Yaní tainó, yaní tainó.

Let the Taíno language be heard.

Yaní tainó, yaní tainó. Dayaní.

Goeíz nitaynó guajirós guacá!


Imagine the sand of the beach called

Girón, fine and white, the big bend

that turns the corner of the Bay of Pigs,



Imagina la arena de Playa Girón,

fina y blanca, gira

en el rincón

de la Bahía de Cochinos



Tócala. Tómala con la punta de tus dedos.

Déjala caer.

Estás tocando la sangre del imperio.


Touch it. Take some in your fingertips.

Let it fall. You are touching

the blood of empire.


A cloudless midday, May twenty-sixth,

fourteen-ninety-four, two years after his first

"voyage of discovery," the Italian Cristoforo

Columbo - Christopher Columbus - called

by the Spaniards Cristóbal Colón - approaches

the mouth of the Bay of Pigs. He is

on his second voyage to "the Indies."

He thinks he is off the coast of China,

and carries letters of state

from the king and queen of Spain

to the Great Emperor Khan.

He stands on the quarterdeck, squinting

at the shore, wondering

if Cuba is finally the mainland he seeks.

The sun is a searing disc

directly above his head. His troubled thoughts

turn back to Isabela, his colony on Haiti,

with half his men sick, the rest angry and bitter,

little gold collected, food supplies low,

the Indians strained and wary.

Yesterday's shore had been lined

with Indian villages, the ships

often surrounded by Taíno-Arawaks in canoes

offering songs and gifts to their visitors

from "the sky," (not yet understanding

what it meant

to be subjects of a European king), but today

at the mouth of the Bay of Pigs

Columbus sees no village, the shore

is mangrove swamp, impenetrable.



glistening before them: a white

crescent of sand laced with palm groves.


Churning water: a great herd of beasts!

The Indians call them manatee,

but the seamen call them pigs.


The boats are lowered;

the rowers pull their oars; the hulls

glide through the waves, up onto the beach.

Columbus steps out; his foot sinks

softly into the sand of Playa Girón.


From his log book, these

are his very words:


"At the edge of the sea,

in a great grove of palms

that seemed to reach the sky,

there gushed forth two springs

of water, and when the tide

was on the ebb, the water

was so cold and so sweet

that no better could be found in the world.

No people appeared, but there were signs

of their presence in cut palms.

And we all

rested there on the grass by those springs

among the scent of the flowers

and the sweet singing

of little birds, and all was so gentle,

and the shade of the palms so grand and fair,

to see it all was a wonder!"


So Columbus gushed

over all he found in the Bay of Pigs,

as he did over so much in this New World.

But beneath the enthusiasm

was a dark side of Columbus,

an underside.


Nearby the Bay of Pigs is Laguna de Tesoro,

"Lake of the Treasure," where the local Taínos

threw their sacred objects of gold

to hide them from the Spaniards;

somewhere on the lake bottom

today they are still there.


May twenty-sixth, fourteen-ninety-four;

April seventeenth, nineteen-sixty-one.


Sangre llena las huellas de Cristóbal Colón

en la arena pálida de Playa Girón;

blood fills the footprints of Cristóbal Colón

in the pale sand of Playa Girón.

He hadn't undertaken his "enterprise"

in the spirit of science,

but lusted for gold and power,

and sailed into the setting sun not just

to "discover" the Indies but

to conquer them.


That's the deal he wrangled

from the king and queen of Spain

three years before, that he,

though a commoner, a foreigner, would become

Governor and Viceroy of all

"islands and continents"

that he might "discover and acquire,"

as well as "Admiral of the Ocean Sea," and

be granted "the noble title of don."

And he would get to keep one tenth

of all "gold, silver, pearls, gems, spices,

and other merchandise" in these lands,

free of all taxes.


