Cuba's Path to Independence
The Cubans seek independence from the Spanish Empire
author Paul Boșcu, August 2017
Cuba experienced two wars of independence during the second half of the nineteenth century. Both conflicts were responses to Spain’s refusal to allow Cubans the right to govern themselves concerning local issues, such as taxation, public works, and trade policy. Cuban rebels in both conflicts used the impassioned political slogan Cuba Libre (Free Cuba) as they fought against Spanish soldiers.
Cuba experienced two wars of independence during the second half of the nineteenth century. Both conflicts were responses to Spain’s refusal to allow Cubans the right to govern themselves concerning local issues such as taxation, public works, and trade policy. Cuban rebels in both conflicts used the impassioned political slogan Cuba Libre (Free Cuba) as they fought against Spanish soldiers.

To better illustrate the Cuban situation, we must include this island in a larger picture of nineteenth-century geopolitical changes. After continuous decline, the once-mighty Spanish Empire stood on legs of glass in Latin America. It relinquished power over all major possessions in the Western Hemisphere except for Cuba.

International developments also encouraged those willing to fight for independence. Spain's lack of success in the Dominican Republic, which she occupied in 1861 and abandoned in 1865, and the failure of Napoleon III in Mexico, convinced many Cubans that the European powers, and especially declining Spain, could be defeated by determined national resistance.

Tired of being exploited, the Cubans chose revolutionary paths toward independence. They followed the approach of Simon Bolivar, the South American political leader who played a key role in the liberation of Spanish South American possessions and who participated in the foundation of the first republic of Colombia.

Adamant to retain Cuba or otherwise entirely lose any significant presence in the Western Hemisphere, Spain chose to refuse Cuban independence. Unlike earlier, however, Spain had to deal with another vital factor. The arrival of the new imperialistic force from the north, the United States, entirely changed the geopolitics in the Caribbean. Eager to see the Spanish gone forever, the Americans willingly supported the Cuban anti-Spanish rebellion.

Wars for independence are often precipitated by the desire of economic and political elites to have greater control over their own destinies. These wars are typically associated with the growth of nationalism and they tend to create heroes that are venerated by subsequent generations. Wars for independence also often come with unanticipated consequences. All of these characteristics fit Cuba Libre, the Cuban struggle for independence from Spain.

The growth of a Cuban identity and nationalism was tied to the desire of the island’s economic elites to have more control over their own political and economic futures. The struggle created national heroes such as Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, Antonio Maceo (the Bronze Titan) and the father figure of modern Cuba: José Martí.

The tremendous damage done to the economic infrastructure and the elimination of the island’s primary economic elites, the Creole sugar oligarchy, had the unanticipated outcome of making it possible for the United States to expand its economic presence. Ultimately the US would expand its political and cultural dominance over the island. Cuba freed itself of Spain but not of the United States.

The First War of Independence began on 10 October 1868, in eastern Cuba. The uprising failed in part because the rebels had weak leadership. Moreover, wealthy sugar plantation owners in western Cuba did not support the revolt. Plantation owners in the east were generally poorer and lacked both modern machinery and the funds to purchase large numbers of slaves. In fact, some had already experimented with freeing their slaves and paying them as contract labor during the zafra, the sugar harvest. They had not benefited from the vast wealth generated from the Cuban bumper sugar crops in the 1860s. Rebellion was seen as a way to increase their wealth.

The timing of the rebellion coincided with the harsh rule of Captain-General Francisco Lersundi in Cuba and a period of political instability in Spain beginning with the deposition of Queen Isabella II. It was started by radical Creole landowners in Oriente Province under the leadership of Carlos Manuel de Cespedes from Bayamo. It was no accident that the rebellion began in the eastern part of the island as the plantations there were smaller and less modern than those of central Cuba.

The leaders who carried out the revolt, Máximo Gomez, a black man originally from the Dominican Republic, and Antonio Maceo, a former black slave, were inexperienced in conducting war and could not agree on strategy.

