Before you start your Cuban travel adventure, getting a bit up-to-date on the history of Cuba (and heroes of Cuba) might make your holiday even more interesting.
As I am a Master of Political Science, an army officer, and an eager hobby historian who has lived in Havana, Cuba, for over two years, I have been able to visit many of these historic places in Cuba.
Also, speaking to people and studying everything that went on in Cuba, with the US, and the region during the last 120 years makes for an interesting tale!
In this article, I want to shed some light and insight into one of the national heroes of Cuba.
One of the greatest heroes in the Cuban war for independence from Spanish rule at the end of the 19th century is not a Cuban at all, but a guy from the Dominican Republic named Maximo Gomez!
Maximo Gomes First Fought FOR The Spanish
Maximo Gomez y Baez was born in the Dominican Republic in 1836 and had no links to Cuba at all from the beginning.
So how did he end up as the commander-in-chief of the Cuban revolutionary forces towards the end of the century?
Today, his portrait is even on the ten pesos note of Cuba, the Moneda National. But this career was not a clear-cut path from his childhood years.
According to history, Gomez’s mother originally wanted a clerical career for him and not a life in the military!
Maximo, on the other hand, wanted it differently.
Maximo first fought in battle against Haitian forces at the pure age of sixteen. At that time, he already commanded Spanish reserve forces in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic.
Maximo Gomez was later trained as an officer at the Spanish Zaragoza Military Army Academy, and to Cuba, he originally arrived as a cavalry officer.
Fighting alongside the Spanish forces as a captain in the Dominican Annexation War from 1861 to 1865. During this service, he earned a promotion to commander in a famous victory over the Dominican general Pedro Florentino.
Once in Cuba, he married Bernarda Toro (Manana), who accompanied him during the war. (They did it like that back in the day).
After the Spanish forces were defeated in 1965, many supporters of the Annexionist cause had to flee the Dominican Republic.
Maximo left as well and moved his family to Cuba.
Take your Cuban adventure and history travel to the end of Prado Avenue in Havana; you will see his monument.
Forever gazing from the shore and out towards the Fortaleza guarding La Habana.
Gomez Turning Rebel In Cuba Against The Spanish
Gómez retired from the Spanish Army after 1965 and soon took up the rebel cause in Cuba instead in 1868.
With his military experience and know-how, he started helping transform the Cuban Army’s military tactics and strategy.
He changed it from the conventional approach towards guerilla warfare to fight the superior Spanish forces then in charge of Cuba.
Gomes gave the Cuban mambises their most feared tactic, the so-called “machete charge.”
Reportedly, Gomez was a master strategist.
He organized and directed poorly equipped guerilla forces against the well-equipped Spanish army throughout the ten-year war from 1868 to 78.
Because the Cuban Army always lacked sufficient munitions, the usual combat technique was to shoot once and then charge the Spanish with machetes.
The Spanish Army generally was terrified of the charges because most were infantry troops, mainly conscripts. The conscripts were terrified of being cut down by the machetes.
On October 26, 1868, at Pinos de Baire, Gómez led a machete charge on foot, ambushing a Spanish column and obliterating it.
The Spanish suffered 233 casualties in this one battle alone.
Continuing The Warfare Against The Spanish Rule
In 1871, Gomez again led a campaign to clear Guantánamo from forces loyal to Spain, particularly the rich coffee growers.
The forces here were mostly of French descent. Their ancestors had fled from Haiti after the Haitians had slaughtered the French.
Gómez carried out a horribly bloody but successful campaign in Guantanamo, and most of his officers later became high-ranking officers.
In 1873, Gomez’s commander, Major General Ignacio Agramonte y Loynaz, died in battle. Gómez assumed the command of the military district of Camaguey and its Cavalry Corps after him.
Upon first inspecting the corps, Gomez concluded that they were the best trained and disciplined in the nascent indigenous Cuban Army.
He was sure they would significantly contribute to the war for independence.
On February 19, 1874, Gómez and 700 other (then referred to as) rebels marched together from their base. They went on and defeated 2,000 Spanish troops in battle at El Naranjo.
The Spaniards lost 100 killed in action, and 200 were wounded.
Guerilla Warfare Is A Costly Enterprise
A battalion of 500 Chinese also fought against the Spanish under the command of Gómez in the Battle of Las Guasimas in 1874.
The battle cost the Spanish a staggering 1,037 casualties and the rebels 174 casualties.
However, the rebels had exhausted their resources: the unusual departure from guerrilla tactics had proved a costly enterprise.
In early 1875, with fewer than 2,000 men, Gómez crossed the Trocha—a string of Spanish military fortifications—and burned 83 plantations around Sancti Spíritus and freed their slaves.
The conservative Revolutionary leaders feared the consequences of these actions and diverted troops away from Gómez’s army.
This caused the campaign to fizzle In 1876.
Gómez surrendered his command when he learned from General Carlos Roloff that the officers of Las Villas would no longer follow his orders since he was Dominican.
The war also ended inconclusively, with limited amnesty and concessions to the Cubans.
Gomez and the other revolutionary leaders refused to accept the accord and went into exile.
