The Republic of Cuba (República de Cuba), is a country comprising the island of Cuba as well as Isla de la Juventud and several minor archipelagos. Cuba is located in the northern Caribbean where the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic Ocean meet. It is south of both the U.S. state of Florida and the Bahamas, west of Haiti, and north of Jamaica. Havana is the largest city and capital; other major cities include Santiago de Cuba and Camagüey. Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean, with an area of 42,426 square miles (109,884 square kilometers), and the second-most populous after Hispaniola, with over 11 million inhabitants. Culturally, Cuba is considered part of Latin America and is a multiethnic country whose people, culture and customs derive from diverse origins, including the aboriginal Taíno and Ciboney peoples, the long period of Spanish colonialism, the introduction of African slaves, and a close relationship with the Soviet Union in the Cold War. Today, Cuba is a Marxist–Leninist one-party republic, where the role of the vanguard Communist Party is enshrined in the Constitution. Independent observers have accused the Cuban government of numerous human rights abuses, including arbitrary imprisonment and torture. It is a developing country with one of the world’s last planned economies that is dominated by the exports of sugar, tobacco, coffee and skilled labor. It ranks highly in some metrics of national performance, including health care and education.
Before the arrival of the Spanish, Cuba was inhabited by three distinct tribes of American Indian people. The Taíno (an Arawak people), the Guanajatabey, and the Ciboney people. The ancestors of the Ciboney migrated from the mainland of South America, with the earliest sites dated to 5,000 years ago. The Taíno arrived from Hispanola sometime in the third century A.D. When Columbus arrived they were the dominant culture in Cuba, having an estimated population of 150,000.
The name “Cuba” comes from the native Taíno language. It is derived from either coabana meaning “great place,” or from cubao meaning “where fertile land is abundant”.
After first landing on an island then called Guanahani, Bahamas on October 12, 1492, Christopher Columbus commanded his three ships — La Pinta, La Niña and the Santa María — to land on Cuba’s northeastern coast on October 28, 1492. His landfall was near what is now Bariay in Holguin Province. Columbus claimed the island for the new Kingdom of Spain and named it Isla Juana after Juan, Prince of Asturias.
In 1511, the first Spanish settlement was founded by Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar at Baracoa. Other towns soon followed, including San Cristobal de la Habana, founded in 1515, which later became the capital. The native Taíno were forced to work under the encomienda system, which resembled a feudal system in Medieval Europe. Within a century, the indigenous people were virtually wiped out due to multiple factors, primarily Eurasian infectious diseases, to which they had no natural resistance, aggravated by harsh conditions of the repressive colonial subjugation. In 1529, a measles outbreak in Cuba killed two-thirds of those few natives who had previously survived smallpox.
On May 18, 1539, Conquistador Hernando De Soto departed from Havana, Cuba at the head of some 600 followers into a vast expedition through the Southeastern United States, starting at La Florida, in search of gold, treasure, fame and power. On September 1, 1548, Dr. Gonzalo Perez de Angulo was appointed governor of Cuba. He arrived in Santiago, Cuba on November 4, 1549 and immediately declared the liberty of all natives. He became Cuba’s first permanent governor to reside in Havana instead of Santiago, and he built Havana’s first church made of masonry. After the French took Havana in 1555, the governor’s son, Francisco de Angulo, went to Mexico.
Cuba developed slowly and, unlike the plantation islands of the Caribbean, had a diversified agriculture. But what was most important was that the colony developed as an urbanized society that primarily supported the Spanish colonial empire. By the mid-eighteenth century, its colonists held 50,000 slaves, compared to 60,000 in Barbados; 300,000 in Virginia, both British colonies; and 450,000 in French Saint-Domingue, which had large-scale sugar cane plantations.
