Antonio Maceo to me, is simply the father of Cuba and one of the greatest men the Americas has ever produced, sounds like a wild statement right? Well after reading this I’m sure you’ll be convinced.
Antonio Maceo was a legendary black general who earned the name “Bronze Titan” because of his heroism, unshakable willpower that guided his actions in life, and his daring military campaigns, it also made reference to his natural skin colour, dark like the skin of other glorious heroes of equally humble backgrounds, like Guillermo Moncada and Quintin Banderas (and others that are less renowned).
In the second half of the 19th century, Cuba and Puerto Rico were the last Spanish colonies in America, and Cuba was the largest sugar producer in the world. All of the sugar production was based on slave labour.
On October 10, 1868, the Cubans declared “enough was enough” and started a rebellion in Yara Town, which sparked the 10-Year War. Two weeks after the uprising, Mariana Grajales Cuello, Antonio Maceo’s mother, brought together her husband and 13 children and asked them to kneel in front of the image of Jesus Christ and swear to struggle until Cuba was independent or to die trying.
Maceo’s mother, Mariana Grajales Cuello, came out of the maroon tradition anchored in the Guantánamo region of the island.
“An important aspect of the historical significance of the son of Marcos Maceo and Mariana Grajales – and of his particular charisma – is, however, his background. Antonio was the member of a black family that lived in Cuba’s eastern region. We shouldn’t forget that the first war of independence was begun and led, for the most part, by people of certain social standing – estate owners, lawyers and others who were mostly white. Their sacrifice is doubtless worthy of respect, even in the case of those who took up arms without first freeing their slaves. It is also undeniable, however, that a man like Maceo had to be truly exceptional to stand out in this context.”
Rogelio Manuel Diaz Moreno
There were few blacks and mulattoes who became generals in the 10-year War, yet Maceo rose quickly in the ranks of the Mambi Army (the name is of Congo origin) from Colonel to Brigadier General and by 1877 he had become Major General, and the most successful of Cuba’s generals, feared by the Spaniards and beloved by the Cubans.
In 1878 the revolution began to decline rapidly throughout the island, due to the regional divisions among Cubans, the concern of the white conservative sector of the revolution with the growing influence of black and mulatto officers, the inability to bring the war westward to the largest sugar plantation areas and also because of the astute policy of Spanish Captain, General Martinez Campos.
The Cuban Provisional Government in Arms agreed to stop the war and signed the Zanjon Peace Treaty, which gave amnesty to the rebel fighters and freedom to the slaves who were fighting on both sides.
Antonio Maceo with his brothers and a group of officers agreed to meet with Martinez Campos in Mangos de Baragua but refused to stop the war without independence and the abolition of slavery. They called it a peace without honour. This meeting was later called The Baragua Protest.
Maceo and his army continued the war, but soon it became apparent that they were outnumbered. To save Maceo’s life, the Provisional Government sent him to Jamaica, where he lived with his mother, his family and some of the officers that had joined him in the protest.
In 1879-1880, the Cubans tried to resume the war; but it gained the name ‘The Small War’, because it lasted only a few months. The project failed. One of the reasons for the failure was due to the Spanish Government’s move to label it a racial war, reminiscent of the Haitian Revolution which gives a small indication of the amount of blacks and mulattoes were fighting. Once the organisers heard this, fearing that the black and mulato soliders would turn on them removed General Antonio Maceo from the expedition and left him in exile in Jamaica, the patriots that were waiting for their leader soon lost confidence.
Antonio Maceo stayed in Jamaica where he had the only son that survived him, in a passionate romance with the beautiful and mysterious Amelia Marriat, but after attempts by the Spanish government to kill him on several occasions he also lived in Costa Rica, Panama and The Dominican Republic, among other territories.
Whilst in exile, together with the great Cuban patriot and intellectual Jose Marti, General Maximo Gomez and other Cubans he organised the plan for the new rebellion. Maceo proposed and it was agreed that Maximo Gomez was to be the Chief of the Cuban Independence Army, and Maceo was appointed second in command.The Spanish Government fearing Maceo’s strong influence exerted pressure on different Governments in the regions to prevent his return to Cuba’s shores.
On April 1895 Maceo finally landed in Cuba. Within one month of his arrival, thousands of men had joined him and the War of Independence (1895-1898) was resumed. Gomez and Marti landed in May 1895 and Marti sadly died in combat almost three weeks after.
Maceo and Gomez then executed one of the greatest feats in military history. The invasion from East to West, 1776 kilometres in 78 days, leading around 3,000 Cuban patriots against an army of 200,000 men with the latest weaponry and more than 42 Spanish generals. Most of the freedom fighters were from the East and had never been in the West, this was not guerrilla warfare, this was military tactics, strategy and courage.
After going to the most western point and raising the Cuban flag, Maceo fought during months with little more than 1,000 men against 70,000 Spanish soldiers in Pinar del Rio, the narrowest province of Cuba. Maceo’s army demonstrated exemplary behavior to fighters and nonfighters alike, but this was especially so in dealing with women and children in towns, villages and hamlets.
The following quotes underscore the magnitude of who Maceo was. He told Anselmo Valdés on July 6, 1884: “When Cuba is free and has a constitutional government, I shall request that we fight for the independence of Puerto Rico also. I would not care to put up my sword, leaving that portion of America in slavery.”
Rogelio Manuel Diaz Moreno
Sadly Maceo died on Dec 7th 1896 when two bullets struck him; these were his 25th and 26th wounds in combat, after what some records estimate 500 to 600 battles, he was on his way to meet General Gomez on his request, to deal with a political crisis in the leadership of the movement. He travelled with only his personal escort in order to avoid the Spaniards, he was at the time still recovering from wounds he had received in combat and was 53 years old.
Upon learning of Antonio’s death on the battlefield Mariana Grajales urged her youngest son “to hurry up and grow up quickly, because Cuba needs you.
Antonio Maceo, remains a true icon for Cuban people, and no doubt inspired the likes of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. Cuban writer Rogelio Manuel Diaz Moreno when writing for “The Havana Times” summed it up perfectly when he said.
“The countless heroic examples — generously offered by Maceo — have not only helped to inspire the success of the Revolution against both Spanish and Yankee imperialism, but have also allowed Cuba to play such a central role in the liberation of Angola, Namibia and South Africa, leading to the freeing of Nelson Mandela in 1990″