the two cuban revolutions that happened before fidel castro -- 10/15/20

Today's encore selection -- from President McKinley by Robert W. Merry. In both 1868 and 1895, many decades before Fidel Castro, rebels in Cuba rose up against its government:

"Cuba was threatened by an insurgency that began in February 1895 with the aim of ripping this 'ever faithful isle,' as it was called in Madrid, from Spanish dominion and giving it sovereign independence. Spain almost lost the island during an earlier rebellion, from 1868 to 1878, that claimed almost 260,000 lives on both sides. But eventually a new government in Madrid, product of a Spanish revolution that replaced the old absolute monarchy with a constitutional structure, negotiated a settlement with the Cuban insurgency that granted am­nesty to its leaders and offered concessions on some grievances. Now the same leaders were back in the fight with a fearsome resolve.

"They executed a 'scorched earth' strategy of burning croplands and destroying food supplies in hopes that Spain would abandon the fight out of compassion for starving Cubans or perhaps America would in­tervene to assuage the human misery unfolding just ninety miles from its Florida tip. The rebels controlled the countryside throughout Cuba's impoverished eastern half and pushed westward toward the capital of Havana, causing havoc in population areas dominated by Spanish-­born Cubans known as peninsulares -- mostly military officers, Catholic clerics, and governmental officials -- who held sway over Cuba's civic life and remained loyal to Madrid. Spain had nearly 200,000 troops on the island, but they were proving ineffective in thwarting the attack­-and-run tactics of the insurgency's 40,000 nimble and brutal guerrilla warriors.

"Responding to repeated setbacks, Madrid sent in another 50,000 troops in February 1896 and named General Valeriano Weyler y Nico­lau as Cuba's governor and military leader. Weyler fashioned a strategy designed to push the rebels out of the island's more developed west­ern and central regions and force them back into the eastern portions, where they could be systematically eliminated. He split Cuba into mili­tary zones, divided by north-south combat barriers of fences, trenches, and soldiers. Then he sought to seal off the zones to rebel activity one by one, pushing the rebels farther and farther east.


"It didn't work. Though rebel activity declined, it continued to dis­rupt the lives of the island's main population areas and thwart Weyler's plan to isolate the rebels. Weyler then made a fateful decision. He es­tablished a network of 'concentration zones,' called reconcentrados -- towns and localities completely under government control -- and forced some 400,000 rural peasants into these militarized camps. The idea was to isolate potential rebel sympathizers and dry up the supplies, intelligence, and manpower that had been flowing to the insurgency. Unfortunately the Spanish military lacked the capacity to provide food and basic human necessities in these camps, and they soon became death traps. By the beginning of 1897 tens of thousands had died from disease and starvation.

"The American people and their political leaders watched this un­folding conflict with growing unease trending toward outrage at the brutality of Weyler, who was becoming known as 'the butcher.' Hav­ing such chaos gathering force nearby, and at a location of such cru­cial strategic significance, naturally raised concerns among American leaders. There also was a trade connection focused primarily on one commodity: sugar. The U.S. Sugar Trust, a consortium of eight major refiners with a big corner on Cuban sugar production, profited wildly when the McKinley tariff bill removed all import duties on sugar. Trade soared. U.S. imports from Cuba, mostly sugar, exceeded those from all other nations except Britain and Germany. Fully 87 percent of Cuba's total exports went to the United States. When the Wilson-Gorman bill eliminated the duty-free policy, it devastated the Cuban economy ­and contributed to the turmoil that spawned the insurgency. It was easy to see that Cuba's fate and America's interests were inextricably linked.

"Further, the United States had become a staging area for the insur­gency. Operating mostly out of Miami and New York City, rebel lead­ers, many of them naturalized U.S. citizens, raised money and churned out masses of propaganda designed to tilt the burgeoning North Amer­ican nation toward recognition of the insurgents as legitimate belliger­ents. Rebel sympathizers in New York, known as the New York Junta, became particularly effective as propagandists whipping up American sympathy for the Cuban rebels. The Junta, in collaboration with its Miami counterpart, also outfitted ships to transport supplies, money, and men to the revolution. Responding to Spanish protests, U.S. officials sought to intercept these 'filibustering' vessels, but some got through nonetheless. Of seventy-one missions launched from Ameri­can shores, only twenty-seven made it to Cuba, but that still rankled Madrid. What's more, when Spanish officials captured these pro-rebel adventurers, they threw them into hellish prisons, where one of them died, and this generated further tensions between Spain and the United States."



Robert W. Merry


President McKinley: Architect of the American Century


Simon & Schuster


Copyright 2017 by Robert W. Merry


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