But none

of this Columbus was doing for himself

alone. No, he saw visions and portents

and had greater plans: he

had sworn to the Virgin Mary that if she

would guide him by this new route,

bypassing the Moslem blockade

of the road to the East, he would repay her,

within seven years,

by converting the Indies to the Christian Faith,

and by gathering its fabled wealth to pay

for a new crusade

to reconquer the Holy Land from the Infidels.

And the fall of Jerusalem

and recapture of the Holy Sepulchre of

Jesus by his troops, scheduled to occur about

the dawn of the year fifteen-hundred, Columbus

was certain, would be the signal for

the Second Coming.


Sangre llena las huellas de Cristóbal Colón

en la arena pálida de Playa Girón.


And when the Virgin Mary did - or so he

thought - guide Columbus across

the water, at the very first land he touched,

he began to repay her,

by kidnapping six Taínos:

"They interrogated us as if

we had come from heaven," he wrote,

"and cried out in loud voices

to the others, 'Come see the men from the sky.

Bring them food and drink.'

There came many of both sexes, every one

bringing something, giving thanks to God,

prostrating themselves on the earth, lifting up

their hands to heaven... I took by force six

of the Indians from the first island,

and intend to carry them to Spain in order

to learn our language and return, unless your

Highnesses should choose instead to have

them all transported to Spain, or held

captive on the island. These people are

very simple in matters of war... I could

conquer the whole of them with fifty men,

and govern them as I pleased... They are

all of good size and stature, straight-

limbed without exception, and handsomely

formed, with fine shapes and faces; their hair

short, coarse like a horse's tail, combed

toward the forehead except for a small

portion which they let hang down

behind, and never cut... Their eyes are very

large and beautiful... They quickly learn

such words as are spoken to them... They

are very clever and honest, display great

liberality, and will give whatever

they possess for a trifle or for nothing

at all... Whether there exists any such thing

as private property among them I have not

been able to ascertain... As they appear

to have no religion, I believe they would very

readily become Christians... They would make

good servants... They are fit to be ordered

about and made to work, to sow, and do

aught else that may be needed, and your

Majesties may build towns and teach

them to go clothed and adopt our customs...

Seeing some with little bits of gold

at their noses, I gathered by signs that by going

southward there would be found a king

with large vessels of gold in large quantities...

To sum up the great profits of this voyage, I am

able to promise, for a trifling assistance

from your Majesties, any quantity of

gold, drugs, cotton, mastic, aloe, and as many

slaves for maritime service as your

Majesties may stand in need of."


Those are the words of Christopher Columbus.


Yes, Columbus invented the slave trade

in the New World.


Sangre llena las huellas de Cristóbal Colón

en la arena pálida de Playa Girón




Who were these Taínos?


Probably the friendliest

people in all the Americas: Taíno means

"peaceful" or "good."

They lived in villages of round

palm-thatched caneys, some

with several thousand inhabitants.


The men and boys wore no clothes,

nor did the girls until their first menstruation,

then a small nagua, and after marriage

a woven cotton apron. They slept in net

hammocks. The women wore lightning-bugs

in their hair.


Their main weapons

were cane spears with fish-bone tips.

They hunted the groundhog-like hutía

with trained little barkless dogs.

They used pet parrots to decoy wild ones,

then noosed their feet. They braved the sea

in cedar dugout canoes with square ends,

some large enough to carry eighty or more.

They tied a rope to the tail of the ramora fish,

and, when the ramora attached itself

to another fish by its sucker mouth,

the fisherman would pull them both out.

The Taínos were great swimmers.


Their bread was cassava, baked

on a stone griddle. They kept a pepper-pot soup

simmering at all times. They shaped clay

coils into pots, wove baskets from

biheo leaves. They mixed earth and ashes

into conuco mounds where they grew cassava;

near rivers they used ditch irrigation.

On hillsides they planted corn, five kernels

in each hole a pace apart. They grew yams,

beans, pepper, arrowroot, peanuts; kept

orchards of coconuts, papayas, mameys,

pears, annonas, guavas, pineapples.


