1959: Joaquin Casillas Lumpuy, Batista regime soldier

Add comment January 2nd, 2019 Headsman

Joaquin Casillas Lumpuy, an officer of Cuba’s defeated Batista regime, died on this date in 1959 — either executed, or killed in a struggle trying to escape his executioners. (Both reports, amounting to the same thing, went abroad.)

Casillas most “distinguished” himself by carrying out the Batista dictatorship’s 1948 murder of trade unionist Jesus Menendez.* He served a token jail sentence for his trouble.**

Restored to his situation, Casillas was called upon to defend Fulgencio Batista once again in the last days of 1958 at the Battle of Santa Clara — what would prove to be the decisive battle clinching the triumph of the Cuban Revolution. The battle was won on New Year’s Day, and Casillas captured that day by revolutionary commander Che Guevara.

“The sources contradict each other concerning names and numbers,” writes Paco Ignacio Taibo in Guevara, Also Known as Che, “but there is no doubt that in the hours following the liberation of Santa Clara, Che signed death warrants for several of Batista’s policeman whom the people accused of being torturers and rapists … including Casillas Lumpuy.”

Quoting Che now, Taibo continues: “‘I did no more and no less than the situation demanded — i.e., the death sentence for those twelve murderers, because they had committed crimes against the people, not against us.'” They would scarcely be the last.

Meanwhile,

the crowds in Havana were exacting a long-delayed justice. A sort of reasoned and selective vandalism took hold of the crowds, who attacked the gas stations belonging to Shell, which was said to have collaborated with Batista by giving him tanks. They also destroyed the casinos belonging to the American Mafia and the Batista underworld, trashed parking meters — one of the regime’s scams — and attacked houses belonging to leading figures in the dictatorship.

* Casillas carried out the murder in a law enforcement guise: sent on some pretext to arrest Menendez, Casillas shot his man dead when Menendez flexed his parliamentary immunity and told the cop to pound sand.

** Casillas’s defense lawyer in the Menendez proceeding was Jose Miro Cardona, who briefly became Prime Minister of post-Batista Cuba but had a much longer career as a prominent anti-Castro exile. As chair of the Cuban Revolutionary Council, he was the potential head of state had the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion succeeded.

On this day..

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1959: Jose Cipriano Rodriguez

Add comment January 17th, 2017 Headsman

UPI photographer Andrew Lopez won the Pulitzer Prize for his photographs of Jose Cipriano Rodriguez, a corporal of the deposed Batista dictatorship, going to his firing squad execution in the bloody first weeks of Cuba’s revolutionary conquest. Rodriguez had been found guilty of two murders by a snap tribunal that same day.

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1961: William Morgan, the Americano

6 comments March 11th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1961, American William Morgan — once an anti-Batista rebel — was shot in Havana’s La Cabana fortress for counter-revolutionary activity against the Castro government.

The high school dropout and army washout went to Cuba around late 1957 or early 1958.

He’d had an unsettled life, this Morgan. He’d been a convict, a circus sideshow, a wanderer. But he was about to make his name.

This strange gringo soon to be nicknamed “El Americano” walked into the Escambray Mountains and joined a group of anti-Batista rebels that was unaffiliated with Castro’s 26th of July Movement. Morgan won the respect of Cubans for his courage and his evidently un-mercenary commitment to the cause.

Fatally for him, that cause was a constitutional-democracy take on opposing the Batista dictatorship.

Morgan was stridently anti-Communist and not shy about saying so.

“There isn’t anyone in Cuba who doesn’t know where I stand-Fidel, Raul, or anyone. I am anticommunist. I don’t like them.”

That attitude would put him on a collision course with the only other foreigner to hold a comandante rank among the anti-Batista guerrillas: Argentinian Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

Those two men’s columns nearly exchanged shots when Guevara was dispatched by Castro to reach an understanding with Morgan. Morgan and Guevara came to terms that day — there was a revolution to be won, after all — but animosity would remain between these two impassioned freedom-fighters whose visions of freedom could never be reconciled.

They personify the competing choices before post-Batista Cuba, in those first years when Cuba kept to a tenuous hold on non-alignment.

Morgan supported that revolution; he even made the headlines for dramatically foiling a Dominican-backed plot to topple Castro in 1959.

But it was Guevara who was the future. More radical July 26th members won senior spots in the new administration, while outsiders like Morgan got assignments like frog-farming. Geopolitical events saw Cuba sliding into the Soviet camp.

Disenchanted, Morgan started plotting for real.* It didn’t work.

He was caught in late 1960, held incommunicado for a period, then tried, convicted and condemned two days before his execution (along with fellow-traveler and -plotter Jesus Carreras Zayas (Spanish link)) after nightfall March 11, 1961.

Morgan’s execution was carried out by a fellow Yanqui, Herman Marks — himself destined to run afoul of the Castro regime down the road. (Marks fled back to the U.S.) The sympathetic account of el Americano‘s death is quite the flowery affair, with the Cubans kneecapping Morgan when he defiantly refuses to kneel.

Castro himself is sometimes said to be present, the shadowy observer issuing the fatal commands to which Morgan will not bow, like the insouciant silhouette of Stalin behind a screen at trials where his former henchmen were purged.

A poetic touch, though one would think a head of state might have more pressing business than personally orchestrating executions: and indeed, it seems that Fidel actually spent that evening at a diplomatic reception with Soviet and Chinese ambassadors. Two months later, Castro officially declared Cuba a socialist state.

