Cubas Most Wanted

The history that chains Cuba to Venezuela's crisis
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He was himself what is called in Camaguey a "guajiro," and one who pointed out the Indian origins of many of his customs and lifeways: the thatch-roof bohio made out of the royal palm so abundant in Cuba; and his yucca field and his custom of eating the yucca bread, casabe, and the traditional Taino soup, called the ajiaco.

by Rube Waddell

It is neither the fairyland of happy dancing people as it is sometimes portrayed, nor is it a dark place where people are left to starve to death as others might try to frame it. Other promised reforms, however, never materialized. Camaguey is an agricultural region. She studied modern and contemporary dances at the School of Dance Arts in Cuba, graduated as a teacher and dancer of Cuban folk dances. Languages and Cultures.

Guajiro identity, customs, and lifestyle still prevail throughout the Camaguey region. More recently, after writing for some years on diverse Indian cultures, indigenous development, agriculture, and human rights issues, I noticed several articles in the Cuban press detailing studies carried out among the Indian descendants in the Baracoa region. The studies were carried out by investigators from the University of Havana, in cooperation with scientists from Belgium, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union.

At the University of Havana, I met the chief investigator of those studies, Manuel Rivero de la Calle, a gentle, soft-spoken scholar who is dean of Cuban anthropology. Rivero's biological study, conducted in two stages - and - focused exclusively on certifying racial composition on a sample of people of Indian origin in the Yateras municipality. His methodology included anthropometric measurements and somastopic observations following the International Biologic Program , serulogic characteristics, and family genealogies.

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The methodology of "physical anthropology," which uses anthropometric measurements, is considered antiquated by North American scholars and insulting by many Indians. Nevertheless, it proves fruitful in initially identifying the effusive Cuban indigenous population. Rivero's conclusions challenged official academic and sociological positions in Cuba - positions accepted by the international academy - that the Indian population of Cuba was totally extinguished by Indeed, the scientists found that at least 1, people conforming to physical characteristics associated with the Arawak branch of Amazonian Indian peoples live in Yateras alone.

The studies assert what oral and written historical sources have also attested: the Yateras Indians are a core group in a larger pattern of extended families and communities of similar Indian origin, now increasingly intermarried with other Cubans of Iberian and African ancestry. The existence of an Indian population and identity in Cuba was vehemently denied for most of the twentieth century, primarily by the Cuban scholar Fernando Ortiz.

A liberal professor of Hispanic ancestry, Ortiz saw the question of Indian identity as a ploy by the right wing to obfuscate black issues. Deeply conversant in all the social sciences, Ortiz was limited by a Havana base and by a purist, "bell jar" anthropological perspective of Indian-ness.

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This perspective maintains that American Indians cease to be "real" Indians as they adapt Western tools and methods. Indian "cultures" are assumed frozen at the moment of contact with "the West. The assertion became that all Cuban Indians, purportedly a weak and timid people, were exterminated by Nevertheless, the historic and ethnographic record supports the Indian presence in eastern Cuba - the existence of its actual population of descendants and its cultural extensions.

In the absence of a proper census, it is hard to hazard a guess as to the total population of Indian descendants in the general Oriente area, but it probably comes to several thousand people. Miguel Rodriguez Ferrer, a Spanish scientist who visited the area in , wrote in the s about finding Indian communities at El Caney, in Jiguani, and on the banks of the Yumuri River Baracoa. He wrote that the people lived in bohios, and "gifted me with a dance" - possibly an Areito, the round dance of the Tainos - during which they recited cosmologies.

His diary entries just prior to his death in a Spanish ambush in May describe the "indios de Garrido" direct ancestors of the Yateras families. General Antonio Maceo, who commanded troops in the area, commented that the "Indians of Yateras" had now passed into the Cuban insurrectionary ranks. A French doctor and anthropologist, Henri Dumont, who for decades lived in the eastern sugar plantations and provided care for black slaves, wrote in about the existence of Indians in the interior provinces of Cuba - "but where they abound with most frequency is in the eastern department".

The Cuban historian Felipe Pichardo Moya wrote in that during the s Indians in El Caney, near Santiago, could muster "several hundred pureblood warriors.

In , the same clerk, still arguing Indian land rights, told a meeting of the Cabildo: "You know that it is very rare for a natural of the People to mix his Indian blood with that of the Spanish, and insofar as marriage with the people of color, this was never permitted to them as per arrangement with the sovereign dispositions.

Oral history of Yateras Indians corroborates court records indicating that the Indian caserios at Tiguabos and Palenque and Indian settlements in the San Andres valley were dispossessed, farm by farm, during the nineteenth century. Those Indian populations, many with the family names of Rojas and Ramirez, resettled in the more remote valley of Yateras and formed a community called Caridad de los Indies. All along that valley of the Rio Toa and down to Baracoa and Yumuri, and along the coast to Los Arados, in Punta Maisi, the families of Rojas and Ramirez, as well as the Romeros, the Cobas, the Riveros, many of the Jimnez, Hernandez, Veloz, and Cabrera, retain history, identity, and customs rooted in the Cuban Arawak traditions, the old Taino homeland.

Alejandro Hartmann, the criollo historian of Baracoa, accompanied me in my initial rounds in the area. A good citizen and a critical thinker, Hartmann heads the restoration of Baracoa, the first colonial village founded in Cuba He pointed out that as late as , Baracoa's actual population was made up of three Spanish and more than fifty Taino homesteads. A native Baracoan of German ancestry, Hartmann marveled at the fuss about the Indian presence in the area. He pointed out that until the s the region was relatively unpopulated by Europeans and Africans.