They had broad flat foreheads, from being

pressed between boards as infants. In their

pierced ears and noses, they wore

shell, bone, stone, and gold.

They painted their bodies

with symbols, the men preferring red,

the women yellow, white, and black.

They bathed daily, using digo root as soap.


To lock a house, they placed a stick

across the entrance, and no Taíno would

think to pass.


Their only rivals were

the Caribs of the Lesser Antilles, who would

raid occasionally in search of women.

The Taínos never raided back.


Who were these Taíno people?

At the hub of each village was a plaza,

a ceremonial center, with a temple housing

the village zemís. These were

effigies of stone, wood, shell, or gold, in which

resided messengers to the gods. Near

the temple was a court where they played

a ceremonial ball game in re-creation of a

heroic myth. Close by was the bohío, the

large rectilinear home of the cacique

and his - or her - extended family.

The cacique's job was the village welfare,

assigning the daily work routine, and

making sure everyone got a fair share. Two

of the six main caciques on Haiti when

Columbus arrived, were women.


The Taínos danced to areitos, songs of tribal

history, of the zemís, of love and mourning.

They danced revolving in circles,

with strings of rattling shells on their wrists

and ankles, waving palm fronds, to the sound

of hollow-log drums, shell timbrels, copper and

gold castanets. The bohuti-priests sang areitos

to cure the sick, to the drone of a maiohavan,

a wooden gong with a long neck, so resonant

it could be heard a half league away.


Who were these Taíno people?

They believed there is an immortal

being in the sky whom none can see,

who has a mother but no beginning.

They called him Yocahu and his

mother Atabex. The zemís were

their messengers.


They believed that out of a cave called

Yoyovava on the isle of Haiti came

the sun and moon; from two other

nearby caves, Cacibayagua and Amayauba,

came the Taíno people.


They believed that the ocean was formed

from the great flood that poured out

of the stolen calabash

that Dimivan dropped.


They believed that at death their souls

journeyed to the beautiful valley of

Coaybay, presided over by the cacique

Maquetaurié, where they remained

in pleasure forever.

They had a myth - an old story, remembered

in many areitos - of how once a great cacique

named Guamiquiná, who wore

clothes and a beard, came down

from the sky in a ship,

from a place called Turey,

bringing precious gifts and teaching

the Taíno people many skills. Guamiquiná

could only stay a short while then

left, promising to return someday.


Was it any wonder then, when

Columbus appeared at these same shores,

the Taínos called him Guamiquiná,

expected him to stay only

a short while, and were shocked when

they realized that he didn't plan

to leave at all?


In the zemí-temple was a round wooden table,

on which they kept powdered cohaba-root:

the bohuti-priest would place some

on the head of a zemí, sniff the cohaba

through a branched cane, fall into a trance,

speak with the zemí, then return with a message

in an archaic tongue. The word cohaba

meant "to pray." It was through the cohaba

that the cacique Cacivaquel spoke

with the zemí Yiocavugama, who gave him,

decades prior, a prophesy of the arrival

of the Christians and a warning

of what they would do.

All the caciques knew this prophesy, but hadn't

the heart to tell their people.


Sangre llena las huellas de Cristóbal Colón

en la arena pálida de Playa Girón.




On his first voyage, two years before

he reached the Bay of Pigs, Columbus wrecked

his flagship Santa María on a reef

off Haiti-Bohío-Quisqueya, the cultural center

of the Taíno world. He was rescued

from the reef

by the local chief, Guacanagarí.


Columbus stayed only long enough

to build a fort, then sailed

back to Spain on the Niña,

leaving thirty-nine men behind.


Returning ten months later, Columbus found

the settlement burned to the ground.


Guacanagarí had tried to protect the

Christians, but they'd abused the Taíno

people until Caonabó,

"Golden House," cacique of the golden

mountains of Cibao, the most powerful

chief on Haiti, came down and

killed them all.