Divided by petty regionalism, class origins, and different concepts of military strategy, the Cuban leaders lacked the discipline and unity essential for victory. After six years of war, many of the elite who had initiated the war were either dead or in exile.

From his plantation Cespedes issued his famous Grito de Yara - Cry of Yara - proclaiming Cuban independence and freeing his slaves to serve in his rebel army. Leaders in the eastern provinces formed a provisional government with Cespedes as the president. Rebel leaders insisted on a legislative assembly with the ability to check the power of the president and to abolish slavery. Maximo Gomez, a Dominican, was selected as the leader of the rebel military forces because of his expertise in military strategy, in particular guerrilla warfare. Gomez trained Antonio Maceo, who became the most important rebel commander in the field.

The growing instability of the Spanish monarchy led to a military rebellion in Spain which ended the rule of Isabella II. A minor rebellion in the Puerto Rican town of Lares was easily crushed by the Spanish forces, but unfounded reports spread throughout Cuba that numerous Puerto Rican groups were ready to continue the struggle. Finally, there were rumors in Oriente province that the Spanish authorities were informed of the conspiracy and prepared to take the necessary actions. Convinced that to wait would be disastrous, Cespedes decided to force the issue.

Cespedes cited several reasons for the rebellion against Spain. They included the inability of Cuban Creoles to serve in their own government, excessive taxation, corruption, the lack of religious liberties, suppression of the press and the denial of the rights of petition and assembly.

The colonial government was in no position to react decisively. Poorly informed of incidents in Oriente, and troubled by political turmoil in Spain, Captain General Lersundi paid little attention to news of the uprisings. Cespedes had time to increase his heterogeneous band by enlisting discontented Cubans and Dominicans with combat experience. He attacked and captured the town of Bayamo, temporarily silencing accusations of personal ambition and confirming himself as leader of the insurrection. News of Bayamo’s fall electrified the island and mobilized the Cuban population.

In Oriente and Camaguey several groups followed Cespedes' example and rose in arms. Rebel bands appeared in the central provinces of Las Villas. Even young Havana reformists hastened to join the insurgents. The colonial government, having dismissed the insurrection as a local incident, was confronted by a rapidly expanding rebellion. Cuba's first war of independence had begun.

Although many factors worked against the success of the Cuban rebels, the dissension and lack of unity within the rebel leadership were probably the most crucial. Leaders were divided over the issue of slavery. Cespedes urged slaves to revolt and join the rebels, mambises. This created a backlash by some wealthy, conservative Creole landowners who wanted independence but did not want to end slavery. Cespedes was later removed from office by the revolutionary legislative assembly and was killed by the Spanish in Oriente Province. Afterwards the conservatives took control of the presidential office.

The new rebel president, Salvador Cisneros Betancourt, a cattle rancher from Camaguey, and the next president, Tomas Estrada Palma, led rebel governments largely made up of conservative landowners. Many western landowners, especially sugar planters in Las Villas Province, feared that Maceo would create a black republic after independence was won. They also feared that the scorched earth policies of Gomez and Maceo toward the sugar plantations in Oriente, if carried out in the central and western parts of the island, would destroy their wealth.

The rebel legislative assembly, now dominated by the more conservative Creole elites, was able to strip Gomez of many of his troops and prevent him from burning plantations in the prime sugar growing area of Cuba between Matanzas, Cardenas and Colon. Some rebel leaders were jealous of Gomez’s success and others resented the fact that a Dominican was in command of the rebel armies. Gomez was finally forced to resign his military post.

Gomez wrote in his diary, ‘I retired that same day with my heart broken by so many deceptions.’ Other factors also worked against the rebels. Weapons, supplies and money from exile groups in the United States arrived sporadically due to the fact that the US government refused to recognize the movement for independence. It was difficult for the United States, which had just fought a civil war over the issue of slavery, to support a rebel movement in Cuba whose leadership was at best ambiguous and at worst divided on the issue of slavery.

