May 23, 2019

ROB O'NEAL/Paradise
A monument celebrating the author of the Cuban National Anthem, Perucho Figueredo, diplays the lyrics, musical notes and a brief history in Cespedes Park, in the historic city of Bayamo in Granma Province.

ROB O'NEAL/Paradise A monument celebrating the author of the Cuban National Anthem, Perucho Figueredo, diplays the lyrics, musical notes and a brief history in Cespedes Park, in the historic city of Bayamo in Granma Province.

This week, I am introducing a disclaimer to my weekly “Our Man in Havana” column. I try very hard to be accurate and part of the often-times grueling, two to four hour process is cross-referencing facts. As most of us know, the internet, while amazing, can be not much more than an echo chamber. I mention this because while digging for information about Cuba’s national anthem, several classics have arisen. The first, and the easiest to spot, was a completely false birthdate for one of our subjects, which happens, even around here. But it’s the copying and pasting of information that drives me nuts. It’s not easy to cross-reference something if 80% of the web sites say the exact same thing, verbatim. So, with that out of the way, let’s talk about Pedro “Perucho” Figueredo.

Born in Bayamo, Cuba, in the province now known as “Granma,” he was a musician, poet and loyal-to-the-end revolutionary who wanted nothing more than to rid his homeland of the occupying Spanish. Ever since the 1500s, the Spanish fought for control of Cuba, briefly giving in a bit to the British and the French. Heck, even future President, then Secretary of War, William H. Taft ran the island as a “provisional Governor” for a couple weeks before handing it over to another American lawyer named Magoon, but I digress. The point is, from the first moments Christopher Columbus “discovered” Cuba, (quickly stealing from, enslaving and/or killing anyone in his path) everybody has wanted Cuba for their own; unfortunately, those pesky inhabitants, to whom the country actually belonged, did too.

So while conflict has seemingly been the norm for centuries, things really started getting ugly in 1868 when Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, a landowner and sugar cane producer, proclaimed freedom for his slaves, whose work ultimately benefitted the Spanish. This move prompted the “Ten Years War,” which, as you can imagine, lasted until 1878. Anyway, legend has it, as do a sufficient amount of web sites, that our man, Figueredo, still sitting atop his horse following the battle of Bayamo, penned what would become, and continues to be this day, the country’s national anthem, “The Hymn of Bayamo.” Originally six stanzas of verse, only two have survived, and once set to classic orchestral notes, gives me goose bumps whenever I hear it.

To arms, quickly, ye Bayamesans!

As the homeland looks proudly to you;

do not fear a glorious death,

For to die for the homeland is to live

To live in shackles is to live

Mired in shame and disgrace,

Now hear the sound of the bugle;

Quickly, ye brave, to arms!

(In case it’s not obvious, a “Bayamesan” is a person from Bayamo Province…just like a “Guantanamera” is from Guantanamo…)

A couple years later, Figueredo was whacked by some Spanish guys, but he certainly left his mark. The freedom fighter is said to have exclaimed, just before the firing squad did the deed, “Morir por la Patria es vivir.” (To die for the country is to live.)

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