Una identità in movimento

Cuba's Freedom Fighter, Antonio Maceo (Part 1)

Magdalen M. Pando

My duties to Patria and to my own political convictions
are above all human effort;
for these I shall reach the pedestal of freedom
or I shall perish fighting for the redemption of that land...
(Antonio Maceo, November 3, 1890)

Antonio Maceo (1845-1896) Introduction

Antonio Maceo was one of the principal figures of the Cuban struggle for independence, which consisted not only of action on the fields of battle but also of the political maneuvers of Cuba, Spain, and the United States. Maceo, hailed as the "Titan of Bronze" after his death in battle, played a vital part in both the Ten Years' War of 1868-1878, and the successful war that began in 1895, ending in 1898 after the United States had entered the struggle.

Early life

Antonio Maceo was born in Santiago de Cuba, that hilly, verdant city, at one time the colonial capital, situated between an ample bay and the densely forested Sierra Maestra. According to a majority of sources, his birthday was June 14, 1845; he was baptized in the nearby parish church with the name Antonio de la Caridad Maceo y Grajales.

Marcos Maceo, his father, who was of French descent, came to Santiago from Venezuela sometime after 1823 when Simon Bolivar and his fellow patriots ousted Spain from South America. The end of these wars of independence against Spain shifted people around on the continent.

The Maceo family migrated from Venezuela because they belonged to the vanquished; the men had fought as common soldiers in the Spanish lines. Marcos Maceo thus came to Santiago to start a new life. A thrifty bachelor who worked hard, he acquired in due time a small productive farm and a house in town. Mariana Grajales, an industrious widow with four sons, was persuaded to join him. She was black, of Dominican ancestry. Four other sons and a daughter were born of this union; Antonio Maceo was the eldest of Mariana's second family.

El Grito de Yara

On the grounds of his own small estate Carlos Manuel Céspedes sounded the work-bell of his sugar mill to assemble his slaves and their gave them their freedom. On the following day he read a declaration, known as the Manifiesto de la Junta Revolucionaria de Cuba setting forth the right to self-government of the protesters. The small group of men who under the leadership of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes declared a revolt against Spain on October 10, 1868, increased in numbers in the following months from an initial 150 followers to an army of some 8,000 insurgents. Early in the contest Marcos Maceo and four of his sons joined this revolutionary force as privates. Antonio, one of the four, moved up through rebel ranks as he gave proof of valor and leadership. On November 23, 1870 a few months past his twenty-fifth birthday and two years after the insurrection began, he sent to rebel headquarters a report of his action in the war scene. He advised that with only thirty-seven men he had made the enemy retreat, inflicting casualties and suffering losses among his own men. The military dispatch was signed "Lieutenant Colonel, Antonio Maceo".

Although the Revolutionary Army, or "Army of Liberation" as it was then named, began as a hodgepodge of patriots who brought along members of their families — wives, the elderly, children — it eventually took on a semblance of a military force. Everyone was put to work, camps were built, women sewed uniforms, children planted vegetable patches.

The young lieutenant colonel informed the newly appointed Chief of the First Corps, General Máximo Gómez, of the action which took place December 7, 1870:

I have today effected an attack against Barigua, without being able to dislodge the enemy due to his superior force, although I did succeed in firing the hamlet and taking eight prisoners; must lament the death of Lieutenants Felipe Guerra and José Pérez and four soldiers. Wounded were Commander Francisco Borrero, Second Lieut. Luis Dupini, First Sergeant Juan Torres, Second Sergeant Anastasio Loreschea and six soldiers. About four o'clock a reinforcement appeared from Tacamara, which I shattered, as well as another one consisting of 100 men out of Camazan.