The Seven Years’ War, which erupted in 1754 across three continents, eventually arrived in the Spanish Caribbean. Spain’s alliance with the French pitched them into direct conflict with the British, and in 1762 a British expedition of five warships and 4,000 troops set out from Portsmouth to capture Cuba. The British arrived on June 6, and by August had Havana under siege. When Havana surrendered, the admiral of the British fleet, George Keppel, the 3rd Earl of Albemarle, entered the city as a conquering new governor and took control of the whole western part of the island. The British immediately opened up trade with their North American and Caribbean colonies, causing a rapid transformation of Cuban society. They imported food, horses and other goods into the city, as well as thousands of slaves from West Africa to work on the under developed sugar plantations.
Though Havana, which had become the third-largest city in the Americas, was to enter an era of sustained development and increasing ties with North America during this period, the British occupation of the city proved short-lived. Pressure from London sugar merchants, fearing a decline in sugar prices, forced negotiations with the Spanish over colonial territories. Less than a year after Britain seized Havana, it signed the Peace of Paris together with France and Spain, ending the Seven Years’ War. The treaty gave Britain Florida in exchange for Cuba. The French had recommended this to Spain, advising that declining to give up Florida could result in Spain instead losing Mexico and much of the South American mainland to the British. Many in Britain were disappointed, believing that Florida was a poor return for Cuba and Britain’s other gains in the war.
The real engine for the growth of Cuba’s commerce in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century was the Haitian Revolution. When the enslaved peoples of what had been the Caribbean’s richest colony freed themselves through violent revolt, Cuban planters perceived the region’s changing circumstances with both a sense of fear and opportunity. They were afraid because of the prospect that slaves might revolt in Cuba, too, and numerous prohibitions during the 1790’s on the sale of slaves in Cuba that had previously been slaves in French colonies underscored this anxiety. The planters saw opportunity, however, because they thought that they could exploit the situation by transforming Cuba into the slave society and sugar-producing “pearl of the Antilles” that Haiti had been before the revolution. As the historian Ada Ferrer has written, “At a basic level, liberation in Saint-Domingue helped entrench its denial in Cuba. As slavery and colonialism collapsed in the French colony, the Spanish island underwent transformations that were almost the mirror image of Haiti’s.” Estimates suggest that between 1790 and 1820 some 325,000 Africans were imported to Cuba as slaves, which was four times the amount that had arrived between 1760 and 1790. Although a smaller proportion of the population of Cuba was enslaved, at times slaves arose in revolt. In 1812 the Aponte Slave Rebellion took place but it was suppressed.
The population of Cuba in 1817 was 630,980, of which 291,021 were white, 115,691 free people of color (mixed-race), and 224,268 black slaves. This was a much higher proportion of free blacks to slaves than in Virginia, for instance, or the other Caribbean islands. Historians such as Swedish Magnus Mõrner, who studied slavery in Latin America, found that manumissions increased when slave economies were in decline, as in eighteenth-century Cuba and early nineteenth-century Maryland of the United States.
In part due to Cuban slaves working primarily in urbanized settings, by the nineteenth century, there had developed the practice of coartacion, or “buying oneself out of slavery,” a “uniquely Cuban development,” according to historian Herbert S. Klein. Due to a shortage of white labor, blacks dominated urban industries “to such an extent that when whites in large numbers came to Cuba in the middle of the nineteenth century, they were unable to displace Negro workers.” A system of diversified agriculture, with small farms and fewer slaves, served to supply the cities with produce and other goods.
In the 1820s, when the rest of Spain’s empire in Latin America rebelled and formed independent states, Cuba remained loyal. Its economy was based on serving the empire. By 1860, Cuba had 213,167 free people of color, 39% of its non-White population of 550,000. By contrast, Virginia with about the same number of blacks, had only 58,042 or 11% who were free; the rest were enslaved. In the antebellum years, Virginia discouraged manumissions after the Nat Turner’s Slave Rebellion of 1831 and strengthened restrictions against free blacks, as did other southern states. In addition, there was a high demand for slaves, and Virginia planters sold many in the internal domestic slave trade, to be shipped or taken overland to the Deep South, which had greatly expanded its cotton production.
