PanARMENIAN.Net - Beginning in 1492, Spain was the first European nation to sail westward across the Atlantic Ocean, explore, and colonize the Amerindian nations of the Western Hemisphere. At its greatest extent, the empire that resulted from this exploration extended from Virginia on the eastern coast of the United States south to Tierra del Fuego at the tip of South America excluding Brazil and westward to California and Alaska. Across the Pacific, it included the Philippines and other island groups. By 1825 much of this empire had fallen into other hands and in that year, Spain acknowledged the independence of its possessions in the present-day United States (then under Mexican control) and south to the tip of South America. The only remnants that remained in the empire in the Western Hemisphere were Cuba and Puerto Rico and across the Pacific in Philippines Islands, and the Carolina, Marshall, and Mariana Islands (including Guam) in Micronesia.
Following the liberation from Spain of mainland Latin America, Cuba was the first to initiate its own struggle for independence.
The battle of Las Minas, May 3, 1869
The first large-scale war for Cuban independence began on October 10, 1868, with a historic speech known as the Grito de Yara (Cry of Yara) by landowner and slave-owner Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, who freed his slaves and declared war on the Spanish crown. Thirty-seven other local planters joined in, freed their slaves and donated their property. The first clash with Spanish troops took place at Yara two days later, and by November the rebel army had grown to 12,000 men. The war lasted ten years, but ended in a stalemate. On February 11, 1878 both sides signed the Treaty of Zanjón, which stated that slaves, who fought on either side, were freed, however, slavery was not abolished and Cuba remained under Spanish rule.
Cuba's second rebellion against Spanish rule was organized in New York by veterans of the Ten Year War lead by Calixto García, one of the few revolutionary leaders who did not sign the Pact of Zanjón, and some others. In 1878, García issued a manifesto against Spanish despotism and The Little War (La Guerra Chiquita) started officially on August 26, 1879. After a few brief victories, the war ended by September 1880 with the rebel defeat.
The War of Independence (Guerra de Independencia) broke off on February 24, 1895, under the leadership of writer and philosopher José Martí, who is considered by all Cubans as Father of the Country.
To prepare for the struggle, at the end of March 1894, Martí began to push for immediate revolutionary action, writing letters to the veterans of The Ten Years’ War, Maxímo Gómez and Antonio Maceo, who landed on the eastern shore of the island in April and joined bands of guerrilla forces awaiting their arrival. (Six decades later, Castro and his followers reenacted Martí's plan of battle in the Sierra Maestra, the very same mountain range.)
In a detailed account of the conflict, titled “The Spanish-Cuban-American War and the Birth of American Imperialism”, historian Philip S. Foner sheds light on his urgency: “Martí’s impatience to start the revolution for independence was affected by his growing fear that the imperialist forces in the United States would succeed in annexing Cuba before the revolution could liberate the island from Spain.”
Martí was killed on May 19, 1895 near the town of Dos Rios in Oriente, in a skirmish with a column of Spanish soldiers under the command of Colonel Jimenez de Sandoval. Menawhile, Gómez and Maceo employed sophisticated guerrilla tactics to lead the revolutionary army and take control of the eastern region. In September 1895 they declared the Republic of Cuba and sent Maceo’s forces to invade the western provinces.
By January 1896 rebel forces controlled most of the island, and the Spanish government replaced Martínez Campos with Gen. Valeriano Weyler y Nicolau, who soon became known as El Carnicero (“The Butcher”). In order to deprive the revolutionaries of the rural support on which they depended, Weyler instituted a brutal program of “reconcentration,” forcing hundreds of thousands of Cubans into camps in the towns and cities, where they died of starvation and disease by the tens of thousands.
In 1897 Spain recalled Weyler and offered home rule to Cuba, and the next year it ordered the end of reconcentration. In the meantime, the rebels continued to control most of the countryside. Perhaps more important, they had won the sympathy of the vast majority of the Cuban people to their cause. Moreover, news of Spanish atrocities and tales of rebel bravery hit the headlines of New York Journal, which beat the drums of war.
U.S. interest in Cuba had begun long before 1898. Following the Ten Years’ War, American sugar interests bought up large tracts of land in Cuba. Alterations in the U.S. sugar tariff favoring home-grown beet sugar helped foment the rekindling of revolutionary fervor in 1895. By that time the U.S. had more than $50 million invested in Cuba and annual trade, mostly in sugar, was worth twice that much. Fervor for war had been growing in the United States, despite President Grover Cleveland's proclamation of neutrality on June 12, 1895. But sentiment to enter the conflict grew in the United States when General Valeriano Weyler began implementing a policy of Reconcentration that moved the population into central locations guarded by Spanish troops and placed the entire country under martial law in February 1896. By December 7, President Cleveland reversed himself declaring that the United States might intervene should Spain fail to end the crisis in Cuba. President William McKinley, inaugurated on March 4, 1897, was even more anxious to become involved, particularly after the New York Journal published a copy of a letter from Spanish Foreign Minister Enrique Dupuy de Lôme criticizing the American President on February 9, 1898. Events moved swiftly after the explosion aboard the U.S.S. Maine on February 15. On March 9, Congress passed a law allocating fifty million dollars to build up military strength. On March 28, the U.S. Naval Court of Inquiry found out that a mine blew up the Maine. On April 21, President McKinley ordered a blockade of Cuba and four days later the U.S. declared war.
By the time of the American intervention in Cuba in April 1898, Maceo had been killed, but the war proved to be brief and one-sided. It was over by August 12, when the United States and Spain signed a preliminary peace treaty. By the Treaty of Paris of December 10, 1898, Spain withdrew from Cuba. A U.S. occupation force remained for more than three years, leaving only after the constitution of the new Republic of Cuba had incorporated the provisions of the Platt Amendment (1901), a rider to a U.S. appropriations bill, which specified the conditions for American withdrawal. Among those conditions were (1) the guarantee that Cuba would not transfer any of its land to any foreign power but the United States, (2) limitations on Cuba’s negotiations with other countries, (3) the establishment of a U.S. naval base in Cuba, and (4) the U.S. right to intervene in Cuba to preserve Cuban independence. Thus, the creation of the Republic of Cuba was effected on May 20, 1902.