Slavery existed in Cuba longer than anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere, except Brazil. Slaves were purchased from Africa where Arab Muslim slave traders had enslaved an estimated 180 million in the 14 centuries of Islam.
President James Buchanan wrote Dec. 19, 1859: “When a market for African slaves shall no longer be furnished in Cuba … Christianity and civilization may gradually penetrate the existing gloom.”
President Ulysses S. Grant stated, Dec. 2, 1872: “Slavery in Cuba is … a terrible evil. … It is greatly to be hoped that … Spain will voluntarily adopt … emancipation … in sympathy with the other powers of the Christian and civilized world.”
Independence movements were attempted in Cuba in the 1820s and 1830s, but the absolute monarchy of Spain crushed them.
On Oct. 10, 1868, landowner Carlos Manuel de Céspedes freed his slaves and declared Cuba’s independence from Spain.
Cubans drafted a “10th of October Manifesto,” 1868: “Rebelling against Spanish tyranny, we want to indicate to the world the reasons. … Spain governs us with iron and blood; it imposes … taxes at will; it deprives us of all political, civil and religious freedom; it has put us under military watch in days of peace, arresting exiling and executing without being subject to any proceedings … it prohibits that we freely assemble. …”
Cuba’s “10th of October Manifesto” continued: “Spain loads us with hungry bureaucrats who live from our patrimony and consume the product of our work. … So that we do not know our rights, it maintains us in the ignorance. … It forces us to maintain a expensive army, whose unique use is to repress and to humiliate us. … To the God of our consciousness we appealed, and to the good faith of the civilized nations. …”
The “10th of October Manifesto” ended: “We want to enjoy the freedom for whose use God created man. … We want to abolish slavery. … We want freedom of meeting, freedom of the press and the freedom to brings back consciousness; and we appeal to practice inalienable rights of the man. …”
In 1878, the Spanish government crushed the revolt and ended “The Ten Years War” in which thousands were killed. Under international pressure, Spain ended slavery by Royal decree in 1886.
Another “Little War” took place in 1879, and finally, in 1895, open rebellion broke out. Spain sent Governor Valeriano Weyler to Cuba to smash anti-government protestors. Weyler took the U.S. government’s model of interring Cherokee during the 1830’s Trail of Tears Indian Removal and developed it into notorious “concentration camps.”
He rounded up hundreds of thousands of Cuban civilians from their rural farms and marched them into crowded camps – an example that Hitler and Stalin followed.
Ultimately, between 1896-1897, over a third of Cuba’s population was in concentration camps. Over 225,000 died from starvation, exposure and yellow fever.
Pleas for help reached the United States. The USS Maine was sent to Havana’s harbor. It blew up under suspicious conditions, Feb. 15, 1898.
Newspaper publishers William Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer stirred public sentiment with “yellow press” journalism into demanding President McKinley intervene militarily. McKinley finally approved a Resolution of Congress, April 20, 1898: “Whereas the abhorrent conditions which have existed for more than three years in the island of Cuba, so near our own borders, have shocked the moral sense of the people of the United States, have been a disgrace to Christian civilization, culminating, as they have, in the destruction of a United States battle ship, with 266 of its officers and crew, while on a friendly visit in the harbor of Havana, and cannot longer be endured. … Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives … that the people of the island of Cuba are and of right ought to be free.”
Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt, resigned and organized the first volunteer cavalry, made up of polo riders, cowboys and even Indians. The U.S. Army used the Gatling Gun for the first time in mobile offensive combat.
Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders, along with other regiments that included the Buffalo Soldiers, charged up Cuba’s Kettle Hill, then San Juan Hill, capturing it on July 1, 1898.
After eight hours of heavy fighting there were over 1,500 American casualties. One of the officers, Lt. John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, later rose to the highest rank ever “General of the Armies.”
Pershing wrote: “The entire command moved forward as coolly as though the buzzing of bullets was the humming of bees. White regiments, black regiments, regulars and Rough Riders, representing the young manhood of the North and the South, fought shoulder to shoulder, unmindful of race or color, unmindful of whether commanded by ex-Confederate or not, and mindful of only their common duty as Americans.”
The wounded were cared for by Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, and an order of Catholic Sisters referred to as a Band of Angels.
When thousand died of yellow fever, Army physician Walter Reed confirmed it was spread by mosquitoes. Among the thousands of American soldiers who fought in the Spanish American War were 10 regiments of African-Americans who were nicknamed “The Immunes” as they were considered more resistant to tropical climate and diseases.
After the War, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines were no longer controlled by Spain.
President McKinley wrote, July 6, 1898: “At a time … of the … glorious achievements of the naval and military arms … at Santiago de Cuba, it is fitting that we should pause and … reverently bow before the throne of divine grace and give devout praise to God, who holdeth the nations in the hollow of His Hands.”
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