Sitios de Memoria

Rapporteur’s Report on the Meeting of Experts on Places of Memory of “The Slave Route” in the Latin Caribbean


On behalf of the delegates from the Latin Caribbean (Aruba, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Haiti), Mrs. Risoris Silvestre (Dominican Republic) read the Rapporteur’s Report on the Meeting, held in Havana, Cuba on 17 – 19 May 2006. 

The meeting opened on May 17, at 10:00 a.m. Dr. Alberto Granados, Director of the Museum of Africa (Casa de Africa) registered in the Office of the Historian of Havana, delivered the opening remarks to inaugurate the opening session. Dr. Fernando Rojas, Chairman of the National Council of Houses of Culture, representing Dr. Marta Arjona Pérez, president of the National Commission for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage and of the National Council for Cultural Heritage of Cuba.

As UNESCO representative, Mr. Frédéric Vacheron, Program Specialist for Culture of the Regional Office for Culture in Latin America and the Caribbean, made the opening remarks on behalf of Mr. Herman van Hooff, Director of the UNESCO Havana Office.

After the inaugural meeting, the working session began with the Presentations of Activities Related with the Slave Trade and Slavery by the Member States of the Latin Caribbean Cluster and the UNESCO Kingston Office, chaired by Dr. Jesús Guanche (Cuba).
Ms. Patricia Green, UNESCO Consultant, representing the UNESCO Kingston Office, made a presentation on the Inventory of Places of Memory and the Identification of World Heritage Sites.

Among the recommendations made by Ms. Green on this issue, were the effective application of the Plan of Action of the Barbados Meeting of the year 2000 and its insertion in the Portal of Culture of Latin America and the Caribbean and the implementation of Youth Path, a Project of the UNESCO Kingston Office aimed at young people between 15 and 25 years of age belonging to poor communities, whose objective is, among others, to train young people in the development and documentation of natural and cultural heritage so that those places or sites be turned into local and international tourist centers so young people can develop abilities in the generation of income.       

She also suggested working for a wider interaction, as from now, between UNESCO Havana and Kingston Offices to jointly explore the possibilities of extra-budgetary funding aimed at strengthening the regular program of each Cluster. 

Dr. Guanche (Cuba), researcher from the Fundación Fernando Ortiz, made the Methodological Presentation of the Cuban Experience in the Elaboration of its Mapping of the “Slave Route.”  During his exposition he also presented an evaluation of the main results achieved during the ten-year period (1994-2004) on the issue of Memory, Promotion of Live Cultures and Education programs.

He also proposed the development of projects to improve the study, not only of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, but of the Trans-American and Trans-Caribbean one, and the incidence of the latter two in the identity and cultural development of the region.

Representing the Dominican Republic, Dr. Clenis Tavárez, from the Museo del Hombre Dominicano, and Mrs. Risoris Silvestre, Director for Cultural Tourism from the Department of State for Culture, made their presentations.

Dr. Tavárez based her presentation on the work currently underway, with the collaboration of Ms. Olga Diez Ascaso, from the University of Barcelona, in the Inventory and First Diagnosis of the Slave Route and Marronage in the Dominican Republic, where there are still many places to be identified. She also underlined the deep influence left by African slaves in practically all the cultural manifestations of Dominican culture and in its national identity.
Ms. Silvestre explained the implementation, in the Dominican Republic, of a Plan for the Inventories of Places of Memory, including the Slave Route, in each of the seven existing tourist clusters throughout the country, in order to organize tourist/cultural routes. The plan includes work to increase awareness of cultural promoters, entrepreneurs and of the community associated with these places so that they may be able to see tourism not only as a source of income, but also as a vehicle for the development and dissemination of culture.

Mr. Laennec Hurbon, representative of Haiti and Chairman of the National Committee of the Haitian Slave Route, made his presentation on the Places of Memory in Haiti.

