The Ten Years' War (Spanish language: Guerra de los Diez Años ) (1683), also known as the Great War and the War of '68, began on October 10, 1868 when sugar mill owner Carlos Manuel de Céspedes and his followers proclaimed Cuba's independence from Spain. It was the first of three liberation wars that Cuba fought against Spain, the other two being the Little War and the Cuban War of Independence (1775-1783). The final three months of the last conflict escalated to become the Spanish–American War.
Throughout the 1850s and into the 1860s, fundamental social and economic reforms were demanded by Cuban planters and business owners. Lax enforcement of the slave trade ban led to a dramatic increase in imports, estimated at 90,000 slaves from 1856 to 1860. This occurred despite a strong abolitionist movement and rising costs among the slave-holding planters in the east. New technologies and farming techniques made large numbers of slaves unnecessary and prohibitively expensive. The result was the economic crisis of 1857; many businesses failed, including many sugar plantations and sugar refineries. The abolitionist cause gained strength, favoring a gradual emancipation of slaves with financial compensation from Spain. Additionally, indentured Chinese immigrants gained popularity for cheap labor in the absence of slaves. Before the 1870s, more than 125,000 came to Cuba. In May 1865, Cuban creole elites placed four demands upon the Spanish Parliament: tariff reform, Cuban representation in Parliament, judicial equality with Spaniards, and full enforcement of the slave trade ban.
The Spanish Parliament at the time was changing; gaining much influence were reactionary, traditionalist politicians, and it was their policy to eliminate all liberal reforms. Military tribunals saw their powers increased as well; a six percent tax increase was hoisted on the Cuban planters and businesses. Additionally, all political opposition and the press were silenced. Dissatisfaction in Cuba spread on a massive scale as the mechanisms to express it were restricted. This discontent was particularly felt by the planters and hacienda owners in Eastern Cuba.
The failure of the latest efforts by the reformist movements, the demise of the "Information Board" and another economic crisis in 1866/67 gave way to a new scenario. In spite of the crisis, the colonial administration continued to make huge profits which were not re-invested in the island, but either went into military expenditures (44% of the revenue), paid for the colonial government's expenses (41%), or were sent to the Spanish colony of Fernando Po (12%). The Spaniards, representing 8% of the island's population, was appropriating over 90% of the island’s wealth. In addition, the Cuban population still had no political rights and no representation in Parliament, which sparked the first serious liberation movements, especially in the eastern part of the island.
In July 1867, the "Revolutionary Committee of Bayamo" was founded under the leadership of Cuba’s wealthiest plantation owner, Francisco Vicente Aguilera. The conspiracy rapidly spread to Oriente’s larger towns, most of all Manzanillo where Carlos Manuel de Céspedes became the main protagonist of the uprising. Originally from Bayamo, Céspedes owned an estate and sugar mill known as La Demajagua. The Spanish, aware of Céspedes’ anti-colonial intransigence, tried to force him into submission by imprisoning his son Oscar. Céspedes refused to negotiate and Oscar was executed.
The agreed date for the uprising had been scheduled for October 14, but had to be hastily moved up four days earlier, because the Spaniards had discovered their plan of revolt. In the early morning of October 10, Céspedes issued the cry of independence, the "10th of October Manifesto" at La Demajagua, which signaled the start of an all-out military uprising against Spanish rule in Cuba. The first thing Céspedes did was free his slaves and ask them to join the struggle. However, many questioned Céspedes's plans for manumission, notably the rate at which slaves were to be freed, or disagreed with his call for U.S. annexation of Cuba.
During the first few days, the uprising almost failed: Céspedes intended to occupy the nearby town of Yara on October 11, a day commemorated in Cuba as a national holiday under the name Grito de Yara ("Cry of Yara"). In spite of this initial setback, the uprising of Yara was supported in various regions of the Oriente province, and the independence movement continued to spread throughout the eastern region of Cuba. On October 13, the rebels took eight towns in the province favoring the enrollment and acquisition of arms. By October's end, the insurrection had enlisted some 12,000 volunteers.
That same month, Máximo Gómez, a former cavalry officer for the Spanish Army in the Dominican Republic, with his extraordinary military skills, taught the Cuban forces what would be their most lethal tactic: the machete charge. The machete charge was particularly lethal because it involved firearms as well. If the Spanish were caught on the march, the machetes would cut through their ranks. When the Spaniards (following then-standard tactics) formed a square, rifle fire from infantry under cover, pistol and carbine fire from charging cavalry would cause many losses. However, due to the year-round relentless tropical heat, it was yellow fever that caused the heaviest military losses because the Spanish had not acquired the childhood immunity that the Cuban troops had.