Máximo Gómez directed successful campaigns in the years 1871 and 1872, ordering effective frontal attacks that were so ferocious that the startled Spaniards publicly admitted defeat. In the battle of Indiana, key village to the entrance of the Valley of Guantanamo, Antonio Maceo led the pitiless fight. When the Spaniards retreated from all areas of the battleground to their fortifications, the rebel officers gathered at the request of their commander in a clearing designated as the chief of staff headquarters. Here officers in uniforms tailored by their womenfolk, soldiers in shabby pants and shirts, followers in working clothes, all united in celebration of the thorough thrashing suffered by the Spaniards. General Gómez ordered a roll call of the men who helped him gain victory. He asked the man who successfully held the valley entrance, Lieut. Colonel Antonio Maceo, to step forward. He proceeded to commend the officer before him for the remarkable and effective organization of the men under his command and for his personal courage.

The movement for the freedom of Cuba, under the leadership of Céspedes, suffered from lack of organization; it was not centered in a core of purpose for unified rebel action; it had no tangible form, nor did it have a dependable source of funds. Céspedes was constantly challenged by other patriots who felt they could do a better job. Funds received from emigre centers, mostly in the United States, and from threatened property owners made up a rather haphazard treasury; many of the insurgents fought with the booty they snatched from their fallen enemies or with the booty they snatched from their fallen enemies or with the arms they picked up after the enemy left the battlefield.. The ouster of Céspedes was finally accomplished. There were other leaders, other ousters.

Maceo, unhappy over the climate of disunity, did not give up harassing the enemy. The enthusiasm of the movement for liberation diminished, the rebel civil command weakened; changes forced by dissenters in the ranks and lack of cooperation among the chieftains pointed to the collapse of the rebellion begun in 1868. Through the months of July and August of 1875, his reports of operations, directed to Citizen Secretary of War Tomas Estrada Palma listed in detail on the letterhead of the General Headquarters the continuing activities of the First Corps of the Army in Potosi:

After burning the Monte Alto coffee estate and the nearby hamlet, we marched 300 meters to the fort of Virginia, acquiring an abundance of provisions, cattle and supplies, and then crossed the coffee estates of Felicidad and Joven Maria. We encamped at three in the afternoon. Townspeople and influential tradesmen visited our camp. During the night our trumpets were heard and our bonfires seen by the enemy.

In a following report he advised that groups of men with their own arms and equipment had voluntarily joined his forces. He added that his men had destroyed great lengths of telegraph wires, and at the same time gathered many head of cattle. The resume listed: total volunteers, 144; firearms in their possession, 144; arms taken in battle, 55; total of arms, 199. Supplies acquired: percussion caps for various systems, 20,000; cartridges, 600: total 20,600. Animals taken: horses, 105; beasts of burden, 56. Coffee plantations destroyed: 18. Slaves from the coffee estates recruited into our ranks: 67. Family members who have come in, 635. The closing of the resume of gains and burdens reads:

Receive, Citizen Secretary, the testimony of my respect, Antonio Maceo, Acting Chief of the Second Division of the First Corps of the Army.

Right through to early 1876, the then Brigadier-General Antonio Maceo sent in his reports, detailing continuous actions, giving succinct details of skirmishes and battles; listing booty as well as casualties. The outstanding conduct of his officers was regularly noted; his appreciation of their performance made clear. The salient valor of Lieut. Colonel José Maceo, his brother, was related.

Fernando Figueredo Socarras, brother of Felix Figueredo, Maceo's friend, mentor and solace during some of his most difficult hours, in his book La Revolucion de Yara recalls a day of battle and with these words sketched the leader:

The outstanding figure in the scene was that of Brigadier Antonio Maceo; he appeared and disappeared in clouds of smoke and dust, seated on his gigantic horse 'Concha' who responded not to the reins but to the thoughts of his heroic rider; that man, laboring for breath, machete in hand, magnificent embodiment of the angel of destruction, carried out the assault in that battle which for all of us was extraordinary.