The first stamps of Cuba were joint issues with Puerto Rico, issued in April, 1855. These stamps are referred to as the “Antilles”. At first, Isabella II had her portrait on all regular issues until her abdication in 1868.
Full independence from Spain was the goal of a rebellion in 1868 led by planter Carlos Manuel de Céspedes. De Céspedes, a sugar planter, freed his slaves to fight with him for an independent Cuba. On December 27, 1868, he issued a decree condemning slavery in theory but accepting it in practice and declaring free any slaves whose masters present them for military service. The 1868 rebellion resulted in a prolonged conflict known as the Ten Years’ War. Two thousand Cuban Chinese joined the rebels. Chinese had been imported as indentured laborers. A monument in Havana honors the Cuban Chinese who fell in the war.
Cuba had separate stamps from 1873. Postage stamps were labeled only ULTRAMAR (overseas) until the word CUBA appeared for the first time in 1877. The portrait of Alfonso XII adorned the stamps from 1876 until 1880, some three years after his posthumously born successor, Alfonso XIII, assumed the throne under Regency status, and had his portrait instead. This depicted a baby whose hairline was considerably receded and thus earned the irreverent nickname of el pelón (baldie). Finally, in 1898, a youth with tousled hair appears.
The United States declined to recognize the new Cuban government, although many European and Latin American nations did so. In 1878, the Pact of Zanjón ended the conflict, with Spain promising greater autonomy to Cuba. In 1879–1880, Cuban patriot Calixto García attempted to start another war known as the Little War but did not receive enough support. Slavery in Cuba was abolished in 1875 and was completed in 1886.
An exiled dissident named José Martí founded the Cuban Revolutionary Party in New York in 1892. The aim of the party was to achieve Cuban independence from Spain. In January 1895, Martí traveled to Montecristi and Santo Domingo to join the efforts of Máximo Gómez. Martí recorded his political views in the Manifesto of Montecristi. Fighting against the Spanish army began in Cuba on February 24, 1895, but Martí was unable to reach Cuba until April 11, 1895. Martí was killed in the battle of Dos Rios on May 19, 1895. His death immortalized him as Cuba’s national hero.
Around 200,000 Spanish troops outnumbered the much smaller rebel army, which relied mostly on guerrilla and sabotage tactics. The Spaniards began a campaign of suppression. General Valeriano Weyler, military governor of Cuba, herded the rural population into what he called reconcentrados, described by international observers as “fortified towns”. These are often considered the prototype for twentieth-century concentration camps. Between 200,000 and 400,000 Cuban civilians died from starvation and disease in the camps, numbers verified by the Red Cross and United States Senator Redfield Proctor, a former Secretary of War. American and European protests against Spanish conduct on the island followed.
The U.S. battleship Maine was sent to protect U.S. interests, but soon after arrival, she exploded in Havana harbor and sank quickly, killing nearly three quarters of her crew. The cause and responsibility for her sinking remained unclear after a board of inquiry. Popular opinion in the U.S., fueled by an active press, concluded that the Spanish were to blame and demanded action. Spain and the United States declared war on each other in late April 1898.
Over the decades, five U.S. presidents — Polk, Pierce, Buchanan, Grant, and McKinley — had tried to buy the island of Cuba from Spain.
As a result of the United States 1898 intervention in Cuba, one of the most interesting and rare series of stamps occurred.. These were the provisional issues known as “Puerto Príncipe” (now Camagüey) named after the town where they were printed. The supplies of stamps in the town included stamps imprinted with the likeness of Alfonso XIII of Spain, but in December 1898 the United States gained contraol. A peace protocol had been entered into between U.S. and Spain on August 12, 1898, and the Treaty of Paris of December 10, 1898, ceded control to the United States.
