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Carlota the rebel

CARLOTA, a slave woman, took up the machete in 1843 to lead a slave uprising at the Triumvirato sugar mill in the Matanzas province of Cuba and was killed. She was one of the three leaders of the rebellion. Her name was later given to Cuba's Operación Carlota in Southern Africa in the mid-1980s, culminating in the famous battle of Cuito Cuanavale and the decisive defeat of the racist South African armed forces. Today, people can visit the remains of the Triumvirato sugar mill and see the monument to Carlota's rebellion.

THE fifth decade of the 19th century was characterized by successive rebellions on the part of African and Cuban-born slaves, particularly in the great plain of Havana-Matanzas, the emporium of the slave-owning oligarchy, given the wealth of its land and the profusion of the sugar-cane industry.

The repression was infamous in its cruelty and one particularly recalls the so-called Escalera (Ladder) Conspiracy (Conspiración La Escalera) and its dramatic sequel of torture, crimes and shootings ordered by General O'Donnell, including that of the great mixed-race poet Gabriel de la Concepción Valdés (Plácido, pictured) and a group of men belonging to the incipient black bourgeoisie, thousands of black and mixed-race free persons and slaves. That process was so extended and horrifying that 1844 has come down to our days as the Year of the Strap. [1]

Traditional Cuban history never touched on the impetuous beginnings of the slave rebellion in that historical period. But that silence or deliberate omission in more than a few cases is not the case in these years of Revolution. The restored landmarks include the rebellion at the Triunvirate sugar mill in Matanzas and, more specifically, the heroic dimension of Carlota, the pro-liberation slave.

The uprising led by Carlota and a group of rebel slaves had international repercussions. A few days after the rebellion began, the Vandalia, a US Navy corvette, appeared in the port of Havana under the command of Rear-Admiral Chauncey, the bearer of an "official" letter from the Spanish Business Attaché in Washingon, which notified Captain General O'Donnell that he could count on the aid of the United States to crush the "Afrocuban" rebellion - a document that Commander Chauncey, accompanied by a Mr. Campbell, the US consul in Havana, presented to the colonial governor in an official ceremony with full diplomatic rigor.

This support further spurred on the repression meted out by the Spanish authorities in Matanzas of the slaves who participated in the Triunvirato uprising, from the governor and district captains, to the slave owners of farms and sugar mills to simple overseers. In the end, Carlota was literally torn apart. But her action was an epic one.

This was the beginning: the drums were talking in the Triunvirato mill in the months of July and August, 1843. Two Africans were in contact. They were Lucumies: Evaristo and Fermnina, from the Acana mill. They devoted themselves to campaigning among the slaves to put an end to the brutality of that system. They managed to communicate via drums which they played with eloquence. On 5 November 1843 the Triunvirato slaves rebelled. There was a military trial from which it emerged that the Matanzas Military Committee had uncovered a vast conspiracy in the above-mentioned mills.

In addition to Fermina, other women had an energetic participation in the anti-slave movement, as well as their men. There was a militarily gifted and exceptionally daring women in the front line: Carlota, of Lucumbi origin, who belonged to the Triunvirato mill. Involved with her in the rebellion were Eduardo, a Fula; Carmita and Juliana, Cuban-born; Filomena, a Ganga from the Acana mill; and Luca, a Lucumi from the Concepcin estate, all of them in Matanzas.

For the white slave owners what they heard was merely a drumming ceremony from a black slave cabin calling to the ancestors. But the fact is that at 8:00 p.m. on the night of Sunday, 5 November, Eduardo, the interpreter of the kettledrum voice advised everybody, and Carlota, Narciso and Felipe, and the Ganga Manuel, like the "spokesperson," had already sharpened their work machetes. At that hour the objective was not the cane plantations, but the brutal plantation manager, his overseers and lackeys. It was they who first felt the blades of steel and were felled, their pistols and rifles seized, as well as similar weapons from other white individuals who abandoned them in all haste.

Somewhat terse concerning these cases, the official municipal representatives on the Military Committee relate for history that the blacks "set fire to the main house, part of the plantation and the sugar mill huts."

The Fermina from the Acana mill, who took part in a rebellion on 2 August, had been imprisoned with shackles from which she was released by her brothers and sisters on 3 November. Carlota and her captains, according to their secret plan, had gone from Triunvirato to Acana to free the slaves.

Nobody should imagine, because it would be naive, that Carlota went with a holster strapped to her chest, and in boots. She went barefoot, in her threadbare dress.

