As you walk through the streets of Cuba, from Santiago to Bayamo, you will come across statues of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes or squares bearing his name.
And for good reason: Céspedes is still considered by Cubans as the “Father of the Homeland”.
The youth of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes: first revolutionary experiences
Carlos Manuel de Céspedes y López del Castillo was born in 1819 into a family of wealthy landowners in Bayamo, in the former Province of Oriente (now Granma).
He goes to high school in Havana, then leaves for Europe where he obtains a law degree from the University of Barcelona and a doctorate from the University of Madrid.
Spain is living a troubled period.
Céspedes joins the revolutionary movement of General Juan Grim.
But the rebellion led by the latter against the regime of Baldomero Espartero ended in failure and Céspedes had to flee the country.
He then traveled to France, England, Switzerland, Turkey, Greece, Germany and Italy before returning to Cuba in 1844.
The return to Cuba
Upon his return to Cuba, Céspedes settled in Bayamo and opened a law office.
In secret, he began to draw up plans for Cuban independence.
In 1852, he took part in a rebellion against the Spaniards and was sentenced to a short prison term.
He was imprisoned again twice in the following years.
The “Cry of Yara” and the beginning of the Ten Years’ War
Inspired by the 1868 Revolution in Spain (also called La Gloriosa, “the Glorious”), Céspedes invited a group of independence fighters to join him at his estate in La Demajagua, near Bayamo, on October 8, 1868.
There, they drafted the “Manifesto of the Revolutionary Junta of the Island of Cuba”, demanding the independence of Cuba, the establishment of a Republic with representatives elected by universal suffrage and the emancipation of slaves in exchange for compensation.
Two days later, Céspedes launched the “Cry of Yara,” proclaiming Cuba’s independence.
He freed his slaves and enrolled them in his revolutionary army, which numbered only 147 men at the time (at the height of the war, the number of slaves reached 17,000).
A week later, Céspedes and his army marched on Bayamo and took the city.
They would remain in control of the city for a few months before it fell back into Spanish hands.
Before abandoning their positions, the independence fighters set fire to the city and burned it down: as luck would have it, one of the only buildings that survived the fire was the house in which Céspedes had been born forty years earlier.
Even today, the city of Bayamo remains a symbol of Cuban independence.
Céspedes President and “Father of the Fatherland” In 1869, the rebels proclaimed the Constitution of Guáimaro, written, among others, by the famous independence fighter Ignacio Agramonte.
Céspedes was elected and became the first President of the Republic in arms.
In 1870, Oscar, Céspedes’ son, was captured by the Spaniards.
They demanded his surrender in exchange for his son’s life.
Céspedes replied: “Tell the general (…) that Oscar is not my only son: I am the father of all Cubans who have lost their lives for the Revolution.
Oscar Céspedes was shot on June 3, 1870.
Since that day, Cubans call Carlos Manuel de Céspedes the “Father of the Fatherland”.
During the following years, the ranks of the independentists were divided by growing internal quarrels.
Many feared that Céspedes was taking too much power.
In 1873, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes was deposed and replaced as President of the Republic in arms by Salvador Cisneros Betancourt.
The death of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes
Removed from his position as President, Céspedes took refuge in the Sierra Maestra, a vast mountain range in the southwest of Cuba.
There, he was surprised by a troop of Spanish soldiers in February 1874.
Céspedes resisted and fell into a ravine while trying to defend himself.