On December 19, 1898 the U.S. supplied stamps were still a month away from delivery. The local authorities solved that problem by obtaining permission from the provisional U.S. military government to contract a local printer to surcharge existing supplies of Spanish Cuban stamps with a surcharge of initially four different denominations. Eventually a total of five different printings were made that resulted in a total of five different denominations. These surcharged issues are scarce. As a result, forgeries are numerous. A Puerto Príncipe stamp should be authenticated to have maximum value to a collector. By using vertical verification lines, one can get a good idea of whether on not a surcharge is original or forged.
In December 1898, Major Estes Rathbone was appointed Director General of Posts for Cuba and on January 1, 1899 the U.S. established a Cuban Civilian Postal Administration. The new Postal Administration was to operate using the same post offices that existed during the Spanish Administration, but using its new postage stamps and canceling devices. Since January 1 was a Sunday, the recently received U.S. stamps overprinted for use in Cuba did not go on sale in Havana until Monday, January 2. Outlying areas received the overprinted stamps later.
The provisional stamp overprints on U.S. stamps initially consisted of a 1 centavo on a 1¢ Franklin, 2½ centavos on a 2¢ Washington, 3 centavos on a 3¢ Jackson, 5 ccentavos on a 5¢ Grant, 10 centavos on a 10¢ Webster and a 10 cenvtavo overprint on a U.S. special delivery stamp. It turned out that the 2½¢ stamp was in error as the postage rates had recently changed. They continued to use the 2½¢ stamps anyway and sold them for and valued them at 2¢ so as not to waste the large printing. Later a 2¢ overprint appeared.
Later in 1899, the United States printed a series of six stamps for Cuba. They are known as the “Alegorías Cubana” or Cuban allegory stamps. Regular postage rates of 1¢, 2¢, 3¢, 5¢ and 10¢ and a special delivery 10¢ stamp comprised this series.
As with the adhesive stamps, the first provisional stamped envelopes were also overprints on U.S. stock. There were eight different U.S. envelopes that were overprinted CUBA. and 1c. (or 2c.) DE PESO. By the late summer of 1899, the U.S. had furnished Cuba with its own Columbus design to replace the overprints. Likewise the first (and only) postal cards of the U.S. administration were a 1¢ U.S. Jefferson card overprinted with CUBA.-1c. de Peso. and a 2¢ U.S. Liberty card overprinted with CUBA.-2c. de Peso.
After the Spanish–American War, Spain and the United States signed the Treaty of Paris (1898), by which Spain ceded Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam to the United States for the sum of US$20 million. Cuba gained formal independence from the U.S. on May 20, 1902, as the Republic of Cuba. Under Cuba’s new constitution, the U.S. retained the right to intervene in Cuban affairs and to supervise its finances and foreign relations. Under the Platt Amendment, the U.S. leased the Guantánamo Bay naval base from Cuba.
The Cuban government of the República de Cuba issued stamps from its inception in 1902 until Fidel Castro assumed control on January 1, 1959. The first issue was on September 30, 1902. There were no stamps yet printed by Cuba, but they had many of the little used 3 centavo allegory stamps of 1899. They choose to overprint these stamps to meet the 1 centavo postal rate demand by overprinting a large numeral 1 on each stamp with the legend UN CENTAVO HABILITADO and OCTUBRE 1902. Cubans continued to use the allegory stamps of 1899. In 1905, four of the five regular rate allegory stamps were reprinted for Cuba in the United States, but this time the printer made minute changes in each of the stamps before the reprint so as to make them distinguishable.
Following disputed elections in 1906, the first president, Tomás Estrada Palma, faced an armed revolt by independence war veterans who defeated the meager government forces. The U.S. intervened by occupying Cuba and named Charles Edward Magoon as Governor for three years. Cuban historians have characterized Magoon’s governorship as having introduced political and social corruption. In 1908, self-government was restored when José Miguel Gómez was elected President, but the U.S. continued intervening in Cuban affairs. In 1912, the Partido Independiente de Color attempted to establish a separate black republic in Oriente Province, but was suppressed by General Monteagudo with considerable bloodshed.
