A Question to Answer / Fernando Damaso

Maximo Gomez statue. Wikipedia

Fernando Dámaso, 24 April 2018 — In April 1898 the United States got involved in the Spanish-Cuban War. 120 years have passed…

Lately, continuously, we hear and read in official media that, in the year 1898, when the intervention of the North American Army in the war took place between Spaniards and Cubans, that it was practically won by the latter.

We’ve seen some data, that we cannot confirm nor deny this assertion.

At the time of the events, the Spanish Army had more than 250,000 men in Cuba and some 60,000 Cuban guerrillas fought at their service. It controlled all the towns and cities, as well as the main roads and railways, in addition to the ports and piers. The naval force constantly sailed the Island’s territorial waters, hindering or preventing the arrival and disembarkment of expeditions with men, weapons and supplies.

Only about 12,000 troops participated in the defense of Santiago de Cuba, distributed in more than 110 defensive strongholds around the city, as well as in the nearest towns.

The Mambí (Cuban) Army, at that time, did not exceed 9,000 troops, with almost 5,000 in the central region of the country, under the command of General Máximo Gómez. In the East, Lieutenant General Calixto García only had about 4,000 troops scattered between Holguín, Jiguaní, Bayamo, Santiago de Cuba and Guantánamo.

In general, the Mambí Army, despite the arrival of some expeditions in recent months, was poorly armed, dressed and shod. In addition, throughout the war, although it had attacked and occupied some populations of relative importance, it could never keep them under its power, having to abandon them when the Spanish troops appeared. Nor did it control the roads or the existing railroads, but was forced to act through ambushes and live and move in the jungle,

At the political level, there were serious contradictions and divergences within the military commanders and between them and the political power, the main one being that between General-in-Chief Máximo Gómez and the Governing Council, which ultimately led to the end of the war, and the removal of Gomez from the front of the Mambí Army by the Assembly of the Cerro.

The death of some of their principal leaders, among them José Martí, Flor Crombet, José and Antonio Maceo, Juan Bruno Zayas, Néstor de Aranguren, José María Aguirre, Serafín Sánchez and Adolfo del Castillo, had a huge negative impact on Cubans, as did the capture by the Spaniards of Rius Rivera. In addition, in some territories soldiers and officers were deserting, as were complete units.

To liquidate the Spanish resistance in Santiago de Cuba, the North American command landed, under the orders of General Shafter: 18,216 men, 16 field guns and 8 siege guns. For the attack they were joined by some 4,000 infantrymen of the Mambí Army, subordinated to General Calixto García, together totalling almost twice the number of Spanish defenders, also equipped with modern infantry and artillery weapons. It must be taken into account that, at that moment, United States naval forces surrounded the Island.

In the operations, in addition to participating in the securing of the landing, Cuban troops, being the best experts on the terrain and the tactics of the enemy, acted as vanguards, something normal in all operations of this type, when they participated jointly national and foreign troops, something that has come down to our days (Korea, Vietnam, Angola, Ethiopia, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.).

After analyzing this data, you may already be able to answer the initial question of this work. Was the war really won by the Cubans in 1898?

Leaving to one side the infantile jingoism, everything seems to indicate that no and that, but for the American disembarkation, the war would have been more prolonged, with an uncertain result and many more human and material losses.

In 1898 there had been an impasse in the warfare: the Spaniards could not defeat the Cubans, nor could the Cubans defeat the Spaniards. The first were exhausted and the latter tired. In addition, mutual stubbornness prevented any attempt at dialogue to resolve the situation. All this was taken advantage of by the government of the United States to impose its conditions and achieve its expansionist objectives.