Caricature published by The Boston Globe on May 28, 1898. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

Washington – One day after the session of the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization on the Puerto Rican political situation, this Tuesday in Berlin, a group of experts will explore the consequences of the 1898 Spanish-American War in Puerto Rico and Cuba.

The conference is organized by Laura Katzman, a professor in the School of Art, Design and Art History at the James Madison University in Virginia, who is a Visiting Professor of American Art at the John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies at

Freie Universität Berlin (Berlin´s Free University).

"I have been studying Puerto Rico in the 1930s and 1940s, I thought this would be a good way to talk about Puerto Rico and Cuba, which have been in the news recently. Their relations with the United States are always difficult," Katzman said in a phone interview with El Nuevo Día.

Katzman said the Berlin conference is a good opportunity to discuss what was the beginning of the U.S. "imperialist ambitions."

Jessica Gienow-Hecht, a historian at Berlin's Free University, will be the main speaker and will explain how the intervention in Cuba was justified.

The list of speakers includes Jorge Duany, Director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University (FIU); Taína Caragol and Kate Lemay, curators at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery; anthropologist Amanda Guzmán (PhD candidate at the University of California, Berkeley); Joseph Hartman, architecture historian (University of Missouri); and art historian Kris Juncker, Smithsonian Institution Museum of African American Art.

The event will feature both references to traditional political discourse and the use of images to support it, as well as the emergence of yellow journalism to convince Americans that the Spanish deliberately blew up the US Navy battleship Maine.

In times of PROMESA, which has plunged Puerto Rico into its colonial situation, anthropologist Duany, former professor at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), said he will recall how "the U.S. colonial discourse", through images – caricatures, photographs, postcards, maps –, "represented the new possessions as backward, primitive and exotic and their inhabitants as immature, childish, effeminate and incapable of governing themselves."

"The premises of these representations come to light, for example, with the imposition of PROMESA in Puerto Rico, which has re-established a form of direct colonial government, similar to the one on the island between 1900 and 1917," said Duany, born in Cuba and raised in Puerto Rico and Panamá.

Right now, furthermore, the government of President Donald Trump has embarked on an effort to eliminate the advances of the Barack Obama administration in approaching Cuba.

In that sense, Duany indicated that "it is also possible to detect some traditional elements of the U.S. colonial discourse as justifying the recent increase of economic sanctions against Cuba under the Trump administration."

Puerto Rican Caragol and Lemay will discuss the exhibition "1898: The American Imperium", which they are organizing for 2023, on the 125th anniversary of the war and the U.S. invasion of Puerto Rico.

The exhibition will feature works of art and objects from the Smithsonian collections, along with those from Cuba, Guam, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Spain, and the Philippines.

This combination will shed new light on the power relations between the imperial power and its colonies, focusing on victors and the victims on each side, and encouraging visitors to consider the long-term impact of this story, they explained in a statement.


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