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Ethnic identity and French Republican Ideals in Cuba and Latin America
Chester King, 1/2/2021

The ideas of republicanism are frequently found in Cuba and throughout Latin America, although it is unusual to speak of republicanism, and still more so of its French heritage - republicanism is semi-conscious, part of the culture of both the right and the left.

The Latin American republics inherited their republican ideals from 1789 revolutionary France, where they were developed over many decades  they were a part of the Enlightenment, the Century of Light, with philosophers such as René Descartes, Voltaire, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. These thoughts and ideals represent concrete advances over the prevailing monarchical ideology in Europe, with its divine right of kings and justification of slavery. The intellectuals of the Americas absorbed these ideas:

"Those who opened the minds of Americans and nurtured Bolívar's thought were the French authors of the Age of Enlightenment." [1]

Simón Bolívar visited France in 1804, where he was favorably impressed by its republican ideals and horrified by Napoleon's imperial rejection of them.

This republicanism has values, customs and way of thinking that were and are positive. In its beginning, after 1789, it was used for the abolition of slavery and for freedom in the Americas. These ideals emphasize the equality of all men and were used in many liberation movements in the Caribbean and in South America, for example in the abolition of slavery in the French territories in 1794, which resulted in changes in the French Caribbean. They were then rejected by Napoleon in 1802. The Spanish world took at least 30 more years to abolish slavery but in general it was before the definitive abolition in the French territories in 1848 with the Second Republic.

The maroons of the coast of Gran Colombia called for the adoption of "French law" in 1795. [2] In the early 19th century, various indigenous groups in Peru adopted the republican vocabulary to maintain their ancestral political structures. In 1886, the indigenous people of Peru were fighting for their communal lands, and they still claimed republicanism, which was well received by the Creole elites:

"After the very committed victory of the 'colorados', which brought Cáceres to the Presidency of the Republic in 1886, Atusparia traveled to Lima to meet with his General, treated not as the 'Inca' sought by the indigenistas, but as 'The Great Republican'. " [3]

Indigenous people continue to invoke republican ideals today, as can be seen in the presentation based on republicanism that the indigenous people of the Quilloac de Cañar Institute in Ecuador made in 2019. [4]

The central claim of republicanism with respect to race is that we are all equal, to be treated equally, and the only identity that counts is that of citizen. This approach does have certain obvious advantages and is sometimes termed "universalism."

However, in more modern times these republican ideals are often promoted by people of European culture, and the key feature is that they are also used to deprecate and even prohibit expressions of any other ethnic identity. All identities are supposedly based on citizenship, not ethnicity. In practice, this is hypocritical, since French or Spanish ethnic identity is naturally privileged and all others are under assault. We see that in a recent attack by a Cuban intellectual and alleged anti-racist, Jesús Guanche Pérez, on the many revolutionary activists who use the term "Afro-Cuban" - he denounced them as counterrevolutionaries. Perhaps Guanche was defending the French Revolution of 1789, not the Cuban Revolution of 1959.

Today's republicanism serves as the infrastructure of white supremacy: ethnic identities do not count, with the exception of the dominant one. It is rare that it is said like this, it is more semi-conscious, part of the cultural environment, and it can be seen in many examples -- we will look at a few. You can find this kind of white supremacy throughout Latin America as well as in France. At first republicanism was more revolutionary, this seems to have changed around 1870, for different reasons in Latin America and France, and it is now more prone to misuse.

We observe that, in several recent cases of supremacist thought in Cuba, the expressed motivation is the defense of republicanism, not a Marxist insistence on the class struggle as more important than confrontating racism. The Marxist objection to addressing race issues in Cuba was more important in the past, as was the case in the Communist Party's criticism in the 1950s against party member Portuondo Linares for daring to write his book on the 1912 massacre, since in that earlier perspective only class struggle mattered. [5]

A recent and well-studied case of widespread racism (denounced by several prominent intellectuals in Cuba) centers on the book by Cuban historian Rolando Rodríguez of the University of Havana on the Independent Party of Color (PIC), "La conspiración de los iguales," where he defends the Republic as it existed in 1912 while committing one of the largest massacres in Cuban history, more than 6,000 dead. And he defended it from a republican and not a Marxist point of view. [6]

In the same way, as mentioned in no less than 4 newspapers in Havana, on the centenary of that massacre in 2012, the former Minister of Culture Armando Hart and the then powerful Historian of Havana, Eusebio Leal Spengler, unveiled a plaque honoring José Francisco “Ismaelillo” Martí, son of José Martí and the Chief of Staff of the Cuban army in the field in 1912, the army that hunted and killed the members of the PIC. [7] Here too the theme of this strange commemoration had to do with their republicanism, not with Marxism.

