Americans lack an understanding of Cuba

Cuba_bt_0203_edit_optThe embargo against the Republic of Cuba, imposed by the United States, reflects its modern day policy to dominate, control and original plan to annex the Island nation. Accordingly, the Republic’s mantra, “Patria or Muerte”, which translates very closely to the American saying, “live free or die”, reflects Cuba’s 200 year struggle to exist as a sovereign nation. Unfortunately, American’s tend to define Cuba by a limited and flawed understanding of the past. To get at the core of the conflict between the two nations, it is important to understand what drove the Republic toward what is civil war by American standards, and revolution when applied to Cuba.
The American interest in Cuba began in 1808, when President Thomas Jefferson dispatched General James Wilkinson to convince the Spanish Empire to sell the island to the U.S.  Spain refused.  In May of 1848, Senator Lewis Cass, a candidate for president courting the southern vote and manifest destiny, called for the U.S. to purchase the island. President James Polk, a proponent of expanding slavery beyond the southern United States, secretly ordered the plans.  Secretary of State James Buchanan directed Romulus Sanders, the Ambassador to Spain to negotiate the purchase.  He offered the sum of $100 million. Though Spain’s grip on empire was growing weaker, the offer was refused.
In 1854, the pro-expansionist President Franklin Pierce, and Secretary of State William L. Macy, who served as the Secretary of War in the James Polk Administration, directed James Buchanan, now the U.S. Minister to Great Britain, and devoted expansionist to secretly meet with his counterparts to France and Spain to come up with a credible recommendation for the U.S. to secure the Island of Cuba.  The meeting took place in Ostend, Belgium.   Pierre Soule, the U.S. Minister to Spain, and John Mason the U.S. Minister to France, worked with Buchanan to develop a policy statement justifying the acquisition of Cuba from Spain. The document was forwarded by wire to Washington D.C.
Minister Pierre Soule-possibly by design-publically revealed that the meeting had taken place. Soon word of the meeting and the recommendations reached the highest levels of government in Europe and the United States. The uproar created an international scandal.  Eventually public pressure forced the American government to release the document. The “Ostend Manifesto”, as it came to be known, recommended the United States offer to purchase Cuba from Spain. If Spain refused, it should exercise military force to wrestle the island away. The justification was the fear that successful slave revolts in the Caribbean, if allowed to spread to Cuba, would negatively impact slavery in the American south.  The true motivation was to create political cover for the annexation of Cuba and Central America to expand slavery into the Caribbean, creating the new American frontier.  Slavery in the south had become land locked by policy and politics.  The abolitionist used the Ostend Manifesto to slow the growth of slavery, and the interest of the United States to annex Cuba was effectively put on hold.
In 1857, James Buchanan the former Secretary of State and U.S. Minister to Spain resurfaced as President of the United States.  A northerner committed to the pro-slavery movement, he sought repeatedly to interest congress in purchasing Cuba.  The country was divided between pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces. As the nation focused on what was shaping up to become a civil war, Buchanan was blamed for not being able to find unity. He was eventually declared the worst President to have served the nation.
President Ulysses S. Grant would serve from 1869-1877.  He considered the purchase of Cuba, but instead focused on stabilizing the homeland through the reconstruction of the south.  He adopted a foreign policy that avoided war with other nations and especially with Spain over Cuba.
By February of 1898, the Cuban War of Independence from Spain was nearly won when the battle ship USS Maine was mysteriously blown up in the Harbor of Havana. A U.S. Navy Board of inquiry resolved that an external source, perhaps a mine caused the explosion. The U.S. media used the reports conclusion to call for military intervention in Cuba. On April 10th, Spain ordered its battered forces to stand down. On April 11th, President William McKinley asked the United States Congress for the authority to intervene militarily in the Cuban conflict.  Congress approved the Teller Amendment, a resolution authorizing military action, but denouncing any interest to annex or to establish permanent control over Cuba after the end hostilities.
On April 22nd, the U.S. imposed a blockade on the northern and southern coasts of Cuba. Spain declared war on April 24th, 1898. The war became known as the Spanish American War. In Cuba it is referred to as the US intervention in Cuba’s War of Independence. Suspiciously, three months later on August 12, 1898, Spain and the United States agreed to suspend hostilities. On December 10th, 1898 the two countries met in Paris, France to sign the Treaty of Paris, which ceded control of Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam to the U.S.  The Republic of Cuba was not invited to participate. The Treaty of Paris and the Teller Amendment called for sovereignty and independence for Cuba after the war ended.  However, the following day the American flag was raised over Havana, a U.S. military government was installed, and modern day U.S.-Cuba relations were born.
The American government’s plans for US-Cuba relations is best revealed in a memo sent by Under Secretary of War J.C. Breckenridge to Lieutenant General Nelson A. Miles, Commander of the US Army, on 24 December, 1897.  He describes the U.S. policy toward the Hawaiian Islands, Puerto Rico, and in relation to Cuba he states, “The inhabitants are generally indolent and apathetic. As for their learning, they range from the most refined to the most vulgar and abject. Its people are indifferent to religion, and the majority are therefore immoral and simultaneously they have strong passions and are very sensual. Since they only possess a vague notion of what is right and wrong, the people tend to seek pleasure not through work, but through violence. As a logical consequence of this lack of morality, there is a great disregard for life.”
“It is obvious that the immediate annexation of these disturbing elements into our own federation in such large numbers would be sheer madness, so before we do that we must clean up the country, even if this means using the methods Divine Providence used on the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. We must destroy everything within our cannons’ range of fire. We must impose a harsh blockade so that hunger and its constant companion, disease, undermine the peaceful population and decimate the Cuban army. The allied army must be constantly engaged in reconnaissance and vanguard actions so that the Cuban army is irreparably caught between two fronts and is forced to undertake dangerous and desperate measures.”
The people of Cuba have hungered and suffered enough. The U.S. policy of isolation to impose hunger, famine and disease created the world’s largest prison, and violates the most basic tenants of human rights. Let the Cuban people go.
Felix Sharpe-Caballero is a Cuban born American.  He is the director of Behavioral Health Integration for the Michigan Department of Community Health.

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