Freedom's Mirror: Cuba and Haiti in the Age of Revolution, written by Ada Ferrer

Adriana Chira
2016 NWIG  
Scholars have long identified the Haitian Revolution as a turning point in the history of slavery in the Americas, a moment that ushered in ideologies of general emancipation as well as the entrenchment of more industrialized forms of human bondage. Freedom's Mirror evocatively explores this tension between turn-of-the-nineteenth-century radical ideologies of freedom emanating out of Haiti and the rise of "second slavery" in Cuba.1 In an effort to dispel the idea that the Haitian Revolution's
more » ... tian Revolution's presence in the Caribbean was confined to the symbolic field, Ada Ferrer illuminates concrete networks of exchange that proliferated between Cuba and Saint-Domingue after 1791. Partially helped by a diminished competitor, African captives, sugar-making machinery, and expertise imported from its convulsing neighbor, Cuba expanded its presence in the world sugar markets soon after the beginning of slave unrest on Hispaniola. But knowledge of the slave insurgency also trickled through the networks connecting Cuba and Saint-Domingue. "Freedom's mirror" is therefore a playful metaphor, for if Cuba's sugar revolution emerged out of Saint-Domingue's freedom struggle (and, as such, like any mirror projection, reversed the structure of the projected object), it also inadvertently carried within itself abolitionist radicalism. The book's first four chapters focus on the connections between Saint-Domingue and Cuba during the revolutionary tumult on Hispaniola; the final three examine the impact of these links after Haitian independence, during debates over Latin American independence and the abolition of the slave trade in the Cortes de Cádiz. Ferrer incorporates popular and elite politics to show that the transition from first to second slavery was fundamentally fraught, lacking the neatness that an economic narrative might suggest. Through its exploration of subaltern politics, Freedom's Mirror expands a growing corpus of intellectual and political histories of Afro-descendants. Ferrer pieces together evidence for the way Haiti might have triggered a revolution in black consciousness in Cuba. She therefore takes on the challenge of teasing out Afro-descendants' political and intellectual worlds from records whose elite authors deployed the prospect of a generalized slave insurrection to garner more concessions from the Spanish Crown. Her meditative and novel engagement with the Aponte conspiracy points to yet another challenge posed by this kind of history: the
doi:10.1163/22134360-09003020 fatcat:lmpxd44aurbazhbwxn6d2ywf7a