Antonio Maceo (1845-1896) was a Cuban mulatto patriot who rose to the rank of general in Cuba's Independence Army and became a hero of the wars which ended Spanish domination over Cuba.
Antonio Maceo was born in Santiago de Cuba on June 14, 1845. He was the son of Marcos Maceo, a Venezuelan mulatto émigréand of a free Cuban black, Mariana Grajales, one of the outstanding women in Cuba's history. Young Maceo spent his early years on his father's small farm in Oriente Province and received most of his education at home from private tutors. He also worked on his father's farm, making occasional trips to Santiago de Cuba to sell agricultural products.
The island was then experiencing revolutionary turmoil as Cuban patriots conspired to rid themselves of Spanish control. Unhappy with Spanish domination and horrified by the exploitation of the black slaves, Maceo entered the Masonic lodge of Santiago in 1864 and started to conspire with Cuban revolutionaries. When, on Oct. 10, 1868, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes and other leaders began Cuba's Ten Years War, Maceo joined the rebellion.
Maceo soon showed superior ability in guerrilla fighting. Under the instructions of Máximo Gómez, a Dominican guerrilla expert who had joined the Cuban forces, Maceo developed into one of the most daring fighters of the Cuban army. He defeated the Spanish forces in numerous battles and was soon promoted to the rank of captain. By January 1869 he was made lieutenant colonel. His incursions into the sugar zones not only helped to disrupt the sugar harvest but also were the principal means of freeing the slaves, who soon joined the ranks of the Cuban army.
By 1872 Maceo had achieved the rank of general. His prominent position among revolutionary leaders soon gave rise to intrigue and suspicion. Conservative elements who supported the war efforts began to fear the possibility of the establishment of a Negro republic with Maceo at its head. The example of Haiti still loomed in the minds of many, and when Gen. Gómez advocated an invasion of the west to cripple sugar production and liberate the slaves, he met determined opposition. Maceo was ordered to remain in Oriente Province, and the invasion of the west had to be postponed until 1875.
Even after the invasion got under way, it reached only to Las Villas Province in central Cuba. The destruction of the sugar estates increased the opposition from landed and sugar interests. Supplies, weapons, and money failed to arrive from exiles in the United States. Dissension in the revolutionary ranks and fear of the blacks again slowed down the revolutionary efforts. After a prolonged silence, Maceo finally answered those who accused him of attempting to establish a black republic. "In planting these seeds of distrust and dissension," he wrote on 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."
Continued Fight for Independence
The war dragged on with neither the Cubans nor Spaniards able to win a decisive victory. Finally, on Feb. 11, 1878, the Peace of Zanjón was signed, which ended the Ten Years War. Most of the generals of the Cuban army accepted the pact. Yet Maceo refused to capitulate and continued to fight with his now-depleted army. He held a historic meeting, known as the Protest of Baraguá, with the head of the Spanish forces, Marshal Arsenio Martínez Campos, requesting independence for Cuba and complete abolition of slavery. When these two conditions were rejected, he again resumed the fighting.
It was, however, a futile effort. Years of bloodshed and war had left the Cuban forces exhausted. Exile aid decreased, and Maceo now faced the bulk of the Spanish forces. Realizing the hopeless situation, Maceo left for Jamaica. From there he traveled to New York to raise money and weapons necessary to continue fighting. He soon joined the activities of Maj. Gen. Calixto Garcia, then organizing a new rebellion. This uprising, known as La Guerra Chiquita (Little War, 1879-1880), ended in disaster. Maceo was retained in exile for fear of antagonizing the conservative elements in Cuba, and Garcia was captured soon after he landed in the island.
Exile for Maceo
Disappointed and disillusioned, Maceo traveled to the Dominican Republic and finally settled in Honduras. There he joined Gen. Gómez and was appointed to an army post in Tegucigalpa. But Maceo saw his exile as only a temporary interruption in the struggle to liberate Cuba. He and Gómez soon began to organize a new rebellion. Maceo visited different exile centers in the United States seeking support. However, the leadership was totally in military hands, thus alienating such revolutionary leaders as José Martí. Then, weapons that were to be used for the uprising were either confiscated in the Dominican Republic or lost in Jamaica when the captain of the ship Morning Star, which was transporting the weapons, dumped them in the sea for fear of being arrested. Finally, dissensions, mistrust, and prejudice among the revolutionary leaders dealt a mortal blow to this new effort.
For the next several years Maceo wandered throughout the Caribbean and Central America and finally settled in Costa Rica, where he engaged successfully in tobacco and sugar production. There he received a call from Martíin 1893 for a final effort to liberate Cuba. Martíhad organized a revolutionary party in exile and now offered Maceo an important position in the movement. Maceo joined Martíand Gómez in organizing the Cubans in and out of the island until finally, on Feb. 24, 1895, the War for Independence began. One month later, Maceo and a group of expeditionaries landed in Oriente Province to join the rebellion.
Now Gómez and Maceo were able to implement their plan to invade the western provinces and thus carry the war to that part of the island. The two generals and Martímet on Cuban soil to map the war strategy. Maceo advocated a strong military junta rather than civilian control to direct the effort. Although the question of civilian versus military control was not resolved, Gómez was made commander in chief of the army, Maceo military commander of Oriente, and Martíhead of the revolution abroad and in nonmilitary matters.