The growing exhaustion of funds supplied by Cuban exiles and the end of Spain's Carlist War, which allowed Madrid to concentrate its efforts on Cuba, convinced Cuban military leaders that their only hope for victory was to invade the island's rich western provinces. The ruin of so many sugar mills would deprive Spain of vital revenues and leave thousands of slaves and peasants free to join the rebels. Gomez was prepared to carry out this plan. Returning to Oriente to restore order, he was instead forced to resign his command.

Spain controlled the sea-lanes and had a large number of troops in Cuba, thereby making it difficult for the rebels to win a major victory in the field. The rebels were largely limited to fighting a protracted, guerrilla war. The bulk of the war was fought in the eastern part of the island. The rebels controlled much of the eastern countryside while the Spanish controlled the cities. Neither side could win a decisive victory.

Although confined to the eastern region of the island, the war lasted ten years and forced Spain to send over one hundred thousand troops to Cuba. The rebels' courage and tenacity was aided by several basic factors. Peasant support and topographical knowledge gave them superior mobility. Often aware of Spanish troop movements, they could select the best zones for combat or concealment. They became experts in guerrilla warfare, with the Cuban climate their strongest ally. Unaccustomed to the tropics, many Spanish soldiers became sick with yellow fever and malaria.

Maceo fought a successful guerrilla war against the larger Spanish forces. He gained the admiration of his own troops, fear from the Spanish troops and, at the same time, he became a threat to the more conservative rebel leadership who opposed him on the slavery issue. Maceo freed many slaves who rallied behind the rebel cause in the east.

Brutality and arbitrary executions were common. The symbol of the war became the machete. With the political instability behind Spain, a new offensive led by General Arsenio Martinez Campos was launched against the rebels. This offensive with more than 70,000 troops was coupled with a diplomatic effort aimed at the more conservative elements of the rebel leadership. Amnesty was guaranteed to all rebel troops who surrendered before an end to the conflict. Rebel morale was very low by this time.

Political conditions in Spain also aided the Cubans. During the war, Spain witnessed the abdication of Isabella II; a military regency; the reign of Amadeo of Savoy; the proclamation of a Republic; the restoration of Alfonso XII; and a second Carlist War. As a result, the Spanish army in Cuba seldom received adequate attention or supplies. Traditional bureaucratic corruption and political favoritism undermined any serious military effort.

After General Campos’ offensive against the rebels, an armistice, the Peace of Zanjon, was finally agreed. Maceo refused to surrender. He wanted nothing less than Cuban independence and an end to slavery. Facing the brunt of the Spanish forces alone with his small army, Maceo realized he could not win. He traveled to New York and worked with Calixto García in organizing a new rebellion. This ‘little war’ ended in disaster. After ten long years of war, the Cuban people were not prepared to fight any more. The war drastically changed the political and economic landscape of Cuba. With slavery gone the Cubans no longer had any reason to be loyal to Spain.

By combining military pressure with generous amnesty offers and promises of reform, General Martinez Campos, the new Captain General, further divided the already demoralized rebels. Cuban President Tomas Estrada Palma was captured. A Cuban commission presented the Spanish government with armistice terms. With the approval of the Spanish authorities, the peace treaty under which the autonomy recently granted to Puerto Rico would be extended to Cuba was signed in the hamlet of Zanjon.

The war and the subsequent collapse in the world price of sugar in the 1880s dramatically changed the political, economic and social systems of Cuba. Slavery was gradually phased out. With slavery gone, the Creole landed elite no longer had a reason to be loyal to Spain. Although voting was limited due to property qualifications, Cubans were elected to the Spanish Cortes and local councils.

The large sugar plantations that remained faced an uncertain future. Almost all were severely in debt to bankers, shippers and merchants. Interest rates skyrocketed. An 1880 law allowed creditors for the first time to seize the land of those planters who were in default.