Caonabó was held in awe

by the Taínos. By blood half Carib,

the Taínos' only tribal enemies,

he had risen through sheer ability

to the top of the Taíno world.

He shared power with his wife,

Anacaoná, "Flower of Gold,"

renowned for wisdom, graciousness, and beauty.


Columbus knew

he'd have to settle the score

with Caonabó someday. But first business

was start a new settlement, "Isabela,"

gather gold, and discover the mainland.


So Columbus

left most of his men on Haiti

and sailed off once more,

to the Bay of Pigs and beyond, until

he was so certain

that Cuba was the mainland

that he made his entire crew sign an oath

that they would never say it was an island

(like the stubborn Indians insisted)

under penalty of having their tongues cut out.


On his return to Haiti,

he found the colony in disastrous straits.

Little gold had been collected, far from enough

to cover expenses, much less fulfill

his extravagant promises.


In desperation

he proposed to the king and queen

(as a temporary expedient of course,

until the gold mines begin to produce),

a plan to capture and sell

all the Carib Indians

on the fanciful grounds

that they were implacable cannibals

and fierce enemies of Spain's friends,

the Taínos.


But the king and queen balked,

as the first few Indians he'd sent quickly died.


Meanwhile, gangs of soldiers were roaming

Haiti, skirting only the province of Caonabó,

committing brutalities of every sort

against the Taínos, who suffered in silence until

one chief, Gua Tiguaná,

ambushed three Spaniards and killed them.


Columbus didn't hesitate:

by Spanish law, "rebels" could be enslaved;


Taínos were easier to catch than Caribs.

He sent his army to their village, rounded up

fifteen hundred men, women, and children,

chose five hundred fifty of the fittest,

boarded them on four ships, and sent them off

to the slave market in Seville;

the rest Columbus offered to the colonists

as personal slaves, his complements, no charge.

Two hundred died aboard ship,

and most of the rest soon after arrival.

Gua Tiguaná was condemned to death by arrows,

but chewed through his ropes

and escaped to the mountains,

where he organized resistance.


Columbus found him and attacked

with artillery, cavalry, infantry, and dogs.

In the end, Gua Tiguaná's people

made Columbus another few shiploads of slaves.


Yet he was only a subchief

to the great cacique Caonabó,

who had to be approached now,

but with more caution.


Columbus sent a delegation with gifts

to Caonabó, led

by the intrepid Lt. Ojeda, already famed

as the first to enforce Columbus' decree

to cut off the ears or nose of any Indian

stealing Spanish property.


In his village,

high in the mountains of Cibao, Ojeda

met Caonabó, who wore a crown "with wings

on its sides like a shield and golden eyes

as large as silver cups." Ojeda told him

that Columbus offered peace,

if only he would come down

to the settlement to talk. Caonabó, despite

everything, responded, "Yes,

if Guamiquiná wants peace,

I will make peace. I ask only one thing:

to be given

the Christians' church bell as a sign."

So they started down.


Stopping at a river bank, Ojeda held up a

set of manacles to Caonabó, and said,

"These are ceremonial bracelets,

worn only by kings on horseback:

Lord Columbus

has sent them for you to wear

on this great occasion."


So Caonabó became the first Indian

to ever ride

one of these magic creatures called horse.


Caonabó was tied to the saddle behind Ojeda,

the chains locked on his wrists and ankles;

Ojeda suddenly spurred the horse

across the river, away from the startled

Indian delegation, and hardly stopped until

they reached the settlement, where the greatest

chief of Haiti, instead of being given

the church bell, was thrown at Columbus'

feet, then chained on the porch

of Columbus' house

on the main plaza, for all to see.

The entire island,

except for the village of Guacanagarí,

rose in revolt,

but the Taínos' fish-bone tipped spears

were no match for cold steel,

so all the island was quickly conquered,

and Columbus, imitating Caesar in Gaul,

imposed tribute on the native people.


Sangre llena las huellas de Cristóbal Colón

en la arena pálida de Playa Girón.


