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Cuban NewspapersKey West: The Old and the New
The first paper in Key West published in the Spanish language was El Republicano, edited by Senor Juan M. Reyes in 1870. Several other papers have been published from time to time, most of which were short-lived. The most noted was El Yara, edited by Mr. J. D. Poyo, a highly cultured and educated gentleman. For twenty years he upheld and contended for the cause of "Free Cuba." The paper went out of existence in 1898, when Mr. Poyo saw the fruition of his life's work.
A number of Cubans obtained various positions under the city, State and Federal governments, and acquitted themselves with credit. The position of justice of the peace was held by Messrs. Alejandro Gonzales de Mendoza, Diego Andre, Juan M. Reyes, Angel de Lono, and Jose de Lamar. Later Judge de Lono was county judge, which position he held until 1893.
Mr. Diego Andre belonged to a distinguished and cultured family, and was a man of education and refinement, but he knew nothing of our system of jurisprudence. Imbued as he was with the Spanish idea of officialdom, he was keen to secure his costs, and his usual sentence for minor offenses was: "I pronounce you guilty and fine you two dollars for me and two dollars for Mr. Williams" (meaning Mr. Joseph P. Williams, the constable of the court).
Mr. Carlos M. de Cespedes, son of the great liberator who started the revolution at Bayamo, was elected Mayor of Key West in 1876.
Mr. Fernando Figueredo was elected a member of the legislature of Florida in 1884, and later was superintendent of public instruction for Monroe county.
Other Cubans who represented Monroe county in the legislature were Hon. Morua P. Delgado, Dr. Manuel R. Moreno, and Hon. J. G. Pompez.
The election of 1892 demonstrated that the Cubans were not only good revolutionists but keen politicians. The Democratic and Republican parties in Monroe county at that time were evenly divided, the Cubans holding the balance of power. A few of these were strong in their party allegiance, but the majority were more or less indifferent, and voted from considerations of friendship or racial pride.
Both parties sought to give recognition to the Cubans, and placed a representative on their legislative tickets. The American Democrats voted the straight party ticket, for one American and one Cuban. The American Republicans did the same. The Cubans, however, without regard to politics, voted for their countrymen, who were elected, and Monroe county was represented in the legislature by two Cubans, one a Democrat and one a Republican, Hon. M. P. Delgado and Hon. J. G. Pompez.
In 1870 an unfortunate event occurred in Key West that shocked the community and had direful results. Senor Gonzalo Castanon, a brilliant and intrepid editor of a Spanish newspaper in Havana, became engaged in a controversy with Senor Reyes, editor of El Republicano at Key West. It culminated in an editorial attack from Castanon, to Which Reyes responded that "Castanon indulged in such language because he knew that Reyes could not go to Havana to hold him to personal account." Castanon at once replied that he would come to Key West, where they could settle their difficulties in mortal combat. Key West at this time was a perfect hornet's nest of revolutionists, and Castanon knew that he took his life in his hands when he came here. After he arrived in Key West, Reyes declined to fight. That afternoon a committee of Cubans waited on Castanon at the Russell House, which stood on the site where the Jefferson hotel now stands. Among them were Mateo Orosco (who, it is said, expressed a desire to meet Castanon in mortal combat), and two brothers, Francisco and Jose B. Botello. High words were indulged in. The parlor and corridors of the hotel were filled with excited people. The street in front of the hotel was thronged with an angry crowd of Cubans. Pistol shots were fired, and Castanon fell mortally wounded. He died a short time afterwards, and his body was carried back to Havana. that night. Orosco was concealed in the city by his friends, and escaped later to South America, where he died. The authorities could never get any testimony about the killing, and no one was punished for the crime. The Botello brothers also escaped and were killed in the Cuban army, fighting for their country's freedom.
The peace of Zanjon, which ended the revolutionary movement in Cuba, did not cool the revolutionary spirit of the Cubans in Key West, and this place continued to be the center of the liberation movement in the world, although the junta, the Cuban revolutionary society, had its headquarters in New York. After the treaty of Zanjon some Cubans returned to their homes, but most of them remained in Key West, and adhered to their purpose of keeping the revolutionary spirit alive, and perfecting an organization looking to the ultimate liberation of Cuba from Spanish rule.
There was not a single member of the Cuban community who did not look forward to a new revolutionary movement against Spain, and an organization was maintained for that purpose. Messrs. Lamadriz, Poyo and Figueredo were accepted as the leaders of this idea. They organized themselves into political groups called clubs, which were given patriotic names. Every Cuban was expected to belong to one of these clubs, and men, women and children were enrolled in this singular organization. All the clubs sprang from the central committee of Messrs. Lamadriz, Poyo and Figueredo. Even the manufacturers were organized into a political club. Some of the most noted leaders of the former revolution were ever ready to land an expedition in Cuba and start a new revolution. Bonachea made a movement to this effect, and after a visit to Key West in 1881, where he raised funds for the purpose, embarked from the island of Jamaica, but was captured near Manzanilla by a Spanish man-of-war, and shot, with all his followers, at Santiago de Cuba.