There was enormous property damage to both the Creole loyalists and separatists. Very prominent separatist Creole elite families had all their property seized by the Spanish government. The Spanish government parceled out some of these seized plantations to pardoned revolutionaries, soldiers who had served in the Spanish army and Spanish immigrants.

A growing sense of Cuban identity and nationalism was heightened by both the Ten Years’ War and the realization by the Cubans after the war that Spain had no intention of allowing them to have any real say in its political and economic decisions. By the early 1890s, the Autonomous Liberal Party of Cuba had become frustrated with Spain’s lack of response to its demands for greater local control. Some Cuban nationalists, such as Martí, Gomez and Maceo, fled in exile to begin plotting their return and a new rebellion against Spain.

The rebel armies had been a mixture of rich and poor, black and white, peasant and workers, Chinese and mulatto. During the war, the words that would eventually become the Cuban national anthem were written and the Cuban flag first appeared. The machete became one of the nation’s symbols.

Although the bulk of the fighting was on the eastern part of the island, the fact that Creole leaders fought on parts of the island they had never seen before helped to overcome regional loyalties and develop a stronger sense of nationhood. The entire conflict, known in Cuba as the Ten Years' War, contributed to the growth and maturity of a national conscience. The vague feeling of collective identity which had emerged in the early nineteenth century became a deep, ardent sentiment.

Although racism remained, Spanish warnings that an anti-colonial struggle would trigger off a racial war similar to that of Haiti now carried little weight since blacks had joined whites in the fight against Spain.

Memories of Cuban heroes and Cuban victories - and of Spanish brutality - stirred patriotic emotions which made full reconciliation extremely difficult. On the Spanish side, the war increased the anti-Cuban animosity and distrust felt by the most intransigent peninsulares - people from mainland Spain.

The vast destruction of hundreds of sugar mills in the east opened those provinces to expansionist forces in the new modernized sector of the sugar industry. Even in the undamaged western regions, the war accelerated a similar process.

Ultimately, the war signalled the decline of the Cuban landed aristocracy, who were decimated and ruined by the long struggle or forced by the Spanish authorities to sell their lands and mills. In many cases American capitalists acquired both at very low prices, marking the beginning of American economic penetration into Cuba.

The three most important developments in the period between the Zanjon peace and the Second War of Independence were: the rise and decline of the liberal Autonomist party; the United States' displacement of Spain as Cuba's economic metropolis; and the formation and growing influence of José Martí's Cuban Revolutionary party. The opening of the Second War of Independence centered on José Martí, the man who forged the union of Cuban patriots and founded the Cuban Revolutionary party.

In Havana, a few months after the end of the Ten Years' War, prominent members of the old reformist group and many Cubans anxious for reconstruction and prosperity founded a liberal party, the Autonomist party. This powerful national organization's main objective was to achieve Cuban autonomy by peaceful means.

Hopes of reform, and division among the war veterans gave the autonomistas the temporary support of many Cubans. Despite their organization and brilliant political campaigns, however, their victories were marginal. Ten years after the Treaty of Zanjon, although Spain had finally abolished slavery and extended certain political rights to Cubans, inequality prevailed. In 1890, for example, much to the autonomistas’ dismay, Spain proclaimed universal suffrage, but excluded Cuba.

The Spanish minister Antonio Maura, aware of mounting Cuban irritation, proposed new reforms leading to autonomy for the island. His proposals met with the usual resistance from conservatives in Spain and Havana, and with scepticism from most Cubans. When Maura resigned, the autonomistas had already lost the confidence of the majority, and Martí's new Cuban Revolutionary party had succeeded in uniting most groups in favor of independence.

Cuba had no alternative but to turn to a more than willing United States for a market for its sugar and for capital. US investors quickly took advantage of the situation in Cuba. US companies acquired many Cuban and Spanish businesses, as well as many of the bankrupt tobacco and sugar plantations at rock-bottom prices. With this, the Cuban landed aristocracy — the Creole sugar elites — for the most part disappeared in the 1880s.