10th of October Manifesto
Speaking from the steps of his sugar mill, and calling upon men of all races and walks of life to join the uprising, Carlos Manuel de Cespedes gave the following speech, during which he unfurled and raised the new flag of an independent Cuba, and rang the bell tower of his sugar mill in celebration of the proclamation: In rebelling against Spanish tyranny, we want the world know the reasons for our action. Spain governs us with blood and iron; she imposes on us levies and taxes as she pleases; she has deprived us of political, civil, and religious freedoms; we are subjected to martial law in times of peace; without due process, and in defiance of Spanish law, we are arrested, exiled and even executed. We are prohibited free assembly, and if allowed to assemble, it is only under the watchful eyes of government agents and military officers; and if anyone clamors for a remedy to these abuses, or for any of the many other evils, Spain declares them a traitor. Spain burdens us with rapacious bureaucrats who exploit our national treasure and consume the product of our noble labor. So that we may not know our rights, it maintains our people ignorant of those rights, and to ensure that the people are kept ignorant, she prevents the people from participating in responsible public administration.
Without impending military danger, and without any reason or justification, Spain imposes on us an unnecessary and costly military presence, whose sole purpose is to terrorize and humiliate us. Spain’s system of customs is so perverse that we have already perished from its misery and she exploits the fertility of our land while raising the price of its fruits. She imposes every imaginable obstacle to prevent the advancement of our Creole population. Spain limits our free speech and the written word, and she prevents us from participating in the intellectual progress of other nations.
Several times Spain has promised to improve our condition and she has deceived us time and time again. We are now left no other recourse than to bear arms against her tyranny, and by doing this, to save our honor, our lives, and our property. We appeal now to Almighty God, and to the faith and good will of civilized nations. Our aspirations are to attain our sovereignty and universal suffrage. Our aim is to enjoy the benefits of freedom, for whose use, God created man. We sincerely profess a policy of brotherhood, tolerance, and justice, and to consider all men equal, and to not exclude anyone from these benefits, not even Spaniards, if they choose to remain and live peacefully among us.
Our aim is that the people participate in the creation of laws, and in the distribution and investment of the contributions. Our aim is to abolish slavery and to compensate those deserving compensation. We seek freedom of assembly, freedom of the press and the freedom to bring back honest governance; and to honor and practice the inalienable rights of men, which is the foundations of the independence and the greatness of a people. Our aim is to throw off the Spanish yoke, and to establish a free and independent nation.
If Spain recognizes our rights, it will have in Cuba an affectionate daughter; if she persists in subjugating us, we are resolved to die before remaining subject to her brutal domination. We have chosen a commander to whom will be given the mission of fighting this war. We have authorized a provisional administrator to collect contributions and to manage the needs of a new administration. When Cuba is free, it will have a constitutional government created in an enlightened manner.
signed: Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, Jaime M. Santiesteban, Bartolomé Masó, Juan Hall, Francisco J. Céspedes, Pedro Céspedes, Manuel Calvar, Isaías Masó, Eduardo Suástegui, Miguel Suástegui, Rafael Tornés, Manuel Santiesteban, Manuel Socarrás, Agustín Valerino, Rafael Masó, Eligio Izaguirre.
Progress of the War
The rebels proceeded to seize the important city of Bayamo after a 3-day-combat. It was in the enthusiasm of this victory when the poet and musician, Perucho Figueredo, composed Cuba’s national anthem, the “Bayamo”. The first government of the Republic in Arms, headed by Céspedes, was established in Bayamo. The city was retaken by the Spanish after 3 months on January 12, but it had been burned to the ground.
Nevertheless, the war spread in Oriente: On November 4, 1868, Camagüey rose up in arms and, in early February 1869, Las Villas followed. The uprising was not supported in the westernmost provinces Pinar del Río, Havana and Matanzas and, with few exceptions (Vuelta Abajo) remained clandestine. A staunch supporter of the rebellion was José Martí who, at the age of 16, was detained and condemned to 16 years of hard labour, later deported to Spain and would eventually become a leading Latin American intellectual and Cuba’s foremost national hero as a primary architect of the 1895-98 War of Independence.
