“THIS DAY IN CUBAN HISTORY… – General Antonio Maceo y Grajales”

A publication of the Cuban Studies Institute

General Antonio Maceo y Grajales (1845-1896).  Cuban mulatto patriot and hero of the Independence War of 1895-1898.  Born near Santiago de Cuba, June 14, son of Marcos Maceo, a Venezuelan mulatto émigré, and a free Cuban Black, Mariana Grajales.  His childhood was passed on the small family farm, where he was privately educated, and in making occasional trips to sell its produce in Santiago.  Unhappy with Spanish rule and horrified by the exploitation of the slaves, he entered Freemasonry and began conspiring with local revolutionaries.  In the Ten Years’ War he soon showed his ability in guerrilla warfare and under instruction from Maximo Gomez became one of the rebels’ most daring fighters.  With extraordinary leadership and tactical ability and tight discipline, he won the respect of his men and the fearful admiration of the enemy on whom he inflicted numerous costly defeats.  In January 1868 he was made a lieutenant colonel.

By 1872 he was a general, but his prominence caused suspicion and intrigue.  The more conservative among the rebels feared lest a rebel victory establish a Haitian-style negro Republic ruled by Maceo.  Maximo Gomez ‘advocacy of an invasion of sugar growing regions to cripple the economy and liberate slaves to join the rebel ranks met with strong opposition.  The project was postponed and Maceo was forbidden to participate. When it at last got underway, in 1875, it got no further than Santa Clara province.  Much of the landed interest lost its enthusiasm for the war.  Supplies, weapons, and money failed to arrive from exiles in the United States.  Dissension in the rebel ranks hampered their efforts. Maceo, having kept silence, finally answered his enemies (May 16, 1876)” “They do not seem to realize that it is the country that will suffer…I must protest energetically that neither now nor at any other time am I to be regarded as an advocate of a negro Republic… This concept is a deadly thing to this democratic Republic which is founded on the basis of liberty and fraternity.”  But outright victory was now no longer possible and the Peace of Zanjón was negotiated.  Maceo refused to sign and, after the Protest of Baraguá, fought on briefly with his now depleted and exhausted army.  When lack of foreign aid doomed his efforts, he left, via Jamaica, for New York, a base from which he could raise money and arms to continue the struggle.

He soon joined Major General Calixto García in organizing a new rebellion, the Guerra Chiquita, but this ended in disaster.  Maceo had remained in exile to avoid antagonizing the conservatives in Cuba, and García was captured soon after landing.  Disappointed and disillusioned, Maceo traveled to the Dominican Republic and finally joined Gómez in Honduras and was given a military appointment in Tegucigalpa.  He and Gómez then began organizing a new rebellion, but with a wholly military leadership.  Civilians like José Martí were alienated.  Many of their weapons were confiscated in the Dominican Republic.  Others were thrown overboard by the master of the Morning Star, to avoid arrest. Mistrust among the leaders dealt this new effort and mortal blow.

For the next several years, Maceo lived in Panama.  He visited Santiago and Jamaica in 1890, and in May 1890 established a colony of Cubans in Guanacaste Province, Costa Rica, engaging successfully in growing sugar and tobacco.  There in 1893 he received a call from Martí for a final effort. He joined him and Gómez in organizing Cubans in and out of the island, and the Independence War finally began on February 24, 1895.

A month later Maceo led a force that landed in Oriente province, of which he was made rebel military commander.  In early 1896 he and Gómez took the war to the western provinces, but on December 7, he was killed in a skirmish near the small town of San Pedro del Cacahual in Havana province.

*Jaime Suchlicki is Director of the Cuban Studies Institute, CSI, a non-profit research group in Coral Gables, FL. He is the author of Cuba: From Columbus to Castro & Beyond, now in its 5th edition; Mexico: From Montezuma to the Rise of the PAN, 2nd edition, and of the recently published Breve Historia de Cuba.