On this date in 1959, in the city of Santa Clara lately captured by Cuban revolutionaries, Col. Cornelio Rojas Fernández, commander of the city’s defeated government garrison, was shot without trial by the order of Che Guevara.
It was just one among hundreds of vengeful executions being visited in those weeks upon authorities of the deposed Batista regime.
Viewers of the televised public shooting saw the stocky commander — the grandson of a hero of the 19th century Cuban War of Independence — walk unafraid to his death in an armed escort, where he exhorted his onlookers until the firing detail sent his fedora flying.
Rojas’s granddaughter Barbara Rangel remains an energetic advocate of her father’s innocence, from Florida. A kinsman named Pedro Rojas Mir was among those killed in the 1961 Bay of Pigs debacle when anti-Castro exiles mounted a failed invasion of Cuba.
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.
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.
“The sovereignty of a people cannot be argued about, it is defended with a gun in the hand.”
On this date in 1934, the first name in Nicaraguan anti-colonial resistance was abducted and summarily executed by the Nicaraguan National Guard.
From 1927 until his death, Sandino led an armed peasant insurgency from the Nicaraguan mountains against the Yankee imperialists and the domestic dictatorship they backed.
Washington had had its nose (and its marines) in Managua’s business for decades, continuously occupying the Central American country since 1912. The Marine Corps saw this country’s people as
Densely ignorant … little interested in principles … naturally brave and inured to hardships, of phlegmatic temperament, tough, capable of being aroused to acts of extreme violence, they have fought for one party or the other without considering causes since time immemorial … a state of war is to them a normal condition.*
All this was the time of Sandino’s own coming-of-age. The son of a wealthy landowner and his domestic servant, Sandino grew up with the unprivileged and the working classes, eventually asorbing an eclectic mix of that period’s revolutionary ideologies.
From 1927 he took to the Segovia and began writing the playbook for the 20th century guerrilla: mobile infantry irregulars, striking from familiar-to-them forest cover, melting away among sympathetic campesinos.
The “Colossus of the North” — Sandino made no bones about his foe; his personal seal showed an American marine being killed — invariably described him as a “bandit” because he also raided towns to commandeer food, clothing, and medicine.
“Washington is called the father of his country; the same may be said of Bolivar and Hidalgo; but I am only a bandit, according to the yardstick by which the strong and the weak are measured.”
The strong, in this case, found little public appetite for the steady attrition of servicemen, and the U.S. employed a familiar strategy of its own: “Nicaraguanizing” the conflict by building up a National Guard to do the dirty work domestically.
That Guard’s head was headed by Anastasio Somoza — the very son of a bitch of whom FDR said, “but he’s our son of a bitch.”
While it’s hardly the only country to have been favored with an American son of a bitch, you could say that Nicaragua has been the American empire’s very own heart of darkness. Washington’s initial interest in the place after the Spanish-American War concerned preventing a canal project to compete with Panama. It invented dive-bombing to hunt Sandino. And it ranged around the world and outside the law to battle Sandino’s successors under the aegis of a modern imperial presidency.
Small wonder that an official anthem of the movement denounces “The Yankee / The enemy of all humankind.”
In the immediate aftermath of the American departure in January 1933, Sandino began coming to terms with the the country’s new president: the Sandinistas disarmed in exchange for amnesty and land. But Somoza, who at this point was “only” the head of the National Guard, was building up his own power … and he meant to have done with this inconvenient insurgent.
After Sandino left a presidential meeting on this date, at which the erstwhile rebel negotiated for his continuing demand to disband Somoza’s Guardia, Sandino was stopped at the gates by Guardsmen. They took Sandino, his brother, and two of his generals and marched them off to be shot. Then the Guard forcibly broke up the Sandinista remnants. Somoza soon seized official power for himself; his family ruled, and plundered, Nicaragua until 1979. Washington never called them bandits.
While Sandino vanished (the whereabouts of his remains are unknown), his revolutionary vision and praxis also persist down to the present day.
Sandinismo (aging much better than Somocismo) would influence Fidel Castro and Che Guevara during the Cuban Revolution.
The United States, of course, went right back to war against its long-dead “bandit” foe.