In 1924, Gerardo Machado was elected president. During his administration, tourism increased markedly, and American-owned hotels and restaurants were built to accommodate the influx of tourists. The tourist boom led to increases in gambling and prostitution. The Wall Street Crash of 1929 led to a collapse in the price of sugar, political unrest, and repression. Protesting students, known as the Generation of 1930, turned to violence in opposition to the increasingly unpopular Machado. A general strike (in which the Communist Party sided with Machado), uprisings among sugar workers, and an army revolt forced Machado into exile in August 1933. He was replaced by Carlos Manuel de Céspedes y Quesada.
In September 1933, the Sergeants’ Revolt, led by Sergeant Fulgencio Batista, overthrew Cespedes. A five-member executive committee (the Pentarchy of 1933) was chosen to head a provisional government. Ramon Grau San Martin was then appointed as provisional president. Grau resigned in 1934, leaving the way clear for Batista, who dominated Cuban politics for the next 25 years, at first through a series of puppet-presidents. The period from 1933 to 1937 was a time of “virtually unremitting social and political warfare”.
A new constitution was adopted in 1940, which engineered radical progressive ideas, including the right to labour and health care. Batista was elected president in the same year, holding the post until 1944. He is so far the only non-white Cuban to win the nation’s highest political office. His government carried out major social reforms. Several members of the Communist Party held office under his administration. Cuban armed forces were not greatly involved in combat during World War II, although president Batista suggested a joint U.S.-Latin American assault on Francoist Spain in order to overthrow its authoritarian regime.
Batista adhered to the 1940 constitution’s strictures preventing his re-election. Ramon Grau San Martin was the winner of the next election, in 1944. Grau further corroded the base of the already teetering legitimacy of the Cuban political system, in particular by undermining the deeply flawed, though not entirely ineffectual, Congress and Supreme Court. Carlos Prío Socarrás, a protégé of Grau, became president in 1948. The two terms of the Auténtico Party saw an influx of investment which fueled a boom and raised living standards for all segments of society and created a prosperous middle class in most urban areas.
After running unsuccessfully for the presidency in 1952, Batista staged a coup. He outlawed the Cuban Communist Party in 1952. After the coup, Cuba had Latin America’s highest per capita consumption rates of meat, vegetables, cereals, automobiles, telephones and radios, though about one third of the population was considered poor and enjoyed relatively little of this consumption.
In 1958, Cuba was a relatively well-advanced country by Latin American standards, and in some cases by world standards. On the other hand, Cuba was affected by perhaps the largest labor union privileges in Latin America, including bans on dismissals and mechanization. They were obtained in large measure “at the cost of the unemployed and the peasants”, leading to disparities. Between 1933 and 1958, Cuba extended economic regulations enormously, causing economic problems. Unemployment became a problem as graduates entering the workforce could not find jobs. The middle class, which was comparable to that of the United States, became increasingly dissatisfied with unemployment and political persecution. The labor unions supported Batista until the very end. Batista stayed in power until he was forced into exile in December 1958.
In the 1950’s, various organizations, including some advocating armed uprising, competed for public support in bringing about political change. In 1956, Fidel Castro and about 80 supporters landed from the yacht Granma in an attempt to start a rebellion against the Batista government. It was not until 1958 that Castro’s July 26th Movement emerged as the leading revolutionary group.
By late 1958, the rebels had broken out of the Sierra Maestra and launched a general popular insurrection. After Castro’s fighters captured Santa Clara, Batista fled with his family to the Dominican Republic on January 1, 1959. Later he went into exile on the Portuguese island of Madeira and finally settled in Estoril, near Lisbon. Fidel Castro’s forces entered the capital on January 8, 1959. The liberal Manuel Urrutia Lleó became the provisional president.
