The status of Cuba following the Spanish American war



Major General Brooke was appointed Governor-General of Cuba after the withdrawal of the Spanish army. This office he held until the close of 1899, when General Wood was appointed to succeed him. General Wood's Cabinet consisted of the following Cubans: Secretary of State, Diego Tamayo; Secretary of Justice, Luis Estevoz; Secretary of Education, Juan B. Hernandez; Secretary of Finance, Enrique Varona; Secretary of Public Works, Jose R. Villalon, and Secretary of Agriculture, etc., Ruis Rivera.

The decision of the Supreme Court was rendered on Jan. 14, 1901. Justice Harlan read the finding of the court, substantially as follows:

The court said that the first duty of the United States under its pledge to secure for the Cubans the freedom to which they are entitled is to protect them by every just and legal method. When the United States postal code superseded that of Cuba and Neely became an officer under that code it was the duty of the United States to protect the citizens of Cuba against the citizens of its own government. It was further asserted that Neely cannot object to submitting to the same modes of trial as would apply if he were under similar charges in the United States.

The court in the course of its decision made clear the point that Cuba is a foreign country now occupied by and under control of the United States, but is in no way a part of it.

After the Circuit Court for the Southern District of New York, to which an application for a writ of habeas corpus had been made, had rendered a decision adverse to Neely's claims, Justice Harlan said he had then appealed to this court on the ground that the act of June 6, 1900, was unconstitutional. Entering then upon his reasoning on the case, Justice Harlan said that there was no dispute that on the 6th of June, 1900, when the act under which this proceeding is brought became a law, Cuba was "under the control of the United States" and "occupied by this government." "This court," he said, "will take judicial notice that such were at the date named and are now the relations between this country and Cuba. So that the applicability of the above act to the present case--and this is the first question to be examined--depends upon the inquiry whether, within its meaning, Cuba is to be deemed a foreign country or territory."

Justice Harlan then reviewed the legislation preceding the war with Spain, quoting the joint resolution of April 20, 1898, and the declaration of war which followed on the 25th of the same month. The protocol between the United States and Spain and the Paris treaty were reviewed for the purpose of showing not only the relation of the United States to Cuba but Spain's relinquishment of sovereignty over the island. Notice was taken of the establishment of a military government over Cuba and Governor Brooke's proclamation of January 1, 1899, was quoted.

The Justice then referred to the Governor's establishment of various departments in order to promote the civil government of the island. He also called attention to the promulgation of the postal code, superseding all other Cuban laws relating to postal affairs, and related that on the 13th of June, 1900, Governor Wood had made his requisition upon the President for Neely.

Announcing the court's conclusions on the status of Cuba, Justice Harlan said:

The facts above detailed make it clear that Cuba is foreign territory within the meaning of the act of June 6, 1900. It cannot be regarded in any constitutional, legal, or international sense a part of the territory of the United States. While by the act of April 25, 1898, declaring war between this country and Spain, the President was directed and empowered to use our entire land and naval forces as well as the militia of the several States to such extent as was necessary to carry the act into effect, that authorization was not for the purpose of making Cuba an integral part of the United States, but for the purpose only of compelling the relinquishment by Spain of its authority and government in that island and the withdrawal of its forces from Cuba and Cuban waters.

The legislative and executive branches of the government, by the joint resolution of April 20, 1898, expressly disclaimed any purpose to exercise sovereignty, jurisdiction, or control over Cuba, "except for the pacification thereof," and asserted the determination of the United States, that object being accomplished, to leave the government and control of Cuba to its own people. All that has been done in relation to Cuba has had that end in view, and, so far as the court is informed by the public history of the relations of this country with that island, nothing has been done inconsistent with the declared object of the war with Spain.

Cuba is none the less foreign territory within the meaning of the act of Congress because it is under a Military Governor appointed by and representing the President in the work of assisting the inhabitants of that island to establish a government of their own, under which, as a free and independent people, they may control their own affairs without interference by other nations.

But, as between the United States and Cuba, that island is territory held in trust for the inhabitants of Cuba, to whom it rightfully belongs, and to whose exclusive control it will be surrendered when a stable government shall have been established by their voluntary action.

The court also outlined the power of Congress to legislate in the premises, saying:

It cannot be doubted that when the United States required and enforced the relinquishment by Spain of her sovereignty in Cuba it succeeded to the authority of the displaced government so far at least that it became its duty under international law and pending the pacification of the island, to protect in all appropriate legal modes the lives, the liberty, and the property of all those who submitted to the authority of the representatives of this country.

What legislation by Congress could be more appropriate for the protection of life and property in Cuba, while occupied and controlled by the United States, than legislation securing the return to that island, to be tried by its constituted authorities, of those who, having committed crimes there, flee to this country to escape arrest, trial, and punishment?

No crime is mentioned in the extradition act of June 6, 1900, that does not have some relation to the safety of life and property. And the provisions of that act requiring the surrender of any public officer, employe, or depositary fleeing to the United States, after having committed, in a foreign country or territory occupied by or under the control of the United States, the crime of embezzlement or criminal malversation of the public funds have special application to Cuba in its present relation to this country.

The court declined to enter upon the question as to what the obligations of the United States would have been in the matter of protecting life and property in Cuba if not required to do so by the obligations of the treaty of Paris. "That question," he said, "is not open on this record for examination and upon it we express no opinion. It is quite sufficient in this case to adjudge, as we now do, that it was competent for Congress, by legislation, to enforce or give efficacy to the provisions of the treaty made by the United States and Spain with respect to Cuba and its people."

