THIS DAY IN CUBAN HISTORY
The Death of Cánovas del Castillo – On August 8, 1897, Antonio Cánovas del Castillo, Spanish Prime Minister and a staunch supporter of General Valeriano Weyler’s brutal policies against the Cubans fighting for their independence, was murdered at the hands of an Italian anarchist, Miguel Angiolillo, while on vacation in the spa of “Santa Águeda,” (Guipúzcua) near the popular beach of “La Concha,” in San Sebastian, a favorite summer site of the Spanish aristocracy.
Angiolillo, born in the town of Foggia, became a militant anarchist and declared during his police interrogation that he was avenging the death of five anarchists executed in the fortress of Montjuïch, in Barcelona by orders from Cánovas del Castillo.
However, it is well documented that Angiolillo had met in Paris with Ramón Emeterio Betances, a prominent medical doctor from Puerto Rico, who was the delegate of the Cuban Independence Organization in France. Betances provided Angiolillo with 500 francs to facilitate his travel expenses. The anarchist first targets were the regent Queen Maria Crirtina and his young son, the future Alfonso XIII. Betances dissuaded Angiolillo from carrying out this crime on a child and mother and the terrorist turned his revenge on Canovas.
Cánovas death had a huge impact on Madrid’s prosecution of the war in Cuba. It marked the end of the hardliner cabinet. The regent Queen Maria Cristina of Habsburg asked the pragmatic liberal Práxedes Mateo Sagasta, a sworn political foe of General Weyler, to form a new government. Sagasta did not waste time in ordering Weyler out of Cuba.
At the time, anarchism was at the height of its strength among the radical revolutionaries of Europe during the period known as “La Belle Epoque,” which lasted from the turn of the century to the start of World War I (1914). Its philosophy of indiscriminate terror directed against the political and financial establishment was responsible for the assassination of six heads of states: France’s President, Sadi Carnot, King Humberto of Italy, Empress Elizabeth of Austria, U.S. President William McKinley (shot in 1901 after the Spanish-American War), and two Spanish Prime Ministers, Antonio Cánovas and José Canalejas. It was Frenchman Pierre-Joseph Proudhon who conceived the term “anarchy” as a stateless society. For Proudhon, government of any kind was the worst enemy of humanity and an instrument of exploitation and degradation.
His Russian disciple, Michal Bakunin, added the need for terrorism. Angiolillo’s murdering Cánovas, precipitated an unexpected change of Madrid policy toward Cuba. But the fact remains that, like Marxism, few political ideologies in history are more vile than the Anarchist approach to power, no rational analysis can reveal the deepest malice of this primitive anachronism.
* Pedro Roig is Executive Director of the Cuban Studies Institute. Roig is an attorney and historian that has written several books, including the Death of a Dream: A History of Cuba. He is a veteran of the Brigade 2506.