Early in May of that significant year of military successes Maceo's value to the cause of Cuba's freedom was questioned and then denigrated. His "class" referring to his color, became an issue fanned by the Spanish press which maintained that Maceo's popularity and acclaim as a hero would lead to a take-over by the black race, and to Cuba becoming another Haiti. hurt and angry, he drafted a letter to his superior in which he gathered all the bitter injuries and injustices he was therein protesting. He submitted this draft to his friend Felix Figueredo asking for that good man's counsel. There is no evidence that the letter, dated May 16, 1876, was completed and delivered to the addressee, but proof of his distress remains in his handwritten draft.

The heart of the complaint is in the words reading.

And as this writer happens to be of the black race, not therefor considering himself of lesser value than other men, he cannot, nor should he allow, that which is not so, nor that which he does not wish to happen, to develop and continue to grow, for this is required of his dignity, of his military honor, of the position he holds and because of the laurels he has so legitimately earned.

Vehemently he resented as falsehoods the side-mouthed warnings then abroad that the growth of his popularity among black Cubans and the great number of black fighters in his columns would lead to a dictatorship headed by himself. The final words of the worked-over draft included the disavowal of the calumny that he wanted to become a dictator:

I denounce those who started the canard that I am the author of such a doctrine, which I consider fatal, especially when I am a member of the democratic republic, and a not insignificant participant in that Republic which has its principal base liberty, equality and fraternity; that I have refused to recognize hierarchies. . .

Maceo angrily rejected the ambitions ascribed to him.

The Road of Baraguá

The spiral of destructive civil wars in Spain came to a halt in 1876. During this pause some effort was made to face the continuing problem of insurgency in Cuba. In an address to the "Inhabitants of Cuba", the new captain-general, Joaquin Jovellar, appointed January 18, 1876, reviewed the situation and issued a warning to the rebels and at the same time promised an equitable government when the Island was no longer in arms. Jovellar, who had thrice previously exercised command in Cuba, gloomingly sent home his view of conditions.

The insurrection without yet having acquired a center of command nor a fixed seat of operations continues its program of destruction, presently with special determination in the rich jurisdictions of Las Villas and Colon, as previously practiced in the Centro, as though its only aspirations and objectives are to convert the luxuriant fields of Cuba into sterile wastelands.

Spain concentrated in 1876 on restoring public order to her "Pearl of the Antilles" because it had become an urgent requirement to keep her possession. The United States's sympathy for the cause of the rebels became a threat and as a result many alarming thrusts were aimed at Spain's sovereignty. Some of the United States's preoccupations with the Cuban situation related to humanitarian sentiments, others were concerned with the possibility of acquiring the Island. Spain in a series of diplomatic notes protested to President Grant against the assistance the rebels received from United States citizens which was considered detrimental to the interest of a friendly nation.

Martínez Campos, who had served in Cuba under Valmaseda in 1869, came authorized to use his own judgement, under Jovellar, in restoring the Island to peaceful colonialism. The Spanish forces in Cuba were increased to 70,000 men. Under able officers, he successfully concentrated them in areas of greatest insurgent activity; among these were included the department's under Maceo's command.

Martínez Campos was the ideal man for the mission; he was personally disposed to solutions by compromise. Critical of plans strongly supported by conservatives in Spain and on the Island calling for extermination of the rebels, he contended that persecution would only force fierce retaliation by the enemy in order not to perish. With inducements in one hand and military might in the other, Arsenio Martínez Campos succeeded in weakening the wobbly, patchy insurrection begun October 10, 1868.

Maceo, away from the centers of pacification activities, felt the weight of his adversary. On February 9, 1877, while in Anguila, he wrote in a personal note a desperate summons to one of his subordinates:

Dear Friends: I am here repairing the havoc wrought by the Spaniards battling in this zone and I have not succeeded in remedying our situation, as many families are missing; Baldomera, my sister , and Telesfora cannot be found. Majin we believe is dead. You can imagine what it was like when Arias was attacked twice in the center of Pinares. In their last sortie they made away with my horses, 'Tizon' and 'Concha' (this, for me, a mortal blow). This havoc was caused by lack of foresight as the families and horses should have been moved to a more secure place. Come when you receive this letter and help me with the many burdens that weigh upon me.

