Published on July 17th, 2013 | by Zamna Avila0
San Pedro and the Spanish-American War
I am delighted that you published (July 12-25 issue) the views of Rachel Bruhnke and what could be the connection between San Pedro and the people of Cuba. She is entitled to her opinions (which were well expressed), but not to her facts, which were woefully inadequate and came close to insulting the intelligence of the readers of Random Lengths. In particular:
a. Cuban independence was a stated aim of the US government before, during and after the Spanish-American War. It was a war of imperialism elsewhere, but not in Cuba. And the US did not renege on that promise.
b. There had been a war for independence raging in Cuba for many years before the Maine was destroyed (for whatever reason) in the harbor of La Habana, which precipitated the war. US military operations were centered on Western Cuba to be able to support the Cuban insurgents in their war against Spanish domination. Even in 1898 the Sierra Maestra was the center of insurgent activity; Fidel Castro knew his Cuban history well. In the same way as France intervened in the American Revolution to ensure the success of our independence movement, the US intervened in an ongoing (and very bloody and inhumane) war for Cuban independence in order to ensure the success of those Cubans fighting for independence.
c. Santiago de Cuba was the center of Spanish power outside of La Habana, and given the realities of transportation, the two cities were linked only by sea.` Which meant that the US Navy had to disrupt those communications by sea in order to prevent a reinforcement of Spanish garrisons in western Cuba. This is where Guantanamo comes into the picture. The US did not take Guantanamo Bay “within a few years.” The very first US military operation in Cuba were to create a supply base at Guantanamo Bay, because it was totally isolated from the rest of Cuba and had no Spanish garrison nor any civilian population. Guantanamera is my favorite song, but the town and people to which it refers exist only because of the US naval base.
d. The land battles around Santiago de Cuba, including the infamous San Juan Hill, were fought mostly by Cuban insurgents against the Spanish (who fought well and bravely, showing up the US troops to be the amateurs they were). The Americans provided the Cuban insurgents with arms and logistics. For the Cuban independence movement, the US came as liberators, not imperialists. There were never more US troops in Cuba than there were Cuban insurgents. The Battle of San Juan Hill was not won by Theodore Roosevelt and his private cavalry (he did not fight as a member of the US Army), but by the Cubans themselves – with a little bit of help. TR’s minor part in that battle became important only in TR’s vivid and politically-motivated imagination, a myth that it is time to put to rest.
e. Subsequent to the war, the continued US naval presence in Guantanamo Bay relates to the defense of shipping routes to and from a future canal. Planning ahead for this defense was the reason the US purchased the Danish Virgin Islands and took (yes, this part was imperialism) Puerto Rico, which was not in rebellion against Spain. These island bases gave the US control of the Windward Passage, the Mona Passage and the Anegada Passage, the only effective sea lanes between Europe and a future canal. At the time, the potential enemy was Imperial Germany, which at the time was busy picking up islands around the world, and had just tried to take Hawaii. The Austrian Navy during the battles was hanging around Santiago de Cuba while the US was still trying to take the town, in essence saying that if the US did not take the island, the Austrians would. After the war with its territorial acquisitions, England, Germany, Russia, Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal, Japan, Italy and, still, Spain, had more imperial acreage than did the United States. We were very small potatoes in the worldwide game of imperialism.
f. When the Panama Canal and the surrounding Canal Zone became militarily unimportant to the US, it was returned to the Panamanians well before the lease expired. Guantanamo, being linked to the canal, would also have been returned decades ago were it not for the despotic rule of the Castro brothers and their cohorts. When liberty and true independence is once again achieved by the Cuban people, which is their birthright, Guantanamo certainly will be returned to a free government of Cuba and the Cuban people who will have made it so. Guantanamo is an anachronism, right along to Castro-ism.
We moved to San Pedro over a decade ago, after a lifetime of working overseas, most of it in Latin America. While my distaste for the Castro brothers is based on a lot of personal experience with them, I am a great admirer of Cubans in general, even quite a few within the regime when we met in third countries. Please do not throw me into the “fascist pig” category; my personal politics are Socialist (Second International, not Third International), and I voted in the primary for the SWP candidate for mayor. I also studied Cuban history at the graduate level at both Georgetown University and Tulane University, and my personal archives are in the Tulane University Latin American Library. In my retirement reading I have been digging into the Spanish-American War, and have researched at the US National Archives in Washington.