Comparison with the French system can be productive as many of the manifestations of white supremacy are similar. For example, Elvira Cervera, one of Cuba's most famous actresses, someone who is considered the Rosa Parks of Cuba, had numerous disagreements with the administration of the Cuban media establishment over the lack of representation of blacks in the media. When she wanted to have an all-black cast for her All in Sepia project, management told her this was undesirable. This is of course allowed for whites, there are many examples of an all-white cast.

Elvira Cervera, 72-year-old veteran black actress, had just launched a theater project demanding a break with ‘the apartheid blocking black actors from interpreting character roles in universal theater’, proposing a vehicle for ‘documenting, analyzing, judging, denouncing and rejecting the evident professional limitations on black actors on the Cuban stage [theater, film and television]’. Allaying any doubts as to her good intentions, Elvira Cervera invoked the sacrosanct thinking of José Martí, the 19th-Century Hispanic-Cuban Founding father, on the centenary of his death in battle for Cuba’s independence from Spain: ‘Just racism is the right of the black man to guard and ensure that his color not bar him from any capacities and rights incumbent on humankind... Man is more than white, more than mulatto, more than black.’[8]

The Cuban argument is very similar to what is employed by the French, who vigorously discourage a film with an all-black cast. For example, the French did not allow the importation of a film like Think Like a Man from the US, because it has an all black cast and also because it portrays a black couple while the French government has a policy of encouraging only interracial couples.[9] This policy is mirrored in Latin America with the overvaluation of Mestizos, something that exists much less in the Anglo-Saxon world where Mestizos are considered Black.

Another example of this supremacist approach to casting occurred during the period of censorship and repression known as the Gray Quinquennium (1971-1976), when theater censor Armando Quesada told playwright Tomás González, while shining a desk light on him, that the Hamlet play he was putting on was "too Black" because the actors were all Black.[10]

This similarity between Cuba and France has to do with the fact that the Cuban concept of the republic elaborated by José Martí comes from Bolívar and his intellectuals who adopted the ideas of 1789 France. Both Latin America and France have same problem in relation to the treatment of ethnic identity issues, that is, there was a parallel evolution where the ideas of equality and citizenship were modified in an assault on ethnic identity, but for different reasons.

In France, this evolution occurred under the Third Republic, when they engaged in a broad colonial effort in Africa, justified by the "civilizing mission" of French republicanism. [11] It was called "colonial republicanism."

In Latin America, it was a process that led to what Michel Foucault called “state racism” in his Genealogy of Racism (1976):

“From the end of the 19th century, what could be called state racism appeared: a biological and centralized racism. This theme was, if not profoundly modified, at least transformed and used in the specific strategies of the 20th century. " [12]

In Cuba, this change seems to be well codified by President José Miguel Gómez and Martín Morúa Delgado in 1910 with the Morúa amendment. Even in 1908 Evaristo Estenoz wrote:

“The republican marginalization against the blacks began to be seen even before the very foundation of the Republic, from the first national determinations. What else was the replacement of the Liberation Army (where we were at least 80 percent) by a new armed institution as soon as the Yankee intervention began? What else was the prohibition of blacks and mulattos from strolling in the parks of some urban populations, attending certain theaters, hotels ...? " [13]

Both Martí and Maceo died in combat against Spain in 1895 and 1896 respectively, and it is clear from the record that they never would have agreed with the Yankee intervention. But it is not common for this intervention to be treated as a move by the white supremacy of Cuba and the United States to prevent the Mambi Liberation Army from having any power in the country. Rather, it is treated as an event of Yankee imperialism in national and patriotic terms without reference to the racialized reality.

