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López, Narciso (1797–1851)

López, Narciso (1797–1851)

Narciso López (b. 19 October 1797; d. 1 September 1851), Cuban revolutionist. A native of Caracas, Venezuela, López joined the Spanish army in his mid-teens, participated in campaigns against Simón Bolívar's independence movement, and achieved the rank of colonel. When Spanish forces withdrew to Cuba in 1823, López accompanied the army to the island. There he married the sister of a creole planter, and acquired landholdings and mines. In 1827 López went to Spain, where, during the Carlist wars, he served as aide-de-camp to General Gerónimo Valdés in support of the queen-regent, María Cristina, and her daughter, Isabella, against the claims to the succession of Don Carlos, brother of the late Ferdinand VII. While in Spain, López rose to the rank of brigadier general. López returned to Cuba when Valdés became captain-general of the colony in 1841. During Valdés's tenure, López served as president of the Executive and Permanent Military Commission and governor of Trinidad Province—posts which he lost when General Leopoldo O'Donnell replaced Valdés in 1843. This loss of patronage, as well as financial setbacks, may have contributed to López's conversion to anticolonialism in the mid-1840s.

López's overt revolutionary activities commenced in 1848 with a plot named after his mines—Conspiracy of the Cuban Rose Mine. Set to erupt in late June, the uprising was postponed until mid-July in deference to the wishes of the Havana Club, which favored annexation of Cuba to the United States. Alerted by the U.S. government to the pending revolt, Spanish authorities took preemptive action. Having escaped arrest in the resultant crackdown, López reached the United States, where he organized a private military—or "filibustering"—expedition to liberate Cuba. In 1849 the Zachary Taylor administration thwarted this effort, which, like all filibustering expeditions, violated U.S. neutrality statutes, by blockading López's troops assembled at Round Island, off the Gulf coast, and by seizing his ships and supplies in New York City.

Undaunted, López and associated exiles announced a junta based in New York City but with a Washington, D.C., address. On 19 May 1850, López and some 520 followers captured Cárdenas, on Cuba's northern coast. His forces outnumbered by Spanish reinforcements, López fled to Key West, Florida. He was indicted in June 1850 for violating American neutrality laws but never stood trial (charges were dismissed after three juries failed to convict a coconspirator).

Federal authorities upset his next invasion scheme when, in April 1851, they seized the vessel Cleopatra in New York and arrested several filibuster leaders. However, that August, López eluded federal authorities and invaded Cuba with some 453 men. His force debarked the coasting packet Pampero near Bahía Honda, west of Havana. López mismanaged the ensuing military campaign, which was doomed to failure because Spanish authorities repressed developing resistance prior to the landing. Many of López's followers died in battle. The rest, except for a couple of officers who had returned to the United States for reinforcements, were captured. Spanish authorities released a few, but executed fifty invaders on 16 August and later sent some 160 captives to imprisonment in Spain. López was garroted in Havana on 1 September, in a public display. News of the 16 August executions sparked riots in New Orleans, Mobile, and Key West that did thousands of dollars' worth of damage to Spanish property. Disputes arising from the López invasions complicated for years diplomatic relations between the United States, Spain, and Great Britain and France—the latter two seeking to dominate the Gulf-Caribbean region economically—and left a legacy of fear of American intentions among Spanish officials ruling Cuba.

Some authorities, noting the disproportionate number of Americans in López's filibuster armies, his flag modeled upon the banner of the Republic of Texas, and his contacts with both Americans and Cubans favoring the annexation of Cuba to the United States as a new slave state, portray López as a conservative who intended to integrate Cuba into the United States. A few scholars, however, view López as a liberal nationalist—an early martyr to the cause of Cuban independence.

See alsoCuba: The Colonial Era (1492–1898); Filibustering.


Charles Henry Brown, Agents of Manifest Destiny: The Lives and Times of the Filibusters (1980), esp. pp. 21-108.

Robert G. Caldwell, The López Expeditions to Cuba, 1848–1851 (1915).

Philip S. Foner, A History of Cuba and Its Relations with the United States, vol. 2 (1963), esp. pp. 41-65.

Herminio Portell Vilá, Narciso López y su época, 3 vols. (1930–1958).

Basil Rauch, American Interest in Cuba, 1848–1855 (1948).

Additional Bibliography

Chaffin, Tom. Fatal Glory: Narciso López and the First Clandestine U.S. War Against Cuba. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1996.

May, Robert E. Manifest Destiny's Underworld: Filibustering in Antebellum America. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.

Zeuske, Michael. "!Con López a Cuba!: Los voluntarios alemanes en la expedición de Narciso López, 1851–1852." Montalbán 29 (1996): 111-139.

                                      Robert E. May

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