* From Julian C Smith’s officially commissioned History of the Guardia Nacional de Nicaragua (1933), as quoted in Michael J. Schroeder’s “Bandits and Blanket Thieves, Communists and Terrorists: The Politics of Naming Sandinistasin Nicaragua, 1927-36 and 1979-90,” Third World Quarterly, Vol. 26, No. 1 (2005).
On this date in 1972, three Turkish youths hanged at Ankara Central Prison for attempting to “overthrow the constitutional order.”
“The three urban guerrillas,” reported the New York Times the next day, “stood on chairs placed on a platform as the nooses were placed around their necks. They asked for and were given the right to kick the chairs out from under themselves.”
As Turkey made the turn into the 1970s, left-right violence made the country all but ungovernable.
Gezmis and his comrades got in on the action by kidnapping four U.S. radar technicians for ransom in March 1971, leading Turkish journalist Abdi Ipekci to declare that “it is necessary to halt this anarchy which is pushing our country to a dark and bloody future.”*
The servicemen were released unharmed … but there was a bloodbath waiting for others on account of THKO.
An army-backed conservative government started shuttering left-wing papers, banning left-wing organizations, and eventually imposed outright martial law.
Our principals became the first hanged under that regime, but scores of others** were also tried for their lives for revolutionary activities. Since the young socialists had robbed banks and taken hostages but never actually killed anyone, their actual executions were controversial within the government itself … and ultimately undertaken on the unseemly “three for three” body count equivalence to the Prime Minister and two aides who had hanged when Turkey last had a leftist coup government.
In the streets, paramilitary violence continued.
During the trials of Gezmis and other radicals, Israeli ambassador Efraim Elrom, a Polish emigre who had interrogated Adolf Eichmann, was kidnapped and murdered in Istanbul by THKO activists. (The kidnapping in turn prompted an intensified crackdown — arbitrary detention, torture, the usual stuff.) Years later, another communist cell assassinated the man who had presided as Prime Minister when Gezmis hanged, Nihat Erim, allegedly in revenge for this date’s executions.
London Times, May 8, 1972.
Conversely, for Gezmis, the handsome young Che Guevara of Turkish insurrectionary Marxism — this date was only the beginning of a rich afterlife as iconic martyr.
On this date in 1977, Black Berets Larry Tacklyn and Erskine “Buck” Burrows were hanged in Bermuda for assassinating the islands’ police chief and governor.
“During the 1970s, a black power organization in Bermuda conspired to bring about social change ‘by any means necessary,’ including assassination. This is the first full account of the murders and the Black Beret Cadre, the revolutionary group whose activities resulted in mayhem throughout the island.”
–Book’s advance publicity
was ‘freedom by any means necessary’ which included assassination. Taking their cue from the Black Panthers, whose primary aim was to bait the ‘racist cops’, the Black Berets exhorted its members and all Bermudian youth to confront the ‘English racist police’ as frequently as possible and prepare for the coming conflict between blacks and whites …
Its purpose was to indoctrinate young black Bermudians in communist revolution and the ideology of Black Power.
Cadres Tacklyn and Burrows were one part liberators of their oppressed brothers, one part common criminals.
In 1972, they gunned down white police commissioner (a veteran of Britain’s colonies) George Duckett; in 1973, they ambushed governor (and former Tory M.P.) Richard Sharples and slew him, along with his aide-de-camp.
Neither perp was apprehended, which meant they went on to kill a couple of supermarket executives before someone I.D.’d Tacklyn. Burrows stayed on the lam long enough to rob a bank of $28,000.
The trials were a sensation — apt for the involvement of sensational Bermudian lawyer and politician Julian Hall — with Burrows convicted all around. He openly avowed the political murders.
The motive for killing the Governor (his ADC was not our objective, he was shot only because he happened to be with the Governor at the time) was to seek to make the people, black people in particular, become aware of the evilness and wickedness of the colonialist system in the Island of Bermuda.
Secondly, the motive was to show that these colonialists were just ordinary people like ourselves who eat, sleep and die just like anybody else and that we need not stand in fear or awe of them.
Finally, the motive was to reveal to black people unto themselves.