There may be deeper reasons due to the common heritage of the French and Spanish cultures, but the similarities between the Republican justifications for anti-ethnic maneuvers in both cultures are striking and constitute an important part of the infrastructure that favors white supremacist tendencies in both cultures. In fact, for Cubans, tackling this problem successfully would put them ahead of the rest of Latin America. They could also escape the constant propaganda from Miami that blames communism for white supremacy in Cuba and not a republicanism in which the exiled plantocracy fully participates.

Perhaps the most famous saying of José Martí is "Man is more than white, more than mulatto, more than black", taken from his essay "My race" in 1893. Since then it has been used to express Cuban identity. Marti's anti-racist ideals were very positive and represented a tremendous advance over the time of slavery. They did not appear to be used against African ethnic identity until the Morúa Amendment in 1910. Cubans held to these original ideals and defended them against apartheid Jim Crow in the Cuban community of Tampa, although eventually Jim Crow prevailed.

Those in France or Latin America who use their republican ideals to structure concepts of race and identity tend to deeply deny the extent of racism in their respective societies, a denial facilitated by insufficient Afro-descendant testimony. 

One of the pillars of Cuban white supremacy is the Cuban census, which dramatically underestimates Afro-Cubans as it is based on self-identification with regard to race, a tactic rejected by professional demographers around the world.[14] Census results help managers across the country assert that they do not discriminate, as their workforce or institutional membership appears to meet the proportions in the census results. It is a partly unconscious or half-conscious white supremacy.

The French are doing them one better: they passed a law in 1978 that makes counting people by ethnicity very difficult. And this was justified with reference to the republican ideals of the equality of man to deny the ammunition to an increasingly strident right in their harangues. It was done with every good intention in the world, or so it seems. [15]

The invisibility of people of African descent occurs even when they are well present: they are seen as citizens. This of course has its silver lining, but it can be extreme. In his "Agents in Cuba at the service of the United States", Agentes en Cuba al servicio de los Estados Unidos,11/14/2016, Radio Habana, Arthur González gives correct details on the career of Manuel Cuesta Morúa as a paid dissident. However, there is no discussion about the fact that Cuesta Morúa's main claim to fame is as a dissident working on race issues and that it is part of a broad plan by the United States to use race as a divisive issue. The entire article by Arthur González could have also been written about any dissident of Spanish Iberian origin.

The supposed ethnic blindness of republicanism always wants to obscure the ethnic identity of various official actors in France and in Latin America. Sometimes it creates problems, as in the case of Hansel Ernesto Hernández Galiano, the young Afrocuban killed by a Black policeman in June 2020. Neither the Cuban press nor MININT wanted to reveal the ethnicity of the policeman. The press in Miami wanted to compare the event to the many black killed in Miami and throughout the US by a mostly white police. [16]

This ethnic blindness is also very evident in the Cuban government's treatment of the Miami exile issue. Afro-Cubans who come to the United States do not stay in Miami, they go to New Jersey and other states because they do not feel welcome. Miami Cubans consider themselves "white" and think that Cubans on the island are of African descent. Everybody. These "white" Cubans show a very fierce, very aggressive white supremacy. They demonstrate against Black Lives Matter, calling them "communists." [17] But within MINREX, they don't want to talk about Miami's white supremacy because "it's going to divide the nation."

Republicanism is a creed for the right and the left, both in France and throughout Latin America. Miami and Havana both claim Martí. In Paris in 2017, the socialist mayor allied with the French extreme right to deny the use of a public space for a festival of African women. [18] organized by the Mwasi Collective. It is a milestone that Casa de las Americas in Havana invited one of the principals of the Collective, Fania Noël, to participate in a panel in 2021.  The extreme right in France, which is gaining the ascendancy, is awash in republican terminology and thought. And France in general dislikes US "woke" thinking, blaming it for causing conflict in France:

Heating Up Culture Wars, France to Scour Universities for Ideas That ‘Corrupt Society’  2/18/2021 NYT: "Stepping up its attacks on social science theories that it says threaten France, the French government announced this week that it would launch an investigation into academic research that it says feeds “Islamo-leftist’’ tendencies that “corrupt society.’’ News of the investigation immediately caused a fierce backlash among university presidents and scholars, deepening fears of a crackdown on academic freedom — especially on studies of race, gender, post-colonial studies and other fields that the French government says have been imported from American universities and contribute to undermining French society."

