Ch 6: The Downfall of Weyler

El Gran Espanol is dead. The rumour travelled from mouth to mouth in Havana on August 6th, despite the attempted suppression of the news of the assassination of the Spanish Premier, Antonio Cánovas del Castillo. Little did the anarchist who dealt the fatal blow realise that he was striking away the main pillar of Weylerism, and bringing down the whole fabric with a crash.
   Azcarraga's futile attempt to hold the reins passed, and the Liberal Party assumed power. Then, though no paper dare print the story, it was generally known that Weyler was to be recalled, and either Campos or Blanco would reign in his stead. The recall came on October 6th, 1897. Every one rejoiced but the volunteers; the loyal Lastituto was furious when the complete reversal of the Cuban policy was determined by Sagasta, who had long foreseen that American intervention could be prevented only by drastic measures. When autonomy was talked of, they swore to prevent it by force of arms. Indignant manifestos were posted through the city, calling all loyal Spaniards: to employ specific and active force to combat such humiliation of Spain by a weak ministry. Weyler publicly made paralipsical speeches of self-glorification to foster these sentiments, hoping the determined attitude of the volunteers, by established precedent, would coerce the Madrid government to retain him as Captain-General.
   It seemed that October would innovate a reign of terror in Cuban cities; but Sagasta promptly cabled a threat to disarm the volunteers in case of disaffection, holding Weyler responsible for all disorder. Unused to such firm opposition, the egregious loyalists wavered, and Weyler, realizing that in playing with fire, he had nearly kindled a flame against the government that he could not control, quieted the turbulent spirits, and retired to the steamship "Montserrate," three days before General Blanco's arrival. Thus a rising of Spaniards in Cuba against Spain was narrowly averted. Any disturbances then would have precipitated a general massacre of Cubans in the city. The volunteers had long threatened a sort of St. Bartholomew's Eve, and for three weeks noted colonials who had taken no part in the rebellion dared not venture on the streets.
   Weyler and his party took to Spain the spoils of the campaign, and the president of the Spanish Bank in Havana committed suicide to evade the crisis which he was left to face.
   Don Ramon Blanco landed on Sunday, October 1st and was received in ominous silence. He little realised the bitterness of the Cubans against Spain that Weyler had fostered, and optimistically spoke of an early end of the reconcentration, and the disintegration of the insurgent forces, when they found a liberal home rule was instituted. He soon discovered his to be a thankless task. The Spaniards were opposed to him. The Cubans had fought for nearly three years for an ideal, they had previously been bitterly tricked by the Zanjon treaty, and had no further faith left in Spanish promises. They promptly rejected the new measures. The handful of autonomists in Havana assumed office, but they were either exaltados (extreme liberals), or Cubans who favoured Independence, but were eager to accept half measures peaceably. Marcus Garcia, appointed Civil Governor of Santa Clara, was a rebel general in the last war. Senor Galvez and Dr. Bruson had no love for Spanish control, and the latter had been a powerful enemy to Weyler. Senores Giberga and Govin had brothers in the insurrection, and had both been forced to leave Cuba through political persecution. These men formed the Cabinet under the autonomic regime.
   The chief official positions were given to Cubans, and Blanco instituted radical changes, despite the opposition of the Peninsulars. The entire change of officials in Havana made it again possible for me to move freely in the city. The English wife of one of the officials arranged for me to meet the prominent members of the new Cabinet, and I was thus able to obtain exceedingly clear ideas of the reforms. On November 6th, I had long interviews with General Pando and President Galvez. The former evidently knew the absolute impossibility of pacification, the latter thought the insurgents would accept the measures, when they found them genuine. Other officials were not so optimistic. We, who knew the attitude of the Cubans in the field, realised the impotence of autonomy either in checking the rebellion or aiding the reconcentrados.
   The starving patriots never wavered, and only two brothers named Cuervo, unimportant leaders, surrendered with a handful of war-worn sans culottes, though money and position were offered to all who came in. The Cubans knew Spain's perfidy too well, and while they trusted Blanco's good faith, they could not trust the government behind him.