And as with Morgan, so with many of his brethren-in-arms from the Escambray Mountains. It took Havana the better part of the 1960s to suppress anti-communist “bandits” in Morgan’s old stomping-grounds — Cuba’s (successful) War Against the Bandits.

* There’s more skullduggery in Morgan’s shadowy life than this post has space for, but theories exist that the Dominican plot he “foiled” was actually one he had been an earnest participant in before it was sniffed out by Cuban security, with the war hero Morgan forced to betray it.

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1959: 71 after the Cuban Revolution

7 comments January 12th, 2010 Headsman

From the dark pre-dawn hours through to the middle of the day this date in 1959, Cuba’s fledgling revolutionary government shot over 70* “police officials, soldiers, and others described as spies and informers”** into a pit near Santiago de Cuba.

Enrique Despaigne is the gentleman shown being shot from 1:02 to 1:09 of this period newsreel.

Just days past their New Year’s triumph over the Batista dictatorship, the Sierra Maestra guerrillas were indulging a little out-with-the-old bloodletting. Well, more than a little.

Others had already been shot, and (many) others would follow that fate in the time to come, but this day’s mass execution was the largest and eventually most emblematic of those days. It was ordered by present-day Cuban President Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother.

The biographies of the day’s (nearly literal) hecatomb were largely eclipsed by their deaths as theater, as symbolism, as diplomacy. The man most individually distinctive to many observers was Lt. Enrique Despaigne, whose fusillade for killing 53 people was delayed three hours (pdf) at the camera crew’s behest for the better dawn lighting.

This day’s sentences specifically and the post-revolution executions generally were widely deplored abroad. Liberal Oregon Senator Wayne Morse called it a “bloodbath” on the Senate floor, and implored the Cubans to “withhold executions until emotions cool.”

Cuba rejected the criticism.

One could say that, like Lenin, Castro had taken warning from the Paris Commune‘s self-defeating example of excess leniency.

But the case for that interpretation looks much stronger in retrospect than it did to those living the actual events.† Foreign criticism for Cuba’s 1959 execution binge, though strong, was also strongly colored by an expectation that western powers would soon come to an arrangement with Castro — an anti-imperialist, but not yet a publicly committed Communist.

So the purge of Batista elements generally played as an ugly but fundamentally unworrisome effusion of popular vengeance an unsettled political situation.

As the London Times mildly editorialized, “youthful excesses” notwithstanding, “much of what is being said in Cuba can be put down to the exaltation of victory. When the provisional Government settles down, more realistic appraisals are likely.” (Jan. 13, 1959)

* 71 is the figure most generally reported, and the number given by the contemporary Associated Press reports, but slightly different numbers around that total are sometimes cited (the New York Times reported 75 on Jan. 13, 1959). Whatever their number, some of their names are given here and here; this Spanish-language forum page has victims of the revolution on this date and throughout the month, sourced to the stridently anti-Revolutionary Cuban American National Foundation.

** Quote from the A.P. report as published in the London Times Jan. 13, 1959.

† Castro defended the executions in terms of Nazis, not Communards. Many of those condemned either to death or imprisonment by the revolutionary government were (show) tried for war crimes.

And not without reason:

Santiagans say the series of decrees by former President Fulgencio Batista suspending constitutional guarantees and civil liberties covered a reign of terror in which 500 to 1,000 persons were murdered in Santiago alone. To Santiagans, the firing squads represent justice. (New York Times, Jan. 21, 1959)

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1967: Ernesto “Che” Guevara

24 comments October 9th, 2008 Headsman

As of 1:10 p.m. Bolivia time this date in 1967, Ernesto “Che” Guevara was no longer a man: he was only a god.

The Argentinian-born doctor turned Cuban revolutionary icon and the man who wrote the book on guerrilla warfare had put abroad to foment insurgency. His efforts in the Congo foundered; his bid to replicate the Cuban revolution in Bolivia was doing likewise when he was captured.

After holding him overnight, the government sent a coded order to execute him in the field. Che had done the same thing with his own hands to several who betrayed the Sierra Maestra guerrillas.

Soldier Mario Teran drew the short straw for a footnote to destiny; when he hesitated, Che chastised him with the legendary parting words “that someone invented or reported”:

“Shoot, coward, you’re only going to kill a man.”

Maybe so, but the man looked Christ-like when they put his body on display for the press. As certain as they made his death, still Che lives.

CIA asset (and George Bush Sr. confidante) Felix Rodriguez took his watch as a trophy. The rest of Che Guevara belongs to the world.*

This site could hardly attempt a definitive rendering of such a towering and controversial figure, a task fit for two, three, many biographies.

Lengthy video documentaries are here and here. Many of Che’s own words are collected here. Declassified U.S. National Security Archive documents relating to his capture and death are here.

And highly recommended is SovMusic.ru’s huge library of Che Guevara mp3 files — like this Francesco Guccini song:

[audio:Che_Guevara_Francesco_Guccini.mp3]

“We cannot be sure of having something to live for unless we are willing to die for it.”

-Che Guevara

* Especially, of course, its marketers.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Bolivia,Capital Punishment,Cuba,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Doctors,Execution,Executioners,Famous,Famous Last Words,Guerrillas,History,Infamous,Intellectuals,Martyrs,Myths,No Formal Charge,Notable Participants,Politicians,Popular Culture,Power,Revolutionaries,Shot,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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