Domitila’s Nemesis –General Valeriano Weyler

Her nemesis, General Valeriano Weyler, like his hero William Tecumseh Sherman, wanted to burn down the Cuba that fought the Spanish forces, leaving no blade of grass or livestock available to the guerilla army, and he forbade the transport of food from one town to another. Instead, Weyler ordered special “zones of cultivation.

The siege ordered by Weyler meant the forced relocation of campesinos from the countryside into cities. In theory, these displaced farmers were meant to be fed by local boards organized by the authorities and supplied with land to cultivate and with decent places to live. Housing and land were not available; this was impractical. The refugees, mostly women and children, could not farm or find places to live or sleep. Caught up in a horrible situation, one hundred seventy thousand Cubans, one-tenth of the island’s population were dying.

This scorched-earth theory of Weyler, included developing what became known as a trocha, a path surrounded by deep trenches and barbed wire, and heavily militarized. The peasants and farm workers were crowded into wooden barracks, constructed in fosos, steep empty holes of collapsed limestone that dotted the outer barrios of the cities.

The trocha split the more rebellious eastern half of Cuba, with its coffee haciendas from the western portions with large sugar plantations. Farming families, given eight days to relocate, could be killed if outside the garrisoned cities after that time. The populations of the western provinces were required to submit to registration, and those disobeying military orders could be found guilty of treason and executed.

Isabel II,  Queen of Spain, asked General Arsenio Martinez Campo to solve the Cuban ‘problem’ in 1895, but Campo, afraid that the rebel generals, Antonio Maceo and Maximo Gomez would cross the trail or trocha constructed by the Spaniards, suggested General Valeriano Weyler in his stead. He cabled his concerns to the Prime Minister of Spain, Canova. “The few Spaniards who are on the island only declare themselves in cities. The rest of the inhabitants hate Spain.”

By the time of Weyler’s appointment, February 10th, 1896, more than one hundred ninety thousand Spanish troops stationed in Cuba were readied to activate his military strategy. It was simple: stop the guerillas’ ability to live off the land and blend in with the civilians.

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