The Interlude Between Wars
In the in-between of the two Cuban independence wars, Gómez lived in exile and held odd jobs in Jamaica and Panama.
There, he supervised a laborers’ brigade during the construction of the Panama Canal, among other things.
All the time he remained an active player in the cause of Cuban independence. He also was engaged in the cause for the rest of the Antilles.
Puerto Rico experienced a period of severe political repression in 1887 by the Spanish governor Romualdo Palacio.
This led to the arrest of many local political leaders, including Román Baldorioty de Castro.
Gómez offered his services to Ramón Emeterio Betances, the previous instigator of the island’s first pro-independence revolution, the Grito de Lares, who was then exiled to Paris.
Gómez sold most of his personal belongings to finance a revolt in Puerto Rico and volunteered to lead any Puerto Rican troops if any such revolt occurred.
The revolt was deemed unnecessary later that year when the Spanish government recalled Palacio from office to investigate charges of abuse of power.
But Gómez and Betances established a friendship and logistical relationship that lasted until Betances’s death in 1898.
When the rebellion in Cuba erupted again in 1895, Gomes returned with Jose Marti (who has the airport named after him) and others.
They reassumed command of the revolutionary forces during the War of Independence, which lasted until 1898.
This war was won, as the Americans joined in after the USS Alabama was sunk in the harbor of Havana in 1898.
As part of your Cuban adventure history travel prep, you can read about that story and the aftermath here!
Scorched Earth Policy In Warfare And End Of Spanish Rule
Gomez became known for his controversial scorched-earth policy.
This entailed dynamiting passenger trains and torching the Spanish loyalists’ property and sugar plantations, including many American-owned ones.
He greatly increased the efficacy, although he detested the destruction of centuries of work.
In March 1898, during the Spanish-American War, the Spanish Captain-General of Cuba Ramon Blanco y Erenas proposed for Gomez and his Cuban troops to join the Spanish Army, repelling the United States.
Blanco appealed to the “shared heritage” of the Cubans and Spanish (probably talking about the fact that the Spanish had colonized the island for almost three centuries).
He promised the Islands autonomy if the Cubans would help Spain fight the Americans.
Generalissimo Maximo Gomes declined the offer, and the Spanish-American war ended the Spanish colonial era in the whole region.
However, it opened another superpower’s influence – the United States.
The fact that the US actually intervened on the Cuban side in the conflict ironically overshadowed the heroic exploits of Gomes and his comrades in arms.
After the American victory in the Spanish-American war, the United States finally granted Cuba limited freedom in 1902. Gomes reportedly could have been elected president at this point.
However, Gomez did not wish to accept public office in Cuba, being a Dominican of birth.
At the end of the Cuban Independence War in 1898, he retired to a villa outside of Havana, where he died in 1905 at age 69 and is buried at the Colon Cemetary in Havana.
FAQs Cuba Travel
Why are US citizens not allowed to travel to Cuba?
This is NOT correct. US citizens ARE ALLOWED to travel to Cuba.
Americans can choose a reason for Cuba travel among 12 pre-approved reasons for traveling to Cuba, determined by the US Government.
Can US citizens travel to Cuba as a tourist?
Technically, US citizens are NOT allowed to travel to Cuba as a tourist. Americans choose between 12 pre-approved reasons for Cuba travel, among which the most common one is “to help the Cuban people”.
What are the 12 requirements to travel to Cuba?
You can read about the 12 pre-approved reasons to travel to Cuba for US citizens here.
The easiest and most common reason for Cuba travel is “to help the Cuban people”. There is no paperwork or application process connected to this, you just choose your reason and state that reason if anyone asks.
What happens if a US citizen travels to Cuba?
Nothing happens if a US citizen travels to Cuba, apart from hopefully, the US citizen will have a fabulous holiday and encounter with Cuban culture.
Selected airlines sell this visa/tourist card, or you can buy one online.
What documents do I need to travel to Cuba?
You need the following documents to travel to Cuba:
- Passport valid for 6 months after date of entry
- Cuban tourist card / tourist visa
- Proof of travel insurance, including health insurance
- Fill out the d’viajero.cu digital document before your journey
Do Americans need to be vaccinated to enter Cuba?
No, there is no requirement for specific vaccines prior to entering Cuba. Your country’s health department probably has recommendations for what vaccines you should consider before entering Cuba.
How Do I get a tourist card for Cuba?
You might also be able to buy a Cuban tourist card from your airline or at the airport prior to departure.
It is possible to buy a Cuban tourist card at Miami International Airport at the check-in counter with American Airlines and Delta Airlines.
How Do I Get A Tourist Visa For Cuba?
- Buy one online from Easy Tourist Card
- Buy one from your airline if they offer this
- Buy one at the airport of departure if they offer this
- Buy one from the Cuban Embassy in your country
Is Travel To Cuba Allowed Right Now?
Yes, Cuba travel is allowed right now. There are no COVID or health restraints from entering Cuba right now.
There are no political constraints from entering Cuba right now for most international travelers.
American citizens need to, in addition, choose one of the 12 pre-approved reasons for traveling to Cuba (Americans can not travel as “tourists”) and follow some simple guidelines for traveling in Cuba.
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Cuba Visa Online: Easy Tourist Card
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