General Máximo Gómez in 1889 lithograph
November 18, 1836|
Baní, Dominican Republic
|Died||June 17, 1905
|Battles/wars||Cuban War of Independence|
Máximo Gómez y Báez (November 18, 1836 – June 17, 1905) was a Major General in Cuba's Ten Year War (1868–1878) against Spain. He was also Cuba's military commander in that country's War of Independence (1895–1898).
Early life and changes in allegiance
Máximo Gómez was born in the town of Baní, in the province of Peravia, in the Dominican Republic. During his teenage years, he joined in the battles against the frequent Haitian incursions of Faustin Soulouque in the 1850s. He was trained as an officer of the Spanish Army at the Zaragoza Military Academy (Spanish). He had arrived originally in Cuba as a cavalry officer - a Captain - in the Spanish Army and fought alongside the Spanish forces in the Dominican Annexation War (1861–1865). After the Spanish forces were defeated and fled the Dominican Republic in 1865 by order of Queen Isabel II, many supporters of the Annexionist cause left with them, and Maximo Gomez moved his family to Cuba.
Cuban War of Independence
Gomez retired from the Spanish Army and soon took up the rebel cause in 1868, helping transform the Cuban Army's military tactics and strategy from the conventional approach favored by Thomas Jordan and others. He gave the Cuban Mambises their most feared tactic: The "Machete Charge".
On October 26, 1868 at Pinos de Baire, Gomez led a Machete Charge on foot, ambushing a Spanish column and obliterating it. The Spanish Army was terrified of these charges because the majority (there were at least 200 Spanish casualties in the attack) were infantry troops, mainly conscripts, who were fearful of being cut down by the machetes. Because the Cuban Army always lacked sufficient munitions, the usual combat technique was to shoot once and then charge the Spanish.
In 1871 Gómez led a campaign to clear Guantánamo from forces loyal to Spain, in particular the rich coffee growers - mostly of French descent whose their ancestors had fled from Haiti after the Haitians slaughtered the French.
Gómez carried out a bloody but successful campaign, and most of his officers went on to become high-ranking officers, including Antonio and José Maceo, Adolfo Flor Crombet, Policarpo Pineda "Rustán", and many others.
Following the death in combat of Major General Ignacio Agramonte y Loynáz in May 1873, Gómez assumed the command of the military district of the province of Camaguey and its famed Cavalry Corps. Upon first inspecting the corps he concluded they were the best trained and disciplined in the nascent indigenous Cuban Army and would significantly contribute to the war for independence.
Puerto Rican conflict
In the interlude between the two Cuban independence wars, Gómez held odd jobs in Jamaica and Panama (among them, he supervised a laborers' brigade during the construction of the Panama Canal), but remained as an active player for the cause of Cuban independence, as well as that for the rest of the Antilles. For example, when Puerto Rico experienced a period of severe political repression in 1887 by the Spanish governor of the time, Romualdo Palacio (which 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, and who was exiled in Paris at the time. Gómez sold most of his personal belongings to finance a revolt in Puerto Rico, and volunteered to lead any Puerto Rican troops had such revolt occur. The revolt was deemed unnecessary later in the year, when the Spanish government recalled Palacio from office to investigate charges of abuse of power from his part, but Gómez and Betances established a friendship and logistical relationship that lasted until Betances' death in 1898.
Promotion to General
He adapted and formalized the improvised military tactics that had first been used by Spanish guerrillas against Napoleon Bonaparte's Armies into a cohesive and comprehensive system at both the tactical and strategic level. The concept of insurrection and insurgency, and the asymmetric nature thereof can be traced intellectually to him.
He was shot in the neck in 1875, while crossing the fortified line or Trocha from Júcaro in the south to Morón in the North; while leading the failed attempt to invade Western Cuba. After that he always wore a kerchief around his neck to cover the bullet hole, which remained open after healing (he usually plugged it with a wad of cotton). His second and last wound came in 1896 while fighting in the rural areas outside Havana while completing a successful invasion of Western Cuba.
He was wounded only twice during 15 years of guerrilla warfare against an enemy far superior in manpower and logistics. In contrast, his most trusted officer and second-in-command, Lt. Gen. Antonio Maceo y Grajales, was shot 27 times in the same span of time, with number 26 being the mortal wound. Gómez's son and Maceo's aide-de-camp, Francisco Gómez y Toro—nicknamed "Panchito"—was killed trying to recover Maceo's dead body in combat, December 7, 1896.
Soon after, Gómez implemented another warfare technique that proved to be very successful for crippling Spanish economic interests in Cuba at the time: torching sugar cane haciendas and other strategic agricultural assets. He personally abhorred the idea of "setting to fire the product of our laborers' work over more than 200 years in a few hours", but countered that, given the state of misery most of these laborers still experienced, if that was the price to pay to redeem them from the economic system that enslaved them, then "¡Bendita sea la tea!" ("Blessed be the torch!")
Proposal to join the Spanish–American War
On March 5, 1898, the Captain-General of Cuba, Ramón Blanco y Erenas, proposed that Gómez and his Cuban troops join him and the Spanish army in repelling the United States in the face of the Spanish–American War. Blanco appealed to the shared heritage of the Cubans and Spanish, and promised the island autonomy if the Cubans would help fight the Americans. Blanco had declared: "As Spaniards and Cubans we find ourselves opposed to foreigners of a different race, who are of a grasping nature. ... The supreme moment has come in which we should forget past differences and, with Spaniards and Cubans united for the sake of their own defense, repel the invader. Spain will not forget the noble help of its Cuban sons, and once the foreign enemy is expelled from the island, she will, like an affectionate mother, embrace in her arms a new daughter amongst the nations of the New World, who speaks the same language, practices the same faith, and feels the same noble Spanish blood run through her veins." Gómez refused to adhere to Blanco's plan.
At the end of the Cuban Independence War in 1898 he retired to a villa outside of Havana. He refused the presidential nomination that was offered to him in 1901, and which he was expected to win unopposed, mainly because he always disliked politics and after 40 years of living in Cuba he still felt that being Dominican-born he should not be the civil leader of Cuba.
He died in his villa in 1905 and was interred in the Colon Cemetery, Havana.
Gómez's portrait graces Cuban currency on the 10 peso bill.
The main avenue in the city of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic is named after him.
A secondary education school is named after him in his home town of Baní, Dominican Republic.
A provincial university was named in his honour: Universidad Máximo Gómez Báez de Ciego de Ávila (Cuba). (www.unica.cu)
The current Dominican Republic Senator for the Peravia Province, Sen. Wilton Guerrero, has proposed changing the name of the province to "Máximo Gómez Province."
There is a statue in the front of the Instituto Preuniversitario in Camaguey, Cuba, where he is seen on a horse with his scarf galloping while armed as if leading a "machete charge".
- "MAJOR GENERAL MÁXIMO GÓMEZ BÁEZ". cubagob.cu.
- "Proposicion del Capitan General Ramon Blanco Erenas". autentico.org.
- "Ramón Blanco y Erenas". Library of Congress.
- Listin Diario. "Wilton apoya Peravia sea provincia Máximo Gómez". listindiario.com.