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Cuba - Little War (La Guerra Chiquita) 1879-80

Conditions unfavorable for the rebel army and the lack of unity forced the rebels to accept the peace proposals made by the Spanish General Arsenio Martínez Campos. Finally, on February 11, 1878, the Pact of Zanjon ended the Ten Years' War, but independence had not been obtained. The treaty of Zanjon put a stop, for some years, to anything like rebellion on a serious scale. A good deal of mystery surrounds this treaty, to which the President of the Republic and his secretary, only, affixed their signatures, without the formal consent of the other rebel generals, officers, and deputies. However, Marshal Martinez Campos, Commander-in-Chief of the Spanish army, approved it, although the enemies of the Cuban cause describe the document, somewhat sarcastically, as being more of a deed of capitulation than a treaty.

The clauses proposing that the political organization of the island should be placed on the same footing as that of Puerto Rico, that a general amnesty for all political offences should be forthwith promulgated, that political prisoners should be pardoned, and that coolies and fugitive slaves who had served in the Cuban army should be emancipated, met with the approval of Senor Canovas de Castillo, and the treaty was officially signed and accepted at Madrid. For some time afterwards, peace nominally existed in almost every part of the island.

Not everybody in the Liberation Army accepted the truce and the peace, particularly General Antonio Maceo, Chief of the Army for the Eastern region. Maceo, a mulatto born in a poor family, had reached the highest positions in the Liberation Army thanks to his courage, his intelligence and his capabilities. Most of the generals of the Cuban army accepted the pact; Maceo, however, refused to capitulate and continued to fight with his now depleted army.

On March 15, 1878, Maceo held a historic meeting, known as the "Protest of Baragwi," with the head of the Spanish forces, Marshal Arsenio Martinez Campos, requesting independence for Cuba and complete abolition of slavery. When these conditions were rejected, he again resumed fighting. Even though insurgent actions could not be sustained for much longer, the Protestation of Baraguá, headed by Maceo and his troop, who were the most popular sectors of the revolutionary movement, was a proof of the Cubans' irrevocable will to continue its struggle for independence.

It was, however, a futile effort. Years of bloodshed and war had left the Cuban forces exhausted. Aid from exiles decreased, and Maceo now faced the bulk of the Spanish forces alone. Realizing the hopeless situation, he left for Jamaica. From there he traveled to New York to raise money and weapons necessary to continue fighting.

The rebels were not wholly inactive. Notwithstanding the accepted treaty, there was still a President of the Cuban Republic, Vicente Garcia, and a Parliament, which sat in the wilderness, at stated periods of the year. In 1879 this "Parliament" was dissolved, and with its dissolution the period of the "big rebellions" closes, and that of the little wars, la guerra chiquita, opens. Meanwhile, Maximo Gomez, seeing there was no immediate work for him to do, betook himself to San Domingo, to bide his time, and to place himself in active correspondence with the Gran Junta, or principal Cuban Revolutionary Association, in New York.

Maceo soon joined the activities of Major General Calixto Garcia, then organizing a new rebellion. This uprising in 1879-80, known as the Little War (La Guerra Chiquita), was also to end in disaster. Maceo was kept in exile for fear of antagonizing the conservative elements in Cuba, and Garcia was captured soon after he landed on the island. Exhausted and disillusioned after the long, bitter struggle and faced with a powerful and determined Spain, the Cubans were in no mood to join this new and ill-prepared attempt.

Cuba was lost to Spain when General Ramon Blanco came to the island with autonomy as a peace-offering to the armed revolutionists and their unarmed supporters. General Blanco arrived from Madrid in the early days of November 1879. The task before him was to win the island back to its allegiance. Conciliation was to supersede concentration. Recourse was to be had once more to the moral agencies. The instrument of the new policy was a good representative of the better type of the soldier of Spain. Ramon Blanco had been Governor-General of Cuba from the beginning of 1879 until the end of 1881, succeeding Martinez Campos. He had served in the Ten Years' war as a colonel and had reached the rank of general. The period of his authority in the island was the era of mild agitation for autonomy. As Governor General he had tolerated the movement, but had never shown a leaning towards its principles.

The first year of his administration had been marked by the guerra chiquita — the little war — in the province of Santiago de Cuba. He had stamped it out. Though he had shown the military spirit in dealing with political movements during his term of office, he had left no harsh and bitter memories. What was remembered of his rule awakened no feeling of resentment deeper than would have been felt for any former Captain-General. He was not odious to the Cuban people for any conspicuous act of tyranny.

Garcia's expedition was stopped in the United States, and he went from Jamaica in a small boat to Santiago, only to find the insurgents had heard of his frustrated trip and had dispersed. For weeks, thousands of soldiers hunted for him, and a price was placed on his head, dead or alive. Then Blanco issued an amnesty, offering free pardon and the liberty also of Jose Maceo, then in prison, if Garcia would surrender and leave Cuba. On these terms he came in, and by explicit orders from Madrid, both he and Maceo were shipped to Spain and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Blanco protested against such treachery, and threatened to resign; so Garcia was liberated on parole. Maceo escaped to Gibraltar, where an officious police inspector gave him up to Spain. The British Government immediately discharged their official, and demanded the return of the prisoner, arrested wrongfully on British territory. Thus Maceo also escaped his fate. Garcia, held under surveillance, made his living by teaching English, and finally gained a position in the Spanish Bank. He gave his sons an excellent education, the eldest graduating at Cambridge University.

Jose Marti (1853-95), the son of an officer of artillery in the Spanish army, was arrested as a conspirator at the age of sixteen and deported to Spain, but he was permitted to study law during his five years' sojourn. In 1873 he went to Mexico where he married. In 1878, he returned to Cuba ostensibly to practice law but in reality to engage in conspiracy which developed into the brief period of hostilities known as the "guerra chiquita." Marti was arrested and again deported to Spain. He escaped, however, to France, from where by way of New York he went to Venezuela, but by 1881 he was back in New York. For the next eight years he earned his living by work at various Spanish American consulates, by articles for La Nacion of Buenos Aires and criticisms on art for the New York Sun. He even published two little volumes of poems, one, Ismaelillo, the out-pourings of a father's heart in joy over his son, the other, Versos Sencillos, a collection of love lyrics. In 1889 at a banquet of Spanish Americans he made a speech which he terminated with this peroration: "Those who have a country, let them honor it; those who have not, let them conquer one."


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