Mala Lengua  
  Home - Portal | Music - Musica | Authors - Autores | Arts - Artes 
  Site Map - Mapa del Sitio | News - Noticias | Search ACW - Buscar en ACW 
  Mala Lengua

Gabriel de la Concepción Valdés – Plácido 

Version español

 Eugène Godfried
Journalist/community organizer/ 
Radio producer and conductor/author
Radio Habana Cuba
Radio CMKS – Guantánamo
Guantánamo, April 18th, 2004

“I am innocent. I place my murderers before the judgment of God”  


Two hundred years of Haitian Independence  (1804) and two hundred eleven years of the Abolition of slavery in both Haití and Guadaloupe (1793) remind us of the victims of slavery and racism in the Caribbean. There is the case of the Cuban poet of African descent Gabriel de la Concepción Valdés – Plácido, exterminated in the racist massacre of 1844, erroneously known as ‘Conspiración La Escalera’, ‘The Ladder Conspiracy’.


1809                                March 18th: Gabriel de la Concepción Valdés is born in calle Bernaza, Havana, son of Diego Ferrer Matoso and the Spanish dancer Concepción Vázquez.

April 6th. Deposited by his mother at the Real Casa de Beneficiencia. His father collects him and gave him away to his grandmother on his father's side for further care.

1819-1821       Receives lessons from teacher and poet Pedro J. del Sol. Enters school for poor children, which allowed ‘coloreds’ to assist at the Colegio Belén. He studies at Colegio El Angel with Francisco Bandarián.  

1821                Interrupts his studies. Starts working at a carpenter’s. Starts working at the workshop of designer Vicente Escobar.

1823                                At José Severino Boloña’s printing shop he becomes an apprentice of typography.

1825-1826             He holds the profession of maker of peinetas/ornamental shell - combs.

1826                He moves to Matanzas towards the end of the year and works in the establishment of Nicolás Bota and Ponce de León. Begins to be known as a poet.

1832                Returns to Havana. Works in many gold workshops. Made friends with Ramón Vélez Herrera, Ignacio Valdés Machuca and other poets and writers. Love affairs with Fela (Rafaela), free woman of African descent.

1833                Fela dies during the cholera epidemic which hits Havana.

1834                Participates in the party of Arroyo Apoo, paying homage to the Spanish poet Francisco Martínez de la Rosa, who just became a Minister. His composition “La siempreviva” won the poetical competition.

1836                Returns to Matanzas. He marries a woman by the name of  “Celia” in his poems. He made friends with Sebastián Alfredo de Morales, Lince. Is visited by José María Heredia.

1837                Collaborates with different newspapers. Continuous economic difficulties.

1838                Is jailed for seven days as a consequence of a debt.

1839                Interview with Andrés de la Flor, a Cuban who became a general in the Mexican army. He dedicates a poem to him.

1840                Travels to Trinidad and Santa Clara. Visits Cienfuegos, Remedios, and Sagua la Grande. Is detained for a short period. At the end of this year he returns to Matanzas.

1841                Publishes in Matanzas "El veguero," with poems dedicated to his friends in Villa Clara. 

1842                November 27th , marries María Gila Morales y Poveda, in Matanzas.

1843                Makes a new trip without his wife. Is detained shortly in Villa Clara. Arrested and jailed for six months in Trinidad on April 6th. Once freed, returns to Matanzas in November.

1844                 January 30th: Is arrested because of the so called “Conspiración de la Escalera”, “Ladder Conspiracy”. From June 3rd thru June 5th the trial takes place.
June 12th : Sentenced to death. The poet was framed and sentenced in a trial without evidence

June 22nd : The sentence is approved by Captain General Leopoldo O’Donnell. 

June 28th :
Plácido is shot and killed along with ten colleagues.   




