The Year of the Lash: Free People of Color in Cuba and the Nineteenth-Century Atlantic World

By Michele Reid-Vazquez | Go to book overview

2 Spectacles of Power: Repressing the Conspiracy
of La Escalera

Being of immense goodness, Mighty God!
To thou I turn in my vehement pain …
Extend your omnipotent arm,
Scratch off of calumny the odious curtain;
And pull out this inominous stamp
With which the world wants to stain my forehead!
… Obstruct them, Lord, for the precious
Blood shed, which guilt shields
Of the sin of Adam, or for that
Candid Mother, sweet and lovely,
When wrapped up in sorrow, sad and crying
Followed your death like a heliacal star
If it suits your Suma Omnipotence
that I perish in such impious wickedness,
And that men insult my cold body

—PLÁCIDO

As guards led Plácido (Gabriel de la Concepción Valdés), celebrated Cuban poet, to his death before a firing squad, he reportedly recited verses from his final work, “A Plea to God.”1 The above excerpt from the poem highlights his grief over the repression of the Escalera revolts and the suffering it caused himself and others. Official allegations and witness testimonies, which accused Plácido of leading a conspiracy, left an “inominous stamp for all to see. Using words that could be interpreted as either a statement of innocence in the plot or as confirming his actions to abolish slavery and end colonial rule, Plácido proclaimed, “I cannot lie to you, God of clemence/ … see through my body and soul.” Although Plácido seemed prepared to “perish in such impious wickedness,” he also called upon God to “obstruct” the true culprits—the O’Donnell administration, planters, proslavery advocates, and Spanish loyalists—those truly at fault. The blood they shed during the Year of the Lash shields their guilt, asserted the condemned poet. His verses reportedly “thrilled upon the hearts of the attentive masses” that lined the streets. As Plácido

-42-

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