From Hatuey to Che: Indigenous Cuba Without Indians and the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

American Indian Law Review, Vol. 33, 2009

38 Pages Posted: 28 Mar 2009

See all articles by Larry Catá Backer

Larry Catá Backer

Pennsylvania State University, Penn State Law

Date Written: March, 27 2009

Abstract

Indigenous peoples have been quite useful to political elites in Latin America almost since the time of the conquests by Spanish and Portuguese adventurers in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, indigenous people supplied the foundations for a trope, both literary and political, essential for the construction of cultural, ethnic, racial, and political identities distinct from the traditional colonial masters of emerging Latin American states, as well as from that great power to the north. This paper looks at one aspect of this rich development by focusing on the noble savage, the construction of Caribbean (and principally Cuban) political identity, and the formation of governance ideals. The focus will be on three people, separated by hundreds of years but all connected by the parallels of their lives and their place within Caribbean literary and political thought. I will start with the great archetypical figure of Cuban history - a Taino Indian from the island of Hispaniola - el indio Hatuey. The heart of the paper examines essays of Jose Marti in the broader context of Latin indigenismo. Marti, like the Spanish before him, confronts the Indian in Cuban life. But unlike the Spanish, Marti deploys the Indian in the service of the construction of Cuban national indigenismo. The last great figure considered in the development of Cuban indigenismo is Fidel Castro Ruz. Castro served as the leader of Cuba from the successful conclusion of the Cuban Revolution of 1959 until early 2008 when illness forced his retirement. The indigenismo of Marti finds rich embellishment in the great speeches of Fidel Castro. With Fidel Castro we witness the maturation of the process of denaturing the Indian from indigenismo. The essay ends with a consideration of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples from the perspective of this constructed Cuban indigenismo without Indians. In a Cuba without Indians, but where the memory of the Indian is revered, Cuba can seek to assert the rights of indigenous peoples everywhere without having to confront the issue of its own Indians. In a construction of a social and ethnic order in which the Indian has disappeared, to assert the right of indigenous people in Cuba is to assert the rights of the Cuban nation as a singular but blended mass.

Keywords: Cuba, Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Jose Marti, Indians, Che, Fidel Castro, Taino, Indians. indogenous

JEL Classification: K33

Suggested Citation

Backer, Larry Catá, From Hatuey to Che: Indigenous Cuba Without Indians and the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (March, 27 2009). American Indian Law Review, Vol. 33, 2009. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1369422

Larry Catá Backer (Contact Author)

Pennsylvania State University, Penn State Law ( email )

Lewis Katz Building
University Park, PA 16802
United States

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