On this day October 10, 1868

Carlos Manuel de Céspedes and his followers proclaimed Cuba’s independence from Spain, sparking the Ten Years’ War.

Carlos Manuel de Céspedes

Carlos Manuel de Céspedes

The war began on October 10, 1868 when sugar mill owner Carlos Manuel de Céspedes made the Grito de Yara (Cry of Yara), declaring Cuban independence.

That morning, after sounding the slave bell that indicated to his slaves it was time for work, they stood before him waiting for orders, and Cespedes announced they were all free men, and were invited to join him and his fellow conspirators in war against the Spanish government of Cuba.

For this, he is called Padre de la Patria (Father of the Country). In April 1869 he was chosen President of the Republic of Cuba in Arms.

The Ten Years’ War was the first serious attempt to achieve independence from Spain, and to free all slaves. The war was fought between two groups. In the East of Cuba the tobacco planters and farmers, joined by mulattos and some slaves, fought against the West of Cuba, with its sugarcane plantations (which required many slaves) and the forces of the Spanish Governor-General.

Hugh Thomas summarises thus: The war was a conflict between criollos (creoles, born in Cuba) and peninsulares (recent immigrants from Spain). The Spanish forces and the peninsulares, backed by rich Spanish merchants, were at first on the defensive, but in the longer run their greater resources told.

Céspedes was deposed in 1873 in a leadership coup. Spanish troops killed him in February 1874 in a mountain refuge, as the new Cuban government would not let him go into exile and denied him an escort. The war ended in 1878 with the Pact of Zanjón.

The pact did make concessions: liberation of all slaves and Chinese who had fought with the rebels, no action for political offences; but not freedom for all slaves, and no independence. The Grita de Yara had achieved something, though not enough; but it had lit a long-burning fuse. Lessons learned there were later put to good use in the Cuban War of Independence.

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