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

3 Calculated Expulsions: Free People of Color
in Mexico, the United States, Spain,
and North Africa

We can certify to the tears we shed over our desolate families, such that we
ran with the current of emigration far from Cuba
.

—JOSÉ MORENO

On March 19, 1844, José Falgueras, president of the Cuban Military Commission, condemned free blacks Anastasio Ramirez, José Castillo, Mateo carabalí, and Alonso lucumí to imprisonment in Ceuta, Spain’s presidio in North Africa. Moreover, the Commission prohibited them from returning to Cuba or Puerto Rico.1 These men represented the first of hundreds charged as accomplices in the Conspiracy of La Escalera who would suffer the same fate: overseas incarceration and banishment. Colonial authorities did not stop there. Emboldened by torture and terror, the Leopoldo O’Donnell administration unfurled broader plans to further expunge the island of free blacks. In addition to those formally sentenced to deportation by the Military Commission, O’Donnell devised a strategy for the “prudent and calculated expulsion” of free people of color, targeting three sectors: free blacks who attempted to enter Cuban ports, the foreign-born residing in Cuba, and native libres de color living in urban centers in and around Havana.2 Individuals such as Carlota Molina, who attempted to return to Cuba via Jamaica, Vicente Pacheco, a native of Caracas living in Havana, and José Moreno, an exile in Mexico, would all become caught up in the colonial administration’s determined efforts to purge Cuba of racial strife. These measures, however, proved far from uniform and would often produce results contradicting the stated aims of Cuban officials.

O’Donnell’s desires to reduce the number of libres de color renewed previous debates over the dangers of having so many free and enslaved men and women of African descent in the colony. In the wake of the

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