US capital and technology were used to modernize the sugar mills and make them more efficient. For example, Atkins and Company of Boston became the proprietors of the Soledad Plantation near Cienfuegos and several other surrounding plantations. By 1894, Atkins Soledad was one of the largest sugar plantations in the world.

Seventeen years would pass between Cuba’s First War of Independence and its second. The brilliant José Martí was the chief organizer, propagandist, fundraiser, and political leader of the Second War of Independence He chose to start the war in eastern Cuba, where there was much popular sentiment for an uprising. Cubans shared their victory over Spain with American soldiers because the United States intervened and declared war against Spain. The Spanish-American War and the Second War of Independence ended shortly thereafter. Spain agreed to relinquish sovereignty over Cuba.

Martí became Cuba’s first national hero. He traveled to France, the United States and Venezuela to raise financial support for an independent Cuba. The war lasted between 1895 and 1898.

Martí enlisted key military leaders, including Gomez and Maceo, leaders of the First War of Independence. After only a few weeks, Spanish troops killed the 32-year-old Martí in a brief skirmish near the town of Dos Rios in today’s Granma Province. However, Martí’s vision and Gomez and Maceo’s military experience routed the Spanish. Nevertheless, Spaniards killed Maceo in a battle south of Havana before the war ended.

Martí, Gomez and Maceo arrived in Cuba to continue the rebellion against Spain. Estrada organized the Cuban exile community in the United States and began a public relations campaign to gain the support of the US government. Although a revolutionary government was created, most decisions were made by the generals in the field. José Martí was killed in a skirmish with Spanish forces near Bayamo. Making use of guerrilla tactics they had developed during the Ten Years’ War, Gomez and Maceo took the offensive into the west. Spain sent General Valeriano Weyler to Havana to take control of its forces.

Gomez and Maceo, leading rebel armies made up primarily of Africans and mulattos, expanded the war into the west. They reached Las Villas by November and were near Matanzas by Christmas. By January, Gomez was nearing Havana and Maceo was moving into the west into Pinar del Río Province. Gomez and Maceo once again employed scorched earth policies against the large plantations and centrales.

Estrada very effectively used the media to gain the support of the United States. With increasing competition for readership by the major newspapers, reports of Spanish cruelty and atrocities became commonplace as the American public began to demand that President Grover Cleveland do something about Cuba.

José Martí's death deprived the rebellion of its most distinguished and respected civilian authority. Unrestrained by his presence, Generals Gomez and Maceo proceeded to organize a revolutionary government amenable to their ideas. Both recognized the need for a political organization which could obtain international acceptance and military assistance. But they had not forgotten the disruptive quarrels which had complicated the Ten Years' War. This time no civilian authority would interfere with their military plans.

Salvador Cisneros Betancourt, a rich and aristocratic Camagueyan who had fought in the previous war, was selected as president, and Tomas Estrada Palma, the last president in arms, was confirmed as delegate and foreign representative of the Republic. Maximo Gomez was named commander-in-chief of the army and Antonio Maceo second in command. Both received sufficient authority to consider themselves almost independent of civilian restraint.

Once more the eastern region of the island was to bear the brunt of the struggle. Maceo landed in Oriente. After the proclamation in the Dominican Republic of the Manifesto of Montecristi expounding the causes of the war, Martí and Gomez embarked for Oriente.

Spain's basic strategy was similar to that of the Ten Years' War. Commanded once more by General Martinez Campos, who had defeated the Cubans in the last conflict, Spanish troops built a series of fortified lines to protect each province and impede rebel movements. This tactic enabled the Cubans to take the offensive. Maceo began his march to the west. Gomez awaited him with a small force in Las Villas. Having traversed the island in a brilliant campaign, Cuban forces were fighting in the vicinity of Havana with some of Cuba's richest zones wasted behind them. Campos was replaced by general Valeriano Weyler.

