Spanish American War

1882-1901: Cuba finds allies in its quest for independence and island governments change again

Changes of power continue toward the end of the 19th century, and Britain planned to unite its colonies. Hispaniola had its own troubles, and the U.S. kept up its interest in Cuba.

Creating Governments

In 1882 a Haitian by the name of Ulises Heureaux took control and stayed in power until the turn of the century. Though his strong leadership brought in plenty of foreign - particularly American - investors, his corruption left the fledgling country bankrupt.

An American company called the American Santo Domingo Improvement Company took an interest in the young country and took on the country's debt. However, they did so in exchange for all of the customs money from the island. But even this would not bolster the country and Heureaux was assassinated in 1899.

Britain continued its quest to unite its islands in smaller governing bodies. It joined the islands of St. Kitts and Nevis in 1882, despite protests by the islanders. Four years later, they joined the islands of Grenada, St. Vincent, St. Lucia, and Tobago. Three years after that Tobago joined with Trinidad, again, despite protests.

Spain and Cuba

Sugar grew in importance in Cuba, mostly due to a focus on improving sugar technology. Cuba's civil war had torn apart its coffee fields, and Spain added to the island's problems with high tariffs. The number of sugar mills on the island decreased, but those that remained increased their output, with one mill being able to produce as much sugar as the entire island of Jamaica.

American investors had taken a strong interest in the island by 1895, but political unrest was growing on Cuba due to Spain's attitude toward the Pact of Zanjon. The Spanish had not honored the pact at all, and José Martí led a rebellion on the island.

Unfortunately, Marti himself did not make it past the first battles, dying in combat. His subordinates, Máximo Gómez and Antonio Maceo took control of the revolt. In the end, the war was fought between the rural and the urban, as the revolutionaries fought a guerrilla campaign with the help of the farmers.

The following year the new captain-general Valeriano Weyler arrived on Cuba. He rounded up the island's peasants into concentration camp style settlements, keeping the rebels from both food and assistants. Maceo died at the end of 1896, and though the war seemed to have been won, the fighting continued.

U.S and Cuba

Spain dismissed Weyler in 1898, granting an autonomous government to Cuba, but Gómez rejected anything short of total independence and turned to the U.S. for assistance. Though President McKinley was not inclined to make himself a part of the war, popular sentiment was strong and he sent the ship the U.S.S. Maine.

The Maine was sent to Cuba to protect American interests and investments on the island, as they had helped to finance the sugar mills. However, the ship mysteriously exploded off the coast, and Spain was blamed for the loss of life. McKinley demanded an armistice, as well as an end to the concentration camps on Cuba, but Spain refused, beginning the Spanish-American War.

The U.S. Congress declared that Cuba was independent, and pledged not to annex the island. Within 10 weeks the war was essentially over. First, American Admiral George Dewey took out the Spanish Pacific fleet in one hour at Manila Bay. Later the U.S. destroyed the Atlantic squadron in a battle off Santiago Bay.

The Treaty of Paris ended fighting in 1898, with Spain granting Cuba its independence. This wasn't Spain's only loss from the Treaty, as it also ceded Puerto Rico and Guam to the U.S. The U.S. set up a military government in Cuba and held restricted elections in 1900.

Puerto Rico finally launched into the sugar industry in 1900, under American attention. In 1901, Cuba updated its constitution with the Platt Amendment, which included specifications like the lease of naval bases to the U.S., ensuring an American presence on the island throughout modern history.

Spanish control in the Caribbean was finally gone, ceded to their own islands and the once-rebellious U.S. colonies. Governments in the Caribbean were beginning to come into their own.


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