   With a view of inducing further surrenders, envoys were despatched to offer bribes to various unimportant leaders to desert their generals and accept autonomy. Gomez published a general order that such envoys captured inciting desertion would be treated as spies and shot. If his followers wished to desert their flag, there was little to prevent their presenting themselves at the nearest town. Undeterred by this order, a Spanish engineer named Ruiz, colonel of the Fire Brigade, and a general favourite, offered to induce his former chum, Nestor Aranguren, to come in with his command. As a member of the Union Club I knew and esteemed Ruiz, and as General Rodriguez had sent me a copy of the proclamation of Gomez respecting such envoys, I showed him this. Ruiz laughed, saying, "Nestor will never shoot an old friend." Two days later he rode into the insurgent camp near Jaruco, and was welcomed by Aranguren, who had no suspicion of the purport of his visit. Then, in the presence of the whole command, Ruiz urgently pressed the Cubans to accept the generous autonomy of Spain, adding that in exchange for their terrible privations, comforts and employment awaited all who would come in with him to Havana and surrender.
   "You will come, my friend?" he said, turning to Aranguren. The young Cuban replied sadly: "You were my friend, but you tempted us to betray our country and to desert our general. You are now my prisoner." A court-martial was formed; and though Aranguren advocated mercy, the other officers stated that it was necessary to show that their orders must be respected and Spain taught a salutary lesson. Despite the prohibition, Ruiz, presuming on his friendship, had attempted to induce desertion and must pay the penalty. The poor fellow was shot at sundown. The sentence was terribly harsh, but just.
   I re-crossed the lines next day with great difficulty, and Castillo moved to Managua. Three days later, he was betrayed by a traitor, a Frenchman, who, on the plea of showing him some horses, led him and a few staff officers into an ambush commanded by Captain Ruano of the Artillery. He fell, shot through the heart, and two others perished also. Young Delgado spurred his horse through the civil guards, hacking one down, and escaping with a cut from the other that nearly severed his arm. I soon saw my poor friend's body carted through Havana, exposed to the gibes of the Spanish mob. A bribe secured me a closer inspection in the Morgue. The fatal shot had been fired so close that the charge had blown gaps in the flesh, and charred the wound. With machetes the Spanish assassins had then hacked the head to a jelly. Castillo was only twenty six.
   Several chiefs of the Havana district followed him. Colonel Urra, a brave but not a highly educated young officer, was betrayed and killed in a hospital six miles from the capital. The following week Colonel Piterra was killed in battle, and some weeks later a Negro deserter led a Spanish column to a rebel prefect's house in the woods where Aranguren was visiting that morning, to write and receive despatches. A file of men could easily have surprised and captured the young officer alive; but two battalions of soldiers commanded by Colonel Benidicto, fired volleys through the palm leaf walls of the house, killing the prefect, his aged mother, and baby, and dangerously wounding his wife and eldest daughter. Aranguren also fell wounded, and was prodded to death by the bayonets of the valorous soldiery. Thus perished the "Marion of Cuba," at the age of twenty three, under the humane rule that was to conciliate the Cubans. And Spain protested against the Cuban brutality that tried and shot Ruiz for a crime that is death in any army.
   General Blanco did try to institute a more humane policy; the fault lay with his officers. He liberated numbers of political prisoners, the "Competitor" crew included; capital punishment for rebels was abolished, and even the leader, Rius Rivera, was offered liberty, on condition that he would advocate autonomy. He and Colonel Bacallo refused absolutely to do this. Other charges were then formulated against the colonel, but General Pando visited Rivera in prison, and begged him in a friendly way to accept Blanco's simple conditions. Obdurate to the last, though, Rivera replied, "My liberty is dear, but my country is dearer; I will never betray it." He was shipped to Spain. Dr. Congosto in person told me that he would be given provisional liberty in the Peninsula; but he was incarcerated in the terrible Montjuich, and suffered severely until released with other prisoners of war when peace was declared.
