Tuesday, July 04, 2006


29 Today I talked to my cousin Michael Hatswell

Today, in 1997, I talked to my cousin Michael Hatswell; we had not talked for years. Michael Hatswell remembers the “little dead,” those of who were killed, and who outside of their family were attributed “little importance or power”.

Michael is a son of Aunt Bitina (Victoria) and her dead husband Uncle Joe Hatswell, a Londoner, medic on the beaches of Normandy, landscape artist, shopkeeper, friend of the hill bandits and grower of coffee in Cuba. Michael is a veteran of Vietnam. He and I talked for a long time. Michael talked about how the wilds of the Vietnam countryside reminded him of Cuba. We talked of the "little dead" the unaccounted “insignificant” people who died violently in the political struggles of Cuba.

Michael talked of Campeón the little black man who the Rural Guard shot in the time of the Batista's last dictatorship, when resistance had begun but had not yet gathered force, perhaps 1955 or 1956. Campeón died, shot tied to a fence post on the ridge line of rocky ancient lava flows of the Barrenos road between the ford at El Corojo and Guamá.

Michael talked how of Campeón's mother had cried, and for long nights had lit candles that flickered in the wind. How the flickering candles brought thoughts of ghosts to that place where violent death visited too often.

We talked of how Uncle Levarbo, had been drunk there too for he too, in years before, in 1934, had faced death from Batista troops on that ridge line of the gigantic upturned tilted slab of igneous rock. Others had died there then, but Levarbo lived.

In his re-lived fear and drunken rage, Levarbo threatened Cali (Calixto Norman). Cali is Aunt Betina’s eldest son adopted as Uncle Norman's and Aunt Manuela's youngest son. Levarbo threatened to castrate Cali, he was restrained but continued to rant rage driving out his fear. Levarbo raged on; the army surplus half ton truck roared and whined as heavy cleats of the tread of its tires grasped the hard surface to climb over the rocky slabs of where the road crosses the water shed divide between the Bayamo and the Guamá Rivers.

Uncle Calixto Leonel kept his focus constant on his task kept driving, for this was not a safe road. As the four wheel army surplus truck, our “Sapa” jumped over the uneven ancient lava flows. We traveled between the great cliff that fell vertically into the Guamá River on our left, and the ceja de monte, the eye brow of forest on the Cacaíto Ridge to our right.

There in 1933 trying to reach for the cover of this ceja de monte, two of Gamboa’s rebels had lagged behind the main group, because each been riding double behind a fellow rebel. Their horses’ withers had been straining, bunching to desperately leap up hill. The Batista troops had fired their Springfield rifles, the two riding pillion had been killed. Then a teenager Uncle Levarbo must have seen this since he had been captured to be used as their práctico, as their guide and then was intended to be executed.

Cousins and uncles restraining an older Levarbo; Lionel my brother and Michael sat quietly, moving their heads and backs to smooth the jolts of the truck, on the hard wooden benches of the truck. We kids did not understand that Levarbo suffered the warrior's disease; he suffered from delayed stress syndrome. Now we children are just puzzled then, Michaela and I would learn too much about DSS in later years.

Down below the great cliff the last caiman the last little Cuban crocodile of the area hid. Its presence was only made known by its tracks on the river's sands. Michael and I had made a great iron hook to catch it, and showed it proudly to Uncle Joe. We were lectured for our stupidity and watched our plans of great hunting evaporate as Uncle Joe forbade us carry out our dangerous task.

On the west side of ridge the slopes ended in the naked rocks of the pools of Lajas on the Bayamo river. There as two skinny little children Michael, dark haired like his mother and his little brother Garry who had gotten his tow-flax gold, hair from his father, had collected caguayo lizards from the trees and thrown them into the water. The lizards had swum rapidly, but not fast enough for the great bass that rose and took almost all the little reptiles before they reached the safety of the variegated, multicolored, speckled drum sized boulders of the flood plane on the other side.

Michael tells me of the two bloody beaten bandits lead bleeding to their deaths by Rural Guards. He saw this as a child in Cacaíto at his father's shop among the dark green shade of the coffee groves. We wonder now if the bandits were captured men of Edesio Hernandez, men who said were caught, after the encounter at the place of the great pines trees. Among the tree lived the ivory billed woodpeckers nesting in holes in the ancient tree trunks. All this was on the higher parts of the ridge that leads from the Barrenos, through Cacaíto to the west limb of the Los Números Ridge. All this was on family land.

The Guards ride driving the doomed men ahead of them slashing their backs with the flat of their paraguayo sabers. Each prisoner with noose around his neck walks ahead of horse of one the pair of mounted police. The little procession winds out of the coffee trees down towards the Bayamo valley. The victims and their executioners pass into a dip in the road where they cannot be seem by Michael, only the Guards emerge, the men, these presumed bandits have joined the ranks of the unknown little dead.

The Batista dictatorship will end, January 1, 1959 a day which will find the Hatswell in the town of Bayamo. The Batista Army members, abandoned to their fate and sold to out the rebels by their own leaders are being harassed by a mob.

