The following article was prepared by Daniel I. Pedreira – political historian, author, and President of Cuban Cultural Heritage. The article is a part of the Le Flambeau Foundation Heritage Educational Series.
By Daniel I. Pedreira, September 9, 2018
The dawn of the 19th century paved the way for an era of independence for the peoples of the Western Hemisphere. Inspired by the ideals and events of the American War of Independence, people across the continent sought to break their colonial shackles and become citizens of a new society.
Beginning with Haiti’s independence in 1804, Latin American countries began to emerge during the first decades of the 19th century. Their European colonial masters, weakened by the Napoleonic wars, found it difficult to keep an eye on affairs within their overseas realms.
Soon, independence leaders began to fight for a new beginning. Among the dreams that arose during this era was Gran Colombia (Grand Colombia). This republic was the project of Simon Bolivar, who envisioned a united American republic with common cultures and aspirations. Gran Colombia existed as an independent republic from 1819 until 1831, after which it divided into the present-day countries of Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Panama, as well as the areas of northern Peru, western Guyana, and northwest Brazil.
At the same time, Haiti served as a beacon of anti-slavery in a region where the institution was an integral part of everyday life. In 1825 and 1827, Haiti and Gran Colombia fought a war over the paradox of slavery.
War and uncertainty marked the early, formative years of the Western Hemisphere’s independent republics. Yet while Gran Colombia disappeared as a geographic space, the dream of a united, sovereign, free, and democratic American continent remained alive. Soon, conflict turned into cooperation.
During his exile in the U.S., Cuban poet and patriot José Martí wrote his famous work Nuestra America (Our America), in which he further elaborated on the vision of a unified American continent. By the end of the 19th century, the American republics came together to form the Pan American Union, an expanded version of Gran Colombia that included all the nations of the Hemisphere.
Cuba formally entered this concert of nations in 1902, further strengthening continental cooperation. Soon, Latin American and Caribbean countries began to accelerate the level of collaboration among them. This collaboration was evident in the numerous regional and international conferences held during the early- to mid-20th century and the agreements that emerged from them, among them the 1945 Chapultepec Conference, the 1947 Rio Conference, and the 1948 Bogota Conference, where the Organization of American States was established. Haiti played a crucial role in all of these conferences.
Haiti also became a key player in the development and ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which drew upon centuries of abuse and repression to develop a framework for equal justice and respect around the world. Haiti’s delegate to the United Nations, Emile Saint-Lôt, was appointed Rapporteur of the UN conference that developed the human rights charter.
While often not considered a Latin American nation due to its French colonial background, Haiti has been a key player in the Western Hemisphere’s quest to establish a regional system based on Gran Colombia. Without Haiti’s active participation in the struggle for freedom, justice, and equality, the Western Hemisphere would be very different today.
Daniel I. Pedreira is completing a new book titled “An Instrument of Peace: The Full-Circled Life of Ambassador Guillermo Belt Ramirez.”, which is to be published in 2019. It is a biography on Ambassador Guillermo Belt, Cuba’s Ambassador to the U.S. and to the U.S.S.R., as well as Cuba’s signer of the UN and OAS Charters.