To confuse the Spaniards and expand their operations, the two generals separated their columns on reaching Havana. Gomez returned to Las Villas while Maceo went on to invade Pinar del Río, the last western province. The invasion was successful, but Spain was not defeated.

General Valeriano Weyler concentrated on trying to isolate Maceo in the west. He hired Cuban counter guerrillas to fight against the rebels. He devised a plan in which people were forced into internment centers throughout the island and anyone outside these centers was considered to be a rebel. Local Spanish commanders were given the power to execute rebels and anyone who refused to relocate to these centers. This strategy worked, but also invited American intervention, because of Spanish actions perceived by the Americans as atrocities.

Rural villages and homes were destroyed by the Spanish. Planted fields were burned and livestock that could not be taken back to the internment centers was slaughtered. Anything that could possibly support the rebels was destroyed. Lack of food supplies and inadequate organization transformed this harsh but sound military measure into an inhuman venture which infuriated the rebels and provoked international protests. After nine months of Weyler's war of extermination only two Cuban provinces had been pacified.

The Spanish internment plan was beginning to work. Maceo was killed trying to break out into the central provinces as were several other rebel leaders throughout the island. Weyler controlled the western provinces of Pinar del Río, Havana and Matanzas and he had successfully cut the rebel leaders off from each other. The rebels could no longer win the war, but they were still able to prevent a peaceful settlement.

The Cuban situation had by this time become a major issue in the United States. Convinced that American interests on the island were best protected by Spain, which paid indemnities for damage done to American-owned properties in Cuba, while disdaining the 'Cuban rascals', President Cleveland maintained a 'neutrality' which essentially favored Spain. However, Congress and particularly the press raged against Spanish policies and demanded Cuban recognition. With President William McKinley's inauguration, the anti-Spanish campaign reached emotional proportions.

General Fitzhugh Lee, the US consul general in Havana and a nephew of General Robert E. Lee, sympathized with the rebels and actively pushed for US intervention in the war. General Weyler’s reputation in the United States as a butcher appeared to make intervention likely. General Weyler resigned and was replaced by Ramon Blanco. President William McKinley was open to the change in Spanish policy and a political settlement in Cuba. Fate intervened however: an American ship blew up in Havana harbor and the United States declared war on Spain. President McKinley, desperately trying to avoid war, offered to buy Cuba from Spain for $300 million. Spain refused and McKinley capitulated to those who supported US intervention.

Recognizing the tremendous cost of trying to continue the war (Spain was also fighting a rebellion in the Philippines) and fearing US intervention, the Spanish government changed its policy toward Cuba favoring limited autonomy within the Spanish empire, self-government and universal suffrage.

The USS Maine blew up in Havana harbor. Two hundred and sixty men out of 355 died. Although the cause of the explosion was never satisfactorily explained, the sensationalistic US press with its yellow journalism blamed Spain and created a near hysteria of anti-Spanish sentiment within an American public that already disliked the Spanish. This hysteria played into the growing imperialistic desires of many leaders in the United States such as Theodore Roosevelt, the deputy secretary of the navy.

The rebel leadership and most in Cuba could not accept a political settlement without complete independence— something that the Spanish government could not grant given its own unstable internal political situation. Rioting broke out in Havana by rebel supporters who were opposed to a limited political autonomy settlement. President McKinley believed that US citizens and property were in danger. He sent the battleship USS Maine to Havana.

Congress approved a Joint Resolution, the first article of which declared that 'the Cuban people are, and of right ought to be, free and independent', and the last stated that 'the United States hereby disclaims any disposition or intention to exercise sovereignty, jurisdiction, or control over said island... and asserts its determination… to leave the government and control of the island to its people.' Four days later the war began. The existence of a Cuban rebel government was totally ignored.

