Reconcentration Camps (Full Text)

Head Note: By the late 1800ís, the Spanish were losing control of their colony, Cuba. Concerned about guerilla warfare in the countryside, they moved rural Cubans to "reconcentration" camps where the Spanish claimed they would be better able to protect them. However, people around the world saw newspaper reports that described horrible conditions in the camps for the Cuban people, who were called "reconcentrados." This account was forwarded to Washington D.C. by Fitzhugh Lee, who said its author was "a man of integrity and character."

[Inclosure with dispatch No. 712]

Sir: The public rumor of the horrible state in which the reconcentrados of the municiple council of Havana were found inthe fosos having reached us, we resolved to pay a visit there, and we will relate to you what we saw with our own eyes:

Four hundred and sixty women and children thrown on the ground, heaped pell-mell as animals, some in a dying condition, other sick and others dead, without the slightest cleanliness, nor the least help, not even to give water to the thirsty, with neither religious or social help, each one dying wherever chance laid them, and for this limited number of reconcentrados the deaths ranged between forty and fifty daily, giving relatively ten days of life for each person, with great joy to the authorities who seconded fatidically the politics of General Weyler to exterminate the Cuban people, for these unhappy creatures recieved food only after having been for eight days in the Fosos, if during this time they could feed themselves with the bad food that the dying refused.

On this first visit we were present at the death of an old man who died through thirst. When we arrived he begged us, for God's sake, to give him a drink. We looked for it and gave it to him, and fifteen minutes afterwards he breathed his last, not having had even a drink of water for three days before. Among the many deaths we witnessed there was one scene impossible to forget. There is still alive the only living witness, a young girl of 18 years, whom we found seemingly lifeless on the ground; on her right-hand side was the body of a young mother, cold and rigid, but with her young child still alive clinging to her dead breast; on her left-hand side was also the corpse of a dead woman holding her son in a dead embrace; a little farther on a poor, dying woman having in her arms a daughter fo fourteen, crazy with pain, who after five or six days also died in spite of the care she received.

In one corner a poor woman was daying, surrounded by her children, who contemplated her in silence, without a lament or shedding a tear, they themselves being real specters of hunger, emaciated in a horrible manner. This poor woman augments the catalogue already large of the victims of the reconcentration in the fosos.

The relation of the pictures of misery and horror which we have witnessed would be never ending were we to narrate them all.

It is difficult and almost impossible to express by writing the general aspect of the inmates of the fosos, because it is entirely beyond the line of what civilized humanity is accustomed to see; therefore no language can describe it.

The circumstances which the municipal authorities could reunite there are the following: Complete accumulation of bodies dead and alive, so that it was impossible to take one step without walking over them; the greatest want of cleanliness, want of light, air, and water; the food lacking in quality and quantity what was necessary to sustain life, thus sooner putting an end to these already broken-down systems; complete absence of medical assistance; and what is more terrible than all, no consolation whatever, religious or moral.

If any young girl came in any way nice looking, she was infallibly condemned to the most abominable of traffics.

At the sight of such horrible picutres the two gentlemen who went there resolved in spite of the ferocious Weyler, who was still Captain General of the island, to omit nothing to remedy a deed so dishonorable to humanity, and so contrary to all Christianity. They did not fail to find persons animated with like sentiments, who, puttting aside all fear of the present situation, organized a private committee with the exclusive end of aiding materially and morally the reconcentrados. This neither has been nor is at present an easy task. The great number of the poor and scarcity of means make us encounter constant conflicts. This conflict is more terrible with the official elements and in a special manner with the mayor of the city and the civil authorities, who try by all means to annihilate this good work. The result of the collections are very insignificant if we bear in mind the thousands of people who suffer from the reconcentrations; but it serves for some consolation to see that in Havana some 159 children and 84 women are well cared for in the asylum erected in Cadiz street, No. 82, and 93 women and children are equally well located in a large saloon erected for them in the second story of the fosos, with good food and proper medical assistance, as also everything indispensable to civilized life.

According to the information which we have been able to acquire since August until the present day, 1,700 persons have entered the Fosos proceeding from Jaruco, Campo Florido, Guanabo, and Tapaste, in the province of Havana. Of these, only 243 are living now ans are in the Quinta del Rey and the Hospital Mercedes, the whole amounting to about 397, and of these a great many will die on account of the great sufferings and hunger they have done through.

From all this we deduct that the number of deaths among the reconcentrados has amounted to 77 per cent.

Source: Excerpt from an unsigned enclosure included with a telegram sent by Fitzhugh Lee, U.S. Consul-General in Cuba, November 27, 1897. Havana, Cuba.