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Carlos Manuel de Céspedes

A key figure in the fight for independence, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes is much lauded in Cuba as a liberator. A wealthy plantation owner, he freed his slaves on October 10, 1868, and called for the abolition of slavery – albeit in terms least likely to alienate the wealthy landowners upon whose support he depended. Giving forth his battle cry, the Grito de Yara, which summoned Cubans, whether slaves or Creoles, to take arms and fight for a future free of Spain, he marched in support of the independence movement. Céspedes summed up the dissatisfaction that many Cubans felt in a long declaration which became known as the October 10th manifesto, nationally credited as the inception of Cuban independence because it was the first time that Cubans had been talked about in terms of a nation of people.

The newly formed army set out with the intention of capturing the nearby town of Yara, but were overtaken by a column of the Spanish army and utterly trounced, reduced to a fragment of the original 150–strong force. Undefeated, Céspedes proclaimed, “There are still twelve of us left, we are enough to achieve the independence of Cuba.”

Céspedes is most remembered for the death of his son, Oscar, captured by the Spanish and subsequently shot when Céspedes refused to negotiate for peace under Spanish conditions. This act earned him the title “Padre de la Patria” (Father of the Homeland): as he famously replied to the letter requesting his surrender, “Oscar is not my only son. I am father to all the Cubans who have died to liberate their homeland.”

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