El 138 aniversario del fusilamiento de los ocho estudiantes de medicina
Vol. 73/No. 49 December 21, 2009
Afro-Cubans defended anticolonial fighters
The following article appeared in the November 26 issue of the Cuban daily
Granma under the headline "138 years since the colonial power's crime of
November 27." It recounts the execution of eight Cuban medical students in 1871
by Spanish colonial authorities. The article also tells the story of five black
Cubans, members of the Abakuá society who were killed attempting to rescue the
The Abakuá was a secret society of both free and enslaved blacks, organized for
self-defense and to protect their culture in the face of slavery and colonial
rule. A broadly sponsored commemoration of their heroic action was held November
27 for the first time in Cuba. It is part of the vigorous discussion and debate
in Cuba on the legacy of black Cubans in the island's history from the
independence war to the 1959 revolution to the challenges of overcoming
remaining vestiges of racial discrimination today.
BY PEDRO DE LA HOZ
What lay behind the colonial authorities' decision to carry out the horrendous
crime of Nov. 27, 1871? Madness or calculated treachery? An irrational hatred
for the emerging national sentiment that was taking shape in the countryside? Or
a premeditated attempt to teach a lesson to those of rebellious spirit who
sympathized with the movement for freedom?
That day, eight Cuban medical students received in their flesh a mortal salvo of
rifle fire as punishment for supposedly desecrating the grave of a Spanish
writer who had called, in a lampoon, for the extermination of everyone born on
the island. It was soon learned that no such desecration had taken place; it was
merely a pretext for carrying out the crime.
The first to be charged were five young people who had been found in the Espada
cemetery November 23, the day on which the crime that had never taken place was
alleged to have been committed. Three others were chosen at random. Thirty more
received sentences of up to six years in prison in the frame-up trial.
ángel Laborde, Anacleto Bermúdez, José de Marcos Medina, Juan Pascual Rodríguez,
Alonso álvarez de la Campa, Eladio González, Carlos Augusto de la Torre, and
Carlos Verdugo were the victims. They ranged in age from 16 to 21.
Unrecorded, however, are the names of five other Cubans killed that same day, in
an attempt to rescue the students on their way to the firing squad. They were
five men of black skin, one of them "a milk brother" of álvarez de la Campa—that
is, someone nursed by the same black nanny.
An account of the failed action was written by no less than Ramón López de
Ayala, captain of volunteers in charge of the execution of the young people. In
a letter to his brother, who worked in Madrid's Ministry of Overseas
Territories, he wrote: "Blacks discharged their firearms at a group of artillery
volunteers, killing their lieutenant. Those under attack responded immediately
against the blacks, tearing to pieces the five authors of the aggression on the
The blacks belonged to the Abakuá group Bakokó Efó, one of the associations
under whose name African slaves and their descendants on Cuban soil organized to
defend themselves physically and preserve their culture against the colonial
oppressors. The action taken Nov. 27, 1871, has been preserved and passed down
orally by the Abakuás as part of the most valuable patrimony of their revolt.
Taken by force to be exploited in the plantations of the island, the Abakuás
brought essential ethical values to the forging of the nation.
Those anonymous fighters merit the words our [José] Martí used to honor the
murdered students, praising the capacity of the Cuban soul "… to rise up in
arms, sublimely and, at the moment of sacrifice, to face death without
hesitation in the holocaust of the homeland."
This article appears to have disappeared from Granma itself.
[AfroCubaWeb] [Site Map] [Music] [Arts] [Authors] [News] [Search this site]