Friday, 12 August 2011

Unidad básica Joaquín de Agüero, Camaguey

On 12th August 1851, Joaquín de Agüero and three of his companions, Tomás Betancourt, Fernando de Zayas and Miguel Benavides, were executed by firing squad in the city of Puerto Príncipe (nowadays Camaguey), in central Cuba. The previous day they had been sentenced to death by the Spanish colonial authorities.
Joaquín de Agüero may not be the most famous hero in the struggle for Cuban independence but some of his actions are worth remembering. Born in 1816 in Puerto Príncipe in a family of small landowners, Agüero was sent at the age of 21 by his father to Havana to study law but returned two years later because of his father's ill health. His father died shortly afterwards and at the end of 1840 Joaquín de Agüero inherited the family's farms and six slaves. Two years later he founded the first free school in Guáimaro, a town of a few hundred souls about 70 km southwest of Puerto Príncipe. If the authorities thanked him for his action, they became extremely concerned when, on 3rd February 1843, he freed his eight slaves and gave each of them a plot of land they could cultivate and earn a living from. At the time pressure was mounting to abolish slavery but the Spanish authorities and large landowners were firmly opposed to such a measure. In that context, Agüero's decision was perceived as a grave offense against property, reason and justice and he was summoned by the governor of Puerto Príncipe to explain his action. Fearing for himself and his family, he left for the United States a few months later but, homesick, returned to Cuba after three months.
Back on the island, Agüero spent most of the time at El Redentor, his farm near Guáimaro, and became increasingly involved in the underground independence movements. By 1849 he was a leading member of Puerto Príncipe's Sociedad Libertadora, whose aim was to organize an armed uprising. This took place on the 4th July 1851 in San Francisco de Juracal, near Guáimaro. Agüero and his followers published a declaration rejecting Spanish authority and demanding independence before heading towards the more remote part of the region. Yet the forty-man strong force was badly organized and inexperienced in military matters. Hunted by Spanish troops, they were rapidly defeated. Agüero was betrayed and arrested on his way to Puerto Príncipe, from where he was hoping to reach the coast and escape to the US (*).

Following the independence several streets, avenues, squares and schools were named after Joaquín de Agüero. In Castrist Cuba, where many shops and companies have adopted the names of some of the island's leading figures, the name of Agüero is also associated in his hometown with a collective catering enterprise that offers, according to the painted sign below, sandwiches, drinks and enormous ice creams!

Empresa alimentación colectiva
Unidad básica Joaquín de Agüero

*: in spite of having "Puerto" in its name, in the 19th century Puerto Príncipe was nowhere near the coast. Originally, when it was founded in 1514 as Santa María del Puerto del Príncipe, it stood on the northern coast of Cuba, near present-day Nuevitas. However because of repeated attacks the site of the settlement was changed a couple of times before the inhabitants moved inland in 1528, halfway between the Atlantic Ocean to the north and the Caribbean Sea to the south. The name was later shortened to Puerto Príncipe. The city was renamed Camaguey in 1898 when Cuba gained independence from Spain.

Location: Avenidad de los Martires, Camaguey / Picture taken on: 30/03/2010

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