Maturin Ballou.

History of Cuba: or, Notes of a Traveller in the Tropics



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Arrived here, he earnestly desired to obtain an interview with Concha, who had been an old companion-in-arms with him in Spain; not that he expected pardon at his hands, but hoping to obtain a change in the manner of his death. His soul shrank from the infamous garrotte, and he aspired to the indulgence of the cuatro tiros (four shots). Both the interview and the indulgence were refused, and he was executed on the first of September, at seven o'clock in the morning, in the Punta, by that mode of punishment which the Spaniards esteem the most infamous of all. When he landed at Bahia Honda, he stooped and kissed the earth, with the fond salutation, "Querida Cuba" (dear Cuba)! and his last words, pronounced in a tone of deep tenderness, were, "Muero por mi amada Cuba" (I die for my beloved Cuba).1010
  General Lopez was born in Venezuela, South America, in 1798; and hence, at the time of his execution, must have been about fifty-two years of age. He early became an adopted citizen of Cuba, and espoused one of its daughters.


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The remainder of the prisoners who fell into the hands of the authorities were sent to the Moorish fortress of Ceuta; but Spain seems to have been ashamed of the massacre of Atares, and has atoned for the ferocity of her colonial officials by leniency towards the misguided men of the expedition, granting them a pardon.

At present it may be said that "order reigns in Warsaw," and the island is comparatively quiet in the presence of a vast armed force. To Concha have succeeded Canedo and Pezuelas, but no change for the better has taken place in the administration of the island. Rigorous to the native population, insolent and overbearing to foreigners, respecting no flag and regarding no law, the captains-general bear themselves as though Spain was still a first-rate power as of yore, terrible on land, and afloat still the mistress of the sea.

CHAPTER IV

Present condition of Cuba – Secret treaty with France and England – British plan for the Africanization of the island – Sale of Cuba – Measures of General Pezuela – Registration of slaves – Intermarriage of blacks and whites – Contradictory proclamations – Spanish duplicity – A Creole's view of the crisis and the prospect.

Cuba is at present politically in a critical and alarming condition, and the most intelligent natives and resident foreigners live in constant dread of a convulsion more terrific and sanguinary than that which darkened the annals of St. Domingo. Those best informed of the temper, designs and position of Spain, believe in the existence of a secret treaty between that country, France and England, by which the two latter powers guarantee to Spain her perpetual possession of the island, on condition of her carrying out the favorite abolition schemes of the British government, and Africanizing the island.

Spain, it is supposed, unable to stand alone, and compelled to elect between the loss of her colony and subserviency to her British ally, has chosen of the two evils that which wounds her pride the least, and is best calculated to secure the interests of monarchical Europe. All the recent measures of the Captain-general Pezuela are calculated to produce the conviction that the Africanization of Cuba has been resolved upon; and, if his alarming proclamation of the third of May has been somewhat modified by subsequent proclamations and official declarations, it is only because the Spanish government lacks the boldness to unmask all its schemes, while the Eastern war prevents France and Great Britain from sending large armaments to Cuba to support it; and because the national vessels and troops destined to swell the government forces in the island have not all arrived. But for the existence of the war in the East, the manifestoes of the captain-general would have been much more explicit. As it is, they are sufficiently bold and menacing.

A peaceful solution to the question of Cuba, by its sale to the United States, is not regarded as probable by the best-informed Creoles. They say that, even if the queen were disposed to sell the island, it would be impossible to obtain the consent of the Cortes. The integrity of the Spanish domain, including all the islands, is protected by legal enactment; and it would require the abrogation of a fundamental law before it could be consummated.1111
  The administration of Bravo Murillo fell in an attempt of this kind, and did not rise again.


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Now, the Spanish subjects well understand that they would not be likely to be gainers by the sale of Cuba, however large a sum the United States might be willing to pay for it, while the monopoly to trade, the bestowal of lucrative insular offices on Spaniards alone, and other incidental advantages, give them a direct interest in the maintenance of the present order of things. Those who take this view of the question say that if Spain has not promptly rejected the overtures supposed to have been made by our minister at Madrid, this delay indicates only a conscious weakness, and not any hesitation of purpose. It is simply a diplomatic trick – a temporizing policy. Why, they ask, if Spain had any idea of parting with the island, would she be making naval and military preparations on a grand and costly scale, at home, while in the island she is making large levies, and enrolling colored troops, not as militia, as the government has falsely given out, but as regulars? We are reluctant to abandon the hope of our purchasing the island, but candor compels us to state the plausible arguments of those who assert that no success can possibly attend the plan for its peaceable acquisition.

