y Oscar Sánchez Serra on May 23, 2017
SOMEONE failed to tell Donald Trump the truth, before the U.S. President congratulated the Cuban people for their independence on May 20.
I suppose he should be given the benefit of the doubt since he is evidently poorly advised and only listens to those who long for a return to the colonial days. Otherwise he would never have evoked the 115th anniversary of May 1902, or sent Cubans a message of congratulations.
Cuba, its people and government, have expressed our willingness to discuss any issue with the United States, and maintain civilized relations, respecting our differences. It is in this spirit that we can also talk about May 20, which is not celebrated on this sovereign, independent island, but it is a subject we know a great deal about.
There was no independence gained 115 years ago. The story is a bit longer.
In 1898, the Cuban Liberation Army had practically won the war against Spain. The colonial forces were defeated, demoralized, and physically exhausted.
In this context, a Congressional resolution was approved, authorizing U.S. intervention in the conflict, with the goal of guaranteeing Cuba’s independence. Mambi leaders were unaware of a letter from the U.S. assistant secretary of War who wrote that everything in Cuba “within the range of our cannons” should be destroyed. He called for a blockade to cause hunger and disease, to torment the population and undermine the insurgent army. He proposed “creating difficulties” for an independent government, to force submission to U.S. demands, to weaken all contenders for power, with the ultimate goal of justifying U.S. annexation of Cuba.
Take note, a blockade designed to produce hunger… like the blockade we have suffered under for 55 years now is NO coincidence. This was the same lead-up to May 20, 1902. Can this independence be celebrated? Do these events call for congratulations?
The episode was preceded by the explosion of the Maine in Havana Bay, February 15, 1898. President William McKinley himself recognized that the investigating committee charged with clarifying events had not been able to identify those responsible for the explosion, but insisted that the real issue was Spain’s inability to protect a U.S. ship visiting the island on a “legitimate mission of peace.”
This was the pretext for declaring war on Spain, the first step leading to May 20. As Vladimir Ilyich Lenin stated, the first imperialist war of the modern era had begun.
But there was more to come along the route, including the infamous Treaty of Paris signed on December 10, 1898, which decreed an end to Spanish colonial rule in the Caribbean. At that signing a grievous crime against the dignity of Cubans was committed when we were not even included in the talks. The United States “arranged” the country’s freedom, which it did nothing to win, never experiencing any of the bloody fighting. Spain renounced, or better surrendered, a right it had lost on the battlefield.
May 20 arrived following elections in June of 1900 which violated Cubans’ rights. Women could not vote, only men who had reached 21 years of age. Moreover the vote left Cuba with a Constitution that clearly abridged the country’s sovereignty and independence. The Platt Amendment, imposed by the United States, established, in fact, a neocolonial republic.
The amendment includes eight points to “define the future relations of the United States with Cuba,” and the thirds states, “The government of Cuba consents that the United States may exercise the right to intervene for the preservation of Cuban independence, the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty, and for discharging the obligations with respect to Cuba imposed by the Treaty of Paris on the United States, now to be assumed and undertaken by the government of Cuba.”
In a substantive article published in Granma, November 2, 2016, Ernesto Limia stated, “The United States proposed including the Platt Amendment as an appendix to the Cuban Constitution, making this a condition for the withdrawal of their military contingent. With this goal attained, on May 20, 1902, the U.S. allowed the island to have a republic, which was obliged to submit to Yankee tutelage to be born. That year, in his State of the Union speech, President Theodore Roosevelt addressed the issue, noting that Cuba was geographically close and that any event with benefiting or damaging affect would it also affect the U.S. – adding, “Cuba has in her constitution affirmed what we desired, that she should stand, in international matters, in closer and more friendly relations with us than with any other power.”
There is no doubt that President Trump has been badly advised. Those who helped or counseled him must have read José Martí wrong. Trump made a poor attempt to co-opt Martí’s assertion, “Cruel despotism cannot extinguish the flame of liberty in the hearts of Cubans, and unjust persecution cannot alter the dream of Cubans that their children live free, without oppression.”
No one better than the prophet of Cuba’s independence to warn of the dangerous neighbor to the North, making this clear in a letter to Mexican friend Manuel Mercado, May 18, 1895: “Every day I am in danger of giving my life for my country, for my duty – given that I understand and am willing to do so, in order to prevent in time that, with the independence of Cuba, the United States will extend itself throughout the Caribbean, and with this added strength, it will fall upon the lands of our America. All that I do today, and will do, is for this.”
Nine years later, on another May 20, in 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt announced to the U.S. Senate that he would extend the precepts of the Platt Amendment to Central America and the Caribbean. Martí knew more than many others about the United States, where he lived for 14 years, drawing from the depths of his patriotic soul the phrase, “I lived in the monster and know its entrails.”
May 20, 1902, arrived with the dissolution of the Cuban Revolutionary Party, founded by Martí to undertake the “necessary” war for the country’s true freedom. This decision was made by then-President of the republic, Tomás Estrada Palma, who succeeded Martí as the delegate of the party; precisely 11 days after the Treaty of Paris had been signed by Spain and the United States, in which Cuba was treated like the spoils of war.
The only definitive independence that Cubans celebrate is that which was achieved on January 1, 1959, with the leadership of our undefeated Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro Ruz.
As for the events which occurred 115 years ago, we can turn to the always-instructive remarks of Eusebio Leal Spengler, who I heard say in May of 2001, “We are not going to celebrate May 20, 1902, but we are going to commemorate it, we are going to remember. We must analyze the republic with depth, to understand this Revolution we have. There is no future without the past.”