Each Taíno over fourteen years of age

in the region of Cibao

had to pay enough gold

to fill a hawk's bell measure

every three months, and in return

received a brass token

to wear about his neck as proof

of up-to-date payments. Caciques had to pay

a half calabash full of gold

every two months. The penalty

for nonpayment was amputation of the hands.

The gold the Taínos possessed

had been collected over many generations;

within a season Columbus had it all

and the only way the Taínos

could fill their quotas was

to dig it from the river banks. Soon

the streams were filled with whole families,

desperately trying to find enough in time.

They began to flee to the highest mountains

and remotest spots, leaving their crops

unplanted, and famine stalked the land.


But the Christians came after them.

When the Taínos caught a Spaniard now,

they melted gold and poured it down his throat.

Columbus kept the great cacique Caonabó

chained on his front porch for two years, then

put him on a ship for Spain;

he died at sea.


One by one all the chiefs of Haiti,

men and women,

Guarionéx, Behechió, Mayobanéx, Gua Tiguaná,

Cotubanamá, Cayacoá, Higuanamá,

Caonabó's wife Anacaoná,

were tortured, hanged, impaled, burned

at the stake, except for Guacanagarí,

Columbus' one unwavering friend, and he

was banished by his own village, for

Columbus had not exempted even them

from the horrors of the tribute collectors, so

Guacanagarí, an outcast, died

a squalid death on some remote peak.


The Taínos could not understand

why the Christians wanted this gold.


One cacique of Haiti, Hatuey, fled

with his people to Cuba. When told that the

Christians had followed them, he took out

a basket of gold, and said, "Here

is the God of the Christians. They want

us to worship this God: that is why

they struggle with us and kill us. Let us dance

for this God. Who knows? It may please

the Christian God and then they will do us

no harm."


So he and his people danced

before the gold. Then Hatuey hurled

it into the middle of a river.


Not long after,

the Christians caught him

and tied him to a stake. A friar who knew

the Taíno language, told Hatuey,

just before they touched the flames,

"If you become a Christian, even now,

you will go to Heaven instead of

to the eternal torment of Hell."


Hatuey asked the friar, "Do

all Christians go to Heaven?" The friar

said, "They do;" and Hatuey replied, "I

would prefer then to go to Hell."

Sangre llena las huellas de Cristóbal Colón

en la arena pálida de Playa Girón.


And so the island of Haiti-Bohío-Quisqueya,

which in Taíno means,

Mountain-House-Of Which Nothing Is Greater,

a land thriving with millions

of people when Columbus arrived,

within a short time was almost



Most of the Taíno men wound up as slaves

in the mines, most of the women slaves

in the fields, where thousands died

of exhaustion, disease, and hunger.

Those hiding in the mountains saw

that all was lost, and thousands jumped

from cliffs, hanged or stabbed themselves,

or drank cassava poison.

And the beautiful Taíno language

became silence.


Most of the gold, the treasure

of the Taíno nation,

was stowed on a fleet bound for Spain,

but Guabancéx, the zemí of hurricanes,

rose a great wind and sucked the gold

to the ocean bottom, to mix

with the bones of Caonabó.


Faced with a labor shortage, the Christians

sent soldiers to the other islands, to capture

slaves for the mines and plantations

of Haiti, and to begin setting up plantations

and mines on those other islands too.


Sangre llena las huellas de Cristóbal Colón

en la arena pálida de Playa Girón.


This is the Taíno language:


Datoá guariquén ayacavó datiáo.

Mother, come meet my friend.


Mayaní, guaguá areitó ocamá.

Quiet, my baby, listen to the song.


Caconá behiqué chug, darocoél.

Take this gift of medicine, grandfather.


Itá caoná.

I don't have any gold.


Guaibá cristianós anaquí kanaimá.

Let us get away from the Christian devils.


Baizá! Mayanimacamá!

No! Do not kill me!


Opiá dacá.

I am dead.




What sort of man was this Columbus?


