With the death in combat of José Martí in 1895, Tomás Estrada Palma assumed the direction of the Cuban Revolutionary Party, which during the independence war of 1895-98 functioned as a government outside the country parallel to the revolutionary forces in Cuba. Estrada Palma is described by Jesús Arboleya as having been an “obscure but respected figure” who had participated in the independence struggle since 1868. However, he did not share the anti-imperialist perspective of Martí (see “José Martí” 6/26/2014), and he considered that once the Cuban people attained its independence, annexation by the United States would be an acceptable democratic option (Arboleya 2008:61).
During the war, the revolutionary forces, directed by Generals Máximo Gómez and Antonio Maceo, adopted a strategy of burning the sugar fields in order to destroy the production and commerce that sustained the colonial regime. Responding to this strategy, the colonial government placed the rural population in concentration camps in towns and cities, with the result that 200,000 persons died from malnutrition and disease. It was a bloody war, resulting in the death of one-third of the Spanish soldiers and one-fifth of the revolutionary troops. The war was unsustainable for Spain, as a result of popular opposition in Spain, provoked by the high level of casualties; escalating government debts caused by the war; and the destruction of the Cuban economy. By 1898, Cuban revolutionary forces controlled the countryside and the Spanish army controlled the most important population centers, which were under siege by Cuban forces. The revolution was approaching triumph (Arboleya 2008:59-60, 63).
Although Martí had believed that the Cuban national bourgeoisie would join the independence struggle as the best option in defense of its “diminished interests,” in fact the national bourgeoisie came to the support of the counterrevolution, and it did not abandon the colonialist cause until 1898, when the military incapacity of Spain and the impossibility of its restoring the Cuban economy became evident. Many members of the Cuban national bourgeoisie abandoned the country and pressured Estrada Palma to support a US military intervention, which was being proposed by some sectors in the United States, because of the threat that a popular revolutionary triumph posed to US imperialist intentions. Estrada Palma came to support US intervention, without insisting upon any guarantees of representation of the Cuban people or the Cuban revolutionary military forces in an independent Cuba (Arboleya 2008:60-63; Barcia, García and Torres-Cuevas 1996:519-23).
Cuban scholars call the Spanish-Cuban-American War what US historians have called the Spanish-American War. Cuban historians emphasize that the support provided by Cuban revolutionary forces was indispensable for the US taking of Santiago de Cuba, the only bastion of importance in which US interventionist forces were able to attain control. The United States proceeded to negotiate a peace treaty with Spain without the participation of the Cubans. The agreement ceded Cuba to the United States; it prohibited the entrance of Cuban revolutionary forces into the cities, and it contained no terms for the transfer of power to the Cuban revolutionary forces. Estrada Palma supported the treaty and persuaded the revolutionary military chiefs to accept it, presenting the United States as an ally of the Cuban revolutionary movement (Arboleya 2008:262-64; Instituto de Historia de Cuba 1998:3).
In this historic moment of US maneuvers in pursuit of imperialist interests, with the collusion of Estrada Palma and the Cuban national bourgeoisie, the absence of the advanced understanding of Martí was a critical factor. Máximo Gómez wrote in his diary, “It is a difficult moment, the most difficult since the Revolution was initiated. Now Martí would have been able to serve the country; this was his moment” (quoted in Arboleya 2008:63). Also critical was the death in combat in 1898 of Antonio Maceo. Maceo unified the most radical sectors of the Revolution as a result of the enormous prestige in which he was held by the popular sectors, rooted in his refusal to accept the Pact of Zanjón, which ended the first Cuban war of independence of 1868-78 without recognizing Cuban independence and freeing only those slaves who had fought in the war of independence (see “The Cuban war of independence of 1868” 6/17/2014). Maceo had organized in 1878 a continued political-military resistance in the eastern territory that sought to attain independence and the total abolition of slavery, which came to be known as the Protest of Baraguá (Arboleya 2008:59, 61, 63, 68; Barcia, García and Torres-Cuevas 1996:140-49, 503-4).
The US interventionist government was established on January 1, 1899 under the command of Major General John Rutter Brooke. It proceeded to dismantle the Cuban revolutionary army and revolutionary institutions, in spite of the opposition of Gómez; establish structures of representative democracy based on the US model, ignoring the alternative vision of Martí; and facilitate US commercial, financial, and ideological penetration of the island, displacing the English, Spanish and Cuban bourgeoisie. We will discuss these first steps in the establishment of a neocolonial republic under US domination in the following posts.
Arboleya, Jesús. 2008. La Revolución del Otro Mundo: Un análisis histórico de la Revolución Cubana. La Habana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales.
Barcia, María del Carmen, Gloria García and Eduardo Torres-Cuevas, Eds. 1996. Historia de Cuba: La Colonia: Evolución Socioeconómica y formación nacional de los orígenes hasta 1867. La Habana: Editora Política.
Instituto de Historia de Cuba. 1998. La neocolonia. La Habana: Editora Política.
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, world-system, world-economy, development, underdevelopment, colonial, neocolonial, blog Third World perspective, Cuban Revolution, US intervention, 1898