For anyone interested in the history of Cuba and of the Americas, the date of December 7 has more profound foreboding than the fateful event of 1941. For it was on December 7, 1896 that Cubans fighting for their independence suffered perhaps their greatest military loss. Antonio Maceo, the bravest warrior of the long Cuban wars for Independence, lost his life at Punta Brava, in Matanzas Province south of the city of Cardenas between the small towns of Jovellanos and Pedro Betancourt.
Few warriors are more distinguished in Latin American history than Antonio Maceo, called by his fellow Cubans "The Bronze Titan". Born in San Luis, Oriente, in 1845, Maceo was the son of Marcos Maceo, an exile from Venezuela and Mariana Grajales y Coello, a local Afro-Cuban from Santiago.
As the oldest of 13 children, Maceo accepted responsibility and discipline from an early age. A freemason as well as a successful petit entrepreneur, Maceo and his entire family joined the independence movement in 1868. His mother ran hospitals and provided supportive service for the guerrilla bands of Cubans wherever her sons were involved in battle. Mariana Grajales died in Jamaica in 1893, but her remains lie in the Santa Efijenia cemetery in Santiago, Cuba, along with José Martí and other notables.
Articulate, astute, creative, determined and competent, Maceo participated in more than 500 military engagements between 1868 and 1896, and suffered more than 25 injuries. Maceo was one of the fighters who did not accept the Pact of Zanjón that ended the Ten Years War, and left Cuba shortly afterwards. But he was a distinguished combatant who rose rapidly through the ranks despite the envy and antagonism of some white Cuban insurgents, becoming in the final war, lieutenant-general to Máximo Gómez of the Cuban liberation forces in 1895.
Antonio Maceo lived for a short time in Jamaica. As noted above, his mother died during their sojourn on the island. Maceo also lived in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica. Martí invited Maceo to return to fight alongside Máximo Gómez in the final exhausting war for Cuban independence that began in 1895. Immediately after the commencement of war Martí died in combat at Dos Ríos on May 19. Maceo and Gómez brought discipline to their greatly outnumbered forces and extended the war from one end of the island to the other. While Maceo did not live to see the end of the war and the achievement of his goals, Cuba did win its independence, albeit with some help from the United States of America. The history of the island might well have been different, had either Maceo or Martí survived.
Franklin W Knight