But eight days later, on the 17th, his formal report to his then chief of staff makes clear that he takes upon himself responsibility for the disaster and that he considers it of minor import in view of his mounting effective attacks against the enemy.

Pact of Zanjon

While Máximo Gómez and other chieftains allowed Martínez Campos to approach them, Maceo continued in battle and was severely set upon. From Barrancas he sent a special courier to his friend and doctor, Colonel Felix Figueredo, with a request for medications he urgently needed for the cure of the men he "held in high esteem and sorely needed". In that battle, which took place the day before — "we swung our machetes", he reported —, adding that his men, caught between two forts, through lack of judgement unnecessarily received injuries because in a moment of enthusiasm they went too close to the fortifications.

The many machete and gunshot scars on Maceo's body attested to his direct encounters with the enemy. In that period of Spanish troop concentration in Oriente, he received a nearly fatal wound. Recovery took three months. Attended by his wife and doctor, he was moved by his staff from one camp to another, deep in the woods, evading the Spaniards in constant search of the incapacitated leader.

Once recovered, he ignored the many machinations among his fellow rebels and continued confrontations with the Spanish forces through early February of 1878. In a valley named La Llanada del Mulato, he decisively defeated his adversaries. The prisoners he captured, most of them injured, he returned to the vanquished Spanish officer. In it Maceo noted the great quantity of blood spilled in pursuit of victory and stated that present high standards of human conduct and his own principles required that the wounded receive medical attention; since he was not able to give this care, he had chosen to return the captured men to their command. The Spanish officer, Brigadier J. F. Barges, thanked his adversary, expressed appreciation of the good sentiments and gave assurance of reciprocal consideration.

Martínez Campos kept himself well informed of the dissensions, rivalries and dissatisfactions among the rebel leaders, the military and civilian, while conducting an effective war against the active rebels. The intelligently conducted campaign culminated in the capitulation of the greater number of insurgent leaders who signed an agreement known as the Pact of Zanjon, February 8, 1878. The men who signed the agreement received moneys which were publicized as indemnities; among the recipients were Máximo Gómez and Vicente García. Other privileges were extended, such as passage out of the country for the capitulators and their families.

The articles of the Pact established guarantees for the people of Cuba: concession to the Island of Cuba granting the same conditions, political, organic and administrative, that applied to the island of Puerto Rico; pardon for the men who had deserted the Spanish forces; "to forget the past" as it related to political misdeeds committed from 1868 to that date; freedom to the indentured Asiatics and slaves who had taken part in the rebel movement. There were also other commitments referring to the disposition and surrender of arms, etc.

By February 21 Maceo had to admit that he was informed on the cessation details and terms of the agreement. Máximo Gómez, wearied of fighting, exasperated by what he viewed as the revolutionaries inability to unify under him for the greater good of the cause, tired of their use of him as a useful outsider never allowed into the inner circle, explained in a letter to Maceo the circumstances of the pact and his reactions to his role in Cuban affairs.

Protesta de Baraguá

That his chief gave up did not bother Maceo; he understood Gómez's position: an outsider whose dedication to the cause of Cuba's independence was a choice, not a deeply felt involvement. But for himself, Maceo made clear that he rejected the Pact of Zanjon, and served notice to that effect on February 21st. He informed Martínez Campos that he and the rebels he represented were not accepting the terms of the pact, and requested a four-months period of suspension of hostilities while the protesting members would decide a course of action. Maceo demanded, a clear statement of what benefits the Patria could expect without independence was requested. A meeting for the purpose of discussing these points was put together.