In addition to France's heritage from the 18th century, one other factor in the strong republicanism that prevails in Cuba is the influx of so many republican refugees from the Spanish Civil War of 1936 to 1939. These republicans and their children played a prominent role in the Revolution. A United Nations official who went to Cuba in the 1970s observed how, in his meetings with senior party officials, they asked, "Hey, Sevillano, how did you do things there?" and "Ola Madrileño, how was that done?" Most of them were 1st and 2nd generation Spanish. [19] What is not known is to what extent they influenced the supremacist version of republicanism, since in Spain republicanism never had to face race problems.

There are differences between France and Latin America, of course. France used its republican ideals to justify its colonial policy as a civilizing mission, while Latin America had no colonies. France is a white majority and stridently wants to stay that way. Cuba, Brazil, and many Caribbean countries are majority Afro-descendant and the reality of their very strong African cultures will prevail.

The complexities of ethnic identity and republicanism are largely unknown to Americans, who are generally only familiar with their own Anglo-Saxon tradition that has a different basis for disrespecting people of color, based partly on a white chrisdtian nationalism. This leads to a certain confusion in the interpretation of Cuban realities. The NED / USAID / State Department effort to attack Cuba for its racism, a proposition that is increasingly problematic given the dramatic resurgence of white supremacy in the United States, completely misses these complexities and blames Fidel, Raúl and communism for racism in Cuba, a manifestly absurd proposition. [20] They do not see that Cuba is very similar to the rest of Latin America or to France.

The United States is more tolerant of other identities than the Latin world, but there is a whole other level of violence with routine extrajudicial executions by the police, something very rare in Cuba and rare in France, but not in Brazil or Colombia. That is a deeper barbarism, to which the exiled plantocracy in Florida adheres with the many extrajudicial killings of Afro-descendants in Miami at the hands of the Latino police. The plantocracy has the same republican ideology as in Cuba, but with a violent bent that was present under Batista and continued in Florida, from the beginning of the 1959 invasion of Miami, with its large  Black population through the subsequent ethnic cleansing which continues today. It seems that this invasion is never discussed in Cuba in ethnic terms, another symptom of the invisibility of Blacks in the republican system. A source within MINREX explained to me that talking about this would "divide the nation." This saying is also part of republicanism, where you cannot talk about the more and more racialized realities because we are all the same and there is no ethnic identity.

The very existence of the plantocracy in exile is ignored in Cuba. The two main sources of funding for the Cuban American National Foundation, Alpha 66 and other exiled terrorist organizations were always the Bacardis, who sell half the rum in the United States, and the Fanjules, owners of Domino Sugar and other sugar companies who produce most of the sugar consumed in the US and the Caribbean. These actors, whose fortunes began in the 19th century, join the Diaz-Balarts, whose more recent wealth is based on their association with United Fruit under Batista. [21] However, people in Cuba paint them as reactionaries, counterrevolutionaries, anything but the plantocracy they form. This gives them a free pass to attack Cuba for being racist, a spearhead in their campaign against the island. Republicanism does not want to see the ethnic dimensions of social conflict.

The failure to think of the plantocracy as racists, the inability to discuss dissidents as Afro-Cubans, the non-treatment of the invasion of Black Miami by white Cuban exiles, the attack on revolutionary activists for using the term Afro-Cuban are all signs of diminished capacities and of a self-defeating and self-destructive perspective that we normally find in those who are under the spell of a psychological complex. Could it be the complex of Cuban white supremacy?

This complex could be viewed as a cultural complex as described in the book by Thomas Singer and Samuel L. Kimbles, "The Cultural Complex, Contemporary Jungian Perspectives on Psyche and Society." [22] That would open a door for us to research the many unconscious aspects of this complex that are so important in mitigating it.

Behind the presence or absence of republican ideals, there are some indications of deep historical differences between the Latin and Anglo-Saxon worldviews in the Americas. The colonial policies of France and Spain were based on a state enterprise where many of the settlers were men, leading to mixed descendants. Today, 53% to 78% of the people in the Quebec regions studied have at least one indigenous ancestor [23] and the mestizaje of Latin America is well known. The English settlers brought their women with them under a private corporate system and were more likely to carry out the complete extermination of indigenous groups that opposed them.