   Senor Canalejas visited Cuba in the late autumn on a diplomatic mission, and in the interests of his newspaper "El Heraldo." He accompanied a column under General Bernal that attacked Ducasse in the Cuzco Hills, and visited the reconcentrado settlements. He came optimistic, was soon doubtful, and left with pessimistic views of the situation. As a humane and intelligent Spaniard, he expressed his views openly to me, in three interviews that appeared simultaneously in the "London Chronicle" and "New York Journal."
   I had just taken a long tour through the island, visiting every settlement of consequence; and a report of these horrible conditions in Cuba caused much indignation in England. A meeting was held in London, protesting against the horrors of Spanish rule. This, together with the frank utterances of Canalejas, roused the ire of Senor De Lome, the Spanish Minister in Washington, who had previously been greatly disturbed by an editorial in the "Sun" of July 29th regarding my investigations. He wrote a letter to Senor Canalejas, from which I extract freely:
The situation here remains unchanged. The prologue of this second method of warfare will end the day that the Colonial Cabinet is appointed, and it relieves us in the eyes of this country of a part of the responsibility of what happens, and places it upon the heads of the Cubans they believe immaculate.
This has undeceived the insurgents, who expected something else; it has paralysed the action of Congress, but I consider it bad. Beside the natural and inevitable coarseness with which he repeats all the press said of Weyler, it shows McKinley is weak, and catering to the rabble, and beside, a politicastro (pot-house politician), who desires to stand in well with me and also the Jingoes of his party.
I do not believe you pay enough attention to the role of England. That English newspaper rabble-rouser at your hotel, corresponds not only with the Journal, but also with the best newspapers and reviews of London. It is most important that you should agitate the question of commercial relations, even though it is only for effect, and you should send a man here that I might use to make a propaganda among senators and others in opposition to the Junta and to win over exiles.
Always your attentive friend and servant who kisses your hand.
Eugene Dupoy de Lome
   Senor Canalejas had accorded me full permission to publish his views both in New York and London, and stated that he hoped thereby to remove misunderstandings in both places. Such frankness did not accord with De Lome's dissemblance.
   Unfortunately for the minister, the letter was afterwards dropped in Havana, found by a Cuban, and forwarded to New York. Its publication led to his retirement in disgrace, for having insulted the president elect. He subsequently charged me with stealing the letter from the Hotel Inglaterra, though I was not in Havana at the time. Previously, being unable to disprove certain statements, he had cast puerile aspersions on my character, first representing me as a deserter from the British army, and later as a cashiered lieutenant. Since I had an honourable discharge for injuries sustained in the Queen's service, and being neither politician nor public character, his reflections were immaterial. On December 6th, I started through the island by rail, and shall never forget the sights I witnessed, /moving from town to town. Settlements I had visited in June containing five thousand reconcentrados had now but five hundred emaciated wretches on the last verge of starvation. In Matanzas City twenty five dead bodies, many of them women and girls, were collected in the streets in a single morning, and flung into a common grave. The photograph I took of the scene was too indecent for publication. On the "centrals," in the towns and villages, on the railroads, it was the same story; oppression, starvation, disease, and death. The uncertainty of life, the preponderance of pain over pleasure, and the malignity of human existence in this great age of progress, were truisms forcibly thrust on one in Cuba.
   The President's December message, advising further delay, that the efficacy of autonomy in restoring peace and prosperity to Cuba could be tested before intervention took place, was plainly the death-knell to the dying residue of the half -million people dispossessed by Weyler. General Blanco solicited aid to relieve the distress. His army was nine months in arrears, the officials were long unpaid, and the meagre subscriptions collected were sequestered long before reaching the reconcentrados. He provided large zones for cultivation, but the people were too weak to till the ground, and then weeks must have elapsed even for the growth of the succulent tubers so easily raised in Cuba. It was impossible for the people to return to their devastated farms; their houses were destroyed, crops and stock gone. Spain's impotence was obvious. With her exhausted treasury, the insurgents saw the futility of her promises and refused to surrender.