Martí's tragic death only days after the meeting, on May 19, 1895, dealt a strong blow to the morale of the Cuban forces. Yet Maceo and Gómez did not waver. In repeated attacks the two generals undermined and defeated the Spanish troops. For the next 3 months Maceo and Gómez carried the war to the western provinces. From January to March 1896 Maceo waged a bitter but successful campaign against larger Spanish forces in the provinces of Pinar del Río and Havana. On Dec. 7, 1896, while preparing their next campaign, near the small town of San Pedro in Havana, Maceo's troops were attacked, and the courageous general was killed in a minor battle with Spanish forces.
The major works on Maceo are in Spanish. Much valuable information on Maceo and Cuba's wars for independence can be found in Philip S. Foner, A History of Cuba and Its Relations with the United States (2 vols., 1962-1963), and Hugh Thomas, Cuba: The Pursuit of Freedom (1971).
Foner, Philip Sheldon, Antonio Maceo: the "bronze titan" of Cuba's struggle for independence, New York: Monthly Review Press, 1977.
Pando, Magdalena, Cuba's freedom fighter, Antonio Maceo, 1845-1896, Gainesville, Fla.: Felicity Press, 1980. □
June 14, 1845
December 7, 1896
The most celebrated leader of the Cuban Independence Wars of the late nineteenth century, Antonio Maceo—known as the "Bronze Titan"—is also the most recognizable Cuban of African descent of the period. His military exploits during the wars for independence against Spain (1868–1898) and his unyielding commitment to abolishing slavery and colonialism made him a national hero and a beloved international figure, particular among people of African descent.
Maceo was born free in Santiago de Cuba, the child of Marcos Maceo, a Venezuelan man of color, and Mariana Grajales, a free woman of color who was the daughter of Dominican immigrants. He was born during the height of plantation slavery in Cuba and raised in a colonial slave society, but he lived in the eastern part of the island, where slavery was less entrenched than in the more prosperous western provinces, where slave labor on sugar plantations produced enormous wealth for the local planter elite. Even though free people of color had more autonomy in the east, they still occupied a subordinate position. The slave plantation system helped maintain the Spanish colonial presence in Cuba long after the collapse of the Spanish empire in the mainland Americas.
On October 10, 1868, a group of Creole planters in the eastern part of the island staged an armed insurrection against Spanish colonial rule. The movement was led by Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, a disgruntled sugar planter and slave owner who was disenchanted with the Spanish colonial system. Céspedes freed his slaves on the condition that they fight for the insurgent forces. Maceo joined both slaves and free persons of color in answering the call. Maceo quickly distinguished himself as a skilled soldier. However, the presence of Maceo and other Afro-Cuban insurgents caused persistent anxiety within the nationalist ranks. The predominantly white leadership was constantly fearful that Maceo would lead a "race war" against the whites, a fear that the Spanish colonial government exploited to its full advantage. These tensions within the insurgent ranks continued to plague the Cuban separatist movement—as did the white separatists' refusal to invade the western region, which was heavily populated by slaves—and they contributed to the movement's destruction. Eventually the vast majority of insurgents surrendered to the Spanish commander Arsenio Martínez Campos and signed the Treaty of Zanjón in 1878.
It was at this moment that Antonio Maceo distinguished himself. On March 15, 1878, Maceo staged the dramatic Protest of Baraguá, in which he and a small group of separatists declared to Martínez Campos that they would continue to fight for independence because the two-fold objective, abolition and independence, had not been achieved. Maceo and his supporters continued the fighting sporadically over the next couple of weeks before he was forced to flee into exile.
After nearly two decades in exile, Maceo joined with José Martí and Máximo Gómez to lead another military struggle against Spain in February 1895. This time, the movement was more successful because the rebels took the war into the heart of Cuba's sugar zones, the western provinces, and it was Antonio Maceo who led the epic western invasion. Maceo's heroic battles against the Spanish forces helped attract thousands of Cubans of African descent into the insurgent ranks, turning the war into a potentially radical social revolution. However, in 1896 Maceo was killed in a Spanish ambush. Although the struggle for independence continued, Maceo's death was a major blow to the separatist cause, and particularly to Cubans of African descent.
Maceo's fame grew in the years after his death. He became a symbol of black rebellion equal to the Haitian revolutionary leader Toussaint-Louverture. Like all icons, he is subject to multiple uses. In the years after the Cuban republic was established, Maceo became part of the nation's pantheon of founding fathers. Cuban politicians often used Maceo as a symbol of racial equality. In more recent years, the Cuban government headed by Fidel Castro has cited Maceo's Protest at Baraguá as a metaphor of Cuba's struggle for sovereignty in the face of hostility from the United States. To this day, he remains a source of inspiration.
See also Moncada, Guillermo
Ferrer, Ada. Insurgent Cuba: Race, Nation, and Revolution, 1868–1898. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999.
Foner, Philip, S. Antonio Maceo: The "Bronze Titan" of Cuba's Struggle for Independence. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1977.
Franco, José Luciano. Antonio Maceo: Apuntes para una historia de su vida, 3 vols. Havana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1975.
frank guridy (2005)