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Imperialism In Cuba Essay, Research Paper

In the early nineteenth century, Cuba took its place as one of the leading sugar producers in the world. The population on the island soared, and a new class of rich plantation owners came into existence. However, the people weren’t happy with the way their country was running. They grew unsatisfied with their colonial status to Spain and their want of independence was strengthened by the harsh Spanish rule that they were living under. The government was corrupt, there were unfair taxes, there wasn’t universal suffrage, and slavery remained legal despite the objections from the majority of the Cubans. Through all of this, the US held an active interest in having Cuba under their own rule. Not only did Cuba have the valuable sugar industry, it was also in a very strategic position in the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico. The first US action to secure Cuba on its own was to support General L pez’s plan to bring US troops into Cuba, rally the supports of the “poor, oppressed Cubans”, and defeat the Spanish. According to this plan, the Cubans would then be more than happy to turn their country over to the good old US of A. His plan didn’t quite work out as he had hoped since the Cubans were less than excited about his ideas. Eventually he was executed by the Spanish along with fifty of his companions (Bailey, 289). A few years later the idea of three US diplomats to either purchase Cuba from Spain or, if necessary, to officially join with Cuba against Spain (called the Ostend Manifesto) was rejected by Secretary Marcy (Bailey, 295-6). From this point on, the US interest in Cuba remained ambiguous. After the Ostend Manifesto, Cuba had to overcome many difficulties with Spanish rule and securing American aid before their eventual independence in 1902. The Ostend Manifesto came about because of renewed American interest in buying Cuba, although its purpose was never achieved. Another reason for the Manifesto was a very real fear of a slave uprising in Cuba (one had occurred in Cuba) that could potentially trigger a similar situation in the southern United States (EB, b). Under the Pierce Administration, Secretary Marcy was very interested in opening negotiations for the island. In 1954 he sent a memo to the US Minister to Spain of the time, Pierre Soul . His instructions were simple — he wanted to buy Cuba from Spain for under $130 million (Bailey, 294). If Spain refused to sell, he told Soul to then, “direct your efforts to the next most desirable object which is to detach that island from the Spanish dominion and from all dependence on any European power,” (quoted by Bailey, 294). By detaching Cuba Marcy meant that he wanted to assist Cuba in securing its independence. he further suggested that Soul meet with James Buchanan and John Mason (the US ministers to London and Paris respectively) in order to talk over his plan. He then wanted them to write down their thoughts and conclusions in a dispatch to him (Bailey, 295). In the dispatch they wrote that the US should pay no more than $120 million ($10 million less than Marcy had allowed for) and to then take action since Spain’s occupation of Cuba could then be considered dangerous to the United States (Bailey, 295). At this point the press was already starting to print twisted versions of their opinions and to speculate wildly about the Manifesto. The Manifesto ended up being rejected by the Cabinet. Soul , not Marcy, took the fall for the ideas within the document and he resigned soon after. Even though the plan never became a reality, “it marked the high point of the US expansionist drive in the Caribbean in the 1850s” (EB, b). The Cubans had many problems with the Spanish rule with the years before the Ten Years’ War, and there were many different groups of thought concerning what should be done about it. Although Cuba was thought of by Spain as being “la isla siempre leal” or the ever faithful island (Bailey, 285), it was actually far from faithful when the Spanish were concerned. There were many rebel groups and revolutionaries who wanted nothing more than to do away with the Spanish Rule once and for all. Three groups of thought emerged from Cuba. One group wanted only social and government reforms. They saw major flaws in their rights and the way they were being ruled, but they had no immediate plans for doing away with Spanish rule altogether or declaring independence. Another plan was to have Cuba be annexed into the United States. The third group wanted nothing less than complete independence. This group was led by C spedes and eventually he led the country into a full guerrilla campaign (Encarta, b). Meanwhile, Spain continued to refrain from giving the Cubans a political voice despite raising their taxes (EB, a). The Cubans also wanted the prohibition of slavery very much, but that didn’t come to pass for another twenty years. These anti-Spanish sentiments grew until the Ten Years’ War began in October of 