The son of a weaver, he pretended

to descend from an ancient Roman Consul.

Who was this Columbus?


As an incentive to the sailors on his

first voyage, the king and queen had

offered a reward to the first man

to sight land, a reward of forty thousand

maravedis per year for life: a trifle

for a rich man, a fortune for a poor.


It was a common seaman named

Rodrigo de Triana who was the first

to actually sight and cry, "Land!" but

when they got back to Spain,

Admiral Columbus claimed

- and got -

the reward himself, for his story of having

seen some beckoning light

in the dark the night before, even though

he never actually cried, "Land!" while

the seaman Rodrigo got nothing.


Who was this man Columbus?


He had read the imaginary

Travels of Sir John Mandeville,

and taken it literally, so when he

finally did reach the continent, at

the Orinoco river in Venezuela, Columbus

made perhaps his greatest discovery:


"I have always read that the world

of land and sea is spherical. All authorities

and recorded experiments

have confirmed this until now...

But I have found such great irregularities

here that I have come to the conclusion

that the world is not round,

but the shape of a pear,

with only one side round

and the other jutting out

like a woman's nipple...

I believe that

the earthly Paradise lies here,

as testified in Holy Scripture,

which no one can enter

except by permission of God."


It was here in Venezuela, on the nipple

of Paradise, that Columbus planned to start

his first mainland colony, in order

to sail upstream to the heights of Eden,

with God's permission, and to harvest

the nearby pearl beds he'd discovered.


Who was this man Columbus?


The Taínos were not the only ones

with reason to hate the Governor:

a steady stream

of colonists returning to Spain

accused him of

abuse of authority, fiscal mismanagement,

withholding of salaries, embezzlement,

boundless personal ambition. Some rose

in the first colonial revolt in the New World,

in alliance with the Taínos,

led by Columbus' former footman and squire,

Francisco Roldán, whom he in his wisdom

had appointed Chief Justice.


Meanwhile almost all the Indian slaves

that Columbus sent to Spain soon died, until

finally the king and queen decided to

send the last few Indians alive in Spain

back to the Indies, along with a royal

investigator, Commander Bobadilla, who sailed

into the harbor of Columbus' new capitol,

Santo Domingo, on August twenty-third,

the year fifteen-hundred. The first thing

he saw was three swaying bodies

on the gallows, "rebels"

hanged hours before; the prison held more

"rebels", scheduled for hanging next dawn.


Bobadilla declared Columbus deposed and

ordered him arrested.


But the soldiers who confronted Columbus

suddenly took fright, and none

of them was willing to place the chains

on the Admiral of the Ocean Sea,

until a man stepped forward who knew him

so well he had no fear of him: Espinoza,

Columbus' personal cook, took the

chains from the soldier and snapped them

on his master's wrists.


And so Columbus was sent back to Spain,

to face the mercy of the Crown, and

never fulfilled his vow to the Virgin Mary.




Even with Columbus gone, the mold

had been cast, the conquest and slaughter

on the islands raged on: Haiti, Cuba,

Puerto Rico, Jamaica,

the Antilles, the Bahamas,

millions of Taíno-Arawaks dead,

the entire nation murdered

from the face of the planet, and even then,

the infernos in the mines and plantations

blazed hardly diminished, Taínos

replaced by Caribs, by Aztecs and Mayas

from the mainland, and by slaves

from Africa.


Sangre llena las huellas de Cristóbal Colón

en la arena pálida de Playa Girón.

It was only the slave trade with Europe

that the king and queen saw fit to ban.

"Rebels" could still be enslaved, but had to be

kept in the Indies. When a Spaniard

was granted land, he was also "granted "

all the Indians living on that land, as serfs:

this was the encomienda system

used to subdue all Spanish America.


And so the Caribbean of today

was slowly formed. As the native

people changed into the present

mixed population, so the yoke

of Spain was replaced by North

American domination. Yet the Caribbean

people still found themselves

impoverished and enslaved.


