Struggle for National Independence
Although remaining in the Spanish fold, the "ever-faithful" island, as Cuba became known, grew away from the crown. The interests and views of the Creoles and Peninsulars increasingly clashed. Reconciliation seemed difficult; those who clamored for violence became more numerous, and, finally, war broke out. The wars for independence that followed lasted more than thirty years, from 1868 until the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, followed by the intervention of the United States in 1898. The wars were Cuba's belated reaction to the fight for independence waged throughout most of Latin America during the first quarter of the century.
This is not to say that Cubans made no attempts to separate from Spain in the first part of the century. As early as 1809, at a time of turmoil and rebellion against Spanish power in Latin America, several Cubans conspired to gain independence for Cuba. Lacking widespread popular support, however, the early attempts at independence were weakened by several factors. Among these were the growth of the sugar industry and of wealth in general, the fear of a black rebellion, and the increased sentiment in favor of annexation by the United States. Then, too, a number of Spanish royalists and troops settled in Cuba following their defeat in Latin America. Cuba became a heavily fortified garrison, the last significant bastion of Spanish power in the New World.
The international picture also was not favorable to the Cuban cause for independence. Fearful of European expansion into the New World and particularly of British and French designs on Cuba, the United States was quick to issue the Monroe Doctrine (1823), which warned in part that the nation would not tolerate the transfer of New World colonies from one European power to another. The United States seemed to have preferred Cuba under a weak Spain than under a mighty Britain. If anyone else were to have Cuba, some United States politicians and business interests reasoned, it would be its neighbor to the north.
Toward the end of the nineteenth century, Cuban loyalty began to change as a result of Creole rivalry with Spaniards for the governing of the island, increased Spanish despotism and taxation, and the growth of Cuban nationalism. These developments combined to produce a prolonged and bloody war, the Ten Years’ War against Spain (1868–78), but it failed to win independence for Cuba.
In the 1880's, the Island traversed a period of great economic and social changes. Spain finally abolished slavery, much weakened as a result of the Ten Years' War. This brought notable transformations in the organization of sugar production that reached, at last, the rank of industry. Cuba's economic dependence from the United States was bound to be practically complete and absolute while US investment capitals was more and more present in several sectors of the economy.
The bourgeoisie in the Island, estranged from their independence aspirations, formed two major political groups or parties: the Liberal Party, which would later become the Autonomist party, and the Constitutional Union. The first was resuming the old trend of trying to obtain some reforms within the Spanish colonial system, aiming at an eventual home-rule. The latter was the most reactionary expression of the sectors interested in the full integration of Cuba into Spain. Meanwhile, mostly the Cubans that had been forced to emigrate to the United States and other countries were supporting the efforts for independence, more popularly rooted.
With the first major attempt at independence having ended in partial disaster, many Cubans turned to autonomismo (autonomy movement). The movement, which advocated autonomous rule for Cuba under the Spanish monarchy, differed little from reformism. Autonomismo had its origins in the first half of the century but lost momentum during the periods of annexation and reformism.
A first outbreak, the "Guerra Chiquita" (Short War) in 1879, once again sent the Cubans to the battle fields in the Eastern and Central regions, but was easily controlled after a few months due to its lack of organization and political coherence. Several landings, conspiracies and uprisings followed, usually organized by military chiefs of the Ten Years War, but were aborted or suffocated by the Spanish authorities because of the rebels' incapacity to articulate their actions with a more comprehensive and united movement.
Now, after the end of the Ten Years' War, it coalesced into the Autonomous Liberal Party (Partido Liberal Autonomista). The founders of the party, former annexationists and reformists, called for a system of local self-government patterned on the British colonial model and requested numerous economic and political reforms, but within the Spanish empire. It soon became clear, however, that Spain still intended no radical changes in its policies. By 1892 the much promised and awaited reforms were not forthcoming. Disillusionment and frustration began to take hold of those who still hoped for a continuous association with Spain. The party warned that unless Spain stopped its policy of repression and persecution, another rebellion would be inevitable. While the stage was being set for the decisive effort at independence, however, the forces that advocated independence were still racked by schism and indecision.
The enthusiasm and prestige of the military leaders of the Ten Years' War were not sufficient to coordinate and direct the independence effort against Spain. This leadership vacuum came to be filled by a young poet and revolutionary, Jose Marti. At the outset of the second independence war (1895–98), Cuban independence leader José Martí was killed. As a result of increasingly strained relations between Spain and the United States, the Americans entered the conflict in 1898.
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