Inadequately informed about the intricacies of Washington politics, Cuban rebels generally welcomed the entry of the United States into the war. Martí, who had dreaded the possibility, and Maceo, who opposed it, were dead.

The Spanish-American War lasted less than four months. Cuban troops already had control over most of the island. The US Army attacked Spanish positions on San Juan Hill just east of Santiago de Cuba. The battle was bloody. Spain and the United States signed a peace treaty in Paris, thereby ending the Spanish-American War. The Cubans were not invited. The treaty included US annexation of three Spanish colonies: Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. Only the Teller Amendment prevented the Americans from annexing Cuba. The United States placed Cuba under military occupation instead. The occupation lasted four years.

Future US president Theodore Roosevelt personally led the famous charge of the ‘Rough Riders’ up San Juan Hill and claimed victory. The American navy destroyed the Spanish fleet when Spaniards tried to break out of the Bay of Santiago.

The fighting was over rather quickly. The US Navy blockaded the outnumbered Spanish fleet in the harbor at Santiago. The demoralized Spanish troops fought bravely but were overwhelmed. The Spanish fleet was sunk trying to run the blockade.

Malaria, yellow fever and dysentery wreaked havoc with the US troops. The Cuban forces under García were almost entirely African and mulatto while the American troops were almost all white. The Americans treated the Cubans with paternalistic contempt and, according to historian Hugh Thomas, in many ways preferred the company of the defeated Spanish to the black, ‘inferior and uncivilized’ Cubans.

An assembly of elected Cuban delegates drew up a constitution similar to that of the United States. The US Congress passed the Platt Amendment, giving the president the authority to send US troops to Cuba whenever US strategic interests and American lives there were threatened. The provisions of the amendment also enabled the United States to buy or lease land for naval bases in Cuba. The United States gave Cuba the option of accepting the Platt Amendment or being under military occupation indefinitely. Cuba accepted the amendment.

Cuba was placed under US military occupation led by General John Brooke and then under General Leonard Wood. The US occupation had three interrelated goals: to maintain political stability; to rebuild the primary economic infrastructure of the island to attract US investments; and to keep Cuba within the sphere of influence of the growing political and economic power of the United States. The judicial branch of the Cuban government was reorganized and an electoral system was established that gave the vote to male property owners.

The United States did not allow the Cuban rebel army to participate in the final Spanish exit from the island in ceremonies held in Havana and Santiago. The stated reason for this insult was the possible threat to life and property should the victory celebrations become excessive and end up as riots.

The United States created a Rural Guard, the majority of which were non-Africans who had served in the rebel armies. It was designed primarily to protect US property in rural areas.

Roads, bridges and railways were rebuilt. Port facilities were improved. Food distribution was an immediate priority and the United States focused on improving the health and education sectors of Cuba. Hospitals were built and the sanitary and health conditions improved in many areas of the island. The American Sanitary Commission eradicated yellow fever, although its success was based largely on the research of Cuban scientist Carlos Finlay, who correctly linked the disease to mosquitoes.

Three parties, the Republicans, the Nationalists and the Union Democratica competed for municipal elections. The Republicans, led by former rebel commander José Gomez and based in Santa Clara, favored immediate independence. The Nationalists, led by former rebel General Maximo Gomez and based in Havana, favored immediate independence and a strong central government. The Union Democratica consisted of former Autonomistas and expected annexation to the United States.

The US military appropriated the Cuban treasury and its public revenues. The exhausted rebel army, which had not been paid, disbanded when the United States offered to purchase its equipment and weapons. It also helped that certain rebel leaders were offered well-paid positions within the new administrative structure.

Favored by US control over the island - and the weakening of local capital - American capital expanded its penetration in the sugar industry, and began to control railways, public utilities, tobacco and minerals. The immediate result of such growing dominance was the formulation of a powerful Washington lobby seeking better commercial relations with Cuba. General Wood used money from the Cuban treasury to mount a public relations campaign in the United States to encourage investment in both the sugar and tobacco industries and to lower US tariffs on these products.