Juan Gualberto Gómez (1852 - 1933), gave full support to the poet. In a gathering in commemoration of his death in1892, he pronounced these words:

“The class of color in Matanzas of that epoch occupied a very interesting situation on the island: rich, illustrated, cultured, with dignified behavior and aware, their existence must have preoccupied the rulers then, who, thinking with a certain cleverness, could not deny that those men had to detest the despotism and therefore, sooner or later, would have to cooperate at all cost to ensure the liberty of their race as well as the rights of their country. That is why the tyranny was not only contented for having snatched away their lives, but they also made all  Machiavellian efforts to attribute to them the despised project of assassination of whites, with the objective of causing indignation and fear of them and to establish division between the two large branches of the Cuban family…[3]  


Over a century ago, an extraordinary Cuban, illustrated and rich, wrote an important yet little known letter . It was addressed to a North-American who was closely related to the highest functionaries of the Government of the United States. That letter denounced the plans conceived by a group of Englishmen and ‘Criollos’, white Cubans, to break the yoke of colonialism and to convert the slave into a paid worker. The goal  pursued by that letter was only to frustrate that real conspiracy. But in order to destroy this conspiracy, the Spanish government invented another conspiracy, which made torrents of blood flow of people belonging to the inferior social category. In Cuba, no other conspiracy was punished with such a high level of cruelty as this invented conspiracy [4].  

If we stick to the words of [Domingo] Del Monte himself, the British Consul was the head of the conspiracy and would become the Provisional Governor,  “in the event of a happy ending he would have an efficient asssistant.[5] The investigation was directed in the first instance against the blacks who could be leaders for being the most distinguished ones. Miguel Aldama said then that on the list appeared, “Manzano, Ble Rely, Plácido, Ceballos, Brindis and any prominent and talented Black man”. It was also directed against whites, who for their opposition to the trade or for the friendship with the British Consul, could intend to help the slaves or use them. Among the most notable ones were Luz Caballero, Del Monte, Félix Tanco, Benigno Gener, Manuel Martínez Serrano and others. And those who sympathized with the North-Americans were closely watched. They were considered to be enemies of Spain[6].  


In the criminal process which was initiated in January 1844, there was no search for the participants in the Sabanilla uprisings of those days. They were considered as mere slave protests as many others during the epoch of colonialism in Cuba. They were looking for those who participated in Treaties with the British or North-Americans to achieve independence or annexation. Also they were after all those who struggled or could struggle for the suppression of slave trade and the abolition of slavery, which maintaining its existence the government considered of vital importance to the benefit of the slave-traders and the conservation of the colonial regime. 

The government of O’Donnell knew that in Matanzas they were not killing the head of the conspiration of Blacks against Whites, but a poet who with his shots praised liberty and condemned tyranny[7]. For the judges Cerice, Flores, Plácido and others were just individuals that the government wanted to “suppress” or “liquidate” after forcing them to make declarations which could serve as a pretext to conduct the procedure against persons whose culpability could not be proven otherwise. 

As is said, “the victims were chosen among the class of well – to – do colored people, alleging those who were renown for their outstanding aptitudes to be guides and heads of groups” [8]. January 30th of 1844, thirty-eight days after having been condemned by Oviedo and his concubine; while dancing at a party with friends, Plácido was detained and jailed, for most likely being regarded as the most popular and enlightened man among the Blacks of his epoch [9].  


No matter how they searched, there were no evidence at all. It was better then to produce them. There were no instruments of torture, neither was there sufficient intelligence to invent them. But, in the gloomy dwelling of Soto there was a mason’s ladder, which was inoffensive until then. In those obtuse minds unexpectedly an idea appeared. What serves to build, should serve to destroy, why not? That ladder could serve as an object to hurt, molest and martyr presumed guilty ones. It was sufficient to tie them with feet and hands, face down, so that their back would be free to receive the whips. The beaten one could support few of the many lashes; but, how many individuals could resist the wish not to sign a declaration which could put an end to their martyrdom? If he dies in that place, there would be no difficulty, since the assassination would be called suicide. If he died at once, then the unfortunate one will be brought to the house of Espinola; and when registering his decease, it was said that the cause of disfunction were diarrheas. An awful amount of Blacks and mulattoes died in that manner in the fatal year of 1844. From then it was called “the lashes year.”[10].  


