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The 1762 British Invasion of Havana

In the Cuban grammar school where I studied six decades ago the British Invasion of Havana -the most important amphibious operation in the New Word during the XVI century- was the difficult "stuff" of  the fourth grade.

Lacking simple history textbooks related to the grade level, we, the students, were compelled to fill a copybook with the notes the teacher dictated .Four or five handwritten sheets seemed an enormity to us  and the "business" with the British lasted almost a week.

While I cannot assert the same took place in all  private and public elementary Cuban schools,  I have the impression that history classes nationwide left much to be desired .But at least nobody ever dared to manipulate the legacy of José Martí associating him to vile personal ambitions, just like Fidel Castro has done.

I also remember in the secondary school the emphasis for instance on the French Revolution.  Something exaggerated and unrealistic. In time I would read about the farce behind the fall of The Bastille - the unjustified assault instigated by the degenerate Marquis of Sade, momentarily one of the few inmates .Then under the  motto " Liberty, Fraternity and Equality" the fury and the excess reached such level that Madame Roland uttered on her way to the guillotine;" Oh, Liberty, what crimes are committed in thy name!"  I admit that more than once I couldn't help the comparison between the French rabble sporting the Phrygian cap and the Cuban mob demanding executions by firing squads.

With no strategist airs, just based in the reports of the events, I am inclined to think that the British intention to invade Havana not necessarily had to conclude with an overwhelming Spanish defeat. To begin with it was not a secret that Great Britain coveted that city. After all it was a vital stronghold larger than New York and Boston.     Besides, at the time of signing a compact with his relative Louis XV of France, the King of Spain Charles III knew that war with Great Britain was inevitable , and he warned the Governor of Cuba Juan de Prado Portocarrrero  about the possibility of a British attack to the colony

Prado Portocarrero disregarded the warning,  particularly the instructions to fortify at once La Cabaña Heights, a true "Achilles'  heel" from where Havana could be subdued by artillery fire. Then, unaware that hostilities had begun between Great Britain and Spain ,the indolent governor  failed to realize at first that the armada  approaching the city was not the customary Spanish fleet expected at that time of the year, but a British naval force. 

The measures for the defense of Havana were contradictory .Also complicated by the ineptitude and the shortage of resources. Since it was impossible to neutralize the powerful British at sea, the best moment to oppose the invasion would had been during the landing of the "Red Coats" in Bacuranao for their vulnerability. While some British frigates covered  the beach with their guns , that fire support had to be curtailed as soon as the invading parties reached the shoreline . Then and there a charge of Spanish cavalry could have provoked a great disarray and many loses to their opponents.

Among a few incidents is worthy  to mention the story of the Guanabacoa Alderman José Antonio Gomez. The intrepid Cuban- today immortalized as Pepe Antonio -led some irregular militias against the British with some success, only to be reprimanded  and dismissed by the Spanish command. The siege lingered for  several weeks  and it was in La Cabaña Heights  where the outcome was settled. Without an adequate opposition there against the invaders, just like Military Engineer Juan  Bautista Antonelli had predicted when he built the nearby Morro Castle,  the bravery of Captain Luis de Velasco, the Spanish naval officer in charge of that fortress, was ineffective.

After the Spanish capitulation the British took control of Havana and its surroundings. For the first time the city was opened to the free trade -something that curiously  reminds me the phrase "Que Cuba se abra al mundo",  the ineffective call for freedom of Pope John Paul II  during his visit to the city years ago after the accord between the Curia and the current Cuban tyrant. While there was some collaboration and some affairs of the heart , the "Habaneros" never fully accepted the British domination. Then, months later, by one of those many peace treaties signed in Paris, Great Britain returned the occupied territory to Spain in exchange for Florida.

Because of the deficient history courses taught in the USA due to assorted interests, the British Invasion of Havana is hardly known in this country. However, the thirteen British colonies of North America were involved in that operation related to the so-called French Indian War .The same war who inspired Fenimore Cooper to write the popular novel "The last of the Mohicans" 

As it could be expected with the Spaniards again in control of Havana there was an ambitious plan to boost its defenses, and finally the Cabaña Fortress became part of the eastern landscape of the city at great expense. According to the legend  King Charles III attempted to see it with a telescope from Madrid. And indeed having visited many colonial fortresses, from San Felipe in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia,  to San Marcos, in St Agustine, Florida, I have never seen any comparable to such large fortified complex .

To conclude, during the last decade in Miami a physician  showed me a model of a white column adorned with barbed wire, intended to be erected in Cuba at the end of the current tyranny there honoring all the victims of the international communism. At once I suggested that the ideal site for that monument would be "El Foso de los Laureles" in la Cabaña Fortress. A place of sad memories and epitome of all the Cuban blood shed since 1959.

Alberto Gutiérrez Barbero

Historic Periods

    I.  From 1,492 to 1,897              II.  From 1,898 to 1,902          III.  From 1,903 to 1,940

  IV.  From 1,941 to 1,958

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