The last stamps of the Republic before the revolution were the Christmas 2 centavo and 4 centavo issues of December 16, 1958. Judging by the Scott catalog numbers, the Republic had issued 380 different regular postage stamps, 194 airmail, 27 special delivery, 34 postal tax, and 10 postage due stamps. With the coming of the Castro era, the stamps of Cuba proliferated in number. Topical stamps abound, as do postal cards. About thirty aerograms have been produced. The postal stationery Mother’s Day cards number have been produced in numbers of 20 or more per year and now number in the hundreds.
From 1959 to 1966, Cuban insurgents fought a six-year rebellion in the Escambray Mountains against the Castro government. The government’s vastly superior numbers eventually crushed the insurgency. The rebellion lasted longer and involved more soldiers than the Cuban Revolution. The U.S. State Department has estimated that 3,200 people were executed from 1959 to 1962. According to Amnesty International, death sentences from 1959–1987 numbered 237 of which all but 21 were actually carried out. Other estimates for the total number of political executions range from 4,000 to 33,000. The vast majority of those executed following the 1959 revolution were policemen, politicians, and informers of the Batista regime accused of crimes such as torture and murder, and their public trials and executions had widespread popular support among the Cuban population.
The United States government initially reacted favorably to the Cuban revolution, seeing it as part of a movement to bring democracy to Latin America. Castro’s legalization of the Communist party and the hundreds of executions that followed caused a deterioration in the relationship between the two countries. The promulgation of the Agrarian Reform Law, expropriating thousands of acres of farmland (including from large U.S. landholders), further worsened relations. In response, between 1960 and 1964 the U.S imposed a range of sanctions, eventually including a total ban on trade between the countries and a freeze on all Cuban-owned assets in the U.S. In February 1960, Castro signed a commercial agreement with Soviet Vice-Premier Anastas Mikoyan.
In March 1960, U.S. President Eisenhower gave his approval to a CIA plan to arm and train a group of Cuban refugees to overthrow the Castro regime. The invasion (known as the Bay of Pigs Invasion) took place on April 14, 1961. About 1,400 Cuban exiles disembarked at the Bay of Pigs, but failed in their attempt to overthrow Castro.
In January 1962, Cuba was suspended from the Organization of American States (OAS), and later the same year the OAS started to impose sanctions against Cuba of similar nature to the U.S. sanctions. The Cuban Missile Crisis occurred in October 1962. By 1963, Cuba was moving towards a full-fledged Communist system modeled on the USSR.
During the 1970s, Fidel Castro dispatched tens of thousands of troops in support of Soviet-supported wars in Africa. He supported the MPLA in Angola and Mengistu Haile Mariam in Ethiopia. The standard of living in the 1970s was “extremely spartan” and discontent was rife. Fidel Castro admitted the failures of economic policies in a 1970 speech. In 1975, the OAS lifted its sanctions against Cuba, with the approval of 16 member states, including the U.S. The U.S., however, maintained its own sanctions.
Castro’s rule was severely tested in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse in 1991 (known in Cuba as the Special Period). The country faced a severe economic downturn following the withdrawal of Soviet subsidies worth $4 billion to $6 billion annually, resulting in effects such as food and fuel shortages. The government did not accept American donations of food, medicines, and cash until 1993. On August 5, 1994, state security dispersed protesters in a spontaneous protest in Havana.
Cuba has found a new source of aid and support in the People’s Republic of China. Hugo Chávez, former President of Venezuela, and Evo Morales, President of Bolivia, have become allies and both countries are major oil and gas exporters. In 2003, the government arrested and imprisoned a large number of civil activists, a period known as the “Black Spring”.
In February 2008, Fidel Castro announced his resignation as President of Cuba. On February 24, his brother, Raúl Castro, was declared the new President. In his inauguration speech, Raúl promised that some of the restrictions on freedom in Cuba would be removed. In March 2009, Raúl Castro removed some of his brother’s appointees. On June 3, 2009, the Organization of American States adopted a resolution to end the 47-year ban on Cuban membership of the group. The resolution stated, however, that full membership would be delayed until Cuba was “in conformity with the practices, purposes, and principles of the OAS.” Fidel Castro restated his position that he was not interested in joining after the OAS resolution had been announced.
