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After major upheavals in the United States and France, the Haitian Revolution ended in 1804 with a republic of African descent, but "left a gap in sugar production, which Cuba strove to fill," said Dr. Ada Ferrer from New York University, who compared the two countries as declining and growing slave societies, respectively.

At the Juan Marinello Cuban Institute for Cultural Investigation, she discussed "material, urgent and intimate" transactions of Spanish troops deployed from Cuba in Haiti against the French, and how they would illegally buy slaves to take back with them.

Ambiguous situations and illicit trade abounded between the nations as they defined themselves against colonial rule, which opened opportunities for a 19th century "with different limits," said Dr. Rebecca Scott from the University of Michigan.

With compelling micro histories of that turbulent time, she discussed the tenuous negotiations which people used to move from slavery to freedom and sometimes back again.

Based on documents discovered in 2005, she traced to the turn of last century data of the lives of normal civilians fleeing Haiti to Cuba with unclear legal status.

Captain's lists for ships of passengers categorized as servants or slaves were subject to interpretation, giving rise to extreme situations like people being forced to return to slavery after having lived a decade of freedom, she explained.

A Cuban participant commented on the humiliation of forced African emigrants bearing the last names of their new world owners, and it could be said that a slave is the ultimate Other.

Dr. Scott cited valiant attempts to redefine that alterity in the colonizing consciousness that created it, like legislating limits on physical punishment of slaves.

Prensa Latina commented on the value of sharing those untold stories of people seeking dignified positions and Scott said it is not only a case of "subaltern voices, rather a whole series of apparatuses to resist, including bureaucracy."

Fernando Martinez Heredia of the Marinello Institute applauded the courage of these border intellectuals, who on this Cuban foray abstained from direct political reference.

For that, Scott pointed to the March 2008 A More Perfect Union speech by Barack Obama, a son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas.

In that text he said the unfinished US Constitution was stained by slavery, and only a powerful coalition of African Americans and white Americans can finish it, two-hundred and twenty one years later.


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