Grandma still remembers those verses she learned at the age of nine. Jesús Menéndez, General de las Cañas, was assassinated and along with the tragic news some loose sheets with the rhymes that he immediately memorized arrived at the San Miguel de Azopardo batey.
Now, at 82 years of age, she repeats the story of the labor leader born on December 14th , 1911: “When Jesus was a child / conquered a thousand days / and it was there at the Crossroads / where she saw the first light. ” And between the lines she then refers to the workers’ struggles carried out by the member of the Popular Socialist Party who came to lead the National Federation of Cuban Sugar Workers.
Grandmother talks about the humble man who won achievements such as the sugar differential, which allowed sugar workers to receive an extra salary at the end of the year for the increase in the price of sugar that was exported to the United States. But during her tenure, she not only managed to extract millions of dollars from the dominant oligarchy in favor of the sugar producers, she also managed to make them enjoy benefits such as paid rest, workers’ maternity and the creation of the “Retirement and Social Assistance Fund ”for the sector.
Her rebellion against servile and surrender positions made the authentic government of Grau San Martín decide to eliminate her. Regarding these facts, although sometimes some verses escape her, grandmother repeats: “On the unfortunate day / twenty-second of the month of January / he went to the Manzanillo town / on a trip / and when he was getting ready / to get on the train / looking for the same level / on the same railing / Captain Casillas rode / and followed along with him.
” Willing to arrest him, Captain Joaquín Casillas did not hesitate to shoot him three times in the back when the union leader rejected the illegal arrest warrant. “Jesus was shot / upon arriving in Manzanillo / and on the simple platform / of the town station / he was dying overwhelmed / with a sore soul / the leader of the workers / of our beloved country.”
Many were the verses that denounced the crime within the social poetry of the time; like the fiery tenths of Indio Naborí and the masterful Elegy to Jesús Menéndez, written by the poet Nicolás Guillén. But, when thinking about General de las Cañas, my grandmother always remembers those popular lines and the intense pain that the families of San Miguel de Azopardo felt after the loss of the sugar leader.