Cuba, the largest and richest island of the West Indies, has had a history singularly in accord with the ill-fortune her superstitious people associate with the gem after which it has been named, the Pearl of the Antilles. On discovering it in 1492 Columbus christened it Juana, after Prince John, son of the Spanish monarchs. This was changed to Fernandian on the King's death. Later on the name of the patron saint of Spain was substituted and it figured on the maps as Santiago (St. James). Again its official name was changed, this time to that of Ave Maria, in honor of the Blessed Virgin. The natives called it by the name which has prevailed. They were an interesting people, enjoying a peaceful and contented existence before the foreigner introduced the mixed blessings of European civilization, as known in those turbulent days. Havana was founded in 1519 as a Spanish settlement, but was destroyed twenty years later by a French force, and again in 1554. The culture of tobacco, sugar, and slavery dates from 1580. After nearly two centuries of assaults by pirates and foreign adventurers Havana was captured by an English fleet under Lord Albermarle, backed up by fourteen thousand soldiers. Their booty amounted to over three and a half million dollars. In a few months Cuba was restored to Spain, and a new era of peace with great prosperity was inaugurated under the sagacious guidance of Captain-General Las Casas, who entered upon his duties in 1790. The Cubans remained loyal to Spain despite the deposition of the Spanish royal family by Napoleon.
After nearly two centuries of assaults by pirates and foreign adventurers Havana was captured by an English fleet under Lord Albermarle, backed up by fourteen thousand soldiers. Their booty amounted to over three and a half million dollars. In a few months Cuba was restored to Spain, and a new era of peace with great prosperity was inaugurated under the sagacious guidance of Captain-General Las Casas, who entered upon his duties in 1790. The Cubans remained loyal to Spain despite the deposition of the Spanish royal family by Napoleon.
If Spain had treated its subjects in Cuba with anything like reasonable consideration that loyalty need not have turned to hate. By using the island as a means for enriching rapacious court favorites it created the conditions which inevitably ended in the loss of its richest possession. The Cubans are a mixed race and difficult to govern, but timely concessions of moderate liberties, safeguarded, might have developed the qualities which have made other crown colonies the pride of the mother country. Generations of serfs are not to be lifted to the plane of freemen by any instantaneous stroke of fortune. Cuba has weltered in blood, bondage and ignorance too many decades to come to its right mind in a day. Certain of its natives, inspired largely from without, have risen again and again in desperate hope of ridding their country of its old oppression. During the first half of the nineteenth century there were five vigorously conducted insurrections. Many pioneer victims were sacrificed but their cause flamed up the more.
A party of moderates was formed, whose aim was to induce Spain to come to terms granting civil and religious rights to Cuba without impairing its subjection to Spain. This effort ended in a heavier taxation. President Polk expressed American sympathy by his proposal to buy Cuba for a million dollars. In 1858 the Senate raised our bid to thirty million dollars. From 1868 until the interference of the United States over the loss of the Maine the island was in a state of chronic revolt, involving incalculable loss to the people and to Spain, ill to be borne by an impoverished population but unmistakably foreshadowing their speedy ejection of the fool-tyrant. It was admitted in the Spanish Cortes in 1876 that the employment of 145,000 soldiers in eight years in trying to stamp out the revolt had been an utter failure. So it continued until the end. Our selections are taken from "
GENERAL MARTINEZ CAMPOS had great celebrity for his success in closing the war of 1868-1878 by the convention known as the Treaty of Zanjon. He is conspicuous in the gallery of the captains-general that is an attraction in the Spanish palace at Havana. He was the first man thought of in Spain when the rebellion broke out in Cuba in February, 1895, to put it down; but he found it a much more serious affair than he had before encountered, and he so far recognized the belligerency of the Cuban insurrectionists as to attempt carrying on war in a civilized way. The struggle gradually assumed far greater proportions than he had imagined possible, and his enemies charged that his tenderness in dealing with rebels was the great fault that filled insurgent ranks. That, however, was a gross injustice to a competent soldier. There is a good deal of intense politics in Havana, and soon all the politicians, except a few moderates, were against him. Then he was recalled, and his successor, General Weyler, is believed by all Cubans to have been indebted for the appointment to his reputation for severity, but Campos does not deserve his good name for benignity, nor Weyler the fulness of his fame for brutality and barbarism. They have had a greater task assigned them than is understood, for the Spaniards have not realized that they have lost Cuba and that all the captains-general henceforth are foredoomed failures.
The war between the Cuban forces, numbering about 60,000, and the 130,000 soldiers from Spain, raged furiously during 1897. There were loud demands from the American people, voiced by the Senate, that the government should in some way intervene, in the interests of justice. It was proposed to recognize the insurgents as belligerents, and demand independence for the island, as Spain had completely failed, after two years of vigorous effort to suppress the rising, to reduce the country to subjection. On the contrary, her methods had inflicted terrible sufferings and industrial ruin upon the non-combatant population.]
The most distressing feature of the struggle is the concentration of the Cuban small farmers within the Spanish military lines, where they are perishing of famine and pestilence. Captain-General Weyler invented the policy of making the peasantry leave their humble homes and fields and put themselves under the protection--that is, within the power--of the Spanish forces, because the assistance the country people gave the insurgents was constantly obvious. A Spanish column could not move an hour's march without full reports reaching their enemies, with endless facilities for ambuscades, while it was impossible for the regular troops to get news of rebel movements. No persuasion or threats could prevail with the islanders to aid by giving information to those attempting their subjugation. This fact is itself proof of the desperate resolution of the Cubans to fight Spain to the last. They felt that Spanish rule is intolerable--that it is martial law modified by corruption, and not, under any conditions, to be endured. The information of the terrible sanitary conditions of the camps in which the Cubans are penned, reached President McKinley very early in his administration. Special reports were ordered from all our representatives in the Island, and these confirmed the narratives of the privation and perishing of those children of Spain who would not serve her and aid in extinguishing their own hopes of liberty.
Return to The Great Republic by the Master Historians (Vol 4)