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Colonial Cuba - Reformism

With the annexation movement faltering and the possibility of independence still remote, some Cubans turned to attempts at reform within the Spanish empire. Reformism (reformismo), a movement that had existed in Cuba since the beginning of the nineteenth century for the purpose of reforming Spanish institutions in Cuba, took new impetus in mid-century, partly as a result of the failure of a number of conspiracies aimed at expelling Spanish power and because of black uprisings against slavery on the island. Spain also seemed at the time to be following a more conciliatory policy toward Cuba.

In 1865 the reform movement was strong enough to organize the Reformist Party (Partido Reformista), the first such political party to exist on the island. The party was not a cohesive political organization. Some of its members had been previously involved with the annexation movement, and a few still flirted with the idea. Others wanted some form of political autonomy for Cuba within the Spanish empire. Still others called for the island's representation in the Cortes. A few felt that reformism could be a step that would eventually lead to complete independence. In general, the party advocated equal rights for Cubans and Peninsulars, limitation on the powers of the captain-general, and greater political freedom on the island. It also supported freer trade and gradual abolition of slavery, and called for an increase of white immigrants into Cuba. The slave trade was partially curtailed in 1865, and the Spanish governor issued a law abolishing slavery in Cuba on November 5, 1879. It was not until October 7, 1886, however, that a royal decree completely abolished slavery in Cuba.

The activities of the Reformists soon met with strong opposition from a group of Peninsulars, who formed the Unconditional Spanish Party (Partido Incondicional Espanol). Trying to prevent any economic or political change, especially if it affected their interests, the Peninsulars used their newspaper, the Diario de la Marina, to attack the reformers. They cautioned that any concessions from Spain could only strengthen the Creoles, weakening continuous Spanish control over Cuba.

The work of the Reformists and their clash with the Peninsulars had an impact on Spain. Following the successful movement for independence in Santo Domingo against Spanish rule in 1865, and at a time when Spain was experiencing renewed economic and political difficulties, the Spanish monarchy felt it would be best to moderate its policy toward Cuba. It therefore called for the election of a reform commission that would discuss changes to be introduced on the island.

The Information Board (Junta de Informacion) (1866-67), as the Reform Commission came to be known, was composed of twelve elected Creole reformers and four Peninsulars, reflecting Cubans' desire for reform. To appease the fears of the conservative elements within Cuba and to prevent the election of radical reformers, the Spanish government instructed the Cuban municipalities to set high property qualifications for voting. Yet to everyone's surprise, the reformers won a major victory in the elections. Of the sixteen Cuban commissioners, twelve were Creole reformers. The results of this election clearly indicated the Cubans' desire for reform, rather than a widespread Cuban desire for independence. It seems that a significant proportion of the white Creole population of the island still hoped, as late as the 1860s, for a modification of Spanish policy and the introduction of reforms that would permit them to continue within the Spanish empire.

Yet the hope for change was short-lived. The Spanish government, which had come to power as the Reform Commission began deliberations several months earlier, had decided to let the commission meet, but had no intention of implementing its recommendations. In early 1867, the government not only disbanded the Information Board and dismissed all of its recommendations, but also imposed new and irritating taxes. Furthermore, Spain sent to Cuba Francisco Lersundi (captain general, 1867-69), a reactionary captain-general who prohibited public meetings and tightly censured reformist literature.

The failure of the Information Board in particular and of reformism in general gave new impetus to the independence movement. Aware that Spain would not permit any significant changes and that the island's destiny as well as their own would best be served by an independent Cuba, Creoles began preparing for complete separation from Spain.




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Page last modified: 31-03-2013 19:26:32 ZULU