Cuba Independence

By | December 11, 2021

Starting from the first decades of the nineteenth century, the development of the independence movement was intertwined with the opposing forces of the various components of the Cuban population. In the period between 1850 and 1868 there were continuous struggles between the conservative party, which was composed mainly of Spaniards and opposed independence, and the reformist party, especially recruited from among the Creoles. Furthermore, the Creole oligarchy opposed the demands for the liberation of slaves, fearing the advent of a republic of blacks, as had happened in neighboring Haiti, and a part of it aspired to an annexation of Cuba to the United States, trying to to direct the fight against Spain in this direction. The United States, on the other hand, was interested in gaining control of the island and, having tried several times, since 1825, to buy it from Madrid, they openly interfered in the independence process. Spain’s failure to respond to the Cubans’ requests for autonomy, as the taxes imposed by the motherland increased, led to the first insurrection for independence in 1868, known for its duration as the ‘ten-year war’. The internal contradictions of the nationalist movement, divided between autonomists, separatists and supporters of the annexation to the United States, led to the exhaustion of the first anti-Spanish uprising, which ended with the arrival from Madrid of a new governor, who promised amnesty politics to the rebels, reforms of the political and economic system and the gradual abolition of slavery. A new revolt, called the ‘little war’ (1879-80), was easily suppressed. Slavery was abolished in 1886, and in 1893 civil equality between whites and blacks was proclaimed; Spain granted Cuba representation in the Cortes, but its composition was always dominated by Spanish colonists; the other reforms that had been promised were not kept. In 1894 Spain canceled the customs pact between Cuba and the United States, which had proved very advantageous for the island, and the measure negatively affected an economy already tested by the increase in taxes and the imposition of new duties on Cuban goods leaving for the motherland. The discontent resulted in the resumption of the insurrectionary movement, which soon turned into a war of independence. Leading the insurgents were the protagonists of the revolt of 1879, among which the figure of José Martí stands out, Homeland. A month after landing on the island, Martí died in battle in May 1895. After taking control of the eastern part of the island, adopting guerrilla tactics, the rioters proclaimed the Republic. In response, Spain sent large troops and exacerbated the repressive action, in which General Valeriano Weyler, known with the nickname of el carnicero, distinguished himself. (“the butcher”). To prevent aid to the rioters from the civilian population, Weyler proceeded to lock up hundreds of thousands of Cubans in concentration camps, where many died of starvation and disease. The harsh repressive action of Spain aroused great indignation, which was exploited in the United States by those who wanted the annexation of Cuba. On February 15, 1898, the explosion, for reasons that remained mysterious, of the battleship Maine, anchored in the port of Havana, provided the pretext for the Washington government to present an ultimatum calling for Madrid to renounce its rights to Cuba and to evacuate the island. The short war that followed ended with the complete destruction of the Spanish fleet; with the Treaty of Paris (December 10, 1898) Spain renounced Cuba, accepting that the island was occupied by the United States. The military occupation lasted for about three years, during which a constituent assembly drew up a constitution inspired by the American model and in which Washington inserted the so-called ‘Platt amendment’ (named after Senator Orville H. Platt), which instituted a sort of protectorate on the island: the United States was granted the right to intervene on the island and the possibility of setting up bases there, while in Cuba there were limitations in foreign policy. After the withdrawal of the American troops, the new Republic of Cuba, proclaimed on May 20, 1902, entered into a treaty with Washington that implemented the provisions of the Platt amendment and in 1903 the United States established the important naval base of Guantánamo, assuming full control of the bay of the same name behind the payment of a symbolic rent to the government of Havana. For Cuba 2003, please check

From the Republic to the Batista dictatorship

The first decades after independence were characterized by considerable political instability, both due to the recurring conflicts between the various groups of the dominant oligarchy, often on the occasion of the presidential elections, and to the social protests of the lower classes, as happened for example with the black revolt of 1912, severely repressed. In accordance with the Platt amendment, Washington’s interventions were repeated, starting with the new military occupation of 1906-09, while the development of the Cuban economy continued along the lines, already outlined in the previous century, of centrality of the industry sugar and growing ties with the United States, in terms of both commercial dependence and the penetration of American capital on the island.

The depression of the 1930s had serious repercussions in Cuba and was accompanied by a series of unrest and uprisings that marked the crisis of the political system inaugurated in 1902. In 1933 a sergeant who had acquired a considerable following among the military, Fulgencio Batista, led the rebellion against President Carlos Manuel de Céspedes and assumed control of the country as supreme commander of the army. Batista’s rise to power was also the consequence of the growth of nationalist instances among the lower cadres of the army; this was reflected in the new treaty between Cuba and the United States of May 1934, which repealed the Platt amendment. Batista, on the other hand, who had obtained the support of Washington to oppose the more radical tendencies present in the movement of 1933,

Internally, Batista’s authoritarianism, who until 1939 imposed his power on a series of purely nominal presidents, was accompanied by a policy of modernizing the country. While enriching himself, Batista promoted the development of the economy, also supporting extensive public works programs and aiding the extension of the education system. The modernizing trend was accentuated after the return to constitutional legality in 1940. The new Constitution, followed by the election of Batista to the presidency of the Republic (1940-44), allowed a certain development of democratic life, while the influence of the Communist Party grew. (since 1943 Partido socialista popular, PSP) and trade union organizations. The economic and political problems of the post-war period however placed the two successive administrations of Ramón Grau San Martín (1944-48) and Carlos Prío Socarrá (1948-52) in serious difficulty, discredited in addition by numerous episodes of corruption. In March 1952, a military coup d’état brought Batista back to power who, in 1944, at the end of his presidential term, had left Cuba and had resided for some time in Florida, where he had invested part of the accumulated wealth. In the condition of chaos in which the island had fallen, Batista’s return was not viewed unfavorably, but the regime he gave life to immediately manifested itself as a brutal dictatorship. Control over the press, the university and the congress, the harsh repression of the opponents was accompanied by a policy of rigid social conservation and close alignment with the United States. Towards the end of the 1950s the gap between the dominant oligarchy, largely linked to foreign capital (about 75% of arable land was in the hands of foreign groups), and the popular masses, especially peasants, seemed to have deepened even more.

Cuba Independence