The first war for independence began on October 10, 1868 when Carlos
Manuel de Céspedes -a lawyer from Bayamo-, proclaim independence
in his property "La Demajagua" and granted freedom to
his slaves. The uprising, followed shortly after by the conspirators
in Camagüey and Las Villas, gained strength in spite of the merciless
reaction from the Spaniards.
The Spaniards in the cities, organized in voluntary militias, unleashed
terror among Cuban families and became an important factor influencing
political decisions. At the same time, the Spanish army advanced over
the city of Bayamo, -the rebel capital- forcing the Cubans to abandon
it, for they never surrendered, but before abandoning the city, the rebels
themselves set the city on fire, as a symbol of their revolutionary will.
Although the extremely difficult conditions were against the movement,
unity was necessary, and legality was conquered through the Constitutional
Assembly held in the town of Guáimaro. The legal constitution of the Republic
in Arms was passed.
The Cuban Liberation Army, after several months of military learning obtained
an impressive offensive capacity that reached its highest point during
the invasion of the bountiful Guantánamo region by General Máximo Gómez,
and by the brilliant battles in the plateaus of Camagüey by the cavalry
commanded by Ignacio Agramonte. However, the military victories were turned
in a way into a set back due to political differences among the revolutionaries,
which eventually led to Céspedes removal from his position as President
of the Republic in Arms (1873). At the same time, these differences prevented arrival in Cuba of the needed supplies of armaments
and other means being sent by the Cubans emigrants. On the other hand,
the hostile policy of the US Government towards the Cuban revolutionaries
was also negative. The United States Government decided to abide, by its
old policy, that the Cubans should remain under Spanish rule until they
fall unfailingly into the control of the North Americans.
Between 1874 and 1875, the Cuban military forces were very successful,
first with Máximo Gómezs campaign in Camagüey, marked by the victories
at La Sacra and Palo Seco and the battle
at Las Guásimas, where the Cuban army defeated a Spanish column of more
than 4 000 soldiers, and afterwards by the invasion of Las Villas by the
rebel troops under the command of the outstanding Dominican General. However,
internal disagreement and dissension again lessened the importance of
such victories and important strategic advances. This, together with the
non-arrival of refreshment troops prevented the success of the planned
invasion aimed at extending the war to the rich Western region of the
While the revolution weakened, the Spaniards improved their military capabilities,
for the restoration of the monarchy in 1875 put an end to the violent
events that had characterized the life in Spain after the so-called "glorious
revolution" of 1868 and the establishment of the Republic shortly
conditions, unfavorable for the rebel army and the lack of unity
forced the rebels to accept the peace proposals made by the Spanish
General Arsenio Martínez Campos. In 1878, the Peace Treaty was signed
at Zanjón, but independence had not been obtained. Nevertheless,
not everybody in the Liberation Army accepted the truce and the
peace, particularly General Antonio Maceo, Chief of the Army
for the Eastern region. Maceo, a mulatto born in a poor family,
had reached the highest positions in the Liberation Army thanks
to his courage, his intelligence and his capabilities.
Even though insurgent actions could not be sustained for much
longer, the Protestation of Baraguá, headed by Maceo and his troop,
who were the most popular sectors of the revolutionary movement,
was a proof of the Cubans irrevocable will to continue its
struggle for independence.
In the 1880s, the Island would traverse a period
of great economic and social changes. Spain finally abolished
slavery in 1886, much weakened as a result of the Ten Years
War. This brought notable transformations in the organization
of sugar production that reached, at last, the rank of industry.
Cubas economic dependence from the United States was bound
to be practically complete and absolute while US capitals investment
was more and more present in several sectors of the economy.
The bourgeoisie in the Island, estranged from their independence
aspirations, had formed two major political groups or parties:
the Liberal Party, which would later become the Autonomist Party,
and the Constitutional Union. The former was resuming the old
trend of trying to obtain some reforms within the Spanish colonial
system, aiming at an eventual home-rule. The latter was the
most reactionary expression of the sectors interested in the
full integration of Cuba into Spain. Meanwhile, mostly the Cubans
that had been forced to emigrate to the United States and other
countries were supporting the efforts for independence, more
popularly rooted. A first outbreak, the "Guerra Chiquita"
(Short War) in 1879, once again sent the Cubans to the battle
fields in the Eastern and Central regions, but was easily controlled
after a few months due to its lack of organization and political
coherence. Several landings, conspiracies and uprisings followed,
usually organized by military chiefs of the Ten Years War, but
were aborted or suffocated by the Spanish authorities because
of the rebels incapacity to articulate their actions with
a more comprehensive and united movement within the masses.
That would be José Martí's
for independence from early adolescence, José Martí Pérez,
(born in La Habana, 1853) suffered
imprisonment and deportation during the Ten Years
War. From his work with later conspiracies and revolutionary
movements, he realized that the Cuban Revolution had to
have new organizational and programmatic foundations.