The successes at Triunvirato and Acana must have encouraged the rebel slaves who were fighting for freedom and they continued their surprise attacks in the area. They liberated the slaves from the administrations of Santa Ana, Guanbana and Sabanilla del Encomendador, belonging to the Concepcin, San Lorenzo, San Miguel, San Rafael sugar mills, and the neighboring coffee plantations and dairy farms. But the governor's powerful forces were already pursuing Carlota the Lucumi, Eduardo the Fula and her other comrades, and in a battle as unequal as it was bitter - presumably due to the difference in the strength, quality and quantity of the enemy firepower - Carlota was taken prisoner and tied alive to horses pulling in opposite directions until she was torn apart.

According to the annals, Blas Cuesta, administrator and co-owner of the San Rafael mill, earnestly appealed to the governor of Matanzas, who had just arrived on his property, not to continue massacring defenseless blacks. Some slaves who escaped got as far as the Cinaga de Zapata and continued fighting in the Gran Palenque (hideout of runaway slaves) in the Cuevas del Cabildo.

Fermina was shot with four Lucumies and three Gangas in March 1844.

This was not the only or the first slave conspiracy or rebellion. One would have to recall that of Jos Antonio Aponte in 1812. And long before, the determined and victorious protest of the slave miners of Rey in El Cobre (1677), until their freedom was de jure acknowledged in 1801.

Carlota's liberation struggle is part of the Cuban heritage of rebellion against oppression
In terms of its vigor and bravery, Carlota's liberation struggle is part of the Cuban heritage of rebellion against oppression. Thus, her name has been enshrined as a symbol of the operation that gave rise to the Cuban military mission in Angola 30 years ago. If was as if the bones and blood of Carlota and her comrades in the uprising joined together again to serve the liberation of the descendants of those Africans who contributed to the forging of the Cuban nation.

Granma daily staff writer

[1]For additional reading on the poet Plácido and the Conspiración La Escalera) see http://www.afrocubaweb.com/eugenegodfried/placidoenglish.htm

Placido, The Blood of the Poet

Carlota, la rebelde, Granma, 11/05

Marta Rojas marta.rr@granma.cip.cu

La quinta dcada del siglo XIX se caracteriz por las sucesivas rebeliones de esclavos africanos y criollos, sobre todo en la gran llanura La Habana-Matanzas, emporio de la oligarqua negrera, dada la riqueza de sus tierras y profusin de la industria azucarera.

Infame, por su crueldad, result la represin, y se recuerda especialmente la llamada Conspiracin de La Escalera y su impresionante secuela de torturas, crmenes y fusilamientos ordenados por el general O`Donnell, entre ellos el del gran poeta mulato Gabriel de la Concepcin Valds (Plcido) y un grupo de hombres pertenecientes a la incipiente burguesa de color, y millares de negros y mulatos libres o esclavos. Fue tan largo y escalofriante ese proceso, que 1844 ha llegado a nuestros das con el apelativo de "El ao del cuero".

La historiografa tradicional cubana nunca abord el impetuoso comienzo de rebelda esclava de esa etapa histrica. Pero ese silencio u olvido ex profeso en no pocos casos ha dejado de ser en estos tiempos de Revolucin. Entre los hitos reivindicados se halla la rebelin del ingenio Triunvirato, en Matanzas, y ms especficamente la dimensin heroica de Carlota, la esclava libertaria.

La rebelin que encabezaran Carlota y un grupo de esclavos rebeldes tuvo repercusin internacional. A pocos das de iniciada la rebelin, apareci en el puerto de La Habana una corbeta de la marina de guerra de los Estados Unidos, la Vandalia, al mando del contraalmirante Chauncey, portador de "un oficio" del Encargado de Negocios de Espaa en Washington en el cual "participaba" voces de la poca al Capitn General O'Donnell que poda contar con la ayuda del Gobierno de los Estados Unidos para aplastar la rebelin de los "afrocubanos", documento que el comandante Chauncey, acompaado de un tal Mister Campbell, cnsul norteamericano en La Habana, entreg en ceremonia oficial, con todo el rigor diplomtico, al propio gobernador colonial.

Este apoyo estimul an ms la represin de las autoridades espaolas en Matanzas, desde el Gobernador, y los capitanes pedneos, hasta los esclavistas, dueos de fincas e ingenios, y mayorales simples, contra los esclavos participantes en la gesta de Triunvirato. Finalmente Carlota fue descuartizada. Pero su accin fue una epopeya.