This refers to the revealed reactions of many black people during the Governor’s funeral, when black people were seen to be standing with tears in their eyes, crying for a man who when he was alive didn’t care if they lived or died and here they were crying for a white Governor and yet when many of their own people pass away there is sometimes hardly a tear shed for them.
This shows clearly the evil effects that the colonialist propaganda has had over the long years they have ruled over this little Island.
Tacklyn managed to win acquittals over Duckett and Sharples but was condemned for killing the grocers. With “only” the two murder raps, Tacklyn’s appeals against execution might have stood a chance in other circumstances. But his affiliation with Burrows, who so openly avowed the other crimes and declined to mitigate them in court, “hung like an albatross around Tacklyn’s neck.”
That wasn’t the only thing that was hanging.
Massive riots rocked Bermuda after it became known that eleventh-hour clemency bids were rejected; “Fires erupted across Bermuda,” Reuters report, “causing millions of dollars in damage as a dusk-to-dawn curfew failed to halt the racial violence.” (Per Chicago Tribune, Dec. 3, 1977) British troops were deployed to help quell the riots.
Tacklyn and Burrows were the first people executed in Bermuda in 34 years, and remain the last executed there to this date.
Because all Britain’s overseas territories in the Caribbean subsequently abolished the death penalty (Bermuda in a contentious 1999 parliamentary dispute decided by a single tiebreaking vote), Tacklyn and Burrows also hold the distinction of being the last people put to death anywhere under British law. (As distinct from the last executed in Britain.)
On this date in 1871, eight first-year medical students, aged 16 to 19, were shot in Havana Place de la Punta by Spanish colonial authorities in one of the most notorious episodes of that island’s independence struggle.
Cuba was three years into the Ten Years’ War, the first of three major 19th century insurrections that would eventually throw off Spanish rule, but popular support for independence was far from universal.
This book is the English translation of the classic Cuban text written by their schoolmate.
A vocal pro-Spanish element opposed the rebels to the extent of mobilizing right-wing volunteer goon squads to rough up demonstrators and menace the government into dealing with them only at bayonet-point … proto-brownshirts, albeit from a more well-heeled class position.
Mostly middle- or upper-class peninsulares, they were able by sheer force of numbers to cow [liberally inclined Captain-General Domingo] Dulce into acceptance of their views … Their journal, La Voz de Cuba, accused Dulce of working for the rebels …
The volunteers were a foretaste of those twentieth century lower middle-class mobs of young men who often protest violently against the end of empire. Shouting Viva Espana! in the Villanueva Theatre, foreshadowing the pieds noirs of Algeria, they bridge the gap between Carlism and Fascism. (Cuba, Or, The Pursuit of Freedom by Hugh Thomas)
The Volunteers would make themselves felt this day.
The editor of that Volunteer paper La Voz de Cuba was assassinated in 1870. The fatal accusation against the students was that they had desecrated the grave of that editor.
In Cuba in 1871, vandalism with the wrong politics was good enough to get you shot … four days after the supposed crime. In that environment, it’s practically beside the point that one of the eight wasn’t even in town at the time and the “desecration” was so exaggerated (the link is a Spanish backgrounder) as to be essentially fabricated.
The procedural rigging dignified with the word “trial” wasn’t going to get hung up on that detail, but it was also on the verge of an acquittal or a light sentence when a Caribbean Brooks Brothers riotsteamrolled it (Spanish again) into sentencing eight to death and most of the others to significant prison terms.
Defense attorney Frederico Capdevila alone distinguished himself (more Spanish) at this circus with an indignant and energetic defense, despite being attacked at one point by the Volunteer mob. At its appalling conclusion, he drew his sword and theatrically broke it over his knee — a gesture of contempt for the military tribunal that cost him his military career and made his reputation to posterity.
Radical writer Jose Marti, 18 years old at the time of this execution, summoned the image frequently and helped raise 27 Noviembre de 1871 into an enduring emblem of the worst of colonialism.
Executed Today’s Guide to Halloween, Part I (Click here for Part II.)
Grim, ghastly, and gruesome — it must be election time Halloween!