Maceo could not accept defeat because he did not feel defeated . He had been winning his battles; he had a good military organization. Strongly objecting to the terms of the peace agreement, he brushed aside its promised concessions as insulting. The third article of the pact, which gave freedom to the Asiatic sharecroppers and to the slaves who had participated in the rebellion, he considered particularly obnoxious. Why should not all the slaves be set free? Why should those who had remained loyal to their masters be continued in thralldom? The proclamation of October 10, 1868, "El Grito de Yara", had been his lighthouse; its brightest beacon the resolve to end slavery on the Island.

Martínez Campos tried to persuade, using the words of a diplomat skilled in the art of convincing speech. Maceo spoke deliberately, only with care could he avoid a stutter, but his soft delivery did not weaken the force of his demands. He asked for the independence of the people of Cuba, some form of representation that granted self-government; he wanted all slaves set free. Martínez Campos was not disposed to give in to these demands, neither did he have the authority to turn Cuba over to the Cubans. History calls this conference the Protesta de Baraguá.

The two conferees did come to one agreement: hostilities would be renewed on the 23rd of the month — that is, eight days later. During that eight-day period Maceo frantically directed appeals to other leaders who were inclined to continue to give battle, made proclamations to the people, in an all-out effort to again set the revolution in motion. One of the circulars assured readers that "Washington, Lafayette and Bolivar, liberators of the oppressed are with us".

The years that followed the February, 1878, pacification of the Island did not relieve the indifference and oppression suffered by the Cuban colonials at the hands of the Spanish Crown. For this reason, the Protesta de Baraguá grew in significance in the patriotic conscience of the Cuban people. Maceo rejected the treaty because his demands were refused and he was convinced that the much-touted reforms offered to the islanders would never materialize. Maceo was proved right by the Spaniards.

After the interview at Baraguá, Maceo renewed hostilities against the enemy, in an unsupported effort with the remnants of the forces he had been able to retain. The Spaniards concentrated on disposing of their principal dissenter; their pursuit of this remaining fighter was relentless.

The Acting President of the quickly reorganized government of the "Republic of Cuba", Manuel J. Calvar, persuaded Maceo, after the conference with the Captain-General, to accept the assignment all members had agreed was indicated at the most valuable contribution he could then make to the cause of Cuba's freedom. Maceo was appointed "Collecter of Funds Abroad". A collector of funds Maceo was not; nevertheless he accepted the assignment in good faith and with enthusiasm started to communicate with contacts abroad.

The Era of Turbolent Repose

José Martí, the living conscience of the Cubans in exile, writer of many words on many subjects, described in customary poetic phrasing the period between the Pact of Zanjon and the outbreak of the War of Independence, that is from early 1878 to early 1895, as the era of turbulent repose.

The years following the Pact were turbulent for Antonio Maceo, with no repose for the unhappy exile. He floundered in strange countries while plunged in despair; he was the center of assassination plots. Periods of personal satisfaction rarely lighted his path in those years following his protest; not until 1892 did he attain a measure of success when the friendly, progressive government of Costa Rica offered him a haven he could accept.

Because the patriotic fervor uniting emigres and sympathizers dissipated when the centers closed, Maceo's efforts to re-establish the system of contributions failed completely. The scheme to get him out to deter him from his determination to continue the war led to heartbreaking frustration. Depressed, with a sense of personal defeat, he returned to Jamaica late in June, 1878, his revolutionary fires banked.

The Kingston Proclamation

In August of 1879 Maceo was back on the revolutionary scene. Rebel leaders in exile, headed by Calixto García in New York, had begun preparations for an invasion of Cuba. A simultaneous uprising of patriots on the Island was in the conspirators' plans. García (whose wide white brow sported a scarred bullet hole, self inflicted when a prisoner of Spain in the middle years of the Ten Years' War) visited Maceo in Kingston early in August and asked the mulatto leader for his cooperation. On August 5, 1879, García wrote from Kingston to the committee he had organized in New York — El Comite Revolucionario Cubano — that he had met with General Maceo, that they had reached an understanding on a number of important matters, and that the general's followers in Oriente [province] "when added to our own will give good results". At this time he felt that for the success of his revolutionary venture he needed to involve the hero of Oriente, Maceo.

