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News > Latin America

5 Anti-Colonial Caribbean Leaders That You've Never Heard Of

  • Queen Nanny of the Maroons, Jamaica

    Queen Nanny of the Maroons, Jamaica | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Published 22 April 2016

To mark World Anti-Colonialism day, teleSUR presents five Caribbean leaders who fought bravely against slavery, fascism and colonialism.

1. Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Emperor of Haiti

Wikimedia commons

François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture is perhaps the best-known leader of the Haitian revolution (1791-1804), and although he styled Haiti into what was essentially an autonomous colony after years of French rule, he never declared independence from France.

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Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Toussaint Louverture's successor, did declare independence from France in 1804, after successfully fending off a huge French force sent to restore colonial rule in Haiti, which was the most profitable colony in the world at the time.

That same year, Dessalines declared himself emperor of Haiti, and ruled in that capacity until his assassination in 1806.

Dessalines also defeated forces from the Spanish and British empires in his career, making him one of the few anti-colonialist leaders to defeat the three leading colonial powers of his era.

Regrettably, Dessalines had much blood on his hands. He was responsible for the 1804 Haiti massacre, which resulted in the eradication of the White minority. Between 3,000 and 5,000 people were killed.

2. Lolita Lebron of Puerto Rico

Lolita Lebron was a Puerto Rican nationalist who had a political awakening in 1937 at the age of 18. A group of Puerto Rican activists working for independence from the United States were marching against the imprisonment of a leader in their movement, and police officers opened fire on the peaceful demonstration, killing 19 civilians. This event became known as the Ponce Massacre, and it planted the seeds of rebellion on her mind.

Her activism and political activities grew, and by 1954, she was ready to fight for an independent Puerto Rico. She and three compatriots bearing pistols stormed the U.S. Congress, which was full of legislators debating an immigration bill, screaming "Viva Puerto Rico Libre!"

Several congressmen were wounded, and Lebron was apprehended and convicted of attempted murder and other crimes. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter pardoned her after spending 25 years in prison.

She died in 2010 at the age of 90.

3. Frantz Fanon of Martinique

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Frantz Fanon was born in 1925 in the French colony of Martinique. By the time he was in high school, World War II was raging, and France had fallen to Hitler. French sailors blockaded on the Caribbean island took over the government from the Martinique people, and established a racist, collaborationist regime.

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Fanon's distaste for colonial racism was only reinforced by the regime, and he fled to British-controlled Dominique to join the Free French Army, which fought against the puppet Vichy regime. Fanon traveled as far as Algeria in his battle against Fascist French forces.

Fanon was also a noted psychiatrist and Marxist intellectual. After the end of WWII, he continued writing on the psychiatric effects of decolonization. His work influenced national liberation movements in places like Algeria and Palestine.

He died of leukemia in 1961.

4. C. L. R. James of Trinidad

C. L. R. James was an Afro-Trinidadian revolutionary born in 1901. He is known for early rejection of Stalinism, support of revolutionary anti-colonialist movements for oppressed people across the world, and his journalistic and historical texts concerning important revolutionary events such as the Haitian revolution.

He was deeply involved in revolutionary movements, even meeting Leon Trotsky during his exile in Mexico in 1939. James spent time developing new currents of Marxist thought in relation to Black liberation in the U.S., U.K. and the Caribbean.

By the 1950s, he had returned to his birthplace, and continued working as a leftist journalist for The Beacon, a pro-independence publication in Trinidad.

James died in the U.K. in 1989, after being awarded an honorary doctorate for his socio-political work.

5. Queen Nanny of the Maroons, Jamaica

Wikimedia Commons

Queen Nanny of the Maroons is one part historical fact, one part legend. She was active 18th century, fighting against British enslavement of her people in Jamaica. She lead the Maroons, slaves who escaped British rule and established free colonies in the mountains of the Caribbean nation. There is little written about her. Most information survived via oral history.

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The Maroons fought back countless attacks from British forces attempting to re-enslave them, and Queen Nanny's leadership was instrumental in the Maroon's struggle to maintain freedom.

Queen Nanny is reported to have been from the Ashanti tribe in what is now Ghana. The tribe was known for its resistance to European enslavement, and the queen and her consorts set up society in the mountainous free colonies in a similar way to the Ashanti tribe.

The Maroons still exist today, and have a separate language and culture from the rest of Jamaica.

In 1976, Queen Nanny was named a national hero of Jamaica. Her likeness is featured on the Jamaican $500 dollar bill.

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