On May 20, the anniversary of Cuba’s 1902 declaration of independence from the U.S. after what we in the U.S. call the Spanish-American War, U.S. President Donald Trump issued the following message to the Cuban people:
- “The twentieth of May marks the celebration of Cuban independence won by patriots who wished for individual freedom and the right of self-determination, both of which have been tragically snuffed out by a tired Communist regime. Regardless, the brave people of Cuba continue to work—under continued oppression and extraordinarily difficult circumstances—to provide for their families and to restore human and civil rights. The names of great Cuban leaders who fought for independence, such as José Martí and Antonio Maceo, echo through history alongside names like Washington and Jefferson. The legacy of these leaders continues to inspire and encourage all peoples to remain committed to the fight for democracy and the restoration of political, economic, and religious freedoms.”
- “The resilience of the Cuban people and the contributions of the Cuban-American community demand our respect. We are grateful for the many contributions in the world of literature, the arts, music, cuisine, and entrepreneurship that these communities have given us.”
- “To the people of Cuba who yearn for true freedom, and to the Cuban-Americans who reside in the United States, Melania and I send our warmest wishes. On this special day, we remember the Cuban patriots who lit a flame of freedom that will never be fully extinguished as long as men and women can dream of a better tomorrow. Let us recommit ourselves to a better, freer future for the Cuban people.”
This Trump statement requires several comments.
First, under the first Cuban Constitution of 1902, the U.S. retained the right to intervene in Cuban affairs and to supervise its finances and foreign relations. Under the Platt Amendment, the U.S. leased the Guantánamo Bay naval base from Cuba. As a result, Cuba does not celebrate May 20. Indeed, for the U.S. to do so is an insult to Cuba.
Second, since 1959, Cubans celebrate their independence on July 26, the anniversary of the 1953 attack by Cuban rebels led by Fidel Castro on the Moncada Barracks, a military barracks in Santiago de Cuba, named after the General Guillermón Moncada, a hero of the Cuban War of Independence.. This armed attack is widely accepted as the beginning of the Cuban Revolution.
Indeed, a prior post told the story of the speech on July 26, 1991, in Matanzas Cuba by South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, who was inspired by Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution.
Third, the extent of political freedoms in Cuba today is a matter of debate with Trump expressing his Administration’s very negative views on the subject.
 White House, Presidential Message on Cuban Independence Day (May 20, 2018); Trump calls for a ‘better and freer future’ for Cubans, Diario de Cuba (May 20, 2018). Trump issued a similar statement on May 20, 2017. (White House, Statement from President Donald J. Trump on Cuban Independence Day (May 20, 2017).)