Limbano Sanchez was another unfortunate who landed in Cuba, and after a short fight he and his men were exterminated.
In 1884 Carlos Aguerro, with a band of patriots, most of whom had been in the old army, raised the standard of liberty, and fought for months in the field. The Cubans, however, who had not forgotten the hardships and sufferings of the previous revolution, were not ripe for another revolt, and he had to give up his enterprise.
Aguerro, with Perico Torres, Manuel Aguier and Rosenda Garcia, succeeded in reaching Key West, where they were received with great enthusiasm, and were the recipients of every attention. A monster meeting was held at San Carlos hall, patriotic speeches were made, and the audience requested to subscribe funds to aid Aguerro to fit out another expedition. The first to respond was Colonel Frank N. Wicker, the collector of customs at this port; he contributed one hundred dollars. The Spanish consul telegraphed this to Washington and Colonel Wicker was removed from office.
Colonel Wicker was probably actuated by a desire to serve his political party. He was the leader of the Republicans in Key West, and knew that this act of friendship to the Cuban cause would be remembered by the impulsive patriotic Cubans, and that they would help his party when he should call on them for support. His name should go down in history as the first American martyr to the cause of Cuban liberty, as well as a martyr to his party.
The Spanish government in Cuba charged Aguerro with "rapine, arson, highway robbery and murder," and requested his extradition on those grounds. He was taken in custody by the United States authorities, and the application heard by Judge James W. Locke of the United States district court. It was proven that his so-called offenses had been committed while engaged in a revolutionary movement, and the request for his extradition was therefore refused. The scene in the crowded court house when Judge Locke announced his decision was one of frantic enthusiasm. The audience went wild, cheers and hoarse cries of exultation were mingled with the sobs of strong men as they threw themselves in each others' arms and wept for joy. Aguerro was carried out of the court house on the shoulders of his friends, chief among whom was Miguel Brinas, Sr., an emotional and generous hearted patriot; thousands of Cubans and many Americans formed an impromptu procession, and paraded the streets with Aguerro at their head. It was a scene long to be remembered.
Shortly after this Aguerro equipped and armed a schooner, and with a dozen of his followers, went to Cuba, but the time was not ripe for another revolution, and he and his band were soon exterminated.
Judge Angel de Lono was the hero of a gallant effort to capture a Spanish vessel for the Cuban cause. In 1889 he, with a dozen adventurous spirits, took passage at Santiago de Cuba on the Spanish steamship Commanditario, bound for Porto Plato, Santo Domingo. After they were at sea, Mr. De Lono, having previously instructed his men what to do, went to the captain's cabin with one of his men to act as quartermaster, and placing a pistol to the captain's head informed him that he was a prisoner, and that he had taken possession of the ship. All the crew were put below under arrest and guards kept over them until he got a chance to put them ashore. He took the Commanditario into several ports for coal, but was refused, and received no recognition from any government. The captors soon realized that they were in the anomalous position of sailing without flying the flag of any recognized nation, with no port in which they could get coal and provisions, and that they were in imminent danger of being captured as pirates. In this dilemma they ran the Commanditario ashore near the Bahamas and abandoned her, and her gallant band sought refuge on the friendly shores of the United States.
Key West was always a rich field in which to get money to sustain the revolutionary party in the field of Cuba. The cigar-makers contributed liberally, and the New York junta depended largely on Key West for its maintenance.
General Aguilerra, the millionaire patriot, who sacrificed his time to the cause of his country, was one of the first to call on Key West after leaving the field in 1870.
In 1870 General Melchior Aguerra came to Key West in the Steamer Edgar Stewart, and raised a large fund to organize an expedition. Great excitement prevailed; the Cuban ladies took the rings from their fingers and their jewels from their persons, and donated them to the cause of Cuban liberty.
General Bernabe Verona, Colonel J. L. Pacheco and General Julio Sanguilly were here at various times, to get the "sinews of war," which were freely donated by the Cuban population.
In 1885 General Maximo Gomez and Antonio Maceo came to Key West and sought to fit out an expedition to Cuba. They met with the unanimous support of the Cuban colony, and expedition were raised. There was at this time a revolution in progress in Santo Domingo, the leaders of which induced General Gomez to postpone his movement on Cuba, promising him aid after their revolution was over. It is worthy of note, as an evidence of man's ingratitude, that the president of the republic of Santo Domingo, after the success of his movement, became one of the most bitter opponents of Cuban liberty.
