December 31, 2005

Maceo in Havana, January 1 1896

They thought they had turned him back at Coliseo. On December 23 1895, Antonio Maceo’s troops suffered serious losses in their struggle for Cuban independence. The Cubans suffered many casualties, and Maceo’s horse was killed as he rode in battle. But the Mambises would not give up their goal to bring the war to Havana.

The Spanish Army thought they had turned him back, and they celebrated with glee and nervous fear. What the Spaniards actually did was inspire Maceo into one of his most famous maneuvers, usually referred to as the “false retreat.” As the name implies, the rebels seemed to be retreating, but instead they made a half-circle through Las Villas and continued into Havana, destroying sugar plantations, railroad stations and anything else that stood in their way.

On January 1 1896 the newspapers in Havana ran headlines announcing that the rebels had ran from Spanish troops. Some predicted that the Mambises were halfway to Camagüey by now. They were wrong, and this led to the resignation of Captain General Martínez Campos. A great victory for the Cubans and a year to remember, although both Antonio and José Maceo died later that year.

A century and a decade earlier, the year that ends can be remembered for the passing of an American heroin; Ms. Rosa Parks. On December 1 1955, while the new Cuban rebels were in Mexico preparing an armed effort against friendly dictator Fulgencio Batista, she refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white man. (Way to go Ms. Parks!) It’s no surprise that President Bush did not attend her funeral, as his response to Hurricane Katrina shows his administration’s distinct hostility towards those with darker skin, and their policy of Cuban isolationism clearly indicates a yearning for the simplicity of that decade, in which white people ruled and everyone else knew their place. Everyone except Ms. Parks and the Cuban rebels.

Today I can’t help thinking that the Maceo brothers would have been proud of Ms. Parks’ courage, and that she would be proud of what the Maceo brothers now symbolize.

Peace and Happy New Year to all.


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