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On November 24, seeing that their Anatomy professor was late to class, the eight students decided to visit the nearby Espada Cemetery. There, they walked down its streets, picked a flower in front of the offices and rode on the wagon in which they took corpses to their anatomy class—innocent pranks of these boys whose ages ranged from 16 to 21. The vexed Spanish guard on duty that day decided to make a false denunciation saying that the boys had scratched the glass on the tomb of Spanish journalist Gonzalo Castañón. They and the rest of their class (although the latter were never even near the cemetery) were arrested and processed.
Barely three days later, on November 27, at 1:00 pm, the Council signed the sentence which stated the names of the students who were to die, and around 4:00 pm, they entered the chapel, each holding a crucifix in their tied hands. They were taken to the esplanade at La Punta where the execution would take place. On their knees and with their backs to their executioners, the innocent students were executed in pairs by firing squad. To add insult to injury, the bodies were taken to a place outside the city walls and thrown in a common grave. Their families were not allowed to claim their dead and give them a Christian burial, and their death certificates were never recorded in any church.
The other students of their class also received unjust punishments: 11 were sentenced to six years in prison, 20 to four years, and four to six months, plus their possessions were all subject to civil liability as determined by law.
This fateful event, which took place three years after the beginning of the Ten Years War for independence, was actually an exemplary lesson by Spain in face of the strength the rebels had obtained during those years. The Spanish Crown wanted to make clear how far an agonizing system was prepared to go to retain its power. Both the crime as well as the subsequent proceedings only contributed to reinforce the spirit of independence among the Cuban people.
This is why every year, medicine students and youth in general gather at the steps of the University of Havana and march down to the memorial that surrounds the wall where the eight medicine students were executed in 1871. November 2014 This article formed part of the november 2014 issue of What’s On Havana The definitive monthly travel & culture guide to Havana Download our current issue of What’s On Havana, your definitive travel, culture and entertainment guide for all things happening in Havana, Cuba’s bustling and enigmatic capital city. We include features from around Cuba written by the best international travel writers covering Cuba. Our monthly online digital magazine is also available in Spanish and French.
What’s On Havana What’s On La Habana What’s On La Havane November, 2014
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