“Nationalizing” Mazorra, Cuba’s Hospital de Dementes: 1899–1959

Saturday, January 4, 2014: 11:30 AM
Cabinet Room (Omni Shoreham)
Jennifer Lambe, Yale University
From 1899 to 1909, Edward St. James Greble and Dr. Lucas Alvarez Cerice were the principal architects of a massive reconstruction project undertaken at Havana’s Mazorra Mental Asylum. As the director of Cuban charitable work under two U.S. occupation governments, Greble, a major in the U.S. Army, worked closely with Alvarez Cerice, a hero of the Cuban wars for independence who had been handpicked by the Americans to lead Mazorra. It was, in fact, the U.S. occupation government of General Leonard Wood (1899-1902) that made the decision to convert Mazorra into a State institution, funded and overseen nearly exclusively by the central government—paradoxically, at that moment, a government of foreign occupiers. Their efforts rescued the asylum from the brink of despair, in the aftermath of a particularly noxious decade of Spanish colonial administration at the Hospital. In these years, Mazorra became an icon of Cuban nationalism, a site where the greatest horrors of the Spanish regime had been revealed, prompting patriotic fury and popular nightmares. Anguish over the devolution of Mazorra, Cuba’s only psychiatric hospital until 1959, into what was widely known as Dante’s Inferno would fuel two more revolutionary interventions, first in 1933 and then in 1959. In the process, Mazorra was constantly reinvented as a site of unique symbolic significance: the very measure of effective governance and popular compassion. This paper examines the invention of Mazorra as a nationalized and nationalist site under the aegis of U.S. occupation. Foreign military men and Cuban patriots joined hands to impress the moral weight of neglect at Mazorra upon the populace at large. Their efforts converted Mazorra into a central icon in the Cuban popular imagination, the nationalist promise of which would not be realized, perhaps, until 1959.
Previous Presentation | Next Presentation >>