After the end of the Ten Years' War (1878), Spain dismantled Cuba's colonial regime, took steps to reduce its insular army, and allowed Cubans to elect deputies to the Spanish Cortes. These reforms led to the formation of the Liberal or Autonomist Party, made up of reformist Cubans and some Spaniards, most of middle-class origin. Its platform differed little from traditional Cuban reformism. Essentially what it demanded was "the liberty of Cuba legally within Spanish nationality."
The Autonomist Party was the most critical movement in Cuba in the decade that followed the war, but it failed to make genuine headway. It was distrusted by conservative Spaniards, who thought that autonomy was merely the anteroom of independence. Spain, by contrast, breaking the promises it had made when the war ended, never fully granted Cubans the same political rights that Spaniards enjoyed. There was no real freedom of the press and assembly on the island, and the property qualification was so high that black and poor Cubans could not vote. Furthermore, elections were manipulated whenever necessary. By 1892 the Autonomists were thoroughly disillusioned. They issued a manifesto to the nation warning that Spain's obduracy would force Cubans to make "radical decisions." Their more distinguished men began openly to back the course of revolution.
On the eve of the Spanish-American War, Spain finally established in Cuba a home-rule government led by Autonomists. But by then the 1895 war of independence had been raging in the countryside for three years, and the Autonomist government was caught in the middle of the conflict staged by Spain, the United States, the diehard Spaniards in Cuba, and the Cuban insurgents. A few days before the U.S. declaration of war (25 April 1898), it sent a message to President William McKinley protesting U.S. intervention in Cuba and claiming that Cubans had the right to govern themselves. Apparently, McKinley did not reply.
See alsoCuba, War of Independencexml .
For an interesting non-Cuban view of the Autonomists, see J. C. M. Ogelsby, "The Cuban Autonomist Movement's Perception of Canada, 1865–1898: Its Implications," The Americas 48 (April 1992): 445-461; see also Antonio Martínez Bello, Origen y meta del autonomismo, exégesis de Montoro (1952).
Bizcarrondo, Marta, and Antonio Elorza. Cuba-España: El dilema autonomista, 1878–1898. Madrid, Spain: Editorial Colibrí, 2001.
Ferrer, Ada. Insurgent Cuba: Race, Nation, and Revolution, 1868–1898. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999.
Piqueras Arenas, José A. Cuba, Emporio y colonia: La disputa de un mercado interferido (1878–1895). Madrid, Spain: Fondo de Cultura Económica de España, 2003.
JosÉ M. HernÁndez