Patriota Entero y Santo Cubano”: The Political, Ideological, and Cultural Relevance of Félix Varela y Morales, 1959–2010

Saturday, January 4, 2014: 12:10 PM
Cabinet Room (Omni Shoreham)
Sitela Alvarez, Tulane University
Félix Varela y Morales, a nineteenth-century Cuban liberal priest who was the first to advocate for Cuban independence and abolition of slavery in Cuba, has received significant attention by Cubans in exile and on the island. Although originally marginalized by the ecclesiastical community during the Cuban Republic (1902-1958), after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution Varela was “rediscovered.” Throughout the Cuban Republic, most bishops were Cuban whereas the bulk of the clergy was Spanish. This perpetuated the marginalization of Varela and other Cuban clergy from previous centuries. Instead, much attention was placed on secular liberal intellectuals such as José Martí thus relegating Varela to a secondary role. However, the prominence and importance of Varela is just as great as that as of Martí. Remembered as the man who taught Cubans to think, Varela has been similarly debated, interpreted, reinterpreted, and manipulated since his lifetime. Scholarship has concentrated on his life and his influence on the emergence of cubanidad, however, like Martí he has been used as a legitimizing character in Cuban nationalism. This paper seeks to examine how Varela has been interpreted and reinterpreted since the Cuban Revolution. The Cuban government has portrayed Varela as an intellectual and “revolutionary,” dissidents and Cubans in exile as a social reformer and a proponent of democracy while the Cuban Catholic Church calls for his sainthood. These distinctive views also allow for the growing tensions to be debated while still determining the different nationalisms that have arisen in the latter half of the twentieth century. This also calls into question about the nationalisms at stake and if the location of cubanidad is not just geographical.
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