José Francisco Buscaglia

author, professor and journalist

The curse of Saint Agatha

A novel by José Francisco Buscaglia (estimated publication date of 2024)

At the end of July 1897, the Italian anarchist Michele Angiolillo held a series of meetings in Paris with the Puerto Rican revolutionary leader Ramón Emeterio Betances. We know little of what was discussed in those clandestine meetings where the absence of witnesses would fill with mystery, to end of days, compromises that would bring nefarious consequences. Ten days after the last date, in the thermal spings of Saint Agatha (Mondragon, Gipuzkoa), Angiolillo assassinated Antonio Cánovas del Castillo with three shots at close range. The assassination of the head of the Spanish Government, which José Francisco Buscaglia reconstructs in detail, would lead directly, in less than a year, to a forced war with the United States. Contrary to what Betances could have set out to concot, the sponsorship of Angiolillo placed a curse on the peoples of the last Spanish dependencies in the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, who would be handed over, with their islands and territorial waters, to the nascent empire as spoils of war.

In this gripping story of intrigue, the poet Maruja Segarra, and Antonio Acarón, a veteran of the Cuban Revolutionary War, serve as secret agents under the auspices of Betances to advance the cause of Puerto Rican independence. Their paths intertwine the dreams and nightmares of key figures in a spell that remains unbroken to this day due to a complicit convenience of the winners and some of the victims of the war of 1898. In order to break it, Buscaglia faces the curse of Saint Agatha summoning a long list of witnesses, starting with those involved in the murder of Cánovas and ending with Ricardo Ortega y Diez, the last Governor of the Spanish Province of Puerto Rico.

This historical novel, which is also a sort of guide for the recovery of historical memory, is rich in reflections on art and architecture, literature and music, religion and culture. Its characters move through a vast geography of public and secret spaces in France and Spain, in Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and even on the high seas, revealing along the way a wide range of projects and failures. True to the tradition of Caribbean classics such as The Black Jacobins by C.L.R. James, and Alejo Carpentier's El siglo de las luces, Buscaglia gives his readers access to the evils of despotism and slavery in the Spanish Antilles, making an in-depth assessment of the vices of the subjugated, and questioning the underpinnings of US imperialism.