After some initial victories, and then defeats, Céspedes replaced Gomez with General Thomas Jordan, who brought a well-equipped force, as head of Cuban army. However, General Jordan's regular tactics, although initially effective, left the families of Cuban rebels far too vulnerable to the "ethnic cleansing" tactics of the ruthless Blas Villate, Count of Valmaceda (also spelled Balmaceda). Valeriano Weyler, who would reach notoriety as the "Butcher Weyler" in the 1895-1898 War, fought along the Count of Balmaceda. General Jordan then left, Máximo Gómez was returned to his command and a new generation of skilled battle-tested Cuban commanders rose from the ranks, these including Antonio Maceo Grajales, José Maceo, Calixto García, Vicente Garcia González and Federico Fernández Cavada. Fernández Cavada once served as a Colonel in the Union Army during the American Civil War, and on April 4, 1870, was named Commander-in-Chief of all the Cuban forces. Other war leaders of note fighting on the Cuban Mambí side included Donato Mármol, Luis Marcano-Alvarez, Carlos Roloff, Enrique Loret de Mola, Julio Sanguily, Domingo Goicuría, Guillermo Moncada, Quentin Bandera, Benjamín Ramirez, and Julio Grave de Peralta.
On April 10, 1869, a constitutional assembly took place in the town of Guáimaro (Camagüey), with the purpose of providing the revolution with greater organizational and juridical unity and with representatives from the areas that had joined the uprising. A major topic of the discussions was whether a centralized leadership should be in charge of both military and civilian affairs or if there should be a separation between civilian government and military leadership, the latter being subordinate to the first. The overwhelming majority voted for the separation option. Céspedes was elected president of this assembly and General Ignacio Agramonte y Loynáz and Antonio Zambrana, principal authors of the proposed Constitution, were elected Secretaries. After completing its work, the Assembly reconstituted itself as the House of Representatives as the state’s supreme power, electing Salvador Cisneros Betancourt as its president, Miguel Gerónimo Gutiérrez as vice-president, and Agramonte and Zambrana as Secretaries. Céspedes was then elected, on April 12, 1869, as the first president of the Republic in Arms and General Manuel de Quesada (who had fought in Mexico under Benito Juárez during the French invasion of that country), as Chief of the Armed Forces.
After failing to reach an agreement with the insurrection forces in early 1869, the Spanish responded by unleashing a war of extermination. The colonial government passed several laws: all arrested leaders and collaborators would be executed on the spot, ships carrying weapons would be seized and all onboard immediately executed, males 15 and older caught outside of their plantations or places of residence without justification would be summarily executed, all towns were ordered to raise the white flag, otherwise burnt to the ground, any woman caught away from her farm or place of residence would be concentrated in cities. Apart from its own army the government could rely on the Voluntary Corps which had been created a few years earlier to face the announced invasion by Narcisco López and which became notorious for its barbaric and bloody acts. One infamous incident was the execution of eight students from the University of Havana on November 27, 1871. Another one was the seizure of the steamship Virginius in international waters on October 31, 1873, and, starting on November 4, serial execution of 53 persons, including the captain, most of the crew and a number of Cuban insurgents on board. The serial executions were only stopped by the intervention of a British man-of-war under the command of Sir Lambton Lorraine. In another incident, the so-called "Creciente de Valmaseda", farmers (Guajiros), and the families of Mambises were killed or captured en masse and sent to concentration camps.
The Mambises fought using guerrilla warfare and their efforts had much more impact on the eastern side of the island than on the western, due in part to a lack of supplies. Ignacio Agramonte was killed by a stray bullet on May 11, 1873 and was replaced in the command of the central troops by Máximo Gómez. Because of political and personal disagreements and Agramonte's death, the Assembly deposed Céspedes as president, who was replaced by Cisneros. Agramonte had come to realize that his dream Constitution and government were ill suited to the Cuban Republic in Arms, which was the reason he quit as Secretary and assumed command of the Camaguey region. By being curtailed by the Congress, he understood Cespedes' plight, thus becoming a supporter. Céspedes was later surprised and killed by a swift-moving patrol of Spanish troops on February 27, 1874. The new Cuban government had left him with only one escort and denied him permission to leave Cuba for the US, where he wanted to help to prepare and send armed expeditions.
