Máximo Gómez

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Máximo Gómez

A Dominican by birth, Máximo Gómez (1836-1905) became a general in Cuba's independence army and a hero of the struggle which ended Spanish domination over Cuba.

Máximo Gómez was born in the small town of Baní in the Dominican Republic on Nov. 18, 1836. The son of a lower-middle-class family, he entered a religious seminary, but his religious instruction was soon interrupted by a Haitian invasion of the Dominican Republic in the mid-1850s. Joining the forces of Dominican patriots, he fought bravely in the battle of Santomé in 1856 and in numerous subsequent battles. When Dominican general Pedro Santana invited Spain to reestablish control over the Dominican Republic in 1861, Gómez accepted a commission as captain in the Dominican army reserve. He retained that post until the end of the Spanish domination in 1865, when he moved to Santiago de Cuba.

Cuba's Ten Years War

Cuba was then experiencing revolutionary turmoil, as Cuban patriots conspired to rid the island of Spanish control. Unhappy with the treatment he and other Dominicans had received from Spain and horrified by the exploitation of the black slaves, he started to conspire with Cuban revolutionaries. When, on Oct. 10, 1868, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes and other leaders began Cuba's Ten Years War for Independence, Gómez joined the rebellion. His experience in military strategy was of importance to the revolutionary cause, and he was soon promoted to the rank of general and later to commander of Oriente Province. A master of guerrilla warfare, Gómez organized the Cuban rebels into highly mobile small units which could operate independently, harassing the Spanish troops continually.

Although at first the Cuban forces were successful, the Spaniards soon gained the offensive. By 1871 the rebels had been pushed back to Oriente Province, and the rebellion was contained in that part of the island. In a meeting with rebel president Céspedes, Gómez argued for an invasion of the western part of the island. He pointed out that the rebellion should be made an unbearable economic burden for Spain and that this could be accomplished through an invasion that would emancipate all black slaves in the island and cripple the sugar industry. "If liberty is not given to the slaves," Gómez wrote in his campaign diary, "and if production of the great sugar plantations is not impeded, the revolution is destined to last much longer and rivers of blood will flow unfruitfully in the fields of the island."

Gómez's plan met with strong opposition from conservative and landed groups. Although they supported the Cuban cause, they feared for their economic interests, and after much discussion the plan was finally rejected. The Dominican leader returned to the zone of Guantánamo, where he continued to engage victoriously with the Spanish forces. In 1872 Gómez prevailed upon the government to accept his plan. But before it could be implemented, dissension again broke out within the revolutionary ranks and Céspedes relieved him as commander of Oriente Province. Although in 1873 Céspedes was removed from the presidency and Gómez was restored to his position of command, the invasion had to wait until 1875.

Even after the invasion got under way, it reached only Las Villas Province in central Cuba. Gómez's destruction of sugar plantations met with much opposition from the landed and sugar interests. Some officers also resented a foreigner in command. Others were jealous of Gómez's position and actions. Furthermore, supplies, weapons, and money failed to arrive from exiles in the United States. Finally, in 1876, Gómez was forced to resign his military post. Though he was appointed secretary of war shortly after, his plan of action in western Cuba had failed.

Disappointed and disillusioned, Gómez left Cuba just prior to the signing of the Peace of Zanjón in February 1878, which ended the Ten Years War. From Cuba, Gómez traveled to Jamaica and then to Honduras, where he was appointed army general. From Honduras he supported the ill-fated "Guerra Chiquita" (Little War, 1879-1880), an attempt by several Cuban rebel leaders led by Gen. Calixto García, to continue the war against Spain.

New Attempts at Liberation

In 1884 Gómez left Honduras for the United States to organize and collect funds for a new rebellion in Cuba. In New York he met with veteran general Antonio Maceo and with José Martí, then engaged in mobilizing the Cuban exiles in support of the war against Spain. But Gómez and Martí soon clashed, and the latter, fearful of Gómez's authoritarian attitude, withdrew from the movement. Martí's withdrawal, desertion from the revolutionary ranks, disillusionment among exiled Cubans, lack of capital and weapons, and poor organization all doomed the new movement to failure. Gómez traveled to Panama for a short stay and then settled back in the Dominican Republic.