The grisliest tricks of the past are the tastiest treats of the season, and that makes Executed Today purpose-built for the occasion. Heck … that’s why it’s our anniversary.
That’s also why it’s rich with ghoulish inspiration for your Halloween costume.
For all the severed heads and flayed skins around here, the set of execution victims who are Halloween-ready is a limited one. It’s just not enough to be famous (or infamous); one must also have an iconography recognizable enough to get the public credit you deserve for your inspired disguise.
If you happen to roll with a crowd that’s totally going to get your Savonarola outfit, more power to you. The rest of us have to play to the masses.
But some few of our principals fit the bill well enough to be fine Halloween choices without too much exertion in the prep department.
Even a character as renowned as Anne Boleyn is a little hard to play: quick, what does she look like?
But between The Tudors and The Other Boleyn Girl, there’s a current pop-culture context for the character (and plenty of precedents). Tudor garb plus the famous “B” necklace will be a dead giveaway for those in the know. For extra credit, add a prosthetic sixth finger to simulate her alleged polydactylism.
Accessories: Date decked out as Henry VIII … or as the French swordsman who beheaded her.
Cromwell succeeded where Fawkes failed, at least as pertains the royal person. And if you’re the type who can sell a Charles I costume — possibly requiring a fairly highbrow room — you’ll have nigh outstripped the achievements of both.
The lush coiffure, the wispy facial hair, the delicate movements … not everyone can pull that stuff off. If you can, get your Alec Guinness impression down and you’re on your way to a date at Whitehall.
Accessories: The whole point is to wear the silly hat, isn’t it?
Gone but not forgotten, Saddam offers a variety of looks:
Beaten, older Saddam, with salt-and-pepper beard (wear the noose with this look, unless you’re a dead ringer);
Haggard, fresh-captured Saddam (not recommended; neither the goofball look nor the implicit triumphalism square with the known sequel)
Younger, despotic Saddam, with crazy smile and military fatigues;
The Coen brothers’ “bowling alley Saddam” that can double as duds for your neighborhood Lebowski Fest.
Accessories: Be sure to complete the outfit by bringing Colin Powell. Seriously, he’ll be grateful for something to do.
Love him or hate him, no post-World War II icon is more instantly recognizable than the Cuban guerrilla. Do your part, comrade! Contribute to the posthumous appropriation of his image with a “revolutionary” is-that-ironic-or-not-? Che costume.
Accessories: Che Guevara cigarettes. Che Guevara ankle socks. There’s no shortage of Che Guevara accessories to choose from; for a more meta look, go as Che’s mediated historical image by simply dressing entirely in various Che-branded apparel.
On this date in 1977, the former president of the Congo, Alphonse Massamba-Debat, was summarily shot after his successor was assassinated.
A teacher by training and a member of the country’s powerful namesake tribe, Massamba-Debat (the link is to his French wikipedia page, which has considerably more information than the English entry) was a government minister who took power in a 1963 military coup that overthrew the former French territory’s first post-colonial government.
In a revolutionary age, Massamba-Debat swung with a Marxist-Leninist ideology. He ran a one-party state — winning a post-coup 1963 election by the comfortable margin of 100-0 — and met with Che Guevara during the latter’s African mission, while also setting up the first stirrings of industrialization.
The mix of true belief and opportunism in that formula is anyone’s guess; the brutality of his militias steadily eroded his “unanimous” popular support, and in 1968 he was toppled by another leftist, Marien Ngouabi.
That marked the end of Massamba-Debat’s meaningful political career.
Oddly, he was tried immediately after his overthrow for some of his regime’s notable political murders, but was acquitted and allowed to retire to his village: the new government plainly didn’t consider him much of a threat.
But when Ngouabi was assassinated in his turn on March 18, 1977 — for causes that remain unclear but that may have had to do with French energy interests in the region — the army seized control and purged numerous officials for supposed participation in the plot. Massamba-Debat, notwithstanding a dearth of evidence actually implicating him, was by virtue of being an overthrown former ruler far enough under the shadow of official distrust to find his name on that deadly list.
Massamba-Debat was officially rehabilitated in 1991, and is now far enough clear from the taint of treachery against his still-popular successor to have a stadium named after him. (the link is in French)