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Oriente: Cuba's Wild East

Peter Hulme

 El que quiera conocer otro país, sin ir al extranjero, que se vaya a Oriente.  (Pablo de la Torriente Brau)

 Oriente, si yo pudiera cantarle como deseo.  (Cheo Marquetti)


List of illustrations
Note on translations

            Containing a brief history of Oriente and of its characteristics as a region; an outline of the book’s approach; and an introduction to its themes and writers.

1.      Carlos Manuel de Céspedes at Yara (1868)
                Silvestre de Balboa   James J. O’Kelly   Ricardo Alarcón   Fidel Castro
The story of modern Cuba begins just outside Bayamo as Céspedes frees his slaves and proclaims Cuban independence, a moment constantly recalled by today’s political figures such as Alarcón and Castro.  Some of Céspedes’ own writing is considered, but the main texts here are the 1608 Espejo de paciencia, the remarkable heroic poem composed in Oriente shortly after the kidnapping of the Bishop of Havana which supplies its plot, and James J. O’Kelly’s 1874 The Mambi-Land, recounting his experiences as a journalist sent to find Céspedes.

 2.      José Martí at Veguitas (1895)
                José Fornaris   Ramón de Palma   Luisa Pérez de Zambrana
His last journey, across Oriente, was José Martí’s first to the region, and so he approached its topography and its people as both a lover and a stranger: they embodied the nation he was about to give his life for, and yet he was learning about them until he day he died.  Central to this process was his encounter with an Indian woman at Veguitas.  Martí’s diary is the central text of this chapter, which also looks back to nineteenth-century ciboneyista poetry.

 3.      Richard Harding Davis in Santiago (1896)
                Frederick Albion Ober   Edward Stratemeyer   John Fox Jr   James Street
US engagement in Cuba is the subject of the next two chapters.  This one looks at the fictionalisation of that relationship in the popular novels that preceded and followed the US invasion of 1898.

4.      Andrew Summers Rowan in Bayamo (1898/1949)
                Elbert Hubbard   Louis A. Dent   Cosme de la Torriente y Peraza   Walter Adolphe Roberts
The central story here is of the “message to García”—the mission of US soldier, Andrew Summers Rowan, to the Cuban general, Calixto García, in April 1898.  Beneath Elbert Hubbard’s wildly popular pamphlet celebrating the deed and Rowan’s own four versions, the true story is unearthed, with the help of National Archive documents and Cuban witnesses.  The incident provides the climax to the only Jamaican novel about the Spanish-American War, written in 1949.

 5.     Pablo de la Torriente Brau and Josephine Herbst in Realengo 18 (1934-5)
The revolutionary upheavals of the mid-1930s fall between the periods dominated by the strong men of the Cuban Republic’s first 60 years, Gerardo Machado and Fulgencio Batista.  A series of strikes paralysed the country and were violently repressed.  Meanwhile, in the mountains of Oriente a peasant collective defending its land from the encroaching sugar companies became an unlikely beacon of resistance.  Only two written accounts exist of Realengo 18—by the journalist Pablo de la Torriente Brau, soon to die fighting in the Spanish Civil War, and by the US novelist and journalist, Josephine Herbst.

 6.      Antonio Núñez Jiménez on Pico Turquino (1945/1960)
        Fidel Castro   Herbert Matthews   Ernesto Guevara
The guiding texts here are by the Cuban geographer, Antonio Núñez Jiménez, responsible for bringing Oriente—and other parts of Cuba—back into the national consciousness through his writings of the 1940s and 1950s.  Particular attention is paid to writings about Pico Turquino.  Alongside these is set the journalistic accounts of Herbert Matthews, brought to Oriente to interview Fidel Castro in 1957.

 7.      Graham Greene in Santiago de Cuba (1957)
   Ward Hawkins
Although Greene’s novel Our Man in Havana (1958) is mainly set where its title suggests, one key scene takes place in Oriente, echoing Greene’s own visit in November 1957, where he met two young revolutionary leaders.  This chapter tries to untangle Greene’s involvement in Cuba and to offer a reading of his Cuban novel.  It is set alongside a contemporary US novel about Cuba.

 8.      Stephen Crane and Moazzem Begg at Guantánamo Bay (1898/2005)
                     Harry Scovel   Ralph Paine  Erik Saar   James Yee
In recent years Guantánamo Bay has become the best-known toponym in Oriente.  This chapter starts in 1898 with an analysis of Stephen Crane’s reports and stories based on his experience as a journalist covering the US marine landings in the bay in April 1898.  It then looks at the vast array of writing to have come out the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay since it started housing so-called “enemy combatants”.  This writing includes accounts written by ex-inmates and ex-military personnel.

Writers discussed
Glossary of Cuban terms
Appendix of original language quotations