To this task, he devoted his work and his whole life.
Gifted with exquisite poetic sensibility and being
a terrific and bright speaker, Martí also possessed a tremendous
foresight and a profound political thought, enriched by the
experience of the years he lived in Spain, the United States
and other Latin American countries.
All his work for the union of the
Cuban revolutionaries, mainly among the Cuban emigrates in the
United Sates, had an important repercussion in Cuba, and became
a reality in 1892, when the Cuban Revolutionary Party
was founded. Conceived as the only and unique organization of
all the Cubans in favor of independence, the Party had to find
the means, both material and human, for the new liberation endeavor.
At the same time, it should grant the military chiefs the indispensable
political authority to carry out the "necessary war."
The war started on February 24, 1895. Martí landed in
Cuba with Máximo Gómez, General in Chief of the Liberation Army,
and shortly after was killed in combat at Dos Ríos. Though Martís death
was a terrible loss for the Revolution, the revolutionary movement
became stronger and stronger in the province of Oriente, where
Maceo -who had come in an expedition from Costa Rica- had taken
command of the mambí troops, and extended the actions to the
provinces of Camagüey and Las Villas.
Delegates of the Liberation Army met in Jimaguayú to draft the
constitution that would rule the destiny of the Republic in
Arms. The Assembly elected Salvador Cisneros Betancourt, a patrician
from Camagüey, for the Presidential post, and appointed Máximo
Gómez General in Chief of the Liberation Army. And Maceo was
appointed as Lieutenant General. Shortly after, Maceo would
set out from Baraguá commanding a column that would carry out
the invasion to the Western regions together with the forces
under the command of Máximo Gómez, who was waiting for Maceo
in Las Villas.
After the victories at Mal Tiempo, Coliseo and Calimete, the
invading troops entered in the province of La Habana panicking
the colonial authorities in the capital. Maceos troops
arrived in Mantua, the most Western town in Cuba. The invasion
had met its objectives: the war was making devastating effects
in the whole territory, whose main productions dropped dramatically.
This time, Spain was prevented from taking out from the Island
the necessary resources to fight her own independence.
To face generalized insurgency, the metropolis appointed
Valeriano Weyler General Captain (Governor). Weyler arrived
in Cuba with numerous refreshment troops to support his
campaign and unleashed a bloody war of extermination.
In spite of the high cost this type of war represented
-above all because of the reconcentration of the peasant
population in towns and cities- Weyler was unable to stop
insurgency, and the victories of the Cuban troops. Gómezs
campaign in La Habana, and Maceos in Pinar del Río
would keep the colonial army in a stress.
Although the rebel forces also faced difficulties,
they would receive with some regularity supplies sent by the
Cuban emigrants in the United States and by the Cuban Revolutionary
Party. This, together with the armament captured from the enemy
would enable the Cuban Liberation Army to maintain its operational
In December 1896, Maceo is killed in the battle of San Pedro,
and General Calixto García, another brilliant army leader from
the time of the Ten Years War is appointed as 2nd Lieutenant
and Assistant to the General in Chief of the Liberation Army.
At this time, Gómez decides to concentrate against himself,
as much as possible, Spanish elite troops and submitted them
to a demolishing campaign in the central region of the Island.
In this way, he left García free to fight important battles
in Oriente and to take important and well fortified places in
Las Tunas and Guisa. At the same time, in the Western side of
the Island, the Liberation Army is fighting continuous small
and medium size actions. The fate of Spanish colonial regime
The development of the revolution in Cuba, seen with increasingly
sympathy by the American people, makes that on April 19 both
Houses of U.S. Congress pass the Joint Resolution by means of
which the Government of the United States would intervene in
the conflict. According to the document, Cuba should be free
and independent and United States would withdraw from Island
when warrantees of a stable government existed. Partly yielding
to American pressures, Spain grants the autonomy to Cuba, late
measure that did not provide the expected effect.
in part to US pressures, Spain hands over grants autonomy
to the Cubans, but the step was taken to late to have
the desired effect. Then -February 1898- the US battleship
Maine was blown in La Habana harbor, an event Washington
would use as a pretext to mobilize public opinion and
involve directly in the war.
Formally admitting Cuban independence, but not recognizing its
institutions, the United Sates enters the war against Spain
and, with the cooperation and help of the mambises troops,
the American army lands in Cuba through the South coast of the
Eastern region. Actions will take place in the outskirts of
Santiago de Cuba.
The Spanish fleet was trapped in
the port of Santiago de Cuba, and on trying to sail to the open
sea is annihilated by the superiority of the American naval
forces. After the assault against the city defenses by Cuban-American
troops, the Spanish command has no choice but to surrender.
An important event then takes place: Cuban troops, commanded
by Calixto García are forbidden to enter in the city. Several
months after that, according to the Paris Treaty, Spain will
transfer Cuba to the United States control without taking into
account the institutions established by the Cuban people.