It was also argued on behalf of Neely that as peace now exists in Cuba, and has existed there since the Spanish forces evacuated the island, the occupancy and control of that island under the military authority of the United States is without warrant in the Constitution and is an unauthorized interference with the internal affairs of a friendly power.

"Apart from the view that it is not competent for the judiciary to make any declaration upon the question of the length of time during which Cuba may be rightfully occupied and controlled by the United States in order to effect its pacification--it being the function of the political branch of the government to determine when such occupation and control shall cease, and therefore when the troops of the United States shall be withdrawn from Cuba--the contention that the United States recognized the existence of an established government known as the Republic of Cuba, but is now using its military or executive power to displace or overthrow it, is without merit. The declaration by Congress that the people of Cuba were and of right ought to be free and independent was not intended as a recognition of the existence of an organized government instituted by the people of that island in hostility to the government maintained by Spain. Nothing more was intended than to express the thought that the Cubans were entitled to enjoy--to use the language of the President in his message of December 5, 1897--that measure of self-control which is the inalienable right of man, protected in their right to reap the benefit of the exhaustless treasure of their country.

"Both the legislative and executive branches of the government concurred in not recognizing the existence of any such government as the Republic of Cuba. It is true that the co-operation of troops commanded by Cuban officers was accepted by the military authorities of the United States in its efforts to overthrow Spanish authority in Cuba. Yet from the beginning to the end of the war the supreme authority in all military operations in Cuba and in Cuban waters against Spain was with the United States, and those operations were not in any sense under the control or direction of the troops commanded by Cuban officers."

The final conclusion of the court was announced as follows:

"We are of the opinion, for the reasons stated, that the act of June 6, 1900, is not in violation of the constitution of the United States, and that this case comes within the provisions of that act. The court below having found that there was probable cause to believe the appellant guilty of the offence charged, the order for his extradition was proper, and no ground existed for his discharge on habeas corpus. The judgment of the Circuit Court is therefore affirmed."

Discussing the advisability of the United States at some future time annexing Cuba, a prominent writer in the North American Review said: "It is impossible not to look back without regret on our wasted opportunities. In view of our pledge, it was as certain on January 1 as it is to-day that we could gain annexation only through the will of the Cuban people. What have we done to gain it? What should have been our policy?

"The most logical course would seem to have been to give Cuba, as far as commerce is concerned, the rights and privileges of an American State; that is to say, to form with Cuba a customs union; our tariff being applied in Cuba, but with free trade between Cuba and the United States. In a word, we should have appealed to them through their own pockets.

"The immediate result of such a policy would have been to increase largely the profits to be derived from Cuban sugar and tobacco. As was the case in Hawaii, large amounts of American capital would have been brought in for investment. Deserted plantations and mills would have been again in operation, and money and work plentiful.

"Nothing of this kind was done. The opposition of a few of our tobacco and sugar men seems to have prevented reciprocity. Cuba's tariff and other laws are still Spainsh. She still levies a tax on our products, and pays to us taxes on her imports.

"In addition, as a result of our military occupation, capital finds the island in a state of transition; the laws in a state of uncertainty. The ordinary opportunities for investment are absent. And so the plantations remain grass-grown, the sugar-mills silent, the wharves rotting and deserted, and the people, poor creatures, with haggard faces, still starving, still asking, `How long, O Lord, how long?' And, worst of all, we who control the destinies of the unhappy island cannot answer them. The administration waits for the action of Congress. But it is doubtful if Congress will be more merciful than the administration.

"What was our pledge?

"The United States hereby disclaims any disposition or intention to exercise sovereignty, jurisdiction or control over said island, except for the pacification thereof, and asserts its determination, when that is accomplished, to leave the government and the control of the island to its people.

"This is our solemn pledge. It matters not that it may have been unwise to make it. It matters not if all the nations of the earth should urge us to break it. We must keep it. We have, what few nations have, a national conscience. We must keep our pledges or else our word will be forever valueless, our professions of right doing forever disqualified, our pride in our integrity forever wounded. Cuba is not worth such a price.

"There can be no doubt that the `pacification' of the island is now accomplished. City for city, the towns of Cuba are more peaceful and orderly than those of the United States. There never was a more docile, quiet people."

There are observers, familiar with the island and its people, who are hopeful of the development of the self-governing spirit and methods. One writes:

"That the Cubans will form an ideal government I do not say; but that the island will be better governed than other Spanish-American republics is a foregone conclusion. The negro problem is not a difficult one. The proportion of the colored element is much less than in the Southern States, and the Cuban negroes, for the most part, are an ignorant, indolent, happy-go-lucky race, not eleven years freed from slavery and still greatly influenced by their former owners. The white Cuban of the small farming class is entirely uneducated, but hospitable, honest, and frugal. In the scattered districts of the interior education has been beyond his reach. But it is in the planter class, the once wealthy sugar and tobacco growers, that the hope of Cuba lies. Lacking educational facilities in the island for many years past, all who could afford it sent their children to the United States schools and colleges. Here they have drunk in Anglo-Saxon ideas, and though bred at home in luxury and indolence, the war has taught them lessons that will be invaluable in the future. The Cuban is no longer a Spaniard. Reared under entirely different conditions and its blood recruited by refugees from the French Revolution, by Americans, and by sons of Jamaica planters, chiefly of Scotch descent, who have settled and intermarried with the colonials, a new race has arisen, more refined and cultured, and perhaps more effeminate, than the swarthy bull-fighting sons of Spain, who swarm to Cuba for a season and retire to the peninsula after a few years' toil."





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