He underlined that with the triumph of the 1791 insurrection, Santo Domingo-Haiti represent the starting point in the great chain of slavery during the XIX Century. Based on this, Haiti can be considered one of the privileged abolitions places of memory of slavery and its abolition. He mentioned that UNESCO considered it as such when it declared the year 2004, Year of the Bicentennial of the Haitian Independence, as the Year for the Commemoration of the Fight against Slavery and its Abolition, and when it proclaimed August 23rd, date of the Insurrection of Santo Domingo, as the date to commemorate the abolition of slavery throughout the world.

Mr. Hurbon also presented five projects under way in Haiti regarding the rehabilitation of five large sugar mills close to the capital; rehabilitation of the fortifications in the city of Dessalines; inventory of places of slave rebellions throughout the country; consolidation of the UNESCO Chair on the History of the Slave Trade and Slavery and the establishment of a Museum of the History of Slavery, for which two feasibility studies have already been carried out.

Mr. Luc Alofs, Curator of the Aruba Museum of National History, emphasized that in his country there is still a long way to go in the inventory of places of memory, that the Project could enable the recognition of the specific problem of slavery in Aruba.   

He explained that among the factors characterizing slavery in Aruba, was its climate, which prevented the establishment of plantations. The slave population was always scarce (never more than 21.6% of the population) and slaves were treated with relative indulgence.

The cultural heritage of slavery in Aruba was seen in its language, its music and in the patronymics adopted by slave-descending families.  

With the presentation of Mr. Alofs the morning working session came to an end.

During the afternoon session, chaired by Mr. Hurbon (Haiti), the Launching of the Project Places of Memory of “The Slave Route” in the Latin Caribbean, was made by Mr. Frédéric Vacheron and Ms. Grazia Piras (UNESCO-Havana).

Immediately after Mr. Nilson Acosta, UNESCO Consultant, made a detailed presentation of the Methodological Documents to draft the Cluster’s Action Plan:

  • Methodological Instruction for the implementation of the Project Places of Memory of “The Slave Route” in the Latin Caribbean”
  • Form to Register Information on the Places of Memory of “The Slave Route” in the Latin Caribbean
  • Hard Copy Form
  • Working Chronogram.

 The Chairman of the meeting opened the discussion of the documents with the following interventions:

Dr. Jesús Guanche (Cuba) proposed that before the application of the methodology, meetings be held at national level with the specialists involved.

Ms. Patricia Green, from the UNESCO Kingston Office, commended the Consultants for their work. She suggested that the experts in charge of the follow-up of the project should take into account the results of the different meetings held on the matter at the Caribbean level to integrate the conclusions adopted, particularly in the field of terminology and methodology, and she recommended that the cooperation between the two Offices should continue with the implementation of this project. 

Dr. Miguel Barnet (Cuba), Chairman of the Fundación Fernando Ortiz and member of the International Committee of the “Slave Route” Project, also commended the Consultant and his team, authors of what is in his opinion, a methodology applicable in any country with these monuments and legacy, as something alive in their cultures. 

Regarding item III of the Register, in his opinion a Characterization of the Bearer Community was needed, not only from the physical point of view, but we should go into an in-depth interaction of the social dynamics; the way in which life was developed and the relations between the community and ethnic groups; how their carried out their day-to-day life, their customs and how that culture contributed to the final identity of those nations and peoples.

It is important that they are seen not only as cold structures or relics: because these human beings who were abducted and brought to America also throbbed with life, and where they left here an extraordinary legacy that we must record: not only to see the wounds, but also register the cultural, economic and historic contribution of those men and women who that suffered slavery.

Mr. Hurbon (Haiti) suggested that each country should apply the register according to their own context, and analyze the results of the different meetings of the Caribbean on the subject.

