June 25, 1840
Guillermo Moncada, also known as Guillermón, was a high-ranking black officer in the revolutionary forces during Cuba's three wars of independence against Spain (1868–1878, 1879–1880, 1895–1898), struggles in which the issues of slavery and racial equality figured prominently. He was born in the city of Santiago de Cuba to a free woman of color, and as a youth he trained as a carpenter. Oral tradition holds that even before the start of the struggle for independence, Moncada had made manifest his antipathy to colonial rule during the city's annual carnival festivities, as he belonged to a carnival group that celebrated the efforts of Maroons to free plantation slaves in the area.
Moncada joined the armed independence movement in November 1868, approximately one month after the start of the conflict. By January 1870 he held the rank of captain. When a majority of Cuban insurgents accepted the Treaty of Zanjón in 1878, Moncada was among a dissident group of rebels, led by the mulatto general Antonio Maceo (1845–1896), who repudiated the treaty, arguing that they would not surrender until the rebel demands for the abolition of slavery and the independence of the island were met. The colonial state, however, granted only moderate political reforms and enacted only a limited abolition, freeing only those slaves who had served in either the rebel or colonial army during the conflict.
During the second war of independence—the Guerra Chiquita, or Little War—Moncada came to hold one of the highest-ranking positions among the rebel forces active on the island. However, the previous ten years of war and Spain's concession of political reforms led many Cubans to reject this second call to arms. In addition, important white leaders of the first insurgency were still in exile as part of the settlement from the first war. But if white support seemed weaker than in the Ten Years' War, this new effort was immediately embraced by slaves, who had seen their companions who had fled to join the first insurgency freed, and by free people of color. The high proportion of black supporters led colonial officials and their Cuban allies to denounce the movement as a race war aimed at establishing a black republic. As one of the principle leaders of the military effort, Moncada became a target of racist rumor and denunciation. He was accused of violating white women and holding them in harems; and he was said to have proclaimed himself emperor. Moncada himself denied the rumors, countering that the war was a struggle "for liberty, our rights, and, in a word, for the independence of our beloved country." He was among the last rebel leaders to surrender in June 1880, when he headed a force of 370 followers, the vast majority of whom were people of color, including 168 runaway slaves.
In the long interregnum between the end of hostilities in 1880 and the start of the third full-fledged rebellion against Spain in 1895, Moncada spent some time in prison, where he contracted tuberculosis. When the war began in February 1895, he took the rank of major general as head of the army in southern Oriente. However, he died of tuberculosis while leading his troops in April 1895.
To this day, Moncada is considered a major military figure in the struggle for Cuban independence. In 1953, when Fidel Castro launched his offensive against Fulgencio Batista, he did so by attacking the Cuban army at the largest military installation outside Havana, the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba, named in honor of the black general.
See also Maceo, Antonio
Diccionario enciclopédico de historia militar de Cuba, volume 1, Biografías. Havana: Ediciones Verde Olivo, 2001.
Ferrer, Ada. Insurgent Cuba: Race, Nation, and Revolution, 1868–1898. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999.
Helg, Aline. Our Rightful Share: The Afro-Cuban Struggle for Equality, 1886–1912. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995.
ada ferrer (2005)