Meanwhile on the northern continent,

from the earliest years

when the New England Puritans

waged genocidal warfare

on the Narragansett Indian alliance,

through the 1890 massacre of Lakota families

at Wounded Knee,

the Anglo-American invaders

wanted only the land, not the people,

and removed the northern Indian nations

by any means necessary.

The Bureau of Indian Affairts, formed in

the Department of War, was moved

to the Department of the "Interior"

to consolidate the conquest,

and they no longer recognized

the Nortth American Indians as citizens

of independent nations.


But the U.S.A. was still hungry

for further domination, so turned south, and

by 1954 staged over 55 armed interventions

in Latin America.


In Cuba, 1958, foreigners

owned and controlled

seventy-five percent of all arable land;

the police chief of Havana received

$730,000 dollars per month

from the gambling casinos,

while the new native people,

the campesinos,

did not eat regularly.


But now the Cuban people had more than

fish-bone tipped spears to fight back with.

December 1958:

the revolutionary guerrillas

of the 26th of July Movement descend

from the Sierra Maestra mountains

and fight their way toward the cities.

The U.S. client dictator flees; the streets

fill with dancers.

October 1958

the revolutionary guerrillas

of the 26th of July Movement announce

Revolutionary Law One, turning

the land worked by renters, tenants,

and squatters over to those who work it.


December 1958:

the guerrillas descend

from the Sierra Maestra mountains

and fight their way toward the cities.


January 1st, 1959:

the puppet dictator flees; the streets

of every village and city fill with dancers.


For the next two years, Cuba struggles

toward prosperity

for its working population

and independence from

all foreign domination.


May 1959:

expropriation and redistribution

of the largest rural estates,

mostly owned and controled

by North Americans and other foreigners.


May 1960:

all foreign-owned sugar mills and

enterprises bought with stolen money

under the Batista dictatorship are now

property of the Cuban people.


October 13th, 1960:

all banks and 382 vital industrial enterprises

including sugar and rice mills,

textile factories, railroads,

and coffee roasting plants are now property

of the Cuban nation.


October 13th, 1960:

all urban tenants are now homeowners and

urban landlordism is hereby abolished.


Six days later, October 19th, 1960:

the U.S. of North America

declares a general embargo on Cuba.


January 1961:

the U.S. of North America forbids

its citizens to travel to Cuba.


January 1961:

the U.S. of North America

breaks diplomatic relations with Cuba.


A dark night, April 17, 1961:

while the U.S. Navy watches,

not far away, fourteen hundred exiles,

recruited in Miami by the CIA,

sail quietly toward the mouth

of the Bahía de Cochinos,

the Bay of Pigs, weapons bulging in every hand,

and in their crosshairs, the young

Cuban revolutionaries, for their crime

of overthrowing a brutal regime

and their sin

of trying to break the stranglehold of

the almighty dollar.

While on the beach, between the palms,

on the fine white sand of Playa Girón,

by chance, a jeep drives up,

and two Revolutionary Militiamen,

sensing something wrong, stop and

shine their headlights into the face

of the oncoming waves...


Toca la arena. Tómala con la punta de tus dedos.

Déjala caer. Estás tocando

la sangre del imperio.


Touch the sand. Take some in your fingertips.

Let it fall. You are touching

the blood of empire.


May twenty-sixth, fourteen-ninety-four;

April seventeenth, nineteen-sixty-one:


Sangre llena las huellas de Cristóbal Colón

en la arena pálida de Playa Girón.


Datoá, guariquén ayacavó datiaó.

Mother, come meet my friend.


Mayaní, guaguá, areitó ocamá.

Quiet, my baby, listen to the song.


Caconá behiqué chug, darocoél.

Take this gift of medicine, grandfather.



I will speak.


Goeíz nitaynó guajirós guacá.

The Taíno people live!


Yaní tainó, yaní tainó.

Let the Taíno language be heard.

Let the Taíno language be heard.