This was the process that the Military Commission called “Criminal Trial: Conspiration against People of Color against Whites”. They deliberately tried to make believe that all those accused were moved by hatred against whites. The intention was to justify the massacres of the year 1844. The drive for luxury made the tribunals be more demanding against free Blacks and mulattoes whose economic position enabled them to possess some money. Among those who were finally sentenced, let us count one thousand a hundred and eighteen (1118) freed men and only six hundred and eighty (680) slaves. For the government, the free Black man, more intelligent, was more dangerous than the slave. Besides, the imprisonment and death of the slave would affect the interest of the master. 

Racism could not be and was not what the government truly persecuted and condemned. The Capitan General and his tribunals wanted to punish those who thought like Turnbull. Thus, in the year 1844 there was a framed up judicial process with political purposes, it was not a “conspiracy of Blacks” as some historians still say [11].


Precisely because that fantastic
Conspiración de la Escalera never existed, we can be convinced that Gabriel de la Concepción Valdés [Plácido] never took part in such an event. It was impossible. But, did the inspired poet have any participation in the Anglo – Cuban conspiracy of Turnbull? It is not possible to affirm that categorically; but it is plausible and should have been the case. He was compassionate, suffered, and for being very intelligent, he had to go through lots of hardships, more than those whose pain he was sadly watching [12].


On May 15th of the year 1845, the newspaper “The Jamaican Guardian and Patriot” in Kingston, published the idea of Joseph Saoul to erect in that city a monument to the memory of the Cuban poet considering him a victim of the slave-traders and slave-holders [13].


Manuel Sanguily, mouthpiece of the Euro-Iberian elite in Cuba, was one of the toughest critics of Plácido and accused him of playing with words, hopping with sounds and rhyme like a rope-dancer; but he recognizes that “he is saved by some sonnets and rondelets, various epigrams and the verses Jicotencal, Cora, and El pajarillo.  He should have unquestionably added Plegaria a Dios, which Sanguily repudiated as apocryphal. But, let us look at the reactions by José Luciano Franco on opinions of Sanguily regarding Plácido.  


In his very timely publication “Acerca de Plácido”/On Plácido the Cuban historian José Luciano Franco offers us his vision on the polemic related to the poet Plácido: "In the last decade of the XXth century, the Cuban people regarded Plácido as being part and parcel of the popular struggle against the Spanish tyranny, together with the struggle for national liberation carried out abroad by Martí and in Cuba by Don Juan Gualberto Gómez en Cuba. That state of the national spirit is reflected by Juan Gualberto in his paper La Igualdad, especially in the editions of June 29, 1892, January 14 and June 27, 1893 and February 1894. To this Manuel Sanguily responded with an article entitled “Un improvisador cubano (El poeta Plácido y el juicio de Menéndez y Pelayo)”, published in Hojas Literarias, La Habana, February 28 of the year 1894, in which he treats the poet evidently with injustice."

Of course, this article provoked violent responses. Newspapers in Villa Clara came out in defence of Plácido. A writer from Villa Clara, using the nickname Juan de la Cruz, made a brochure with favourable opinions on Plácido published in La Defensa de Villa Clara.  The press in Havana: La Igualdad, La Nueva Era y El Criterio Conservador, adopted Juan de la Cruz’s thesis against Manuel Sanguily. The latter in a new article said: “Otra vez Plácido y Menéndez y Pelayo, (Reparo a censuras apasionadas)”, in Hojas Literarias, march 31 of 1894: “Saying that the people adores the memory of his unfortunate poet, is not a prove neither that the poet was that to his people, nor that his people’s adoration to their poet is legitimate.”

The highest stage of the unjust criticism expressed by Sanguily came out in his last essay in which he does not even spare Enrique José Varona – “Una opinión asenderada”, Hojas Literarias, noviembre 30 de junio de 1894.  He pretended destroying the love of the cuban people for the poet with this affirmation: "No, I am not disrespectful neither alien to the legitimate glories of any people, much less ours, which are few; but Placido is not a true glory of Cuba. Whether or not he was hypocritical against the whites, he definitely was no more than a poor devil: a poet without dignity; a vicious artisan; a misadventurer, an abject denouncer…"   Manuel Sanguily appears again in El Figaro, Havana 21st of March 1909, and writes: “El poema perdido de Plácido”/The lost poem of Plácido”. We conclude our extract of opinions by José Luciano Franco in his article, “Plácido: una polémica que tiene cien años”, La Habana Ediciones Unión, 1964. [14]  


Plácido was an illustrious precursor and martyr of the political independence of Cuba, just like his forerunner José Antonio Aponte y Ulbarra (1812). He also saw as one the need for the abolition of slavery and the end of racism in his country [15].