I hope this article on the similarities between France and Latin America can lead to collaborative efforts between anti-racist movements in both places. It should be noted that within the anti-racist activists working in Cuba, there is the presence of the Frenchman Geoffroy de Laforcade, who is the foreign representative of the Red Barrial Afrodesceniente and has his roots in the anti-racist movement in France. Researchers in France have worked much more on the issue of white supremacy and republicanism than those in Latin America. We need to see how we can take advantage of their work, some of which is detailed in Racism in France. Two of these are the Senegalese professor Mame-Fatou Niang and the French professor Julien Suaudeau: "Anti-racism is a daily commitment for a truly republican universalism and a France capable of inventing a future for itself by looking at its colonial history in the face." in Pour un universalisme antiraciste  6/24/2020 Slate.

[1] John Lynch,Simón Bolívar, (Grupo Planeta, 2010), 43

[2] Eugene Godfried, AfroCubaWeb, José Leonardo Chirino and Josef Caridad Gonzales: Venezuelan African fighters of the great revolution of 1795, 10/2005,

[3] Mark Thurner, 'Republicanos' y 'la Comunidad de Peruanos': Unimagined Political Communities in Postcolonial Peru, in El Siglo XIX: Bolivia Y América Latina, 1997, ? lang = in

[4] José Antonio Figueroa Pérez, Ethno-education: ethnic essentialism or popular republicanism, Chasqui Magazine, Núm. 142 (2020)

[5] Aline Helg, Our Rightful Share: The Afro-Cuban Struggle for Equality, 1886-1912, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995), 8. 

[6] "Rolando Rodríguez García: 1912: A wrong uprising, that wrong uprising,"AfroCubaWeb,Accessed April 20, 2017.

[7] Claude Betancourt,EusebioLeal Spengler and Armando Hart unveil a plaque commemorating 1912 Massacre leader José Francisco Martí on the centenary of the massacre”,AfroCubaWeb, (10/12/12),accessedApril 20, 2017. http : //

[8] Pedro Pérez Sarduy, “What do Blacks have in Cuba” (1995),AfroCubaWeb, accessed April 20, 2017.

[9] Brande Victorian, “’Think Like a Man’ Banned in France Due to All-Black Cast”, Clutch Magazine (2012), accedido el 20 de abril, 2017.

[10] Armando López, “Levitar en Santa Clara”, Cuba Encuentro (2004), accessed April 20, 2017.

[11] Vincent Chambarlhac, Republican Culture, Colonial Republic. IUFM of Burgundy. April 5/6, 2005.

[12] Michel Foucault,Genealogy of racism, Editorial Altamira, Argentina, 1976, p 73

[13] Rosa Muñoz Kiel and Marcel Lueiro Reyes, 1912: RACISM VS RACISM ?, Jiribilla, 2/15/2002

[14] The Cuban Census,AfroCubaWeb, accessed August 27, 2020.

[15] Race Policy in France,Brookings Institution(2001), accessed April 20, 2017.

[16] Hansel Ernesto Hernández Galiano,AfroCubaWeb, accessed August 27, 2020

[17] AfroCubaWeb, White Supremacy and Miami Cubans,

[18] AfroCubaWeb, Mwasi - Collectif Afrofeministe,

[19] Comte Crapon de Caprona, Chief, Council and Protocol Affairs Division, Food and Agricultural Organization, comunicación personal (1991)

[20] Andy Petit, “Fidel Castro Ruz: Race in Cuba”,AfroCubaWeb, accessed April 27, 2017.

[21] "Cuba's Plantocracy: Cuban American business and terrorism",AfroCubaWeb, accessed April 20, 2017.

[22] Thomas Singer, Samuel L. Kimbles, Eds, The Cultural Complex, Contemporary Jungian Perspectives on Psyche and Society, (New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group LLC, 2004)

[23] “Native American Admixture in the Quebec Founder Population”, PLOS One, NIH, (2013), accedido el 21 de abril, 2017.




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