1868.C spedes led the country into the Ten Years’ War after declaring a Cuban revolt with the support of many revolutionaries. Carlos Manuel de C spedes was a Cuban-born planter who had become very wealthy over the years and wanted Cuban independence. He arranged a Republic, co-wrote the Cuban declaration of independence (Compton’s), and continued to rally support for his cause. Although no decisive battles were ever fought, when the Spanish army finally arrived in 1876 the Cubans were ready and they fought back (Grolier). They used extensive guerrilla warfare in Eastern Cuba to combat the Spanish soldiers. The warfare that they used was brutal, but the Spanish had more man-power. The Cubans continuously looked to the US for help and intervention, but the US refused to get involved. One of their main reasons was simply that they didn’t have any extra money in the government budget — the Civil War had only recently ended and Reconstruction was sucking up all extra funds (EB, c). Because of the inner turmoil between the North and the South, the US quest for imperialism was put on hold as they concentrated on keeping their own country united. The revolt ended in February of 1878 with the Treaty of El Zanj n, but the Spanish made very few concessions to the initial wants of the Cubans. The war had lasted exactly ten years, and it caused the deaths of 200,000 people. It also caused $700,000,000 in damaged property (EB, c). According to this treaty, the Spanish would give amnesty to all political prisoners, end slavery, and carry out many other reforms. Of these reforms, the only ones that were actually carried out were the eventual abolishment of slavery and Cuban representation in the Cortes (Parliament) (EB, c). All of the other promised reforms never quite became reality, and Spain’s failure to honor the treaty (along with other factors) triggered with Cuban War of Independence. After the Ten Years War the Spanish continued to repress the Cubans which caused the Cuban War of Independence to begin in 1894. The revolt was led this time by Jos Mart , Antonio Maceo, and Maximo G mez. The catalyst for the start of the war was the cancellation of a Cuban-US trade pact that caused a depression in Cuba along with added taxes and trade restrictions (EB, c). This time the US couldn t avoid the Cuban revolt from becoming an issue in their own country. Although they didn t actually join in the fight until 1898, the American people joined with the Cubans in repeating their rallying cry — Cuba Libre! (free Cuba!) in response to the tales of cruelty by the Spanish that were turning up all over the United States. Spain passed a weak reform bill in 1895, but the Cubans were far from satisfied. They would no longer settle for promises — they wanted to be away from the Spanish rule. Tom s Estrada Palma began sending US government sponsored arms to rebels in Eastern Cuba (EB, c). Meanwhile, Mart (who died in battle not long after the declaration of war), Maceo, and Gomez arrived in Cuba with troops. They were very clever in their technique — in order to get America s direct involvement they adopted a scorched earth policy. They damaged the countryside extensively in order to make their country undesirable to the Spanish (Bailey, 451-2) while at the same time threatening the fifty million dollars of American money that was invested there (Bailey, 451). They were willing to do almost anything to get the US to openly join their struggle. While all of this was going on in Cuba, two rival newspapers in New York (The New York Journal run by Hearst and The New York World run by Pulitzer) were turning the situation into big news in the US. They were sensationalist papers — instead of concentration on the facts, they published what they thought people would like to read about. In many cases not only did they stretch the truth, but they would actually make up stories out of their imaginations. Although the Spanish were hardly benign rulers of Cuba, according to this Yellow Press they were practically demonic. They d also leave out many facts. For instance, the Spanish weren t the only ones using cruel war techniques. The Cubans were burning houses, bombing passenger trains, and killing just as ruthlessly as their opponents (Bailey, 452). The Yellow Press didn t print a word about that, though. They concentrated on Spain s actions since Americans were starving for reasons, even false ones, to go to war. One popularly bashed figure was The Butcher . “The Butcher” was General Valeriano Weyler, the Spanish commander-in-chief and the man in charge of ending the rebellion. He took cruel and drastic measures to end the revolt by shutting up hundreds of innocent men, women, and children in towns and cities that were transformed into concentration camps. These people lived under horrible circumstances where many of them died of starvation and horrible diseases associated with filthy living conditions. The Yellow Press, economic considerations, and the public opinion in the US set the stage for American intervention.

