Protestantism and Political Conflict in the Nineteenth-Century Hispanic Caribbean

Article excerpt

Luis MARTÎNEZ-FERNANDEZ. Protestantism and Political Conflict in the Nineteenth-Century Hispanic Caribbean. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2002. Pp. xiii + 247, introduction, bibliography, index. $30.00 (paper).

As Spain and the United States were struggling for political hegemony in the, nineteenth-century Caribbean, a parallel struggle was occurring between Catholicism and Protestantism on the last two Spanish colonies in the area, Cuba and Puerto Rico. Dr. Luis Martinez-Fernândez analyzes this latter tension in light of changes occurring in Spain and their impact on religion and politics in these colonies. Attempts at political reform at home affected the colonies and, in particular, the role of the Roman Catholic Church. Calls for religious freedom attacked the church's privileged role in Spanish and colonial society. As the church was attempting to deal with its changing relationship to the government, it also had to address the growing number of non-Catholics (Protestants and Freemasons) migrating to the islands.

The Roman Catholic Church attempted to maintain social control, even as it was losing political influence. It pushed the government to limit immigration from non-Catholic countries. It used three areas where it had the most influence, birth, marriage and death, to maintain a level of social control. Since these activities were regulated by the church and not civil authorities, the church used them to maintain at least a formal Catholic commitment from most everyone that lived on the islands (and also to generate funds for the church). Priests used their power to force Protestants to formally practice Catholicism; unbaptized children could not be citizens, children of couples not married by the Roman Catholic Church could not inherit property, and people who were not baptized as Catholics could not be buried in public cemeteries. The burial issue was particularly influential because priests often blocked the burial of the bodies of non-Catholics. There were cases where bodies were left unburied to be eaten by animals. The pressure exerted by the Catholic Church through these rites caused many Protestant to formally become Catholics and externally follow the rites of the church. This situation caused some to become what Martínez-Fernández calls "CryptoProtestants" or "Pseudo-Catholics. …