Heroes Without Weapons
In Cuba, with its pregnant history of violent acts, we pay exaggerated attention to episodes of war in detriment to other ways of making history, such as science–forger of knowledge and of culture–that contributes so much to the formation of nationality the nation and the country over centuries. On May 19 of this year we will arrive at the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Royal Academy of medical, physical, and natural sciences of Havana, whose birth was conditioned by the development reached by the productive forces and by the sustained and joint effort of Cubans, who from different political and ideological positions, united their forces for the development of Cuba. In recognition of these heroes, almost anonymous, I am going to mention nine of them.
Tomás Romay Chacón (1764-1849). Physician, cofounder of Newsprint of Havana and of the Economic Society of Friends of the Country, made innumerable contributions to science and culture, but it was in medicine where he made his greatest contributions; in 1794 he presented to the Ordinary Meeting of the Patriotic Society of the Friends of the Country–the first scientific meeting of Cuban doctors–-his dissertation on the malignant fever commonly called black ball met, and discovered it introduced vaccination against smallpox, introduced the studies of anatomy on the cadaver, those of the clinic in the rooms of the hospital and took students to the sources of the sick and to the morgue to practice autopsies. He was one of those who petitioned King Fernando VII about the necessity of creating a science academy on the island. for his activities in preventing disease and promoting the advancement of medicine he is considered “the first great Cuban hygienist” and the initiator of the scientific movement in Cuba. Romay was a man of his time in class, of the established political system, defender of the established political system, admirer of the Spanish monarchy, and intransigent enemy of revolutionary liberalism; irrefutable proof that one can be a force in science, culture and nationality independent of political or ideological affiliation.
José Estévez Cantal (1771-1841). Chemist and botanist. Student of Tomás Romay was probably the first Cuban who received a scientific education in Europe and the first botanist of some importance. Between them they worked on a catalog of plants, begun by Baltasar Boldo, considered as the first floor of Cuba. He was the first Cuban chemist who distinguished himself in the search for varieties of sugarcane and who applied this science to a new branch of therapy: medical hydrology. Thanks to his analysis of the waters of San Diego–the most famous of our mineral medicinal springs–he was able to take advantage of their healing properties. Through Estévez botany, chemistry, and mineralogy were introduced on the island reinvigorating the already advanced movement of cultural and scientific reform.
Esteban Pichardo Tapia (1799-1879). Lawyer and geographer, born in Santo Domingo. Considered “the most prominent geographer of Cuba.” His geographic and cartographic work was the basis for the contour map drawn to scale, made in 1908 by the American Army of Occupation. His main geographical work was the Route Map of the Roads of Cuba. In 1829 he presented the Compendium of Geography of the Island of Cuba for use in colleges and high schools. He also dabbled in literature with a volume of poems and the Dictionary of Cuban Voices, published in 1836.
Felipe Poey Aloy (1799-1891). Researcher and Professor in Natural Sciences. In France, where he met Jorge Cuvier, he published his first entomological studies. In 1838, he presented a project to establish in Havana a cabinet of natural history, which later became part of the University of Havana. He studied The sugarcane borer and avocado pests, bringing wide knowledge of the basics of biology. He is considered “the initiator of the scientific era in the natural history of Cuba” and was one of the 30 founding members of the Royal Academy of Medical Sciences, Physical and Natural Sciences.
Nicolás Gutiérrez José Hernández (1800-1890). Surgeon, founder of the Havana Medical Journal, Cuba’s first magazine devoted exclusively to medicine. He introduced in Cuba chloroform is a surgical anesthetic. On the death of Tomás Romay, Nicolás became the principal figure in the Havana medical community. He was one of the leading personalities in the struggle to found the Royal Academy of Medical, Physical and Natural Sciences in Havana, where he held the presidency to which he was reelected until his death.
Francisco Frias Jacott, Count of Pozos Dulces (1809-1877). Agronomist, science writer and agrarian reformer. Author of the Agricultural Development Program, aimed at laying the foundations for a national identity agro-technology and agro-science to achieve social and economic equilibrium. An ardent supporter of small farms, small industry and the work of the peasant family. He was the first speaker at the Royal Academy of Medical Sciences, Physical and Natural Sciences of Havana, on the theory of Darwin, and was a defender of the Institute for Chemical Research, founded in 1848, and in 1861 he was a promoter of the Cuban Agricultural Institute. In 1868 he was honored for his work: “Report on the livestock industry on the island of Cuba” and “The scientific basis on which rests the view that the destruction of the animal kingdom, involves that of the plant and vice versa.”
Francisco Fernández de Lara Albee (1816-1887). Engineer. Between the repair of the Convent of San Agustín in Havana, his first work, through the construction of the Isabel II aqueduct, he is found prominently in all the material construction of that era. His great work with the use of the waters of the Vento Springs, for which he investigated the entire relationship between the quality and the transfer of the liquid to the Palatino reservoirs. Through this he demonstrated the negative influence of sunlight on the deposited waters; modify the geology of the terrain to adapt it to protect the canal; and ran it under the Almendares River. A project that was not repeated until the middle of the 20th century, when the tunnel under Havana Bay was constructed. For this work he was awarded, first in Philadelphia and later in Paris, with the gold medal, while the Royal development board called him “the most famous of Cuban engineers.”
Aguirre Andrés Poey (1825-1919). Meteorologist. Precursor in Cuba of research in this field, considered the “true creator of scientific meteorology in Cuba.” In 1848 he prepared an atlas with 28 lithographed maps for primary schools, the first of its kind printed in Cuba. In 1850 he established an observatory at his home where he undertook atmospheric research. In 1855 he produced a catalog of hurricanes entitled “Chronological Table comprising 400 hurricanes and cyclones that have occurred in the West Indies and the North Atlantic from 1493 to 1855;” a work considered essential in this matter.
Alvaro Reinoso y Valdés (1829-1888). Chemist, physiologist, agronomist and industrial technologist. He replaced José Luis Casaseca at the head of the Chemical Research Institute of Havana, which became the Agricultural Station. In 1862, when Cuba ranked first in the world in sugar production, it stood last in agricultural productivity. To the solution of this contradiction Reynoso devoted all his efforts. In his masterpiece, “An Essay on the cultivation of sugar cane,” published in 1862, he developed a comprehensive system of agro-technical measures to ensure the intensive cultivation of sugar cane, for which he fully analyzed all operations related to the cultivation and harvesting of the grass. Reinoso is considered “Father of the Cuban Scientific Agriculture.” Despite all the time that has passed, Cuba today has not exceeded the sugar crops of a century ago.
Along with these nine heroes of Cuban science it is necessary to recognize the contributions of foreign scientists, including Alejandro Humboldt de Hollwede (1769-1859), José Luís Casaseca Silván (1800-1869) y Ramón de la Sagra Periz (1798-1871). The first, in many respects, knew Cuba better than Cuban themselves, the latter is considered the “father of Cuban chemistry” and the third, the leading Professor of Natural History, who created and directed the Botanical Garden and the Havana Institute of Agriculture.
The review of these famous scientists makes a mockery of the absurd attempt to link homeland and nation with socialism and revolution.
Published in Diario de Cuba (www.ddcuba.com) Friday, May 27, 2011