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Independence, The War of 1895 and the Spanish-American War

General Weyler, Cuban war of independence, Cuban revolutionaries, battleship Maine, siege of Santiago

The PRC set February 24, 1895, as the date to begin the final war of independence. PRC leaders arrived in Cuba, and small rebellions broke out in the east and moved into central Cuba. At first it seemed the PRC would lose, especially when on May 19, 1895, Jose Marti was killed in the battle of Dos Rios in Cubaís southeastern mountains. Moreover, the United States honored a previous commitment to Spain and intercepted rebel arms shipments.

Spain sent a massive army of 200,000 troops, the largest ever sent to the Americas, under the command of General Valeriano Weyler, a veteran of the Ten Yearsí War. To eliminate potential support for the rebels, Weyler removed tens of thousands of Cubans to concentration camps. In the camps, thousands of people died of starvation, disease, and exposure.

The American popular press devoted a great deal of space to covering Spainís alleged atrocities. By 1896 U.S. popular opinion clamored for intervention, and American investors were increasingly worried about their property. In 1896 U.S. president William McKinley told the Spanish government to win the war, issue reforms, or expect U.S. involvement. In the fall of 1897, Madrid agreed to reforms, withdrew General Weyler from Cuba, and appointed a Cuban assembly to govern the islandís internal affairs. The insurgents, however, refused to recognize the assembly members, who were Autonomists, and the war continued.

The McKinley administration prepared for intervention in the name of peace and uninterrupted trade. In the United States the public demand for intervention increased following an explosion that sank the U.S. battleship Maine in Havana harbor on February 15, 1898. Most Americans blamed Spanish sabotage for the explosion. (A U.S. Navy study published in 1976 suggested that spontaneous combustion in the shipís coal bunker caused the explosion.) In April 1898, Congress declared war on Spain, but a congressional resolution limited U.S. action in Cuba to liberating the island and granting sovereignty to the new nation of Cuba.

The Spanish-American War itself lasted only fourteen weeks. The real battle was in Spainís Asian colony of the Philippines, where the U.S. Navy defeated the Spanish navy at Manila Bay. In Cuba, the war consisted of a naval blockade of Havanaís harbor and an attack and siege of Santiago de Cuba in the east. The U.S. naval blockade cut off Spainís supply lines and broke Spanish control of Cuba.

United States intervention altered the Cuban war of independence from a popular insurrection by Cubans to a victory by the United States. Prior to the U.S. intervention, Cuban revolutionaries controlled all Cuban territory except the major ports; by the end of 1898 the U.S. Army controlled the entire country.

United States control denied some of the social changes that the revolutionaries had hoped to put into effect, including efforts to establish racial and social equality. Many American political leaders opposed an independent Cuba with a racially diverse government. This prejudice was reinforced when the U.S. and Cuban armies met in Santiago de Cuba. The U.S. soldiers were appalled by the ragged and impoverished condition of their allies, many of whom were poor blacks. After the war, the United States occupied Cuba, and the U.S. Army disbanded the patriot army and excluded from power many of the Cuban patriots who had fought 30 years for liberation.

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