Saturday, November 26, 2016

Have Americans Invaded Cuba?

Have Americans Invaded Cuba?

With the death of Fidel Castro at age 90 in November 2016 it seems fitting to reflect on relations between America and Cuba.  Here is the full Cuba chapter of America Invades (

"The beautiful island of Cuba is just ninety miles from Florida, so it’s hardly surprising that over the years we’ve taken a close interest in it. Already by the early nineteenth century, American forces were in action there. At this stage, our main concern was combating piracy, and in the 1820s, we made a number of landings, including, for instance, one in July 1823 when three American vessels attacked a pirate schooner off Matanzas, Cuba. When some of the pirates managed to make it ashore, an

American landing party went after them. It was a scrappy kind of conflict, but a conflict nonetheless and helped make the seas a little bit safer for shipping.

But already we were beginning to imagine a rather bigger US involvement in Cuba than pursuing a few pirates. In the same year that the pirate schooner off Matanzas was being put out of business, John Quincy Adams, then secretary of state, wrote, “If an apple, severed by the tempest from its native tree, cannot choose but fall to the ground, Cuba, forcibly disjoined from its unnatural connexion [sic] with Spain, and incapable of self-support, can only gravitate towards the North American Union.”

In December of 1823, President Monroe produced the Monroe Doctrine. The Monroe Doctrine (nothing to do with Marilyn, obviously) basically stated that we could accept existing European colonies in the Americas, but from then on, we were going to regard outside interference in South and North America as interference with our own interests. Having chucked King George’s army out of America, Americans felt a natural fellowship for any other locals wanting to chuck out Europeans who were oppressing them. But over the decades, as our power grew, the Monroe Doctrine also began to be interpreted as a concept that we, as the biggest power in the Americas, had a special responsibility for what goes on here. Both attitudes, with a bit of belief in manifest destiny added in as well, were to be much in evidence in our involvement with Cuba.

In 1858, in the Ostend Manifesto, a bunch of American diplomats in Europe recommended that the United States buy Cuba and suggested that if, by any chance, it wasn’t for sale, the United States would be justified in seizing the island from Spain. The manifesto is named after a port in Belgium because that’s where the diplomats ended up meeting. Nothing came of it in the end partly because some Northerners saw in it a Southern attempt to add another slave-owning Southern state to the Union.

Spain had very-long-term ties to the island of Cuba, with Columbus having reached it on his first voyage on October 28, 1492, but by the four hundredth anniversary of that event, things were beginning to look a bit problematic on the island for Spain. In 1868, a local insurrection burst out and dragged on for about ten years, from which, not surprisingly, it got the name of the Ten Years War. Then again in 1895, another rebellion was launched. Harsh measures taken by the Spanish in their attempts to smash the rebellion boosted natural fellow feeling in America for those fighting for freedom from a European power, but we still weren’t yet about to go to war. Not quite yet anyway.

The newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst (of Citizen Kane fame) wanted a war in order to help sell newspapers. Hearst had a famous exchange of telegrams with his photo-journalist Frederic Remington who was in Cuba prior to the Spanish American war. Hearst received a telegram from Remington that said, “Everything is quiet. There is no trouble here. There will be no war. I wish to return. Remington.” Hearst sent the answer, “Please remain. You furnish the pictures, and I’ll furnish the war.”

USS Maine in Havana Harbor

On January 25, 1898, the USS Maine, an armored cruiser, arrived in Havana harbor. The largest island in the Caribbean had been experiencing an insurrection by local Cuban rebels against their Spanish overlords for the past three years. On February 15, 1898, at 9:40 p.m., one or perhaps two explosions rocked the battleship. About three-quarters of her crew (266 lives) were killed.
What really happened that night remains a mystery that will, perhaps, never be solved. The USN’s Sampson board of inquiry ruled unanimously that a foreign device or mine triggered the explosion and sinking. A variety of suggestions and counter-suggestions have since been put forward for what really happened that night.

If the Maine was, in fact, destroyed by a mine, it is by no means even certain that the Spanish government placed it there, although they did have motivation. It could be that the Cuban rebels themselves might have used a mine in order to get the Americans more deeply involved in Cuba ...
Many in Cuba today are convinced that a false-flag conspiracy (the USN sank its own ship) was to blame. There is no evidence to suggest such a thing.

What we do know for certain is that President McKinley, who had only the USN Sampson report to go by, pressed for war with Spain.

The US Congress debated and passed resolutions calling for Cuban independence. Spain responded by declaring war. President William McKinley’s opening move was to impose a naval blockade of Cuba.

