Cuba, War of Independence

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Cuba, War of Independence

Cuba: War of Independence (1895–1898), the culmination of the Cubans' struggle to gain their freedom from Spanish colonial rule. The armed separatists were committed to more than just independence. The Creole bourgeoisie was just as much the enemy of Cuba Libre as were the Spanish officeholders, and the revolutionaries recognized that inequity was not caused by Spanish political rule as much as by the Cuban social system. They believed that a transformation of Cuban society was the only remedy. Originally the war was primarily between the colony and the metropolis, but after 1896 the conflict expanded to become a struggle between the creole bourgeoisie and a populist coalition over competing claims of hegemony within the colony. The rebellion offered oppressed groups—poor blacks and whites, peasants and workers, the destitute and dispossessed—the promise of social justice and economic freedom.

Jose Martí, the father of Cuban independence, Máximo Gómez y Báez, Antonio Maceo, and other veterans of the Ten Years' War coordinated the war effortsin Cuba. On 24 February 1895, the insurrection began with the Grito De Baire (Declaration of Baire). On 24 March Martí presented the Manifesto de Montecristi, which outlined the insurgents' war policies: The war was to be waged by blacks and whites alike (participation of all blacks was deemed crucial for victory); Spaniards who did not object to the war effort were to be spared; private rural properties were not to be destroyed; and the revolution was to bring new economic life to Cuba. Martí said, "Cubans ask no more of the world than the recognition of and respect for their sacrifices."

Martí's death in 1895 did not stop the independence movement. In September representatives of the five branches of the Army of Liberation proclaimed the Republic in Arms. In July 1895 Gómez and Maceo sent orders to end all economic activity on the island that might be advantageous to the royalists. Defeat of the Spanish required destruction of the bourgeoisie's social and economic power, and so the insurrection became an economic war. The insurgents burned fields to stop sugar production. The population continued to support the rebellion despite its economic consequences, and the war did in fact destroy the Spanish bourgeoisie as a social class as well as end colonial rule.

Spanish authorities were stunned by the insurrection. They enlarged their army to 200,000 men and appointed General Valeriano Weyler y Nicolau to bolster the war effort. He instituted the reconcentration policy under which the rural population was ordered to evacuate the countryside and relocate in specially designated fortified towns. Subsistence agriculture was banned and villages, fields, homes, food reserves, and livestock were all destroyed. Over 300,000 Cubans were relocated into these concentration camps. Mass deaths resulted because the municipal authorities were not prepared to assume the responsibility of caring for the internal refugees. The policy proved to be counterproductive. As a result of the camps, more Cubans supported the insurrection; also, in the United States and even Spain there was a strong public reaction against the Spanish policy.

The Spanish controlled the cities and attacked the peasants, while the Cubans controlled the countryside and attacked the planters. By the end of 1897, Cuban victory was inevitable. Weyler was incapable of expelling the insurgents from the western area of the island, and the Cuban elites were appealing to the United States to intervene and restore order. The explosion on 15 February 1898 of the U.S.S. Maine, which had been sent to the Havana harbor to protect U.S. citizens, killed 260 enlisted men and officers. This tragedy provided the United States with an excuse to enter the war. On 25 April 1898, the U.S. Congress declared war against Spain, but the Teller Amendment stated that the United States would make no attempt to establish permanent control over the island. In June 1898 some 17,000 U.S. troops landed east of Santiago, Cuba. On 3 July the Spanish fleet was destroyed, and a few subsequent land victories prompted Spanish surrender on 12 August.

Although the Cuban forces were instrumental in the outcome of the war, they were excluded from the peace negotiations that resulted in the Treaty of Paris. The terms of the treaty, which permitted the United States to dominate Cuba, reflected the view that the quick victory over Spain was attributable solely to the United States. That view did not acknowledge that the Cuban struggle for independence had been depleting the crown's resources for several decades, especially in the preceding three years. On 1 January 1899, the Spanish administration retired from Cuba, and General John R. Brooke installed a military government, establishing the U.S. occupation of the island, which ended in 1902.

See alsoSpanish-American Warxml .


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                                         David Carey