Mr. Luc Alofs (Aruba) made some observations to the Short-Term Objectives  contained in the Concept Paper of the Project Places of Memory of the Slave Route in the Latin Caribbean, among which we can mention the following: the development of educational programs, and programs for culture and tourism; the exchange of experiences on the archives of memory, strengthening their preservation and to microfilm and digitize the information contained, which will enable its conservation and exchange; to define the extent of the concept of oral traditions and tourist culture, and the close link between what is tangible and what is intangible.

After a broad debate session, Mr. Hurbon (Haiti), Chairman of the Session, called for the adoption of the Concept Paper of the Project Places of Memory of the “Slave Route” in the Latin Caribbean and the Methodological Documents, together with the Working Chronogram, which were all adopted unanimously, taking into account the aforementioned suggestions.

During the May 18 morning session, chaired by Ms. Glenis Tavárez (Dominican Republic), other Projects Developed in the Framework of the “Slave Route” were submitted, not only by the Culture Sector of the Department of State for Culture, but also by other sectors (such as Communication and Education), to inform the delegates and stimulate possible interactions between the Project Places of Memory of the Slave Route in the Latin Caribbean and those mentioned before.
The projects presented by Cuba, the Multimedia “The Slave Route,” prepared by the Program of Schools Associated with UNESCO, and the Multimedia “The Slave Trade in Cuba through Relevant Documents from Its Archive,” of the National Archive of Cuba, are samples of the importance of the multisector scope of the Project of the Slave Route. 

The UNESCO Regional Office for Culture in Latin America and the Caribbean of presented two projects:

  • The Web Site of the “Network of Research Institutions on Afro-American Religions”, by Ms. Olga Rufins, National Professional Officer of the Culture Program.

Dr. Hurbon (Haiti) stated that as an example of the Network´s activity, a comparative study on religions in the region is being implemented in Haiti.

  • ORALIDAD magazine, by Mr. Víctor Marín, National Professional Officer of the Culture Program.

Immediately after, Presentations by the Observers to the Meeting were made: Ms. Olga Diez Ascano, from the University of Barcelona, presented the “Inventory and First Diagnosis of The Slave Route and Marronage in the Dominican Republic” and Mr. Lionel Jules Junga, from Curaçao, presented the work on “The Slave Route: The Curaçao case.”

At the end of the session, the Members of the Latin Caribbean Cluster held in a Working Meeting where they analyzed the relevance of the projects and initiatives presented as well as their possible application in their respective countries, reaching the following Conclusions:

  • They recognized the exemplary nature of the works developed on the subject by the National Archive of Cuba: Multimedia “The Slave Trade in Cuba through Relevant Documents from Its Archive,” and by the Schools Associated with UNESCO in Cuba: Multimedia Project “The Slave Route,” and expressed their desire to disseminate these experiences in the Cluster countries;
  • They also recommended to inform the Cluster countries about the Web Site of the “Network of Research Institutions on Afro-American Religions” and activate and incorporate into the Network information on their respective countries;
  • The Dominican delegation recognized the value of the work carried out by the University of Barcelona to list places of memory and indicated that the Sub-Department of State for Cultural Heritage of their country will coordinate possible cooperation with the University of Barcelona for the implementation of the Project;
  • The Members of the Latin Caribbean Cluster commended the presentation made by the representative of Curaçao and recommended the exchange of experiences between this country and Aruba during the implementation of the Project;
  • They also recommended strengthening exchanges between the UNESCO Offices in Havana and Kingston as well as with other Cluster Offices involved in the subject.

During the closing session, chaired by Mr. Luc Alofs (Aruba), held in the afternoon of May 18, the Rapporteur’s Report and conclusions were read and adopted. The session concluded with the interventions of Ms. Olga Dalmau, representing the Cuban National Commission for UNESCO, and of Mr. Frédéric Vacheron, on behalf of Mr. Herman van Hooff, Director of the UNESCO Regional Office for Culture in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The event concluded on May 19, 2006, when the delegates visited the Castillo de San Severino and other Places of Memory in the Province of Matanzas, the Cuban province with the largest presence of African slaves.

Havana, Cuba, May 19, 2006