8/14/2009

Tte Coronel Manuel Silvestre

A newcomer who made a distinctive impression on Tangerinos — especially on the ladies — was Lt. Col. Manuel Silvestre, the mustachioed commanding officer of the Spanish forces who landed at, and captured, Larache in 1911. Silvestre took his orders from Tangier's Spanish Minister and was therefore often in the city.


Tall, handsome, with a great black handlebar mustache, and bearing the scars of wounds he'd received in the Spanish-American War of 1898, flamboyant to the point of reck-lessness, he lived for fun and war. His troops adored him, he was a personal favorite of Spanish King Alfonso XIII, and Tangier society almost fought one another for invitations to the novel moonlight parties he gave in the summertime in the nearby Jibala Hills.

But Raisuli hated this invader, and as they were both strong-willed and locally powerful, they shared a mutual antipathy, and quarrelled acridly almost every time they met. The Spaniards had recently strengthened their garrison at Melilla and had occupied Ceuta, both on the Mediterranean coast, and in 1912 found themselves the nominal rulers of the whole of northern Morocco from the Algerian border to the new Tangier International Zone, with France taking over the much larger bulk of the country. The French and Spanish had long coveted Morocco and as succeeding sultans, as Raisuli, for one, had proved, were so weak that they had no real control over their own valuable real estate: the result: an international conference at Madrid followed by the March 1912 Treaty of Fez, divided the country into the above three spheres.

Awarded these vast areas by the sultan, Mulay Hafid at this time, but certainly not by the various tribes, the French and Spanish were forced to invade and conquer their respective new protectorates. The Spaniards in particular found the going very rough since Spanish Morocco consisted largely of the rug¬ged, forested Rif Mts., not to mention belligerent tribesmen whose specialty was guerilla warfare.

Silvestre considered Raisuli to be a typical Moroccan tribal chief whom Spain meant to suppress for everybody's good. Spaniards had always held Moroccans in the lowest repute, their attitude paraphrasing that of the American whites who believed that the only good Indian was a dead one. There'd been a lot of publicity about a Spanish general at Melilla's comment that "We're content to let murder go unpunished as long as it's only Rifs killing Rifs."

For his part, Raisuli shared the Muslim contempt for infidels, and resented the growing European presence. He'd expected to be named Khalifa, the sultan's representative, in the new Spanish Zone, and was furious when the Spaniards chose a much more tractable man. More than that, Silvestre placed Raisuli under house arrest at his Asilah palace in 1913. The "Lord of the Mountains" at once galloped up to Tangier, ragingly complained to the Spanish Minister, and actually succeed in getting the popular Silvestre relieved and assigned elsewhere.

Just before this incident Raisuli told the interfering colonel in no uncertain terms, "You and I form a tempest. You are the furious wind and I am the calm sea...but there's a difference. 1, like the sea, never leave my place, while you, like the wind, are never in yours!" Raisuli was too aware the Spaniards were of two minds about him, one faction wanting to be rid of him, the other deeming it wiser to buy his allegiance. Thus adroitly and with relish, he alternately accepted Spanish bribes meant to keep him quiet while merrily engaging in Eire fights with Spanish troops when it suited him.

When the powerful Beni Urriagli tribesmen of the central Rif had finally had enough of Spanish incursions, and under the remarkable leaders, Mohamed and M'hamed Abd el Krim, suddenly attacked all Spanish posts in the eastern half of the Spanish Zone in the summer of 1921, they made world headlines. The Rifians were wildly successful, killing as many as 20,000 Spaniards, and driving the few terrified survivors to Melilla's protective walls. Tangerinos were shocked to find that the glamorous, now Major General, Silvestre, commanding the Spanish Protectorate's eastern half, had been lost in the debacle, either a suicide or a victim of butchery.

Alarmed Tangerinos prayed that Spain and Raisuli together would be able to fend off the Rifians. But Abd el Krim made it clear that their fight was with the invaders of their mountains, and that they had no interest in involving Tangier's foreign community in the war. But as Raisuli chose to oppose them, they swooped down on him at Zinat, and in a single, slashing attack, did what nobody else had ever before come close to doing, destroying the Beni Aros and capturing the Lord of the Mountain. Obese and suffering from dropsey, humiliated and morose, Ahmed er Raisuli died in a remote Rifian village in April, 1925.

From:
Stars in the Firmament. Tangier Characters 1660-1960
David Woolman
An Original by Passegiata Press 1998

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