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Invasion of 1895: A Vision from Western Cuba
On January 22, 1896 the invading column, commanded by Antonio Maceo, arrived at Mantua, in the western end of Cuba, an event derived from Cuba's independence movement.

Hundreds of the invaders came from Holguin who joined the forces that parted from Baragua.

In a rural site by the name of Mala Noche, in today's municipality Calixto Garcia, Holguin province, the invading forces were completed with local fighters. There, a moving farewell was given to the invading troops.

Up to now, that invasion has been studied under an Eastern' vision, but the question of its approach from the West might also be good question to ask.

For the first time ever, the independence war got expanded across the country, which has been an aspiration of the Cuban insurgents since they began the first war for independence in October 10th, 1868.

All the prior attempts of trespassing the western part of Cuba, or rising it, had failed. However, in 1896 that region became the main theater of the war begun in 1895, which also turned into a colonial bastion with a large concentration of Spanish troops.

Why was then that that territory also rose interest for the rebel fight 28 years after the beginning of the first war of independence?

Historians have several answers for such a question: they say that one of the most important ones was the internal divisions among the revolutionaries, but let us look for other visions. During the War of 1895 regionalism and the frequent discrepancies that remain among the rebels hindered war actions, however, that didn't prevent the success of the invasion.

Now, let us see the war from the side of the sugar mills. In 1867 Cuba was populated by 1 426 475 inhabitants, of which 344 618 ones were slaves, who for the most part worked in the sugar industry and the sugar cane plantations. And although the pro-slavery plantation was a giant with feet of acnes, it was not really this way.

Besides the repression over the slaves, they suffered a destruction of identity and self-esteem in an attempt to converting them into submissive beings to the landholders, and the white population was tormented by possible slaves' rising.

Then supporting the independence cause in the center and east of Cuba too them think of a new Haiti.

Slavery was so monstrous that it ended up subduing the African mass and its descendants, but also to a significant degree the white ones. And one must add the effects over the 248 703 colored people already free, who were considered second class individuals. Before any claim of defending their rights they were cruelly repressed.

Guantanamo was the clearest example for slavery to surviving under the most difficult conditions during the war of 1868. In spite of the fact that that region was invaded in 1871 and from then on freedom forces operated there, slavery not alone survived but continued to go in many sugar plantations there. As it also happened to a large extent in the center of Cuba, where sugar mills continued on producing in spite of the war. The owners of those sugar mills took strict measures to defend their properties. An Irish journalist that visited Cuba in 1873 said that: "[...] the sugar mill turned kind of a fort, which became the pride of a feudal lord, as in the Middle Ages." (1)

Slavery was abolished in 1886, and many former slaves, then free, joined the invasion as part of the Independence Army. That became a turning point for the success of the invasion, which also helped vanished the evil fear of slaves' rising. That brought wit it a change of mentality and attitude on one side of the Cuban population toward the possibility of a war.

The other big enemy of the independence cause was the group of integristas - whose most virulent nucleus was made up of Spanish émigrés. In 1862, some 115 600 of those integristas were residing over Cuba.

A significant part of the integristas lived in the west of Cuba, and served for the Volunteers Body, loyal to the Spanish Army, who carried out a systematic repression aimed at avoiding any possible rebellion in the western region. In 1895 that changed as the Cuban economy was in crisis. Historian Jorge Ibarra Cuesta wrote about that economic reality where he targeted through several examples such a shift. (2)

The metropolis took several measures to protect industry and trade, among them the Bill of Business Relations of 1882, which almost made it impossible for Cuba to have direct trade with other countries, even with the United States, the most important commercial partner in the island. Such protective measures dropped down the import of some Cuban products.

That situation caused much harm to many Spanish immigrants, especially the middle class, closer to the island's economic interests than to those of Spain.

Then, the formerly exalted integristas, so well sheltered by Spain during the War of 1868, who were also committed with the too exalted national pride, suddenly faced an unpleasant economic situation.

The economic crisis and Spain's protective policy, which didn't care for the interests of the émigrés, hit that imperial and arrogant spirit. Let us add to this, the mess caused by the War of 1868, during which many Spaniards died or wounded. Around 135 000 militaries were killed and about 37 000 ones were wounded or left the fight afflicted by illnesses. Many among the latter died or went impaired. As an average, each Spanish family contributed with a killed one in the war.

In 1895 the spirit of independence had expanded all across the country. Many of the children of the formerly defenders of the colonial system had entered the independence forces. One good example was Jose Marti, the son of a Spanish military and a Canary Island's mother. Other not so relevant figures also followed that road, for example, Francisco Frexes - the son of Catalan merchant and outstanding official of Volunteers Body in Holguin - that joined the independence cause and was killed in action during the invasion to the West of Cuba, and already ranked colonel.

All this influenced upon the Spaniards residing over Cuba to feel less hatred towards the rebel fight. Cuban rebel Antonio Maceo wrote in a letter - August 1895: "The most surprising thing is now watching Spaniards help us efficiently with their secrets and resources." (3)

Captain General Arsenio Martonez Campos said in July 25th, 1895: "[...] there are very few outside Havana that want to serve the Volunteers Body." (4)

Eliseo Giberga, an autonomist leader, said about the arrival of the invasion to Pinar del Rio: "[...] they were welcomed as liberators, even Spanish born ones that joined the welcome, although not so happily [...] "(5)

The end of slavery brought very important changes in Cuba's western region. The former slaves, today agricultural laborers, peasants, artisans, workers... were no longer the castrated mass at the cabins. The economic crisis hitting the country in 1895 weakened the extremism by many Spanish immigrants.

Those and other factors took the country's West to accept the War of 1895; therefore, the invasion and its smashing victory resulted from the military capacity by the insurrectionists, and especially Antonio Maceo and Maximo Gomez, what also profited from the big transformations that took place in the Cuban society then. In 1896, the country's West was ready to receive the Invading Army.

Quotations

1 -James J. O'Kelly, La Tierra del Mambi, Instituto del Libro, La Habana, 1968, p. 140.

2 - Jorge Ibarra Cuesta, Guerra del 95: ¿guerra de la voluntad e ideal o de la necesidad y la pobreza? En: Patria etnia y nacion, Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, La Habana, 2007 p. 83

3 - Jose Luciano Franco: Antonio Maceo apuntes para una historia de su vida, Editorial Ciencias Sociales, La Habana, 1973, tomo 2, p 151.

4 - Raul Izquierdo Canosa: La Reconcentración 1896-1897. Ediciones Verde Olivo, Ciudad de La Habana, 1997, p. 23.

5 - Leopoldo Giberga: Apuntes sobre la cuestion de Cuba, por un autonomismo, La Habana, 1987, pp. 146-147. Citado por Jorge Ibarra Cuesta, Patria etnia y nacion, Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, La Habana, 2007, p. 102.

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