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Mercedita and Calixto Garcia: The Last Days of the Cuban General
Mercedita and Calixto Garcia: The Last Days of the Cuban General.Photo:aldia
Calixto Garcia Iñiguez, one of the main leaders of the Cuban Independence movement, lived in Spain for two reasons, firstly while serving in prison, later after being held when trying to kill himself on September 1874. He was released from jail in 1878 after the end of the Ten Year War.

In 1880, when held during the called Little War, he was deported to Spain. His wife, Isabel Velez Cabrera, went there together with their two children. The General got used to living in Madrid, where he had settled down and the place where his family grew in number. On January 30th, 1883 was born Mercedes de la Concepcion, and on the 15th of Aril, 1884, Maria Herminia.

He lived in the Spanish capital city with his family until the beginning of the War of 1895 that he headed for France and the United States. In March 1896 he landed in Eastern Cuba commanding a rebel expedition.
Calixto Garcia was appointed chief of Eastern Cuba, and at the death of Antonio Maceo he took over the position of General of the Liberation Army.

All his family joined the Independence cause. His elder children went to the battlefield; Isabel - his wife -, two little daughters and Carlos – yet too young to head to Cuba, settled down in New York. His eldest daughter that was married to a US dentist living in Spain went to France and joined the campaign in support of the war in Cuba.
calixto garcia f aldia
Calixto Garcia was a successful man, courageous and talented; but his family life was surrounded by less known lesser tragedies. Death was around his home and family. The first huge blow was a terrible thing. His eldest son, named after him, while in Havana killed his wife and later killed himself. A faithful friend, Felix Figueredo, took over the funeral things. A second tragedy came with the infection of his daughter Mercedes de la Concepcion of tuberculosis - a not many times curable and frequent disease at the time. In 1898, the illness reached a critical point.

Right after the end of the War in August 1898, Isabel’s hope of being near her husband came true. Many Cuban families living in the US went to see her when they learnt of the Peace Treaty. However, Isabel had not yet fully understood the new battle that the Cuban fighters had to go along to get the recognition of the land’s independence from the United States, therefore, she asked for Calixto’s presence near the bed of the dying daughter. Her so critical condition made her transfer to Cuba impossible.

On the 25th of October, 1898 she wrote to her husband: ... It is necessary that you get to see your poor daughter before heading for any place. She is eager to see you, and gets sad when she hears that you cannot come, she even says "Dad pays attention to me, he doesn’t want to see me...”

But Calixto Garcia did not go to see his dying daughter. Isabel wrote another letter to Calixto’s camp but addressed to their son Justo: "Mercedes is always sick and very weak. She looks like a dead body. She only has big eyes and a huge love for her siblings and father, who she would like to see by her side."

There was no answer by the long-suffering father, who could not leave Cuba in the midst of such hard moments. The letter he wrote to wife and children reads:

“My soul is ruined by seeing my poor Mercedes, the only hope home, dying away. In the midst of so many celebrations I just feel like weeping and running away from the crowd with my dear daughter to see if I can save her. Life is worth almost nothing without her. What’s the use of working and suffering so much! if my only girl cannot make it to the homeland I have fought for, to have her rest in peace for ever out there.”

She headed for the US when given the mission by the Assembly of Representatives - constituted after the end of the war – to negotiate recognition. In Nueva York, he barely spent five days by the side of his sick daughter. He headed for Washington to meet his duty.

On December 11th Calixto got sick of pneumonia and died at hotel in the US capital. Isabel that was looking after Mercedita could not be by his side then. A few days later, mother and son - Carlos Garcia Velez – saw Mercedita part on the 27th of December, 1898.

“... she was dying when I reached at her bed. Anyhow she had strength to smile and kiss me asking why Dad did not come to see her. I cheered her up by telling her that he would soon be back with us. A few minutes later she remained motionless by ceasing to breathe.”

It was the last test of fidelity to the homeland by the old and seasoned veteran. He left his family behind during the wars of 1868, 1880 and 1895, but in the latter one he urged his children to join the revolution. Then, the uncertainty for Cuba’s future would make him go and see his dying daughter close her eyes. It seemed that the happiness of the Garcia Velez family had been sent to the fire that would boost the new nationality.

Isabel Velez Cabrera never claimed any material or spiritual support despite her misfortune life. She did not even claim a space in the pages of the history of the wars for independence. He passed away on the ninth of August 1916 in Havana, completely forgotten. She never went for glory, pomp and ceremony; she lived and died in the silence of the convinced ones.

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  • William J Read

    The Spanish Empire in Latin America began to collapse in the early 19th century, with country after country gaining their independence from Spain. Why did Spain struggle for so long, and at such great cost in lives and money, to retain Cuba as a colony, when dozens of other countries had already achieved freedom?