Born in Bayamo province, Cespedes studied Law at the Havana University and the Cervera University in Spain, where he was several times arrested and forced to exile in France for participating in revolutionary and anti-government activities.
After returning to the Island in 1884, he contacted opponents of the colonial regime like Salvador Cisneros, Bartolome Maso, and Pedro Figueredo to organize the beginning of a revolutionary war with the conviction that armed struggle was the only way to achieve Cuba's independence.
On Oct. 10, 1868, Cespedes proclaimed the beginning of the struggle for the independence in his wit "La Demajagua", where he granted freedom to his slaves and invited them to fight for the independence cause.
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As first President of the Cuban Republic in Arms, Cespedes outlined strategies to strengthen and extend the war throughout the country, including the forging of a military campaign from east to west and promotion of the destruction of the Spanish crown’s wealth in Cuba to undermine its sources of livelihood for the war.
He also boosted the irregular struggle military method, worked to increase armed expeditions from abroad, and deployed an extensive diplomatic activity to encourage then-Latin American presidents to support the Cuban independence war.
The “Father of the Homeland,” as Cespedes became known, was shot dead on Feb. 27, 1874, at the San Lorenzo estate in the Sierra Maestra. About this independence leader, Commander Fidel Castro said that he symbolized the dignity of a people -still heterogeneous at that time- that was beginning to be born in history.