Narciso López (1798-1851) was a Venezuelan military leader in the Spanish colonial service but later led filibustering expeditions against Spanish power in Cuba.
Narciso López was born in Venezuela on Sept. 13, 1798. At an early age he joined the Spanish army fighting against Simón Bolivar and rose rapidly in the ranks. When Spanish troops withdrew from Venezuela to Cuba in 1823, López accompanied them and settled on the island. He married a sister of a high Spanish Official, the Conde de Pozos Dulces. The marriage, however, soon broke up, and López moved to Spain, where he served the Crown against the Carlist rebels and rose to the rank of general.
In 1841 López returned to Cuba, and during the administration of his personal friend Capt. Gen. Gerónimo Valdés, he occupied important posts, such as governor of the town of Trinidad. López also acted as president of a military tribunal, becoming notorious for the severity of the sentences he imposed on political dissenters. When a new captain general was appointed, López lost his post. He turned to business, engaging in several unsuccessful ventures.
By 1848 López had grown unhappy with Spanish rule and began to conspire with Cubans who advocated the annexation of the island to the United States. López's conspiracy, known as the "Cuban Rose Mine, " contemplated an uprising in several parts of Cuba to coincide with the landing of an expedition of American allies. The scheme failed when Spanish authorities learned of the conspiracy and when the U.S. government, at the time considering the purchase of Cuba from Spain, moved against the expedition. Many of the conspirators in the island were arrested, and López fled to the United States.
There López resumed his conspiratorial activities and organized an expedition with the support of southern leaders. In 1850 he sailed from New Orleans with a force of over 600 men, mostly American veterans of the Mexican War, and landed in Cárdenas in Matanzas Province. The expeditionaries overwhelmed the small Spanish force and captured the town. But finding little support from the population and faced with Spanish reinforcements, López retreated and again escaped to the United States.
In 1851, with over 400 men, mostly southerners, some Hungarians and Germans, and a few Cubans, López landed in Pinar del Río in a desolate area. He found little support and was soon defeated and captured by the Spanish army. Before he was publicly garroted in Havana on Sept. 1, 1851, he insisted, "My death will not change the destiny of Cuba."
Historians are still in disagreement as to López's real objectives. While some point out that he wanted the island's independence, others insist that he desired Cuba's annexation to the United States. Perhaps he wanted a free Cuba but one where slavery could be preserved. Whatever his motivations, López's actions helped arouse anti-Spanish sentiment in the island and paved the way for later uprisings.
Philip S. Foner, A History of Cuba in Its Relations with the United States (2 vols., 1962-1963), portrays López as an advocate of Cuba's annexation to the United States. Still valuable is Robert Granville, The López Expeditions to Cuba, 1848-1851 (1915). □