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A soldier on horseback and a peasant speak in a barnyard. A barn, chickens and trees are featured in the background and foreground.

Peasant and Spanish soldier

After the Cuban Liberation Army invaded the western part of the island and set fire to sugar plantations during the winter of 1895–96, the Spanish government responded by appointing General Valeriano Weyler as Cuba's governor. Through a policy known as reconcentración, Weyler ordered civilians to evacuate the countryside and move into fortified towns. 

The goal was to prevent the rural pacíficos, or non- fighting population, from assisting the mambises, or rebels, in their fight against the Spanish Army. Out of the 300,000 people forced to relocate, tens of thousands of reconcentrados died of disease or starvation. 

The artist Armando García Menocal, who served in the Cuban Liberation Army, centered this painting on an interaction between a Spanish soldier on horseback and a Cuban pacífico. Is the pacífico providing intelligence or erroneous information to the soldier? The quietude of this scene betrays the tension between these two sectors of Cuban society at a time of war.

Armando García Menocal (1863–1942)
Oil on canvas
43.2 × 64.8 cm (17 × 25 1/2 in.)
Collection of Emilio and Sylvia M. Ortiz
Audio file
Audio commentary by José Manuel Mesías

Audio Transcription: In the case of Armando García Menocal, it i’s important to understand that he was not just an artist, but also one of the participants, one of the protagonists, of the War of Independence. Menocal belonged to a family from Cuba’s land-owning, upper bourgeoisie. And without a doubt, in the Mambíi Army this brought certain privileges. This allowed him, in the middle of the (military ) campaigns, to take note, and to make celebrated paintings of great protagonists of the last War of Independence. It i’s this first-hand knowledge that later allows him to become the preeminent painter of the War. You can see this in the smallest details of these works– the threadbare , muddy clothes of the civilian, for example, and also the carriage crossing the mud with the sugar processing plant in the distance. But above all, Menocal is a master narrator. The mood in his paintings, ironically, reflects calm.. Calm in the middle of war. In Cuba we fought for 30 years, and men and women took the machetes they used on the plantations to cut sugar cane, and used them instead against the Spanish body. The War was their world, and so these men and women were used to its harshness. That’s why in many of Menocal’s paintings, even ones depicting more terrible scenes, the people in them carry themselves with a certain wartime parsimony.

– José Manuel Mesías, artist.