Hartmann pointed out that "from Baracoa to Punta Maisi, the people use more Taino words than anywhere else in Cuba. One early morning we took the coastal road to Punta Maisi maisi is the Taino word for "maize" , where we met Pedro Hernandez's family at Los Arados. His sisters and mother had brought us into the living room of the family's wood-frame, thatch-roofed house.

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His mother and sisters nodded when he said, "We have always been Indians. Our family, and there are many other families just here in Los Arados, this is our ancestry. But I must tell you, it is only in recent years that we discuss it openly with other people. Hernandez, curator of a small museum at Los Arados, is in his thirties and is a militant of the Cuban Communist Party.

He greatly admires Fidel Castro and particularly the late revolutionary commander, Camilo Cienfuegos. However, his professed passion is learning about his Indian past. Hernandez worked with Rivero's team during their study at Yateras. It has been good for us that other people pay attention now. I took a ride with Hernandez to the lighthouse at Punta Maisi, easternmost point in Cuba, 50 miles across the Windward Channel from Haiti.

Along the way we stopped several times to visit with other Indians walking along the road. Two young women, from another Indian family, were walking to town to get milk. They agreed to be photographed and told us that their father had been a guide to Cuban explorer Nunez Jimenez during his expeditions in the area in the s. Their grandfather, they said, guided the North American archaeologist Mark Harrington at the turn of the century.

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The women's features had been measured for a study in , and they joked about having high cheekbones when I went to photograph them. One mimicked how the investigators had marveled at their straight, black hair. As we drove away, Hernandez apologized for their grandfather guide, whom he "respected" but whose knowledgeable eye had led Harrington to valuable Indian pieces hidden and carved in caves.

He even sawed off a stalagmite statue and carted it away," he said. Over several days, often with Hartmann, I visited and interviewed 14 members of five extended families claiming a Cuban Indian ethnicity. Besides Punta Maisi and Los Arados, people received me along the Rio Toa valley north of Baracoa, along the banks of the Yumuri, east of the city, and in a barrio of Baracoa itself. To the unpracticed eye, but for their looks, many of my interviewees appeared much like other Cuban campesinos. Among all of them I found a casual sense of Indian identity, and most retained important aspects of physical and spiritual culture.

On the way from Baracoa to Punta Maisi, we stopped at a guajiro cemetery near the coast. An indigenous touch: many of the simple graves were covered by small, thatch "houses" and surrounded by large sea shells. The shells Strombus gigas Linneo , known in the area by their Taino name, guamo, are believed to protect the deceased from bothersome spirits; guajiro families still use them to call one another across remote valleys.

One evening in Baracoa, I witnessed a communal dance, kept alive by only one Indian caserio at Guirito. The dance, called quiriba, has been passed down the generations by several related families. The quiriba certainly has French elements to it many French people settled in the general region of Oriente after the black revolution in Haiti in the mids , but is significantly unique in that it has survived within an Indian community. All the agriculturalists confirmed, with great certainty, the practice of planting root crops by the waning moon luna menquante.

The assertion is that both yucca and boniato a native sweet potato will "rot early" se pica temprano if not planted by the waning moon. In cutting wood, too, local guajiros argue that it will rot faster if cut in the full or ascending moons.

One old man near the banks of the Rio Toa spoke of fishing by the moon for a fish called the teti, which is scarce at other times. At Los Arados, I also visited an elementary school; the principal asked the Indian children to gather, and about 25 students quickly surrounded us.

Some were more reticent than others, but all affirmed their Indian background.

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Many of their names corresponded to the family names identified with Indian-ness. My questions concentrated on a person's basis or rationale for claiming an Indian identity. All pointed to family history: "We are an Indian family. It has been always that way. Going toward the Punta Maisi lighthouse, I asked Hartmann about the reluctance of some Cuban academics to accept the Indian identity in this area of Cuba. He responded, "Well, even Rivero, he refuses to say the people here are Indians - he defines them as 'descendants' of Indians. It is common to say that there are no Indians left in Cuba.

They, the old Tainos, were here. The first woman ever placed on the FBI's most-wanted terrorist list was living so openly in Havana that her number was listed in the phone book. Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the White House's National Security Council, said the Obama administration will "continue to press in our engagement with the Cuban government for the return of U.

Several infamous convicts and suspects in high-profile American cases live openly in Cuba, as are others convicted of less serious crimes. Among these are a woman convicted of killing a police officer four decades ago, a man sought for a year-old armed robbery, airplane hijackers and dozens of people accused of Medicare and insurance fraud. Cuba occasionally returns people convicted or suspected of committing crimes in the U. The Castro government's frequent position on returning fugitives has been to ask for the U.

In Cuba's first detailed public response to Obama's historic announcement last week, Vidal said Cuba is open to all of Obama's moves to improve relations and strengthen private enterprise and civil society on the island.

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That includes U. Cuba has historically imposed heavy regulations on the Internet and private business as it has blamed the U.

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Vidal said the U. The opening is an opportunity to show what the country can do unshackled, she said. When have you seen a negative response to the American government removing any type of restriction? Cuba is waiting to see exactly how the Obama administration will implement the changes, she said. Obama's announcement included a very general list of reforms and left a series of open questions about how far the U. The Commerce and Treasury departments are expected to begin publishing details of the new measures in coming weeks, changes that will include relaxation of the stringent rules governing American travel to Cuba.

Vidal said Cuba would only know how it would manage its end of the new relationship once the American government plan was clearer.