By Carlos “Carlito” Rovira
Since the earliest human societies, people have used animal images to express their beliefs. Painting animals on pottery, garments and cave walls arose from ritual notions about the power of this imagery.
With the development of class society, animal symbols took on new meaning. Animal characteristics have been interpreted in folklore to explain the miserable reality of the poor or to justify social privileges for wealthy rulers.
Leading capitalists like J.P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie promoted Herbert Spencer’s “social Darwinism” during the rise of imperialism. This “theory” described the exploited and oppressed as “weaker species”, etc.
Moreover, the predatory bald eagle was chosen to glorify a government that sanctioned genocide and African chattel slavery.
On the other hand, the oppressed have also used symbols, in this case to express their resistance. One famous example is the “Two Wings of the Same Bird” concept. This metaphor was created by the legendary Puerto Rican revolutionary literary and poet Lola Rodriguez De Tio. It was later on used in musical rendition by Cuban poet and revolutionary leader Jose Marti. It describes the historical relationship of solidarity between Cuba and Puerto Rico.
Since some of the most beautiful birds in the world inhabit the Caribbean, it was easy for Lola Rodriguez De Tio to use this life form as poetic symbolism in revolutionary politics. The “bird” she described is made up of the island countries of the Greater Antilles — the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Jamaica, with Cuba and Puerto Rico on opposite ends of the region, functioning as wings.
The concept of a Caribbean federation of nations originated from the Haitian Revolution. For most of the 1800’s Haiti was the beacon of revolution in the Western Hemisphere, like what the Soviet Union was during the early part of the Twentieth Century.
Ramon Emeterio Betances, who was of African descent himself, was the symbolic leader of the 1868 El Grito De Lares uprising in Puerto Rico. He had a deep respect for the ideals of the Haitian struggle. Coupled with the political commonalities Betances had with Lola Rodriguez De Tio, his trusted comrade, is likely what motivated her poetic expression of “Two Wings of the Same Bird”.
Both Lola Rodriguez De Tio and Jose Marti were internationalists and expressed revolutionary traditions in poetic form. De Tio and Marti identified with all anti-colonial struggles in addition to having a special affection for the liberation struggles of each other’s country, which shared a common suffering under Spanish tyranny.
In the early 1860s revolutionaries from both countries secretly met in a hotel on Broome Street in New York City to form the Society for the Independence of Cuba & Puerto Rico.
Members of this group helped facilitate the 1868 “El Grito De Lares” uprising. Under the leadership of Ramon Emeterio Betances, African slaves, workers and peasants all did their part to build the efforts for this battle. When their attempt for independence failed, about 2000 Puerto Rican rebels went to Cuba to continue the fight against Spanish colonialism. Among the Puerto Ricans to join this venture was Juan Rius Rivera, who became a commander in the Cuban rebel army.
Caribbean People Fight for Cuban & Puerto Rican freedom
Haitians, Dominicans, Jamaicans and Puerto Ricans were among the insurgents who fought in El Grito De Lares and Cuba’s El Grito De Yara, both in 1868. This inspired Jose Marti to preserve the use of the “two wings” metaphor.
Marti recognized the threat a rising U.S. imperialist power would pose to the Caribbean peoples. His wish for a united Caribbean federation was based on a calculated necessity. Familiar with the atrocities the U.S. rulers committed against the oppressed at home, Marti knew he could expect no better treatment from the United States than from Spain.
In 1895 Cuban revolutionaries launched a war for independence. They were gaining the upper hand in the war against Spain. But in 1898 their efforts were interrupted when the United States invaded Cuba, Guam, the Philippines and Puerto Rico.
Two years later on March 24, 1897 Puerto Ricans attempted once again to use force in their quest for freedom at the uprising known as “Intentona de Yauco.”
Jose Marti died in 1895. He never saw his wish for a free Cuba in a Caribbean federation come true.
But thanks to the 1959 Cuban Revolution, his ideals remain alive today. Although Puerto Rico and Cuba live under opposite social systems, there is still solidarity between the peoples of the “two wings.”
Cuba’s revolutionary government has officially recognized Puerto Rico’s independence struggle. It even established an “Office of Puerto Rico.”
Cuba has also given political asylum to Puerto Rican anti-colonial fighters sought by the U.S. government. At the United Nations, Cuba has fought for world recognition of Puerto Rico’s historical struggle for independence and self-determination.
Many Puerto Ricans return this solidarity by continuing to break the criminal U.S. blockade against Cuba, traveling there from Puerto Rico itself. For decades these anti-colonialists travel back and forth to Cuba.
The oppressed peoples’ drive to unite and maintain such traditions in their common struggle is a vital weapon to end U.S. imperialism’s rule. No country in the world has remained committed and firm in their solidarity to Puerto Rico’s struggle for national liberation than Cuba.