1511, Diego Velásquez sailed from Hispaniola
(now the Dominican
Republic) to conquer and colonize Cuba.
his soldiers in that expedition was Hernán Cortés,
who later conquered Mexico. When he arrived in Cuba, Velásquez
founded the islands first Spanish settlement at Baracoa.
Meanwhile, reports from the Indians of Hispaniola reached Cuba.
a Taíno chief, had escaped in canoes with about four-hundred
men, women and children, to warn the Cubans about what to expect
from the Spaniards. He explained the need to join against their
common enemy, the white men who had inflicted so much suffering
on his people. As later recorded by Spanish priest Bartolomé
de las Casas, Hatuey showed the Cubans a basket full of gold and
jewels. Here is the God the Spaniards worship, he said,
for these they fight and kill; for these they persecute us
and that is why we have to throw them into the sea
tell us, these tyrants, that they adore a God of peace and equality,
and yet they usurp our land and make us their slaves. They speak
to us of an immortal soul and of their eternal rewards and punishments,
and yet they rob our belongings, seduce our women, violate our daughters.
of matching us in valor, these cowards cover themselves with iron
that our weapons cannot break
The Taínos of western
and central Cuba could not believe the horrendous message brought
by Hatuey, and few joined him. Hatueys strategy against the
Spaniards was to attack, guerilla fashion, and then disperse to
the hills, where the Indians would regroup for the next attack.
For about three months Hatueys tactics kept the Spaniards
on the defensive, afraid to leave their fort at Baracoa. Through
a traitor, Velásquez was able to surround and capture Hatuey.
February 2, 1512, Hatuey was tied to a stake at the Spanish camp,
where he was burned alive. Just before lighting the fire, a priest
offered him spiritual comfort, showing him the cross and asking
him to accept Jesus and go to heaven. Are there people like
you in heaven? he asked. There are many like me in heaven,
answered the priest. Hatuey answered that he wanted nothing to do
with a God that would allow such cruelty to be unleashed in his
Las Casas describes the fate of the Taínos. A village of
about twenty-five hundred who welcomed the Spaniards, fed them and
gave them drink, was immediately wiped out once the feast was over,
they set upon the Indians, he wrote, slashing,
disemboweling and slaughtering them until their blood ran like a
river. Of those sent to the mines, he said, the Spaniards
required of them tasks utterly beyond their strength, bending
them to the earth with crushing burdens, harnessing them to loads
which they could not drag, and with fiendish sport and mockery,
hacking off their hands and feet, and mutilating their bodies in
ways which will not bear description. Aside from being one
of the first guerilla-style warriors in Cubas history, Hatuey
is the first martyr in the struggle for Cuban independence.
many thanks to the students project of Thinkquest