Cuba became an independent republic on 20 May 1902, when its people elected Tomás Estrada Palma the first president of the Republic of Cuba. The United States withdrew its military forces from the island after the election. By this time, the United States had already replaced Spain as a point of reference for most Cubans. Cuba was now independent, but the stage was set for the United States to dominate the political and economic processes of the island and to reshape its politics, economics, society, culture and identity.

Estrada was elected the first president of the Republic of Cuba and on 20 May 1902, the Cuban flag was raised for the first time over Cuba. The Platt Amendment was a confirmation of Martí’s worst fear. The Cuban wars of independence were lost to the United States.

In the United States, anti-imperialist groups joined Democrats in attacking the colonialist policies of the McKinley administration. Large-scale embezzlements in the Havana post office were exposed, offering several Democratic senators an opportunity to demand American withdrawal. Under this pressure and with the presidential elections approaching, McKinley decided to establish a government in Cuba. A friendly dependent government seemed preferable to a battle over annexation.

Once the constitution was promulgated it was necessary to proceed with presidential elections. When Maximo Gomez, the revered leader of Independence, refused the nomination, two other candidates emerged: General Bartolome Maso, a prestigious military leader of limited talent, and Tomas Estrada Palma, who had been president of the 'Republic in arms' in the Ten Years' War, and had replaced José Martí as the head of the Cuban Revolutionary Junta in exile. The former was the most popular; the latter, having spent most of his life in the United States, was basically unknown in Cuba, but he had the decisive support of Maximo Gomez.

José Martí, a literary figure, poet, revolutionary and freedom fighter, is considered to be the father figure of modern Cuba. He was exiled to Spain for his pro-independence activities. He studied law, traveled to Mexico and in New York he established the Cuban Revolutionary Committee of New York. It was Martí who laid the groundwork for Cuban independence through his intense opposition to the idea of US annexation of Cuba and his distrust of the Autonomistas. He returned to Cuba and died in a small battle, becoming a martyr for the Cuban independence cause.

Born in Havana, José Martí was a gifted child. Devoted to reading and of a solitary nature, he very early on developed a consuming love for Cuba. His father, who was a city official and a policeman in Havana, was from Valencia and his mother from the Canary Islands. He was influenced throughout school by Rafael Maria Mendive, an educator, poet and prominent supporter of Cuban independence.

Martí founded his first newspaper, Patria Libre, in 1869 and was exiled to Spain due to his pro independence activities. While in Spain, he studied law and wrote articles and poems about national independence. He traveled to Mexico where he established himself as a literary figure and a supporter of an independent Cuba. Martí organized Cuban American tobacco workers in Florida to contribute monetarily to the cause of Cuba Libre. By this time, it was clear that Martí was not only concerned about independence from Cuba, but also from the United States.

Martí's unusually passionate prose and original poetic style increased his reputation in Latin American literary circles. Eventually he concentrated all his energies on the struggle for Cuban independence. His first task, to unite bickering Cuban exile groups, was made even more difficult by his lack of a military record. Travelling, lecturing and publishing, he overcame criticism and suspicion, rekindled Cuban enthusiasm, and established a basis for union. He created the Cuban Revolutionary party.

Fearing that a long war would provoke the destruction of Cuban wealth, and intervention by the USA, Martí planned a struggle which differed from the Ten Years' War. A mass rebellion was to occur simultaneously in every region of the island with sufficient force to guarantee a quick victory. Martí enlisted the military support of Gomez and Maceo and returned to Cuba in 1895 to renew the Cuban struggle for independence. He was the foremost spokesperson for Cuban independence. He feared that Cuba would win its independence from Spain only to lose it to the United States. He wrote, ‘It is my duty ... to prevent through the independence of Cuba, the USA from spreading over the West Indies.’ Martí died in a small battle near Bayamo and became a martyr to Cuba Libre.