Within a brief space of time, the administration of General Pezuela has been signalized by measures of great significance and importance: The decree of the third of May; the order for the registration of slaves introduced into the island in violation of the treaty of 1817; the decree freeing more than fifteen thousand emancipados in the space of a fortnight; that of May 25th, enrolling and arming negroes and mulattoes; the project for importing negroes and mulattoes from Africa, under the name of free apprentices; the institution of free schools for the instruction of the blacks, while the whites are abandoned to their own resources; and, finally, the legalization of the intermarriages of blacks and whites, which last measure has actually been carried into effect, to the indignation of the Creoles, – all these measures show the determination of the Spanish government to bring about the emancipation of slavery, and the social equalization of the colored and white population, that it may maintain its grasp upon the island, under penalty of a war of races, which could only terminate in the extinction of the whites, in case of a revolutionary movement.

The proclamation of the third of May, alluded to above, and disclosing some of the abolition plans of the government, produced a startling sensation. In it the captain-general said: "It is time for the planter to substitute for the rapid but delusive advantages derived from the sale of human flesh, safer profits, more in harmony with civilization, religion and morals;" and that "the time had come to make the life of the slave sweeter than that of the white man who labors under another name in Europe." The proclamation, coupled with that conferring exclusive educational advantages on colored persons, roused even the Spaniards; some of the wealthiest and most influential of whom held secret meetings to discuss the measures to be adopted in such a crisis, in which it was resolved to withhold all active aid from the government, some going so far as to advocate the making of common cause with the Creoles. The mere hint of a fusion between the Spaniards and Creoles, whom it has been the policy of the colonial government to alienate from each other, was sufficient to excite the fears of the captain-general; and accordingly, on the 31st of May, he published a sort of explanatory manifesto, designed to allay the alarm of the Spaniards, and conflicting, in several points, with that of the 3d. "Her Majesty's government," says the document of the 31st, "is well aware that the unhappy race (the Africans), once placed among civilized men, and protected by the religion and the great laws of our ancestors, is, in its so-called slavery, a thousand times happier than other European classes, whose liberty is only nominal." If this assertion were true, what becomes of the famous declaration, in the former proclamation, that the time had arrived to make the life of the slave happier than of the white European laborer? If this assertion were true, that "good time" had not only arrived, but passed away, and his measures for the improvement of the involuntary bondmen were actually supererogatory. The owners of slaves are, moreover, assured that they shall not be disturbed in the possession of their "legitimate property," and that the government will conciliate a due regard for such property "with the sacred fulfilment of treaties."

It is very evident that the Creoles are doomed to be the victims of Spanish duplicity. It is notorious that many thousands of slaves have been introduced into the island, for a series of years, with the connivance of the government, when they had it in their power, at any time, to stop the traffic altogether. The vigilance of the British cruisers was baffled by the assurance that the Africans thus brought over were apprentices, Spain never hesitating to deceive an ally; and now, when compelled to keep faith, in a desperate emergency, she betrays her own subjects, and throws the penalty of her own bad faith on them.

A gentleman residing in Cuba writes: "No one can be here, and watch the progress of things, without being convinced that the ultimate object is the emancipation of the slaves of the island transported subsequent to the treaty of 1820, which will comprise four-fifths of the whole number; and no one who is an attentive observer, and with his ears open, but must be satisfied that there is some other powerful influence brought to bear on the subject besides Spain. Take, for instance, the late order for the registration of the slaves. The British consul openly says that the British government have been, for a long time, urging the measure. But it is not only in this, but in every other step taken, that the British finger is constantly seen. A thousand corroborative circumstances could be cited. Cuba is to-day indebted to Russia for being free from this calamity. But for the emperor's obstinacy, there would have been an English and French fleet that would have enabled them to carry out all the measures they have in contemplation."

With relation to the intermarriage of blacks and whites, our informant says, "Many marriages have been performed since the date of the circular," – that of the Bishop of Havana to the curates of the island, by the authority of the captain-general.