In 1892 the time and the man seemed to meet in Jose Marti, who came to Key West with perfectly digested plans for the organization of a Partido Revolucionario Cubano. He found here an organization ready at his command. Every man, woman and child was in his place. He had nothing to do but to map out to the Cubans his plans of organization. This was patterned after a democratic federal republic. A number of Cubans constituted a club; every club had a representative in a central committee called the Council of Presidents, and the president of each club was a representative. This bound the clubs together in one great organization and through it they were in touch with the general delegate who was elected by the vote of the councils throughout the entire world. The Cuban revolutionary party conceived by Marti had its ramifications in every country wherever ten or more Cubans were exiled. Marti was the chief of the organization. When he had the expatriated Cubans in all countries completely organized, he commenced work work in Cuba, and sent his delegates to all parts of the island to stir up the smoldering embers of revolution. The old generals and officers of the Ten Years War accepted the leadership of Marti. Three years after his appearance in the political field everything was ready for the movement. During these three years he had not rested, but imbued with the great idea of freeing a country, he went from city to city, from continent to continent, always preaching to his people the necessity of revolt. He was a man of delicate frame but was sustained by the thought of the achievement of his ideal. When he had funds sufficient and everything prepared at home, he ordered the revolution to start, and February 2, 1895, saw the beginning of the movement that was to end in the liberation of Cuba.
Marti was distinctively an organizer, and was urged by his friends to remain in this country and raise funds and send over expeditions to keep up the revolutionary movement. He refused to follow their advice, saying that as he had started this revolution, it was his duty to share the fate of those in the field, and on April 1, 1895 he left Monte Cristi, Santo Domingo, accompanied by General Gomez and four companions. After many difficulties he landed on the 11th of April at Playitas in the Province of Baracoa on the extreme eastern end of the island and was killed in the battle of Dos Rios in the Providence of Santiago, on the 19th of May, 1895, fighting for the cause which was so dear to him, the fruition of which he was never to see.
The revolutionary party now made Key West its base of operations for fitting out and embarking filibustering expeditions. There was always one or more suspicious craft in the harbor, against which it was impossible to get any definite proof. A number of expeditions were fitted out from Key West, or made Key West and the adjacent islands their place of rendezvous.
The collectors of customs at this port were especially charged to prevent any violation of the neutrality laws, and a man-of-war was kept in the harbor with instructions to cooperate with the collector in performing this duty.
In 1895 the tug Geo. W. Childs arrived here, and a rumor soon spread that she had taken an expedition to Cuba. She was kept under surveillance by the collector of customs, Hon. Jefferson B. Browne, and one quiet Sunday in August, 1895, one of her crew made an affidavit before him that the Childs had just returned from a filibustering expedition.
The revenue cutter McLane was under steam ready to start at a moment's notice, and signals were made to her to stop the Childs if she attempted to leave the port, but she was already under way when the message was delivered. The cutter started in chase but the Childs ignored her signals and continued on her way until two shots from the cutter (the last falling very close to her), caused her to stop. She was taken in charge by an officer from the cutter and brought back to Key West, but was finally discharged, her master and owners having previously signed an agreement relieving the government of all claim for her detention.
The Three Friends, Dauntless and Monarch were also in and out of Key West from time to time, and while it was known that they were engaged in filibustering, no conclusive proof could be obtained. The schooner Lark was seized with arms and ammunition on board which could have no destination except Cuba, but no definite proof being obtained she was released.
The Cuban leaders were familiar with our neutrality laws and no expedition of armed men was fitted out on shore one vessel would take arms and ammunition aboard, and another from a different point would take the men, and the arms and the men would not unite until they were on the high seas.
On May 31, 1897, the U. S. S. Marblehead, commanded by Captain Horace Elmer, under instructions from the collector of customs, intercepted the tug Dauntless while taking on board arms and ammunition off Jupiter Inlet and brought her to Key West. When the Marblehead was sighted, box after box supposed to contain arms and ammunition was thrown overboard. On board her was found rubber spreads, canvas shelter tents, and a seal of the Republic of Cuba. After a hearing before United States Commissioner Julius Otto, the men were discharged "for want of sufficient evidence," and the Dauntless released.
Apart from the sympathies of the citizens of Key West being with the revolutionists, filibustering expeditions were fine revenue producers, so that it was impossible to procure any proof against them.
Many of the Cubans who lived here prior to the establishment of the Cuban republic, have returned to their native home, where they are holding offices of trust and honor. Among these are Hon. Fernando Figueredo, treasurer of the republic, General Alejandro Rodriguez, former mayor of the City of Havana and chief of the rural guards; Hon. Rojelio Castillo, inspector of state prisons; Hon. Francisco J. Diaz Silveria, postmaster general; Mr. Lazan Vila, an employee of the Havana post-office; Mr. J. D. Poyo, chief of the press bureau of the Interior Department, and Mr. Martin Herrera, chief of the general archives of the republic. "Old Martin" as he is fondly known in Key West, was postmaster of the city of Pinar del Rio, and has recently been elected a member of the legislature of that province. Messrs. Enrique Messonier, Louis Valdez Carrero, Martin Morua Delgado, all former Key Westers, have been members of the Cuban congress. The latter died in 1910, while holding that office. Ambrosia Borges, another former Key Wester, was elected president of the Cuban senate. Last but not least, and one who stands in the very front of the diplomatic and consular officials of the world, in ability, courtesy and high character, is Antonio Diaz y Carrasco, the present Cuban consul of Key West.
Excerpt from "Key West: The Old and the New" by Hefferson B. Browne. Published 1912.
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