Tragedy at the La Switzerland hotel

Approximate reading time: 3 minutes, 3 seconds

It usually happens to the plaques in charge of remembering historical events like clothes that one day were good to wear and then daily use ends up making them inconsequential.

Almost an exact kilometer runs between two buildings on the same San Carlos street, marked by plaques and linked by the tragedy 119 years ago: the former La Switzerland hotel (in ruins), and a very modest home at the intersection with Gloria, southwest corner . Few walkers notice them.

In room number one, second floor, of the inn closest to the Cathedral, the bloody events took place that on Wednesday, September 22, 1905, took the lives of Mambi colonel Enrique Villuendas de la Torre and commander Miguel Ángel Illance. He was the first member of the House of Representatives for the province of Las Villas and was one of the leaders of the Liberal Party in the central territory. The second, chief of the Police in Cienfuegos.

The humble home ten blocks away preserves a marble inscription embedded in the side wall by Gloria; written testimony that the funerary chapel of Villuendas, the youngest of the constituents in the Assembly of 1901, was there.

In La Switzerland the legend of the Red Pearl began to be woven that day, a symbol that Cienfuegos would carry at least for the next two decades. Narrating in detail the course of such events – there were two other deaths of lesser renown – clashes with the limitation of the space of this column. It is enough for now to place them in their historical setting: the political struggles between liberals and conservatives that would lead the following year to the August War and the subsequent second military intervention of the United States on the Island.

More than two hours after the brawl at the hotel, the congressman’s body arrived at the Municipal Cemetery aboard La Lechuza, the wagon destined for the last journey of the poor on solemnity. The remains were placed in an unfurnished room in the administrative building of the necropolis. From there the Mambi colonel Paulino Guerén would rescue them in the middle of the afternoon to give them a pious wake in his home, which then marked the eastern limit of the town.

The gesture of the Liberation Army officer, who now earned a living for his people in La Prefectura, a rented agricultural ranch on the other side of Gloria Street, and sympathized with the moderate cause, would later be compared by the liberal activist Luis Perna Salomó with that of the rich senator of Arimathea who obtained the body of Jesus the Nazarene from Pilate.

In the end, it was Guerén, his two sisters and a couple from the Rural Guard who served as the only company for the remains of Villuendas, in whom until that morning Cienfuegos liberalism believed they saw the Moses who would guide them to the government house of San Fernando. and Saint Elizabeth.

Miguel Ángel Illance’s heart was still beating when his subordinates managed to evacuate him from the scene. He stopped doing it on the operating table of the Casa de Socorro, next to the City Hall and just over 100 meters from La Switzerland.

The standard bearer of the Invasion would be mourned by his widow, Caridad Valdés from Cienfuegos. Although the data is not verified. The one who did deplore the death of the son of the central town of La Esperanza was a woman who in Cienfuegos was still the living standard of the independence cause. We know this because the next day among the few floral offerings that sheltered the tomb of the police chief in the Reina necropolis, a reporter from El Comercio recorded one with the following dedication in the handwriting of Rita Suárez del Villar: “Illance: Cubans like you do not die in the heart of La Cubanita.”

The next day dawned in the midst of the lethargy of those hangover mornings. The city had woken up the day after suffering the most devastating political storm in its short and well-run 86 years.

Colonel Paulino Guerén left almost with the sun to fulfill the sad task of giving a Christian burial to the martyr of Villarreal liberalism. The war had cured him of fear and surprises. Upon leaving the improvised family chapel he could imagine any mishap along the mournful route that would take him to the end of the La Majagua Peninsula, except that the funeral processions of Villuendas and Illance would coincide in Martí Park. Coincidence or foresight? Corporal who left loose the chronicle of the events. The truth is that the two dead from La Switzerland would share the last of their earthly journeys.

Both burials were advancing along Paseo de Arango when the camera lens of amateur Isaac Álvarez captured them in a single photo on the morning of September 23, 1905. Such a short distance separated one from the other. The coffin of Commander Miguel Ángel Illance led the way on the shoulders of his comrades-in-arms; and it was closed by the hearse that was driving the outraged corpse of Colonel Enrique Villuendas de la Torre to the Reina municipal cemetery.

It was like a wink from history or a trick of destiny to the two young officers, who only seven years before were fighting in the fields of Cuba, under the same flag of the only star in the triangle of spilled blood. And the to spill.

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