Yaní tainó, yaní tainó. Dayaní.

Goeíz nitaynó guajirós guacá!




On my friend's mantelpiece I noticed a small plastic bag filled with sand. It was 1983. I read the label: "Arena de Playa Girón, Bahía de Cochinos, Cuba." Sandy explained that a friend of his had brought it back from an international youth conference. I told him that I had recently read that Columbus walked on that same beach. He cut a corner of the plastic and let the fine white grains trickle into a pyramid on my palm.

Several years before, I had by chance found out about Columbus' role in the genocide of the Taino Indians. It was revelatory. From that moment, I had a thirst for learning about that era. For me, understanding those earliest events seemed key to understanding all that they set in motion.

The defeat of the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion was also a watershed experience in my life. I was twenty years old at the time. My childhood had been dominated by McCarthyism, the Korean war, atomic scares. I was already aware of the CIA's overthrow of progressive governments in Guatemala and the Congo. The Cuban revolution gave me - and many of my generation - a tremendous sense of hope. The Cuban people seemed bent on an independent course of social transformation. But would our North American giant permit a small country to defy it? This was more than a question of Cuba alone: if Cuba could break away from the system, other small countries could too. Perhaps we North Americans who felt oppressed by the same system, perhaps we could break from its oppression too. News of the defeat of the invasion force threw us into a great elation. The euphoria however was short-lived, as the "Cuban missile crisis"began to unfold.

I had not thought about the Bay of Pigs for many years, until I read about Columbus sailing into it. And now this sand. In the intervening period, my understanding of the predatory aspects of the U.S. system had deepened, as had my commitment to work for change.

I brought some sand home. At my desk I sifted the granules back and forth between my hands. And that is how I came to write this history-poem.

The struggle of the Taino people was not in vain. Today after 500 years the Indian nations are still resisting, although they still suffer injuries daily. The injuries they suffer, injure us all. Their struggle to survive is for us all. The indigenous people have never struggled only for physical survival, but for a way of living harmoniously with the planet. The Indian elders are correct when they say that the indigenous people are the caretakers of the world.The grandchildren of colonialism owe the native peoples an enormous debt. We are still just guests here, and should be humble. Only by joining with indigenous people in common struggle can non-native people ever hope to become at peace anywhere in this continent and build a constructive future.

The Amazing Survival and Renewal of the Taíno Nation

Small Taíno communities and groups of families, primarily in eastern Cuba and Puerto Rico, miraculously survived the genocide led by Columbus and the early Spaniards. Quietly retaining their cultural integrity over the last five hundred years, they are finally resurfacing today, reasserting their indigenous identity and reclaiming their culture. There is a connected community of Taínos in North America.

The Taíno nation can be contacted at:





Anghiera, Pietro Martire d', The Decades of Peter Martyr, De Orbe Novo, 1516

Benzoni, Girolamo, Historia del Mundo Nuevo, Venice, 1572.

Bernáldez, Andrés, Historia de los Reyes Católicos, c1498

Bry, Theodore de, Historia Americae, Liège, 1594-1596

Casas, Bartolome de las, Historia de las Indias, c1575

Casas, Bartolome de las, Brevissima relación de la destruycción de las Indias, Sevilla, 1552.

Columbus, Christoforo, The Diario of Columbus' First Voyage, 1492

Columbus, Christoforo, Letter to Sánchez, Basel, 1493

Columbus, Fernando, The Life of the Admiral Christopher Columbus by his Son Ferdinand, 1571

Cuneo, Michele de, Letter on the Second Voyage, 1496

Jovius, Paulus, Elogia, Basel, 1575

Oviedo y Valdés, Gonzalo Fernández de, Historia general de las Indias, Salamanca, 1547

Léry, Jean de, Histoire d'un Voyage, 1527

Vespucci, Amerigo, Mundus Novus, Rostok, 1505

Copyright © 1988, 2000 by John Curl. All Rights Reserved.

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