The election of President McKinley along with the publication of de L me s letter and the explosion of the USS Maine brought the start of the Spanish-American war closer. In 1896, despite the US people s urges to go to war (as well as the approval of Congress) President McKinley was reluctant to go to war. In the fall of 1897 the Cuban rebels were offered some concessions from the Spanish government. They took General Weyler out of Cuba and said they d give the Cubans their own parliament. The rebellious Cubans wouldn t settle for any more reform, though. They stated their intent to accept nothing less than independence. In February of 1898, the New York Journal published a private letter from the Spanish Ambassador (Dupoy de L me) that insulted McKinley and stirred up even more anti-Spanish sentiments in the USA. Then an event took place that made it virtually impossible for the weak McKinley to resist war any longer. In response to a riot in Havana, the US sent the USS Maine to Cuba in order to protect its interests there. On February 15, the USS Main exploded due to unknown causes. The Yellow Press and the American people were quick to blame the explosion on a mine planted by the Spanish. Even though later investigations turned up evidence that would suggest an internal explosion, the damage was already done. Remember the Maine became a popular motto and Americans wanted revenge for the 260 deaths. Under pressure from the jingoes (people who loved a good fight) and all the Americans who blamed the Spanish for the explosion, McKinley asked Congress to declare war. He had previously sent Spain an ultimatum along with a secret note that stated that nothing less than Cuban independence would be acceptable. The ironic thing is that the war was completely unnecessary — Spain had agreed to his terms the day before the US declared war (Boorstin and Kelly, 171). The Spanish-American war was very brief although it had vast ramifications. It was referred to by John Hay as a splendid little war because of its shortness and results. The US primarily used its navy under the commands of Commodore George Dewey and major General Wesley Merritt in the Philippines and around Cuba. Between the two of them and other commanders, every Spanish ship in their fleet was destroyed. The fighting was over in ten weeks (Compton’s). On October 1 in 1898, formal peace negotiations began in Paris and the treaty was signed on December 10 of the same year. Congress didn t actually pass the treaty until February, but everyone knew that the war was over. Under the treaty the US were given Puerto Rico and Guam. They also annexed the Philippines after buying it from the Spanish for twenty million dollars and obtained possession of Midway. Due to these acquisitions, the US was now a major world power. They had a colonial empire of 100,000 square miles and 10,000,000 people (Boorstin and Kelley, 173). Their new status as a country with a widespread empire left Spain with virtually nothing. They not only lost the above mentioned lands to the US, they were also forced to give Cuba their independence. Finally Cubans got what they had been yearning for for decades — their own country. They were still under US occupation, however, so their problems weren t completely at an end. On January 1, 1899 Cuba began its independence under the rule of General John Brooke. He played the part of a military governor long enough to take a census, disband the army, and make it clear that he wanted the Cubans to be excluded from the government (EB, a). At this point he was replaced by General Leonard Wood. Wood was everything the Cubans needed, for he saw the advantages of giving them their first elected president (Tom s Estrada Palma). The Americans did many useful things while they occupied Cuba. They built schools, roads, hospitals, and eradicated yellow fever (Encarta, a). Under the Platt amendment of 1901 the US obtained the right to oversee Cuban international commitments, intervene in order to preserve Cuban independence, look over their economy, and build a naval station on the island. They then withdrew US troops and on May 20, 1902 a republican administration took power under Palma. Cuba had to go through a great deal to gain their independence and their struggles had to become an international issue before they were resolved to their satisfaction. They had two major rebellions and the last one resulted in a major shift of world powers. The US obtained an empire that reached from the Caribbean to the Far East, the Spanish lost their colonies, and Cuba got their own country at last. Of course, their independence didn t end their troubles with outside interference — the US continued to influence much of the economy and government there despite Palma s objections. Their independence did, however, restrict US imperialism from touching upon them and Cuba looked to the future with the excitement of a country just starting to rule themselves for the first time.

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