 The 1812 massacre in which José Aponte y Ulbara was killed and, thirty two years later, the massacre of 1844, which cost the life of Plácido, were the preface to the 1912 massacre. In that year the Partido Independiente de Color and its leaders Evaristo Estenoz, Pedro Ivonnet, Eugène Lacoste and others were brutally eliminated. Manuel Sanguily appears in the history of Cuba then as Secretary of State and right hand of  President José Miguel Gómez. In may 1912 this government was responsible for the immense racist massacre of colored people meant to destroy forever the Partido Independiente de Color and any initiative of that kind.  

While approaching his execution,  Plácido stood before his fellows and urged them to die courageously. He marched ahead reciting with a loud, clear and musical voice the poem “A PLEA TO GOD”, his last very sad composition. 

With great complacency…  
Let the sound of your voice,  
Express steam to my existence…  
Please answer my goodwill, God of mine…!  
                                                      -- Plácido


Placido monument, la Habana

[1] ACERCA DE PLÁCIDO – Editorial Letras Cubanas, 1985

[3] Acerca de Plácido p. 19

[4] PROEMIO de su artículo DEFENSA DE LOS ESCLAVOS, Leonardo Griñán Peralta de Santiago de Cuba.

[5] DEFENSA DE LOS ESCLAVOS, Leonardo Griñán Peralta de Santiago de Cuba.

[6] idem

[7] idem

[8] idem

[9] idem

[10] idem

[11] idem

[12] idem

[13] idem

[14] Acerca de Plácido

[15] idem

Presentan comisión por el bicentenario de Plácido, 23/2/2009

Autor: Octavio Borges Pérez | Fuente: AIN | 23 de Febrero 2009

La Habana (AIN).- La Comisión para conmemorar el bicentenario del gran poeta cubano Gabriel de la Concepción Valdés (Plácido) fue presentada, durante el Foro Literario que se realizó en la Unión de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba (UNEAC) con motivo de la Feria del Libro.

Zaida Capote, vicepresidenta de la Asociación de Escritores de la UNEAC, informó que está presidida por la doctora Graziella Pogolotti y su Comité de Honor lo integran Esteban Lazo, Armando Hart, Abel Prieto, Eusebio Leal, Roberto Fernández Retamar, Eduardo Torres Cuevas, Iroel Sánchez, Cintio Vitier, Fina García Marruz y Carilda Oliver Labra.

El programa por el bicentenario incluye, entre otras acciones la celebración de un coloquio internacional y un concurso de ensayos entre los días 14 y 23 de octubre de este año.

Los intelectuales Salvador Arias, Fernando Martínez Heredia, Gerardo Fullera León y Daisy Cué disertaron acerca de esta polémica personalidad, cuya vida es un mito y sobre su obra se han emitido opiniones muy injustas.

Fusilado por el dominio colonial en la Isla, en 1844, por su participación en la Conspiración de la Escalera, Plácido es autor de memorables poema como Jicotencal, considerada una joya de la literatura latinoamericana y anunciadora del movimiento modernista en el Nuevo Mundo.

Hijo de una bailarina española y un peluquero de teatro, mulato, artesano, peinetero, carpintero, tipógrafo y poeta, las contradicciones y las polémicas siempre lo rodearon y aún se discute si fue un simple coplero, un conspirador, y si sus últimos poemas fueron escritos por él o sus amigos para contribuir al mito Plácido. 

Contacting AfroCubaWeb

Electronic mail [replace _AT_ with @]

[AfroCubaWeb] [Site Map] [Music] [Arts] [Authors] [News] [Search this site]

Copyright © 1997 AfroCubaWeb, S.A.