There he received a new call from Martí in 1892 for a final effort to liberate Cuba. Martí had organized a revolutionary party in exile and now offered Gómez the post of military chief. Forgetting old differences, Gómez accepted promptly and joined Martí and Maceo in their revolutionary endeavors. For the next few years the three men worked tirelessly, organizing Cubans in and out of the island until finally, on Feb. 24, 1895, the War for Independence began. In April of that same year Gómez, Martí, and other leaders landed in Cuba and joined Maceo, who was already in the battlefield.

War for Independence

Now Gómez finally was able to implement his invasion plan. Although Martí's tragic death in Dos Ríos on May 19, 1895, in one of the early combats of the war dealt a strong blow to the morale of the rebellion, Gómez and Maceo did not waver. In repeated attacks the two generals undermined and defeated the Spanish troops and carried the war to the western provinces. By 1896 the Spanish troops were retreating and the Cubans seemed victorious throughout the island. Then came a change in the Spanish command and the more conciliatory Spanish marshal Arsenio Martínez Campos was replaced by Gen. Valeriano Weyler, a tough and harsh disciplinarian.

Weyler's policy of concentrating the rural population in garrisoned towns, the increasing numbers of Spanish troops, and Maceo's death allowed the Spaniards to regain the initiative. Yet they were unable to defeat the Cuban rebels or even engage them in a major battle. Gómez retreated to the eastern provinces and from there carried on guerrilla operations. He rejected any compromise with Spain, and in January 1898, when the Spanish monarchy introduced an autonomy plan that would have made Cuba a self-governing province within the Spanish Empire, Gómez categorically opposed it.

This was the existing condition in Cuba when the United States declared war on Spain on April 25, 1898, following the explosion of the battleship Maine in Havana's harbor earlier that year. The Cuban forces collaborated with the U.S. Army in the short campaign against Spain. By August hostilities had ceased, and Spain agreed to relinquish sovereignty over the island. Gómez and his troops retired to the sugar mill Narcisa in Las Villas Province and there awaited the departure of Spanish troops. After the withdrawal Gómez made a triumphant tour of the island and amid general joy entered Havana on Feb. 24, 1899.

Postwar Difficulties

But Gómez, the most popular hero of the war, soon got into trouble. He requested that the Americans pay the Cuban veterans for their services since 1895 and at a higher rate than American soldiers had received. The United States refused and offered $3 million, or an estimated $75 for each soldier who turned in his weapons. Gómez also clashed with the Cuban Assembly, composed of army delegates, over a proposed United States loan. Gómez opposed the loan as well as its onerous terms and criticized the Assembly for considering it. The Assembly in turn resented Gómez's high-handed manner and the secret conversations he held with representatives of the U.S. government to secure payment for the war veterans. The Assembly finally dismissed Gómez as commander in chief of the army.

Gómez's dismissal only increased his popularity. As the end of the American occupation approached and candidates emerged for the presidential election of 1901, Gómez was the most popular figure. Yet the old general refused to be considered, claiming, "I would much rather liberate men than govern them." Instead, he campaigned for and helped elect Tomás Estrada Palma, former rebel president and delegate-in-exile of the Cuban Republic in Arms. Gómez supported Estrada Palma's administration, but when the President announced his intention to reelect himself, he met with Gómez's stiff opposition. Old and sick, Gen. Gómez went on a speaking tour but could do little, for he died on June 17, 1905.

Further Reading

Valuable information on Gómez as well as on Cuba's wars for independence is in Charles E. Chapman, A History of the Cuban Republic (1927), and Philip Sheldon Foner, A History of Cuba and Its Relations with the United States, vol. 2 (1963). □