En route to Abu Dhabi and Dusseldorf, isn’t there a shorter way to Cuba? Anyway, that gave me more time to continue reading about my final destination. Luckily, Cuba in War Time by Richard Harding Davis is slim enough to tuck into my purse. This edifying tome was published in New York in 1898, shortly before the “USS Maine” was blown up at the Havana harbor. However, the author, a bit of a jingoist, was already clamoring for US intervention due to the atrocities caused by Spanish General Weyler’s “hamletting” of the non-combatant population of Cuba. Needless to say, American investments in sugar were also gravely affected.
One of the most poignant chapters of Davis’ book is about the execution of Adolfo Rodriguez, a 20-year-old farmer’s son from Santa Clara who had joined the anti-colonial Revolution when he was 19, and was captured in December, 1896, by the Guardia Civil, the “elite force,” according to the author. Rodriguez wounded three of his captors with a machete. He was tried by a military court and was imprisoned at the fort in Santa Clara. Cuba was dotted with forts and blockhouses of all sizes, wrote Davis; Spanish soldiers would conduct forays into rebel territory and return to those structures at night. Curiously, there were also bands of Spanish guerrillas engaged to fight Cuban revolutionaries. Davis called the revolutionaries“insurgents”; that must be an American thing.
Adolfo Rodriguez was executed in January, 1897, and after him 30 more died for their country. Davis witnessed the execution which took place at dawn (the moon was still shining, he wrote) in an open field between the Santa Clara fort and the hills where Rodriguez used to live. There was no mention of relatives or friends visiting his prison cell before he was taken to the field.
Three hundred soldiers were deployed in the area; there was a band “playing a jaunty quickstep”; people who must have been awakened by the music walked in groups to the field to watch the execution. Richard Davis thought it was cruel of the Spaniards to make the condemned man, with arms tightly bound behind him, walk half a mile to his death. They don’t do that in the USA, he ranted. However, the young Rodriguez was calm, he never faltered or stumbled as he walked on the rough surface of the field. There were priests walking beside him, tripping over their soutanes as they kept pace with the condemned lad.
“He was shockingly young for such a sacrifice, “observed Davis. Rodriguez held a cigarette between his lips which gave Davis “a thrill of satisfaction” because it showed that he was meeting death fearlessly, that he was not afraid of his enemies who were about to shoot him.
Then, a “blunder” occurred; a split second after the “Apunten!” was ordered, a senior office on horseback stopped everything. He noticed that the soldiers standing at the other end of the field were also in the direct line of fire. Adolfo Rodriguez who must have primed himself to receive the bullets was ordered to walk to another spot. Davis expected the young rebel to lose his composure, but he walked calmly to the designated place without the slightest shiver.
The solicitous priests showed him a crucifix which he reverently kissed. He was not blindfolded and as the bullets penetrated his body, his neck snapped back and he fell on his side. Davis said he looked as if he were asleep on the wet grass; the band began to play; church bells rang to call the faithful to Mass. The soldiers left the field marching in double file, no one cast a glance at the body. From a distance, Davis saw a bullock cart with a simple coffin ambling its way to the killing field.
While exiled in Dapitan, Jose Rizal had asked the Spanish colonial government to allow him to go to Cuba as a doctor attached to the Spanish Army’s medical corps. I think he wanted to see the Cuban revolution up close and learn from it. Judging from the accounts I read — by Richard H. Davis and that monumental War with Spain and the Philippines — I wonder if Rizal would have survived that daring enterprise. He could have died of cholera, dysentery or the pox, or from sheer exhaustion after administering to the Spanish soldiers and guerrillas, as well as to the “pacificos,” the non-combatant population whom Gen. Weyler rounded up into insalubrious “reconcentraciones” or hamlets, bereft of the most basic provisions. Rizal must have been terribly disappointed when his Cuban project was aborted, but at least, he survived Montjuich.