   Some brutal Spaniards still ill-treated the hapless reconcentrados and shameful atrocities continued in the field when Sagasta was loudly proclaiming his policy of peace and good-will toward the rebels. Among many I can vouch for, the murder of Senor Sardovar, the Insurgent Civil Governor of Havana, and his wife, and the abduction of his daughter, by guerillas at Juraco on December 8th, '97, were the worst. The eldest girl, Corinne, seventeen years old, has never been traced; the mutilated body of Eloise, aged fifteen, was found at the foot of a cliff by a newly arrived and humane Spanish officer of the Tapaste garrison. Captain Jose Nestares. Searching further, he discovered the youngest girl, Celina, aged five, lying stunned and bruised in the bushes. He sent the child to the Paula hospital, the body to the morgue. The little one soon recovered consciousness, and told a revolting story of the murder of her parents, and the treatment of her sisters which culminated in the death of Eloise. The child had clung screaming to her sister's corpse, so was struck on the head and thrown over the cliff with it. The bushes had miraculously broken the descent. Celina is now in the Cuban Home in Key West.
   The day before I arrived in Santa Domingo, an aged pacifico passed the lines to the zona in search of food, and failing to return by sunset, slept outside. At five o’clock, he was found sleeping not one hundred yards from the forts by guerillas, and dragged in. At the railroad crossing the leader, in the presence of the military commandante and the old man's daughter and her two children, swore that he would teach these dogs to stay outside and talk to rebels, and with a vicious lunge, drove his sword through the old man's body. I saw that corpse just before it was buried. I returned from Santa Clara with Mr. Madrigal, United States Consul to Columbia, and he and his assistant can vouch for the unburied bodies being torn to pieces by vultures, and of women and children dying by the railroad track.
   The countryside was inhabited with spectres. The real-life scenes were as pages torn from the "Inferno." The shame of it; that under the shadow of Free America the despairing cry of these innocent people should have passed unheeded until too late!
   The President in his December message asked Congress to allow Spain time to test the efficacy of autonomy in restoring peace to Cuba. Many friends of the islanders realised that the reforms were futile. In 1895 autonomy might have been applied as a national prophylactic for rebellion; Weylerism had made the disease chronic, and ultimate death to Spanish sovereignty inevitable. It was evident, from the attitude of the Cuban leaders, that compromise was too late. Despite the blows dealt their cause, the robust energy of their faith, and hope, which Voltaire says is God's greatest gift to man, had sustained them through the past, and would sustain them until their penultimate object, the withdrawal of Spain, was accomplished.
   The situation was anomalous; the Spanish legions could not subdue the colonials, neither could the latter expel the legions by force of arms. But endurance in the end would win the day; fever, food, and finance presented problems that must sooner or later overwhelm the Spanish army. But from Spanish sources roseate reports of impending disintegration, coloured by the surrender of a few war-worn patriots, led many in authority to believe the end of Cuba's struggle by the general acceptance of autonomy, was approaching.
   Senators and congressmen were discussing the matter in Washington. Upon the success or failure of autonomy, the whole question of intervention and almost certain war with Spain rested. It was suggested to a certain journalist that he should visit the Cuban leaders and ascertain their exact attitude. He declined, and then my name was suggested for the mission. Far more competent men would have been glad to go, but previous knowledge of the country was essential for success. Mr. Norman in London, and Mr. Hearst in New York were keenly interested in the issue, and warmly commended the mission to determine if the insurgents would or would not accept autonomy, and if there were any disposition of the under leaders and men to surrender.
   Upon receipt of a cipher message in Havana in December, I first applied for a pass from the Spanish authorities, pointing out that as they were unable to send envoys to the field, the actual attitude of the rebels, of extreme moment to them, might be obtained by issuing me a permit to cross their lines. Knowing full well the firm attitude of the rebels, and not unnaturally wishing to hide the truth from the United States, that permission was refused, but without comment. I had anticipated this, and two days later I started on my mission in Pinar del Rio.

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