José Martí

José Martí

The 19th century in the Spanish Americas began with the wars of independence led by Simón Bolívar in Spain’s continental colonies. But the independence of the continental countries did not lead to independence for the Caribbean insular territories, and two of the three islands of the Greater Antilles, Cuba and Puerto Rico, remained as Spain’s last territories in the Americas. From the early 19th century, the autonomist and separatist elements remained underground in Cuba and Puerto Rico, operating as secret societies (such as the Soles y los Rayos de Bolívar lodge), but these efforts remained what was called “Bolivar’s unfinished dream.”

It was not until the second half of the 19th century that armed movements emerged in the insular Caribbean. The first act of rebellion occurred on August 16, 1863, in the Dominican Republic and was known as the Grito de Capotillo. It led to the restoration of Dominican independence in 1865. The Grito de Capotillo was followed by other “gritos” or uprisings intended to establish republics in the region, all of which failed. The Grito de Lares uprising took place on September 23, 1868, in Puerto Rico (orchestrated by Ramón Emeterio Betances and Segundo Ruiz Belvis). Similarly, in Cuba, there was the Grito de Yara (led by Carlos Manuel de Céspedes) on October 10, 1868, followed by the Ten Years War (1868-1978), the Little War (1879-1880), and the Grito de Baire (led by José Martí) on February 24, 1895. These nationalistic movements were interrupted by the Spanish-American War in 1898 and did not build steam again until the 20th century.

In general, Latin American nationalism in the 19th century was closely tied to anti-Spain and anti-clergy sentiments. It was also based on the ideal of a national identity based on the mestizo, the mixed-race inhabitants. Two elements made the process of building a national identity in the insular Caribbean different from similar events in the continental Spanish colonies. First, while the mestizaje narrative on the continent was based on the union of indigenous people and the Spanish, in the insular Caribbean the Africans were added to the mix. Second, while the political environment in the Caribbean was characterized by the struggle between two ideologies, liberals and conservatives, in the Spanish insular Caribbean the ideological struggles were centered on the continuity of the colonial situation, and were divided between annexationists and autonomists.

Beginning in 1898, with Spain’s disappearance as a colonial empire in the Americas and the transfer of Cuba and Puerto Rico to the United States, nationalism in the Spanish Caribbean took a turn from strong anti-Spanish sentiments to anti-U.S. sentiments. Additionally, the national identity model based on a mixed-race people took on new impetus in the early 20th century with the publication, in 1925, of the book La raza cósmica, written by Latin America’s foremost proponent of the mestizaje ideology, José Vasconcelos.

Author: Luis Galanes
Published: June 10, 2012.

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