Legendary hero of the independence wars, Antonio Maceo is one of the most emblematic figures of Cuban history.
If José Martí was the thinker of Cuban independence, Antonio Maceo was its armed arm.
A fierce fighter, a fine strategist, he was nicknamed the “Bronze Titan” in reference to his skill in combat, but also to his skin color.
A mestizo, Maceo was also a fierce supporter of the abolition of slavery.
Antonio Maceo’s early years
Antonio Maceo was born in 1845 in San Luis, in the Province of Oriente, about thirty kilometers from Santiago de Cuba.
His father, Marcos Maceo, was of mixed race and Venezuelan origin; his mother, Mariana Grajales Coello, was Afro-Cuban.
Antonio Maceo grew up on the family farm.
Young Antonio was the eldest of thirteen children.
His skin color closed the doors of the public education system, so tutors came to teach him at home.
He also helped his father in the farm work and in his activity of selling agricultural supplies.
Encouraged by his parents, Antonio Maceo took an interest in politics from an early age.
In 1864, at the age of 19, he joined the Masonic lodge of Santiago de Cuba and got closer to the Cuban revolutionaries.
Antonio Maceo and the Ten Years’ War
On October 10, 1868, the independence fighter Carlos Manuel de Céspedes led an uprising against the Spaniards.
This revolt, known as the “Cry of Yara”, marked the beginning of the Ten Years’ War.
Antonio Maceo, as well as his father and brothers joined the ranks of the “mambises”, the Cuban rebels.
Maceo proved to be a remarkable fighter and quickly climbed the ranks of the “Cuban Liberation Army”: in just a few months, he was promoted to commander, then lieutenant-colonel.
A few years later, he became a colonel, then a brigadier general.
Antonio Maceo was then noticed by Máximo Gómez, a leader and future general-in-chief of the Cuban Liberation Army.
Gómez, an outstanding military strategist, becomes his spiritual father and his mentor.
After several years of fierce fighting, the Liberating Army of Cuba is divided by internal quarrels.
Antonio Maceo’s spectacular rise, his skin color and his commitment to the abolition of slavery earn him enemies.
Some went so far as to circulate rumors alleging that Maceo wanted to create a “black republic,” like Haiti.
Maceo denied the accusations.
In 1878, the majority of Cuban generals signed the Treaty of Zanjón, which ended the Ten Years’ War.
But Maceo refused: the treaty granted Cuba neither independence nor the abolition of slavery.
Antonio Maceo in exile
The Treaty of Zanjón is signed, and Antonio Maceo is forced to go into exile.
The Spaniards want him dead, and Maceo escapes several attempts on his life.
From Haiti to Costa Rica, Maceo continues to work for Cuban independence, but his efforts remain unsuccessful.
The Cuban War of Independence
In 1892, José Martí founded the Cuban Revolutionary Party.
Martí wanted to launch a new offensive against the Spaniards and convinced Antonio Maceo to join him.
On his recommendation, Máximo Gómez took over the high command of the Cuban Revolutionary Army.
In 1895, Maceo disembarked in Cuba, near Baracoa, and found refuge in the mountains.
José Martí died shortly afterwards at the battle of Dos Rios.
Accompanied by Máximo Gómez, Antonio Maceo then set out to conquer the west of the island.
On foot or on horseback, their army covered more than 1,500 kilometers in just 96 days and returned to Havana.
The death of Antonio Maceo
Antonio Maceo was killed at the age of 51 in a confrontation with the Spaniards near Punta Brava in 1896.
His father and three of his brothers also died in the wars of Cuban independence.
In 28 years of struggle, Antonio Maceo participated in more than 900 battles and was wounded 24 times.
Today, Maceo remains one of the most emblematic figures in Cuban history.