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Human Rights and Slavery in Cuba by Alexander Humboldt
Cuba 1800
Slavery is, without doubt, the greatest of all the evils ever to have befallen mankind, whether one considers the slave who is torn away from his family in his place of origin and thrown into the hold of a ship converted into a slave-trading vessel or whether he is seen as part of a hoard of black people who are herded together on the soils of the Antilles; nevertheless, the degree of suffering and deprivation endured also varies in individual cases.

What a difference there is between a slave who lives in the house of a rich man in Havana or is in service in Kingston (Jamaica) or works for his own account and pays his master no more than a daily wage and the slave in servitude on a sugar plantation! The degrees of human deprivation can be seen from the threats which are used against unruly Negroes. The classier (coachman) is threatened with the caftan (coffee plantation), the slave working on the coffee plantation with work on the sugar plantation. On the latter, the Negro who has a woman and lives in a separate hut, who finds the tender care and attention he needs in the bosom of a poor family following a day`s work, has an infinitely better fate than the isolated slave who is one of the anonymous masses.

The differences in situation and circumstances will not be known to those who have not seen the Antilles for themselves. The growing improvements, including improvements in the situation of the slaves themselves make apparent how the luxurious life of the masters and the possibility of earning a wage drew over 80,000 slaves into the towns on the island of Cuba and how the setting free of slaves, which has been helped by wise legislation, proved to be so effective that, to remain with the present epoch, there are now over 130,000 free coloured persons. Assuming careful discussion of the peculiar situation of each class, it may be possible for the colonial administration to improve the lot of the Negroes by rewarding diligence, devotion to work and domestic virtues in proportion to the deprivations suffered. The purpose of philanthropy should not be `to hand out a little more dried cod and fewer stokes of the lash`; a genuine improvement in the servant class must include all physical and moral aspects of the individual.

The impetus for this can, however, only come from those European governments which have a feeling for human dignity and know that every injustice contains a seed of destruction; however, this impetus will (something which is regrettable to be sure) remain without impact unless the owners as a whole, the colonial administrations or legislatures share the same views and work together following a carefully thought-out plan for the purpose of abolishing slavery throughout the Antilles.


by Alexander Von Humboldt, Networks of Knowledge
Article ID 121
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