In colonial times el Señor de Horca y Cuchillo de Guisa, Lord of the Gallows and the Knife of Guisa, Grandmother's father Don Benjamin Ramírez ruled a house that was a traditional sanctuary to those who could reach his door. Now Uncle Joe, as the family tradition of protecting the endangered demands, invites the few, he knows to the safety of his house. They are safe for now.

Michael a mere lad gets a 7-26 armband, a symbol of allegiance to Castro, and rides his bicycle to see the sights of change. He rides to the thick walled Bayamo cuartel fort; it is by the river across the street from Grandmother’s town house. Their, Batista army members are being executed.

Years before in this very place an ill conceived Castro rebel assault led by Ñico Lopez had failed because the rebels had stumbled across some discarded metal cans. The attackers been rewarded for failure by being hunted down and a number were killed. Here, and in Santiago, Castro had made his first move against Batista. It seems logical now to assume that if Castro had concentrated all his forces on the attack of the much smaller garrison of Bayamo, he would have been successful.

Now in January 1959 early Michael, my cousin, rides his bike; he takes to central highway east towards La Granja on the Cauto Plains just out side of Bayamo. La Granja once the farm of Mr. Hines the kind expert US farmer, was donated as place to hold farm exhibitions and show cattle and horses to thus help improve Cuban animal husbandry.

I once, when quite young perhaps twelve I saw the prize animals there. Mr. Hines had given Uncle Marcos his great stud boar with his well grown pink corkscrew penis. We kids had watched in fascination as this organ skillfully fertilized many grateful sows. The boar was named for after its donor. Uncle Marcus charged the pick of the litter for “Mr. Hines” much valued services.

Under the shade of mango trees and in much ill smelling mud Mr. Hines was making much grunting noises. Looking sideways and under his huge back as he hunched over the much smaller females he was riding, we could see his odd tool unsheathed. We watched staring mute in wonder as glistening in its pinkness Mr. Hines yuan penetrated in and out of the equally moist dark tubular orifice-tunnel of the xoxa of his receptive mate.

We children were developing at a most odd vision of coitus from this sight. We were fascinated; yet we watched with caution, from behind a board reinforced fence because, Mr. Hines was a killer pig and we kids feared he would eat us. Mr. Hines died as he lived full of gluttony, when he ate too much of a carcass of a Brown Swiss stud bull that had died falling off a great cliff. Uncle Marcus had cried when this happened.

Now La Granja is no longer what which has been until these very few last days, it is no longer an important strong point of the Batista Army on the plains of the Cauto. For most of the revolution, we had reasons to fear La Granja, where Batista kept a good number of Sherman tanks and T-17 heavy armored cars. Outside this strong place, we rebels had lost a Captain, a former chief of Las Peñas Comandancia; he in foolish bravery had attacked the place armed only with his courage, a few followers and his San Cristóbal machine gun carbine.

La Granja had also housed La Pesa, a former truck weighing station. It no longer is what it had been mere days before it no longer was a center of interrogation and cruel torture. In those early days of 1959, Michael sees the dead prisoners standing in water filled concrete pits, he helps release the hurt prisoners. Michael sees the dead and barely living prisoners still standing in water filled concrete pits; he helps the hurt prisoners and aid them as best he can.

The torturers are being shot. Michael describes the scene in such surrealistic terms as if not real, the torturers put up no resistance, they taken out one a time to their death. The torturers seem to scorn death, they point out where the bullets should hit, where the execution squad should aim.

The process is messy; the novice execution squad does not want to kill. The condemned are missed or hit on the arm or leg. They have to be set up again and given the coup de grace.

That is over, a few days pass, Michael and his blond beautiful young sister Madeline, wander further a-field. They go further east along the highway on their bicycles; they take the road south to Guisa along that dry ugly valley. They stop and look at ambushed vehicles, the look at the still green bones of many dead Batista soldiers. Braulio Coroneaux and his woman machine gunners had done this. Coroneaux died there but he took many with him.

Michael and Madeline are still children; in their innocence they collect a few bones. Madeline picks up part of a skull and carries it home on her bike handlebars. In the citizens of battle hardened warrior town of Bayamo almost all rejoice a dictatorship is gone, the citizens do not know a worse one is rising. Soon Michael and Madeline and all their family will leave Cuba for ever.

Uncle Joe will die in the US. Michael is destined to survive Vietnam and live in peaceful Oregon; his brother Garry will be lost to the darkest corners of a carrier of crime, Madeline will have an unhappy marriage. Cali, his half-brother, will become the owner of a successful and elite instantaneous translation business.

Larry S. Daley Copyright 1998, 2004, 2006


Blogger angie hatswell said...

Hello my name is Angelina Hatswell. Bitina was my grandmother and Gary was my father. I have been searching for a very long time to find answser about my father. I ran across and so far this is the closest I have come. Im hopin maybe you can help. Thank you

11:34 AM  
Blogger El Jigue said...


Sorry I do not know where your father is. ...

I can be reached at daleyl@peak.org
and perhaps talk ...

6:25 PM  

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