"The captain-general," says the same authority, "is now exerting his influence for the admission of blacks into the university, to prepare them for clerical orders. Should this system be adopted, I fear it will lead to bad consequences. It will, of course, be strenuously opposed. The indignation of the Creoles has been difficult to restrain, – at which you cannot be surprised, when their daughters, wives and sisters, are daily insulted, particularly by those in uniform. I fear a collision may take place. If once commenced, it will be terrific."

The decree authorizing the celebration of marriages between blacks and whites has probably produced more indignation among the Creoles than any other official acts of the captain-general. It was directed to the bishop in the form of a circular, and issued on the 22d of May. On the 29th of the same month, the bishop transmitted copies of it to all the curates within his jurisdiction; and, as we have seen, many of these incongruous marriages have been already solemnized. Notwithstanding these notorious and well-authenticated facts, the official organ of the government, the Diario de la Marina, had the effrontery to publish a denial of the transaction, asserting it to be mere idle gossip, without the slightest foundation, and ridiculing the idea in a tone of levity and persiflage.

This may teach us how little dependence is to be placed on the declarations of the Spanish officials; and we shall be prepared to receive with incredulity the denial, in the name of the queen, of the existence of a treaty with England, having for its base the abolition of slavery, as a reward for British aid in preserving Cuba to Spain. The captain-general says that she relies not on foreign aid to maintain her rights, but on her powerful "navy and disciplined army; on the loyalty of the very immense (inmensisima) majority of her vigorous native citizens (Creoles); on the strength imparted to the good by the defence of their hearths, their laws and their God; and on the hurricanes and yellow fever for the enemy."

"Here," writes a Cuban gentleman, commenting on the above declaration, "we must make a pause, and remark, en passant, that the name of her majesty thus invoked, far from giving force to the denial, weakens it greatly; for we all know the value of the royal word, particularly that of her majesty Isabella II. In her name a full pardon was offered to Armenteros and his associates, who raised the cry of independence in Trinidad, and this document effected the purpose for which it was designed. Armenteros and the others, who placed reliance in the royal word, were, some of them, shot, and the rest deported to African dungeons. No reliance can be placed on the loyalty of the vast majority of the vigorous citizens (unless the negroes alone are comprehended under this phrase), when the whites are deprived of arms for the defence of their country, and men are fined five pesos for carrying canes of a larger size than can be readily introduced into a gun-barrel, and free people of color are alone admitted into the ranks of the troops. The Cubans are not relied upon, since, to prevent their joining Lopez, all the roads were blockaded, and everybody found on them shot; and the immense number of exiles does not prove the majority which favors the government to be so prodigious.

"The value of the powerful navy and well-trained army of the island was shown in the landing of Lopez, and the victories that three hundred men constantly obtained over an army of seven thousand, dispersing only when ammunition failed them. Hurricanes and the yellow fever are most melancholy arms of defence; and, if they only injured the enemy, the Spaniards, who are as much exposed as other Europeans to the fatal influence, would be the true enemies of Cuba."

The following remarks on the present condition and prospects of the island are translated from a letter written by an intelligent Creole, thoroughly conversant with its affairs:

"The whites tremble for their existence and property; no one thinks himself secure; confidence has ceased, and with it credit; capitalists have withdrawn their money from circulation; the banks of deposit have suspended their discounts; premiums have reached a fabulous point for the best of paper. The government was not ignorant that this would be the result, and prepared to get out of the momentary crisis by the project of a bank,1212
  Pezuela's bank is to have a capital of two million dollars; the government to be a shareholder for half a million. The effect of such an institution would be to drain the island of specie.


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published in the Gaceta of the 4th (May); but the most needy class, in the present embarrassed circumstances, is that of the planters; and it is necessary, to enable them to fulfil their engagements, that their notes should be made payable at the end of the year, – that is, from harvest to harvest, – and not at the end of six months, as provided for in the regulations. But it matters not; we are pursuing the path which will precipitate us into the abyss, if instantaneous and efficacious help does not come to save the island from the imminent ruin which threatens it.