In late June 1898, American troops landed in Cuba. On July 1, Teddy Roosevelt, with the assistance of the African-American Buffalo Soldiers, led his Rough Riders to victory over the Spanish in the Battle of San Juan Hill. The Americans and their Cuban allies had won the war in just over three months at a cost of just under three thousand killed—most of these attributable to disease. Nearby Puerto Rico was annexed as part of the peace settlement.

At the time, we also got another bit of real estate that you’ve heard of. The United States began construction of its oldest overseas naval base,

Guantanamo Bay, in 1898. A long-term lease was negotiated with the Cuban government in 1903.
Having helped free Cuba from a European colonial power, we weren’t about to turn Cuba into our own colony—not officially anyway—but we did regard it as part of our sphere of influence, and we reckoned we had a right to protect our growing interests there.

President Teddy Roosevelt dispatched US forces to occupy Cuba again from 1906 to 1909. The Cuban rebels laid down their arms at the sight of US troops, and there was no bloodshed. The US Army built fifty-seven miles of roads and supervised the free election before their withdrawal.
In 1912, President William Taft sent the navy and US marines to support the Cuban government in suppressing another rebellion.

And in 1917, during World War I, US forces, with the excuse of being invited to practice drilling in a warm climate, helped political unrest cause damage to the sugar industry and sugar harvest. This became known, not entirely unreasonably, as the Sugar Intervention.

Hemingway's Pilar

By the end of 1941, of course, we had quite a lot else on our minds apart from Cuba, like the need to win a world war. Cuba wasn’t exactly on the frontlines during World War II, and for one resident, it was all just too quiet. Ernest Hemingway, a resident of Cuba and avid fisherman, could not stand the idea of missing a war. From the summer of 1942 to the end of 1943, Hemingway, based on Cuba, took Pilar, his wooden fishing yacht, armed with machine guns and hand grenades, out into the Caribbean hunting for German U-boats. He did allegedly finally sight one, only for it to submerge before he could reach it.
Fidel Castro

After the war, Cuba became a fleshpot with casino gambling and the US mafia. Batista, realizing that he could not win electoral victory, seized power in a coup in 1952. Organized crime leaders such as “Lucky” Luciano, Meyer Lansky, and Santo Trafficante helped turn Havana into a Latin Las Vegas.
Fidel Castro was the illegitimate son of a wealthy Galician immigrant to Cuba. Six foot three and powerfully built, he became an accomplished athlete. In 1949, he was offered a contract to pitch for the New York Giants baseball team, but he turned them down. History might have been so different, and so might the Giants.

Instead of playing ball with us, Castro began launching attacks on the Moncada army barracks in 1953 to start the Cuban revolution, which lasted until the collapse of the Batista regime in 1958. Batista fled the country on New Year’s Day 1959.

Fidel Castro, who had not started as a Communist, had become America’s worst Cold War nightmare—a revolutionary Communist government on America’s doorstep that was allied with the Soviet Union. We hadn’t been too keen about Spain ruling Cuba, and we were even less keen about Russia moving in next door.

On March 4, 1960, another ship explosion in Havana harbor influenced the course of Cuban-American links and history. This time it was the Belgian La Coubre. Loaded with ammunition, it blew up, causing widespread devastation. This explosion was probably the result of negligence, though Fidel used it as an excuse to accuse the United States of sabotage and to request more arms from the Soviet Union.

The Bay of Pigs fiasco must rank among the more disastrous interventions in US military history. On April 15, 1961, eight American B-26s bombed Cuban airfields as the CIA’s brigade of Cuban exile volunteers approached the Bay of Pigs. JFK, however, refused to provide additional air support for the doomed invasion and the bitter fighting that followed.

After the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the US government tried other ways of getting at Castro. The Kennedy brothers initiated Operation Mongoose, which attempted many times to assassinate Fidel Castro. They tried exploding cigars and poisoned ice cream, among others.

JFK retaliated against Cuba in February 1962 by banning the importation of Cuban cigars—a ban that persists to this day. JFK , a devoted smoker, had stocked up on his personal supply in advance.
During the Cuban missile crisis in the fall of 1962, the world came closer to thermonuclear war than any time in its history after a US reconnaissance flight over the island took photos of a missile site under construction. Many options were explored on how to deal with the introduction of Soviet medium-range nuclear missiles on Fidel’s Cuba, some of them involving a US invasion of the island. Ultimately, cooler heads prevailed, and we opted for a naval blockade of Cuba.

Soviet ships that were delivering more missile parts turned around, but the Soviets gained their original strategic objective by forcing the United States to withdraw its own medium-range missiles from Turkey, and Cuba gained a pledge that the United States would never again invade Cuba.
And since then, there have been more plots and a continued Cold War. We’ve remained in Guantanamo, and the Communist government has remained in power in Havana."

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