Maceo, believing himself in command of future Oriente forces made up, for the most part, of his followers, immediately plunged into revolutionary activities. His papers show how diligently he worked during that late summer to reach everyone who could help in the cause. He wrote letters to private individuals and government heads, soliciting funds, and issued proclamations.

One of his proclamations, issued September 5, 1879, was declared incendiary by the Spanish government. It is known as "The Kingston Proclamation". The well-distributed circular reminded readers that the reforms promised in the Pact had not materialized: "we knew full well there was no intention to benefit the people", it read.

Instead of giving Cubans the opportunity to participate in the direction of their government, Spaniards have been pouring into the Island to man political posts, pushing the rightful representatives of the people to one side; they are guided only by the interests of their pockets and that of the Peninsula - it continued.

In this printed notice Maceo also addressed himself to the Spaniards on the Island who he felt were persuaded to identify themselves with the interests of a free nation:

You are well aware of the abuses of your government; you are overburdened with enormous taxes; you have no more rights than the slave under the master; come to our side and be assured your life and property will be respected; you will obtain the benefits of a free nation; but if you choose not to join us, the responsibility is your own.

He also directed the circular to the wealthy Cubans on Cuban soil, asking them for their aid in the cause of their country's freedom. Lastly, he spoke to the slaves, reminding them that the tyrant had denied them their right to liberty; that it had been granted only to those who had been under the protection of the Cuban flag — here referring to the concession of freedom under the Pact which was limited to those slaves who had fought in the rebel lines.

The Spanish government reacted with vehement anger to the prospect of more agressive acts by Maceo, and maintained that he and his black followers planned to eliminate white rule from the Island. Concentration by the Spaniards on the peril the mulatto leader's involvement had its effect. Calixto García visited Maceo after the Kingston proclamation was released and bluntly removed him from command of Oriente province forces. His replacement was Gregorio Benitez, a white man, with no influence in the area. García said he had made the decision on advice of his New York committee and white patriots in Jamaica, who believed it necessary to counteract Spanish claims that the projected revolution was race inspired.

Maceo traveled through the two-island nation of Hispaniola, Grand Turk Island, the Bahamas, and Jamaica. He traveled in constant danger marked for capture or assassination by the Spaniards. In March of 1880 Maceo went off again, this time to Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic, where some of the emigres had prospered. They gave him funds for the cause. General Gregorio Luperon, President of that republic, offered friendship and aid, proving himself a valuable ally.

With the supplies and monies he had received, Maceo early in July, 1880, boarded in Puerto Plata a U.S. vessel, the Santo Domingo, destined for a port in Cuba. When the vessel called at Cap-Haitien, Maceo arranged to have the money exchanged into English or US currency, of easy circulation in the Bahamas where he expected to negotiate for military supplies. As this was being done, Haitian authorities cofiscated the funds. Unable to promote an invasion, a greatly discouraged Maceo went on to Grand Turk. Other disasters had also been taking place. Calixto García made his ill-prepared invasion in May, but by August 2nd had been forced to surrender to the pursuing Spanish brigades. Calixto García's revolutionary movement collapsed less than two years of disorganized activity. It is known as "La Guerra Chiquita", that is, "the little war".

Part 1 — Part 2Part 3

Per gentile concessione di Free Cuba Foundation (WEB: Copyright 1980 by Magdalen M. Pando. All rights reserved. Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number 79-93001, ISBN 0-9603846

Cuba. Una identità in movimento

Webmaster: Carlo Nobili — Antropologo americanista, Roma, Italia

© 2000-2009 Tutti i diritti riservati — Derechos reservados

Statistiche - Estadisticas