"The cause of the liberty of nations has always perished in its cradle, because its defenders have never sought to deviate from legal paths, – because they have followed the principles sanctioned by the laws of nations; while despots, always the first to exact obedience to them when it suited their convenience, have been the first to infringe them when they came into collision with their interests. Their alliances to suppress liberty are called holy, and the crimes they commit by invading foreign territories, and summoning foreign troops to their aid to oppress their own vassals, are sacred duties, compliances with secret compacts; and, if the congresses, parliaments and Cortes of other nations, raise the cry to Heaven, they answer, the government has protested, – acts have been performed without their sanction, – there is no remedy, – they are acts accomplished.

"An act accomplished will shortly be the abolition of slavery in Cuba; and the tardy intervention of the United States will only have taken place when its brilliant constellation lights up the vast sepulchre which will cover the bodies of her sons, sacrificed to the black race as a reward for their sympathies with American institutions, and the vast carnage it will cost to punish the African victors. What can be done to-day without great sacrifices to help the Cubans, to-morrow cannot be achieved without the effusion of rivers of blood, and when the few surviving Cubans will curse an intervention which, deaf to their cries, will only be produced by the cold calculations of egotism. Then the struggle will not be with the Spaniards alone. The latter will now accede to all the claims of the cabinet at Washington, by the advice of the ambassadors of France and England, to advance, meanwhile, with surer step to the end, – to give time for the solution of the Eastern question, and for France and England to send their squadrons into these waters. Well may they deny the existence of secret treaties; this is very easy for kings, as it will be when the case of the present treaty comes up, asserting that the treaty was posterior to their negative, or refusing explanations as inconsistent with their dignity. But we witness the realization of our fears; we see the Spanish government imperturbably setting on foot plans which were thought to be the delirium of excited imaginations; doing at once what promised to be a gradual work; and hear it declared, by distinguished persons, who possess the confidence of General Pezuela, that the existence of the treaty is certain, and that the United States will be told that they should have accepted the offer made to become a party to it, in which case the other two powers could not have adopted the abolition scheme. But, supposing this treaty to have no existence, the fact of the abolition of slavery is no less certain. It is only necessary to read the proclamation of the captain-general, if the last acts of the government be not sufficiently convincing. The result to the island of Cuba and to the United States is the same, either way. If the latter do not hasten to avert the blow, they will soon find it impossible to remedy the evil. In the island there is not a reflecting man, – foreigner or native, Creole or European, – who does not tremble for the future that awaits us, at a period certainly not far remote."

CHAPTER V

Geographical position of the island – Its size – The climate – Advice to invalids – Glance at the principal cities – Matanzas – Puerto Principe – Santiago de Cuba – Trinidad – The writer's first view of Havana – Importance of the capital – Its literary institutions – Restriction on Cuban youths and education – Glance at the city streets – Style of architecture – Domestic arrangements of town houses – A word about Cuban ladies – Small feet – Grace of manners and general characteristics.

Having thus briefly glanced at the political story of Cuba, let us now pass to a consideration of such peculiarities of climate, soil and population, as would naturally interest a stranger on visiting the island. The form, geographically speaking, of Cuba, is quite irregular, and resembles the blade of a Turkish scimeter slightly curved back, or approaching the form of a long, narrow crescent. It stretches away in this shape from east to west, throwing its western end into a curve, as if to form an impregnable barrier to the outlet of the Gulf of Mexico; and as if, at some ancient period, it had formed a part of the American continent, and had been severed on its north side from the Florida peninsula by the wearing of the Gulf-stream, and from Yucatan, on its south-western point, by a current setting into the gulf. Its political position all concede to be of the most vital importance to the United States; and this will be apparent to any one, from the slightest inspection of the map.

It is the most westerly of the West Indian isles, and, compared with the rest, has nearly twice as much superficial extent of territory. Its greatest extent, from east to west, is about six hundred miles; its narrowest part, twenty-two miles. The circumference is about two thousand miles, containing some thirty-two thousand square miles.1313
  Humboldt's calculation makes it contain forty-three thousand, three hundred and eighty square miles; but other estimates approximate more nearly our own statement.


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The narrow form of the island, and the Cordillera chain of mountains, which divides it throughout its whole length, leave a very limited course for its rivers and streams; and consequently these in the rainy season become torrents, and during the rest of the year are nearly dried up. Those that sustain themselves throughout the year are well stocked with delicate and finely-flavored fish.



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