In July 2012, Cuba received its first American goods shipment in over 50 years, following the partial relaxation of the U.S. embargo to permit humanitarian shipments. Effective January 14, 2013, Cuba ended the requirement established in 1961, that any citizens who wish to travel abroad were required to obtain an expensive government permit and a letter of invitation. In 1961, the Cuban government had imposed broad restrictions on travel to prevent the mass emigration of people after the 1959 revolution; it approved exit visas only on rare occasions. Requirements were simplified: Cubans need only a passport and a national ID card to leave; and they are allowed to take their young children with them for the first time. However, a passport costs on average five months’ salary. Observers expect that Cubans with paying relatives abroad are most likely to be able to take advantage of the new policy. In the first year of the program, over 180,000 left Cuba and returned.
In February 2013, after his reelection as President, Raúl Castro stated that he would retire from government in 2018 as part of a broader leadership transition. In July 2013, Cuba became embroiled in a diplomatic scandal after a North Korean ship illegally carrying Cuban weapons was impounded by Panama.
Cuba and Venezuela maintained their alliance after Hugo Chávez’s death in March 2013, but the severe economic strife suffered by Venezuela in the mid-2010s lessened its ability to support Cuba, and may ultimately have contributed to the thawing of Cuban-American relations. In December 2014, after a highly publicized exchange of political prisoners between the United States and Cuba, U.S. President Barack Obama announced plans to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba after over five decades of severance. He stated that the U.S. government intended to establish an embassy in Havana and improve economic ties with the country. Obama’s proposal received both strong criticism and praise from different elements of the Cuban American community. In April 2015, the U.S. government announced that Cuba would be removed from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, on which it had been included since 1982. The U.S. embassy in Havana was formally reopened in August 2015.
Scott #240 is a 2 centavo carmine and green stamp issued on February 1, 1910, portraying Máximo Gómez y Báez who was a Major General in Cuba’s Ten Year War (1868–1878) against Spain. He was also Cuba’s military commander in the country’s War of Independence (1895–1898). Born in Santo Domingo, Gómez commanded Spanish reserve troops there when he traveled to Cuba in 1865. At first he was a supporter of and fighter in the Ten Years’ War, Cuba’s first struggle for independence, but he soon retired from the fight and returned to his plantations back home. He traveled to the United States and met with José Martí, but the two had different approaches to the problem of Cuban liberation with Gómez favoring the military side.
In 1895, however, Martí asked Gómez to lead the new struggle, beginning in the eastern provinces. His tactics of hit and run and burning plantations used the kind of rapid mobility for which small well-trained guerrilla forces are especially suited. Spanish General Valeriano Weyler responded with the trocha or fortified ditch to stop the lunging forces in their tracks.
Unlike the Ten Years War, the revolution of 1895 installed a civil revolutionary civil authority headed by Salvador Cisneros Betancourt. When he ordered Gómez to replace José Maceo and break away from Antonio Maceo, Gómez refused and was dismissed. He responded by calling on Maceo for aid, a request that resulted in Maceo’s death on December 7, 1896.
Gómez fought on despite the considerable obstacles presented by Weyler’s 160,000 men, and Prime Minister Cánovas’ offer of autonomy won him esteem in the United States. When the U.S., entered the war in 1898, it supplied Gómez’ forces, who in turn ordered General Calixto García to work with the U.S. troops to defeat the Spaniards. However, the collaboration never materialized since the Spaniards put up such meager resistance that the new troops could accomplish their mission alone. At war’s end, Gómez was 75 years old, having spent more than half of his life dedicated to the liberation of Cuba. He died in Havana in 1905.