Forgetting Cuban Independence General Quintin Bandera

Dmitri Prieto

Gen. Quintin Bandera
Gen. Quintin Bandera.  Photo: ecured.cu

HAVANA TIMES — Can facts that have already been brought to light be shrouded in silence once again? What forces are at play in that vague and surreptitious power that places the freedom we have conquered in chains, makes us forget again and blocks the paths that words can trace?

Quintin Bandera was a black Cuban born on October 30, 1834, 180 years ago. He became involved in Cuba’s anti-colonial struggle as early as 1851. When the systematic insurrection against Spanish authorities began on October 1868, he joined the battle, fighting in 3 major revolutionary offensives: the Big War (1868-1878), the Small War (1879-1880) and the Necessary War (1895-1898).

A humble black man who had not been exposed to “European” Enlightenment, his intelligence, courage and leadership earned him the rank of general in Cuba’s Mambi independence forces, and he was Chief of Infantry of the Liberation Army.

In the field, his soldiers were often barefoot and hungry, but his combat skills earned him success in the east-to-west offensive that put an end to Spanish domination in the Cuban archipelago.

Quintin was an eternal rebel, and social issues were part of his concerns. He became friends with socialist and anarchist workers and made their demands his own. In fact, they were always his own: he was never swayed by the reconversion of many Mambi leaders and their acceptance of a pact with forms of domination around the world.

In his social efforts within the revolution, Quintin represented the complement – from a more “popular” standpoint – of what Jose Marti wanted to accomplish, and did not manage to preserve, with that brilliant collective organization that the Cuban Revolutionary Party embodied.

Frank, humble and moved by what we refer to as “class solidarity” today, following the first occupation of Cuba by US forces (1898-1902), Quintin was demoted to a second-class rank among the Mambi combatants who were then moving on to positions within the civilian government.

While the “Republic of generals and doctors”, as the post-insurrectional neo-colonial regime was nicknamed at the time, handed out privileges and political posts to the white military-elites-cum-bourgeois, this black general, former chief of infantry, lived in poverty and in constant struggle against the racism and social exclusion engendered by the pettifogging bureaucracy that had taken root on the island. He demanded the measly pensions he was entitled to by law, as there was no room for him within the structures of the new State. He even wrote President Tomas, but his fate continued to be poverty.

In his letters to fellow combatants who shared his frustration over Cuba’s incomplete independence, Quintin was one of the first in Cuba ever to use the term “comrade.”

On August 22, 1906, in the midst of one of the first uprisings or “wars” of Cuba’s republican era, this courageous soldier was treacherously murdered with machete blows by the island’s rural police. It is said the thugs were following direct orders from President Estrada Palma.

General Quintin is a part of that side of Cuban reality that, rescued from intentional and “honest” omissions, imposes itself on us and begs the question: how racist and bourgeois is the “history” that Cuba makes its own as of the first decades of the 20th century?

How sinister is this civilization that, already accustomed to such a state of affairs, does everything in its power to sweep its complicity in an orginal act of barbarism under the carpet?

This past 30th of October, during the noontime news, a journalist from Santiago de Cuba, Barbara As Trobajo, offered a report on the 180th anniversary of the birth of the hero.

After enumerating his merits as a soldier, the journalist, nearing the end of Quintin Bandera’s biography, closed the report with the phrase: “life dealt him a dirty trick.”

Will we allow them to rebuild the wall of silence?

Dimitri Prieto-Samsonov

Dmitri Prieto-Samsonov: I define myself as being either Cuban-Russian or Russian-Cuban, indiscriminately. I was born in Moscow in 1972 of a Russian mother and a Cuban father. I lived in the USSR until I was 13, although I was already familiar with Cuba-- where we would take our vacation almost every year. I currently live on the fifth floor of an apartment building in Santa Cruz del Norte, near the sea. I’ve studied biochemistry and law in Havana and anthropology in London. I’ve written about molecular biology, philosophy and anarchism, although I enjoy reading more than writing. I am currently teaching in the Agrarian University of Havana. I believe in God and in the possibility of a free society. Together with other people, that’s what we’re into: breaking down walls and routines.

2 thoughts on “Forgetting Cuban Independence General Quintin Bandera

  • Thanks for making us aware of the heroic–but ultimately tragic–biography of this Cuban hero of the wars for independence. Whether fiction or non-fiction, this seems to be a recurring theme in so many Cuban stories, from Cirilo Villaverde’s 1839 novel, “Cecilia Valdez” to Leonardo Padura’s 1990’s novel “Havana Fever,” (i.e. the betrayal and mistreatment of Cuba’s blacks, mulatas, workers and guajiros). 30 years ago I owned a used bookstore/cafe. One of my acquisitions was of an old “coffee table” book, published in 1901 or 1902, about “our new (i.e. Cuba) possession”. Its editorial viewpoint was quite racist. It was easy to see how our own racism infected and increased that of the upper-class Cuban creoles, ultimately resulting in such actions as the murder of Gen. Quintin Bandera and, a few years later, the massacre of many blacks, especially in the Oriente, when they attempted to organize their own party in 1912.

  • Thank you for this beautifully written essay on the great Cuban hero, Quitin Bandera. His life and ultimate betrayal reads like a Shakespearian tragedy.

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