Este fue el comienzo: los tambores "hablaron" en el ingenio Triunvirato en los meses de julio a agosto de 1843. Haba dos africanos en contacto. Eran lucumes: Evaristo y Fermina, del ingenio Acana. Ellos se dedicaron a hacer campaa entre los esclavos para poner fin a la brutalidad de aquel sistema. Lograban comunicarse por los tambores que interpretaban con elocuencia. El 5 de noviembre de 1843 se rebelaron los esclavos de Triunvirato. Hubo una causa militar, de la cual se extrae que la Comisin Militar de Matanzas haba descubierto una vasta conspiracin en los mencionados ingenios.

Adems de Fermina, otras mujeres participaban con energa en el movimiento antiesclavista, al igual que sus compaeros. En primera lnea estaba una mujer de dotes militares y audacia extraordinaria: se llamaba Carlota, de origen lucum, perteneciente al ingenio Triunvirato. Tambin, con ella se involucraron en la rebelin Eduardo, fula; Carmita y Juliana, criollas; Filomena, gang, del ingenio Acana, y Luca, lucum, del ingenio Concepcin. Todos en Matanzas.

Para los blancos esclavistas lo escuchado poda pasar solo como un toque de tambor desde un barracn de los negros llamando a los ancestros. Pero lo cierto fue que a las ocho de la noche del domingo 5 de noviembre, Eduardo, intrprete de la voz del atabal avisaba a todos, y Carlota, Narciso y Felipe, ms el gang Manuel, ya tenan, como el "vocero", bien templados sus machetes de trabajo. A esa hora el objetivo no era el caaveral sino el brutal administrador del ingenio, sus mayorales y lacayos. Fueron ellos quienes primero sintieron el filo de los aceros y abatidos, les arrebataron las pistolas y escopetas, as como las armas semejantes de otros individuos blancos que las abandonaban a toda carrera.

Los partes oficiales de la Comisin Militar un tanto parcos en estos casos, dan cuenta para la historia de que los negros "incendiaron la casa de vivienda, parte del ingenio y los bohos del batey".

Aquella Fermina, del ingenio Acana, quien participara en una rebelin el 2 de agosto, haba sido encerrada con grillos de los cuales la liberaron sus hermanos el 3 de noviembre. Carlota y sus capitanes, de acuerdo con su plan, ya acordado en secreto, se haban dirigido de Triunvirato al Acana para liberar a los esclavos.

Nadie debe imaginar, porque sera iluso, que Carlota anduviera con cartuchera terciada al pecho, y calzada con botas. Iba descalza, con su vestido de esquifacin rado. Los xitos de Triunvirato y Acana debieron estimular a los esclavos rebeldes que luchaban por la libertad y prosiguieron con sus ataques sorpresivos en la zona. Libertaron a los esclavos de los partidos de Santa Ana, Guanbana, Sabanilla del Encomendador, pertenecientes a los ingenios Concepcin, San Lorenzo, San Miguel, San Rafael, y de cafetales y fincas ganaderas del entorno. Pero ya las poderosas tropas del Gobernador seguan a la lucum Carlota, al fula Eduardo y sus dems compaeros, y en un combate tan desigual como encarnizado es de suponer por la diferencia de fuerza, calidad y cantidad del armamento enemigo fue apresada Carlota, a quien viva la ataron a caballos que tiraron en sentido contrario hasta descuartizar su cuerpo.

Segn se consigna en los anales, Blas Cuesta, administrador y codueo de la finca San Rafael, apel con ruegos tenaces al Gobernador de Matanzas, que acababa de llegar a su propiedad, para que no siguieran masacrando ms negros inermes. Algunos esclavos que se tomaron la libertad llegaron hasta la Cinaga de Zapata y continuaron luchando en el Gran Palenque de las Cuevas del Cabildo.

Fermina fue fusilada con cuatro lucumes y tres gangas, en marzo de 1844.

Esta no fue ni la nica ni la primera conspiracin o rebelin de esclavos. Habra que recordar a Jos Antonio Aponte en 1812. Y mucho antes a la protesta empecinada y victoriosa de los esclavos mineros del Rey, en el Cobre (1677), hasta tener que reconocer de jure su libertad en 1801.

La lucha libertaria de Carlota, por su vigor y valenta, forma parte del patrimonio cubano de rebelda contra la opresin. De ah que su nombre haya sido enarbolado como smbolo de la operacin que dio inicio a la Misin Militar cubana en Angola hace treinta aos. Fue como si los huesos y la sangre de Carlota y sus compaeros de sublevacin se juntasen nuevamente para servir a la liberacin de los descendientes de aquellos africanos que contribuyeron a la fragua de la nacin cubana.

Nace la Operacin Carlota

Los rostros de la guerra sucia

Epopeya de millones

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