Activities in the Ten Years' War peaked in the years 1872 and 1873, but after the death of Agramonte and destitution of Céspedes, Cuban operations were limited to the regions of Camagüey and Oriente. Gómez began an invasion of Western Cuba in 1875, but the vast majority of slaves and wealthy sugar producers in the region did not join the revolt. After his most trusted general, the American Henry Reeve, was killed in 1876, the invasion was over.
Spain's efforts to fight were hindered by the civil war (Third Carlist War) that broke out in Spain in 1872. When the civil war ended in 1876, more Spanish troops were sent to Cuba until they numbered more than 250,000. The impact of the Spanish measures on the liberation forces was severe. Neither side in the war was able to win a single concrete victory, let alone crush the opposing side to win the war, but in the long run Spain gained the upper hand.
Conclusion of the War
From the very onset of the war there were deep divisions with respect its organisation which became even more pronounced after the Assembly of Guáimaro with the dismissal of Céspedes and Quesada in 1873. The Spanish were able to exploit regionalist sentiments and fears that the slaves of Matanzas would break the weak existing balance between whites and blacks. They changed their policy towards the Mambises, offering amnesties and reforms. The Mambises did not prevail for a variety of reasons: lack of organization and resources; lower participation by whites; internal racist sabotage (against Maceo and the goals of the Liberating Army); the inability to bring the war to the western provinces (Havana in particular); and opposition by the US government to Cuban independence. The US sold the latest weapons to Spain, but not to the Cuban rebels.
Tomás Estrada Palma succeeded Cisneros as president of the Republic in Arms. Estrada Palma was captured by Spanish troops on October 19, 1877. As a result of successive misfortunes, on February 8, 1878, the constitutional organs of the Cuban government were dissolved and negotiations for peace were started in Zanjón, Puerto Príncipe.
General Arsenio Martínez Campos, in charge of applying the new policy, arrived in Cuba, but it took him almost two years to convince most of the rebels to accept the Pact of Zanjón on February 10, 1878, signed by a negotiating committee. The document contained most of the promises made by Spain. The Ten Years' War came to an end, except for the resistance of a small group in Oriente led by General Garcia and Antonio Maceo Grajales, who protested in Los Mangos de Baraguá on March 15. Even a constitution and a provisional government was set up, but the revolutionary élan was gone. The provisional government convinced Maceo to give up, thus ending the war on May 28, 1878. Many of the graduates of Ten Years' War, however, became central players in Cuba's war of independence that started in 1895. These include the Maceo brothers, Maximo Gómez, Calixto Garcia and others.
The Pact of Zanjón promised various reforms throughout the island which would improve the financial situation of Cuba. Perhaps the most significant was to free all slaves who had fought Spain. A major conflict throughout the war was the abolition of the slavery. Both the rebels and the people loyal to Spain wanted to abolish slavery. In 1880, a law was passed by the Spanish government that freed all of the slaves. However, the slaves were required by law to work for their masters for a number of years but the masters had to pay the slaves for their work. The wages were so low the slaves could barely afford to live off them. The Spanish government lifted the law before it was to expire because neither the land owners nor the freed men appreciated it.
After the war ended, there were 17 years of tension between the people of Cuba and the Spanish government, a time called "The Rewarding Truce", including the Little War (La Guerra Chiquita) between 1879-1880. These separatists would go on to follow the lead of José Martí, the most passionate of the rebels chose exile over Spanish rule. There was also a severe depression throughout the island. Overall, about 200,000 people lost their lives in the conflict. The war also devastated the coffee industry and American tariffs badly damaged Cuban exports.
- Little War (Cuba)
- Cuban War of Independence
- José Semidei Rodríguez
- Francisco Gonzalo Marín
- Juan Ríus Rivera
- History of Cuba
- Ana Betancourt - a female "Mambisa" who used the war to campaign for women's equality in Cuba
- Perez Jr., Louis A (1988). Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Navarro, José Cantón (1998). History of Cuba: The Challenge of the Yoke and the Star. Havana, Cuba: Editorial SI-MAR S. A.. ISBN 959-7054-19-1.
Portions of this article were extracted from CubaGenWeb.
Perhaps the most detailed source for information on the Ten Years' War is still Antonio Pirala's Anales de la Guerra en Cuba, (1895, 1896 and some from 1874) Felipe González Rojas (Editor), Madrid.
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