drive the Spanish out. He climbed up the political ladder and soon found himself beneath only the governor of the island, whom he had great sway over. Under the dictatorship of Toussaint it was unclear who his loyalty was to, and thus he was unseated from power no longer after he gained it.
One of the biggest flaws in his leadership was the attempt he made at establishing an agricultural system that is all ways represented slavery, only disguised with a different name. David Geggus assures us that Toussaint had few other options, but this ultimately led to his defeat by Bonaparte and France. By undermining the ideals he had originally promoted to rise to power, he lost many of his supporters. Bonaparte was also able to get a large number of France troops to the island and he claimed that slavery would remain abolished.
However, he attempt to disarm the population and the growing fear of the reinstatement of slavery led to another revolt in Saint Domingue from 1798 to 1804 By the beginning of 1804 Saint Domingue had won its independence and in doing so renamed itself, becoming the nation of Haiti with Dessalines in charge. The independence was revolutionary because those who came to be in power were former slaves and free people of mixed race. There were very few whites left since most of them had fled out of fear and Dessalines’ proclamation in 1804 stated “Never will any colonist of European set foot on this land as a master or proprietor.
This resolution will henceforth be the foundation of our constitution”. Unfortunately Haiti was in a tough spot after going through thirteen years of war and losing about half its population. Another issue Less than a century later, Cuba was on its way towards independence from Spain, although it would take thirty years to gain it. Cuba struggled economically, especially on the eastern side of the island. In October of 1868 the Ten Years war began, as many white planters on the eastern side of the island freed their slaves, expecting them to help fight against the Spanish.
However, the Cubans fighting against Spain were not strongly in favor of abolition to keep the support of the western side of the island that survived economically on the labor of slaves. This led to the war being very limited with very little getting accomplished. In order to defeat the Cuba rebels, Spain tries to divide them by dividing the rebels because of race. This tactic is extremely effective and the rebellion is defeated by 1878. However, this would not by the end of Spain’s troubles with Cuba.
Two parties formed in Cuba after the Ten Years’ War; the conservatives and the reformists, while many Cubans who still wanted revolution fled to New York. However, neither of these groups sought after independence and reformists mainly wanted Spain to treat Cuba as a province. Cuba did not receive this status from Spain though and Cubans start a little war (La Guerra Chiquita) that lasts from 1879 to 1880. Jose Marti led this war, and tried to keep it from becoming another race war, however, Spain is able to use propaganda to convince whites that this war is in fact another race war.
Spain tries to appease slave population as well, by slowly dismantling the system. White slave owners were unhappy with Spain doing this and at the same time the sugar market begins to be flooded with sugar, causing the price to go down. In order to effectively gain their independence from Spain, Jose Marti argues that Cuba must accept that it needs to become a “race-less” nation in order to throw off the chains of its colonial ruler. His idea helps re-conceptualize the black insurgent and Spain will be unable to use the argument that the next war is a race war. The Second War of Independence in Cuba was fought from 1895 to 1898.
This time their revolutionary objectives include diversifying their agricultural economy so they no longer have to reply of the sugar plantation which is viewed as the source of racism. The rebels create their own provisional government and designed a strategy to attack the western part of the island, instead of fighting a limited war like the Ten Years’ War. The rebels believe that Spain will no longer be interested in ruling over Cuba if there is relatively no economic prosperity to be had. Spain could do little to protect plantation owners and thus lost support.
Another setback on Spain’s part was the reconcentrado policy Valeriano Weyler which brought about 400,000 rural Cubans into cities to try and keep control. However, a lack of resources and housing for these people leads to several of them dying from starvation and disease. The rebels used this as a opportunity to spread propaganda against Spain and it does its job, causing Spain to lose a lot of its support. By 1898, Cuba had gained its impendence from Spain, but another powerful country forced its way into Cuba, and partly undermined the potential for Cuba’s revolution to succeed.
There were a few reasons why Cuba did not accomplish its revolutionary objectives, politically, economically, or socially. One of the causes historians often point to is the interference of the United States in Cuba as they brought along their racial ideologies. The U. S. claimed to be involved with Cuba for social and moral reasons, but was mostly there for their own economic interests. The war was framed as the “SpanishAmerican War”, leaving out the importance of Cuba and their soldiers fighting against the Spanish. Ada Ferrer asserts that the United States’ involvement was only part of the problem.
Cubans had been struggling with racial divisions and discrimination for several decades and the wars had done more to exploit these rather than unite the two groups. Perhaps if the U. S. had not interfered in Cuba, white elites could hav pressured more by Afro-Cubans to revolutionize the political and social systems of their nations, however that was not the case. It is easy to think that revolution and independence go hand in hand; nevertheless Haiti and more importantly, Cuba prove this is not always the case. Both of these nations struggled for decades to gain their independent and achieve their revolutionary objectives.
Saint Domingue and Cuba wished to overthrow their colonial rulers, but had a difficult doing so because France and Spain were not eager to let their moneymaking colonies go. Under colonial rule both countries relied heavily on plantation slave labor to propel their economies and were unsure of how to move forward after they gained their independence. Haiti did not fare well in the global economy after it gained its independence, but they were able to dismantle the previous political and social systems that had been in place while they were a colony.
This was partly due to the fact that there were few to no whites left on in Haiti once they were independent from France. On the other hand, Cuba while gaining its independence, it failed to change socially, economically, or politically. White elites still stayed in power and blacks still faced heavy discrimination. The United States occupied Cuba until they felt Cuba could maintain itself without their help, but brought along their own racial ideologies with them, and left them there in Cuba.