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Independence, The Inter-War Period

independence cause, black Cubans, Constitutional Union Party, patronato, sugar market

With the war over, the Spanish brought Cuba in line with slave emancipation throughout the rest of the Americas. They enacted the patronato, a law that required slave owners to prepare their slaves for freedom. When slavery did end in 1886, only 30,000 slaves remained, down substantially from the estimated 500,000 at the onset of the Ten Years’ War.

Between 1878 and 1895, Cuba faced a period of financial and social disintegration. The Spanish levied punishing taxes and tariffs to pay for war damages and costs. A radical change in the sugar market compounded this financial burden. Increased cultivation of sugar beets in the United States drove the price of sugar down from 11 to 8 cents a pound. Meanwhile, the shift from unpaid slaves to paid laborers increased the cost of sugar production. By the mid-1880s Cuba was in a deep economic depression. Massive unemployment resulted, and workers migrated in large numbers from the countryside to urban centers where a new underclass of beggars and prostitutes developed. Tens of thousands of professionals left the country to find employment. Many of them vowed to return to free Cuba and provide it with a vital economy and just government.

During these years, pro-Spanish forces began to organize to protect their interests. Conservative Creole planters founded the Liberal Party (Autonomists). The Spanish elite formed the Constitutional Union Party. Both parties worked to maintain Cuba’s ties to Spain and rejected armed revolution as a means of changing government.

The independence forces in exile continued to organize as well. Cuban writer Jose Marti soon emerged as the leader of the renewed independence movement. Marti had traveled throughout the Americas before settling in New York City in 1881. From New York he wrote numerous influential newspaper articles on Latin American culture and became a leading advocate of Cuba’s independence. Marti formed the Cuban Revolutionary Party (Spanish acronym PRC) in an attempt to unite the various revolutionary factions and to fuse white and black Cubans into a single army of citizens. By April 1892, all the revolutionary clubs had joined the PRC. Between 1892 and 1895, the PRC solicited funds, purchased weapons, and trained troops in Cuba and in the United States. Officially, the United States remained neutral, but sympathy grew for the independence cause.

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