Background of Cuba before Castro
became a Spanish colony soon after the arrival of Christopher Columbus
in 1492, and remained so for the next 410 years. During this period
the island progressed from a transhipment point for wealth from Central
America to one of the major producers of sugar on the world market
by the 1820's.
this time, as well, there were changes in Cuba's ethnic composition
due to the replacement of Amerindian slaves with those from Africa.
In 1774 a census revealed a population of 96.000 whites, 44.000 slaves
and 31.000 free blacks. Slavery was officially abolished in 1886.
sentiments were in evidence from around 1850 when several attacks
on Spanish garrisons were financed and led by Spanish planters. In
1868 the Ten Years' War of independence was launched and led by Carlos
Manuel de Cespedes. This conflagration was as a result of many factors
that were essentially political and economic. These included the interference
in Cuban government affairs by the Spanish crown in Madrid, resultant
tension between Creoles (criolos - locally born) and peninsulares
(Spanish born) officials, the latter wielding social, bureaucratic
and political power, economic divisions between the eastern section
of the country that did not possess the same economic resources as
the west and a decline in sugar production from 620.000 tons
(1865) to 597.000 tons (1867).
indeed, in the eastern provinces to which the decade-long war was
confined. During the conflict, the insurgents pleaded towards the
United States for assistance. However, the U.S. had, by this time,
their own plans for acquiring control of Cuba, and many politicians
did not feel the time was ripe for getting rid of Spanish rule. Instead,
the war continued until 1878, when the Treaty of San Juan was signed
with the provisions that the Spanish Government would concede the
right of participation in Cuban elections; that Cubans would enjoy
the right of representation in the Spanish Parliament and that the
freedom of all slaves and indentured workers who participated in the
Ten-Year struggle for independence would be recognized.
things did not remain settled for long. Political conflict ensued
between members of the Cuban Liberal Party
(known as the Autonomistas) , formed by members of the Creole majority,
and the Constitutionalists who were basically peninsulares and members
of the bureaucracy and who were "intransigent" in their
opposition to Cuban nationalism. This conflict was exacerbated by
the further diminution in Cuban economic fortunes. The decade-long
war had resulted in the destruction of the sugar industry on the eastern
side of the island and total sugar output in 1878 was only 1/3 of
its original figure. Furthermore, the next 17 years saw the appearance
of men such as Antonio Macedo and Maximo Gomez - men, who became convinced
that the battle for independence would have to be resumed on the battlefield.
member of this rank was José Martí. Imprisoned as a
youth for writing a contemptuous letter to a local volunteer in the
Spanish army, Martí was to join a list of Cuban revolutionaries
such as Gabriel Placido, Narcisco Lopez, Cespedes and Perucho Figueredo.
A speaker at Masonic meetings, a writer of newspaper articles, Martí
was a poet and an orator and was respected wherever he travelled. It
was while in New York City in 1895, that Martí was able to raise
funds to finance the new revolution. War duly broke out while Martí
was on his way back to Cuba with his own expeditionary force. As Arciniegar
( 1946) poetically puts it : " From the deck of the fruit ship
returning him to his country, he saw, in the afternoon sun, the mountains
of Cuba. The sea was the Caribbean, and the coast lay three miles away.
A little boat carrying six men was put over the side ....At last Free
Cuba was about to be born, before his eyes. Fording rivers, crossing
swamps and mountains, Martí pushed on to join soldiers of freedom."
One can even go as far as to equate this scene with the returning Fidel
Castro 61 years later.
the war U.S. interest in Cuba was fuelled by the imperialistic desire
of finding new markets to aid its growing economy. There was also
the realization that the U.S. was rapidly becoming a global power,
and the need was expressed in some quarters to build up its naval
strength. Perhaps Martí was aware of these sentiments when
he expressed the fear that the U.S. involvement in the war would ultimately
lead to a denial of Cuban independence. As it was, Martí was
killed in combat on April 19. 1895. Three years later, American Senator
Mark Hanna of Ohio, issued a prophetic statement: " We will control
Cuba. It makes little difference now whether or not the insurgents
can maintain a stable government. In less than 20 years the U.S. will
practically own the island."
Earlier that year, on the night of February 15, 1898, the American
battleship the U.S.S. Maine, exploded in Havana harbour, killing 264
sailors and two officers. While Spanish involvement was never really
proven ( and there have been, even to this day, contentions that the
explosion was accidental ), the disaster was used to ignite the Spanish-American
War ( or, more directly, the Cuban-Spanish-American War ), a conflict
that would lead to the termination of Spain's days as a colonial power.
Soon the "United States intervened, and Spain lost Cuba, Puerto
Rico and the Philippines. Cuba was to go on fighting for her liberation".
(Arciniegar).Remarkably, no Cuban was present at the signing of the
Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1998. The U.S. controlled the island,
administratively, for three years before independence was finally
proclaimed on May 20, 1902. But the following year, an amendment to
the Army Appropriation Act of 1901, sponsored by Senator Orville Platt
of Connecticut, was tacked on to the new Cuban constitution; it was
to be a provision that would effectively define the U.S. - Cuban relationship
during the first fifty-nine years of the twentieth century. In its
essential features, the Platt Amendment "pledged the republic
to maintain a low public debt; to refrain from signing any treaty
impairing its obligation to the United States; to grant the United
States the right of government; and, if requested, to provide long-term
naval leases." (Langley, 1982). The latter would eventually lead
to the installation of the U.S. Naval Base at Guatámano Bay.
It is only when the Cuban Government accepted this measure that the
U.S. began a significant pullout of troops.The economic domination
that the U.S. was to exercise over the island over the next six decades
was remarkable. Perez points out: " Foreign capital dominated
the Cuban economy". Investments were mainly in the areas of sugar,
railways, port works and communications. While British investments
accounted for $ 60 million, the French portion for $ 12 million and
the German share for $ 4.5 million, by 1911 the total United States
capital stake on the island was a staggering $ 200 million - of which
$ 50.000.000 was in sugar alone.