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1 Latin America as Anachronism The Cuban Campaign for Annexation and a Future Safe for Slavery, 1848–1856 In Cincinnati in 1851, an Ohioan named William Bland penned a memoir of the last expedition of Narciso López, the Venezuelanborn , self-styled liberator of Cuba who twice tried and failed to forcibly annex the island to the United States. Bland’s sensational book, entitled The Awful Doom of the Traitor; or the Terrible Fate of the Deluded and Guilty, was a record of the defeat and betrayal of López’s U.S. volunteers, supposedly penned by one of their surviving number. Bland was spared execution under an amnesty issued by the Spanish government to surrendering “filibusters,” as the U.S.-based, proslavery, privately organized militia expeditions to Latin America were called in the United States (though the Spanish newspaper Diario de la Marina simply called López’s men “pirates”).1 The most successful filibuster was the diminutive Tennessean William Walker, whose army briefly occupied Nicaragua in 1856 and 1857, reinstituting slavery and establishing­ English as the official language. Until he was deposed by a united Central American force, Walker stood, as Brady Harrison writes, “a five-foot-five colossus across the isthmus.”2 López shared Walker’s grand ambitions but never achieved even his modest success. His final expedition ended with the 1851 execution recounted in Bland’s book. In one of its most implausible episodes—the book was printed by a publisher of sensational literature, and it meets many of the genre’s conventions—the Ohioan watches López’s garroting through his prison bars from a point of view high in Havana’s Morro fortress. From this vantage point, Bland sees all. Far below in the city streets, López’s effigy is beaten by angry crowds before the general himself is led to the gallows. Like the public ritual of effigy burning, the execution as described by Bland is an elaborate ritual, redolent of the Catholic superstition and excess that he associates with 24 Latin America as Anachronism Cuba. As the crowd looks on, López’s Spanish jailers seal their conquest with the garrote, the execution machine favored by Spain: López came forth with a firm and steady step, but a pallid face and ascended the platform. His person was enveloped in a white shroud—the executioner then removed the shroud—and there stood the general, in his full military uniform, before the assembled multitude; his appearance was calm, dignified, and heroic, not a muscle quivered. He looked upon the preparation for death unmoved; his countenance remained unchanged, and his whole bearing was firm and manly. The executioner now removed his embroidered coat, his sash, cravat, and all the insignia of his military rank, as a token of his disgrace. The executioner turns the garrote’s screw, crushing his victim’s throat, and López’s head drops, heavy with symbolism, upon a crucifix held by a priest. “There sat the body,” Bland concludes, “which a moment before was alive, but now a ghastly and inanimate corpse!”3 Just as López’s­ inanimate head rests in a priest’s hands, so is “the benighting influence of priestcraft resting, like a dark spell of sorcery, upon the whole island.” An illustration of López’s execution shows an audience of faintly sketched figures watching the proceedings as a soldier on horseback looms in the background. Meanwhile, on the scaffold, the focal point of the image is the seated general framed by two ominous figures. A Black executioner busies himself with the garrote and a fat priest in dark robes sanctifies the entire proceedings, completing the image’s three-part indictment of Cuban society. For Anglo-Americans who supported its annexation, Cuba had long been perceived as a white republic-in-waiting suffering under an ancient European despotism, which offered men like Bland the historic (and lucrative) opportunity to fulfill the United States’ providential mission to free the hemisphere.4 Now, that dream was an “inanimate corpse” resting on a priest’s crucifix. Before this pathetic end, López had been feted by crowds in New York City and courted as a statesman by southern expansionists like Mississippi’s governor, John Quitman. As a postmortem analysis of López’s doomed filibuster and of Cuba itself, Bland’s tale is revealing for reframing as a space of barbarism what had been, mere months before, one of heroic republicanism. A little-known episode from...

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