U.S. Insulting Proclamation of May 20th as Cuba’s Independence Day

On May 20, President Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo stated that May 20 was Cuba’s Independence Day. Cuban officials immediately rejected that assertion.

Presidential Message on Cuban Independence Day, 2020[1]

“On Cuban Independence Day, we recognize the patriots who fought to liberate Cuba from its colonial oppression and build a society founded on freedom. We continue to stand with the Cuban people as they seek those fundamental rights, and we express our commitment to supporting them as they continue to fight for freedom and democracy.”

“The United States has historic ties to the Cuban people and remains in solidarity with the millions who have fled the oppression of Cuba’s tyrannical regime in search of a new life. Cuba’s people deserve a government that promotes individual liberties, basic human rights, and opportunities to prosper. The Cuban model represents failed socialism, and we will continue to ensure that Cuba does not export its repression anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere. That is why I took action early in my Administration to implement a strong policy toward Cuba that promotes respect for human rights, free markets, and a transition to democracy in Cuba. America will keep working with our allies and partners in the Western Hemisphere to bring stability, religious liberty, cooperation, and a freer future to the great people of Cuba.”

“Today, we celebrate the many contributions of Cuban Americans to our American story, and we pledge to continue working with them to secure a better tomorrow for Cuba.”

Later that same day Trump delivered a video message to Cuban-Americans. “We proudly stand with the people of Cuba. We’re with you. We’re fighting with you. We’re thinking with you. Cuban Americans, we’re extremely proud of you. And I am glad you are on my side.”

Secretary Pompeo’s Statement on Cuban Independence Day[2]

“On Cuban Independence Day, I extend my warm regards and best wishes to the people of Cuba.  The United States joins you in celebrating the anniversary of Cuba’s independence, 118 years ago today.  The struggle of the Cuban people continues.  Your democratic system was overthrown by a military dictator at the middle of the last century.  But the revolution your forefathers fought for your rights, freedoms, and prosperity was hijacked by a communist dictatorship that has inflicted the worst forms of abuse on the Cuban people for 61 years.”

“Both Americans and Cubans alike value our independence and we seek to provide a better, more prosperous future for families, in realization of our God-given rights and dignity as individuals.  We salute the brave Cubans who carry on this struggle despite the threats and abuses of the Castro regime:  human rights defenders like José Daniel Ferrer and the Ladies in White; and journalists and truth-tellers like Roberto Quiñones, who by shining light on conditions in Cuba prevent the regime from hiding the truth.  We salute those demanding the right to exercise their faith in peace, like Pastors Ayda Expósito Leyva and Ramón Rigal, who chose to provide their children with a faith-based home-school education but were imprisoned for doing so.  These brave individuals, and many more who are unjustly imprisoned for their beliefs, or who daily face threats and abuse for standing up for what is right, are the true heirs to José Martí.”

“The United States stands with the Cuban people as you struggle to achieve your vision of a Cuba that is free and more just.  The day when your dream of freedom becomes reality is decades overdue, but that day will come.”

Cuba’s Responses[3]

An immediate response came in Tweets from Cuba Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez. He said, “The US Secretary of State is lying. Cubans do not commemorate this date, only remembered by the anti-Cuban groups which, from South Florida and with the broad support of the White House, still maintain annexationist interests and domination over Cuba.”

This thought was echoed by Rodrigo Malmierca, the head of Cuban Foreign Trade and Investment: Pompeo’s statement towards the Cuban people was “historical and politicized manipulation.”

In response to a similar message by President Trump in 2017, the Cuban government stated, “what was born on the day [May 20, 1902] was a Yankee neo-colony, which lived on until [the revolution on] January 1, 1959.”

Historical Context

This dispute over the “true” date for Cuba’s independence has been going on since at least 1959. The U.S. continued insistence on May 20 as the correct date is driven by U.S. hostility towards Cuba ever since the military defeat of the Cuban government by Fidel Castro-led rebels on January 1, 1959 (except for the period of normalization of relations led by President Obama,  December 2014—January 2017). An examination of history is necessary to understand this conflict.

May 20, 1902[4]

On April 24 and 25, 1898, Spain and the U.S. declared war against each other after the explosion of the U.S. battleship Maine in Havana harbor. The U.S. Senate’s authorization of that declaration included the Teller Amendment, which disclaimed any “inclination or intention to exercise sovereignty, jurisdiction or control” of Cuba and the U.S. intention to “leave the government and control of the island to its people.” Thereafter the U.S. entered Cuba’s war of independence from Spain, which formally was ended on December 10, 1898 with the Treaty of Paris whereby Spain ceded Cuba (and Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines) to the U.S. Cuba was not a party to that treaty.

Thereafter, the U.S. assumed military control of Cuba. On May 20, 1902, the supposed date of Cuban independence arrived when the U.S. flag was lowered in Havana and the new Cuban flag was raised. This was after the U.S. adoption in early  1901 of the Platt Amendment, whose terms Cuba on December 25, 1901, reluctantly included in its constitution granting the U.S. the right to intervene in Cuba to preserves its independence and imposing other restrictions on Cuba.

These provisions of the Cuban constitution existed until 1934 when the U.S. and Cuba executed a treaty allowing Cuba to delete them from its constitution.

October 10, 1868[5]

This is Cuba’s real Independence Day (Dia de la Independencia) when Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, the “Father of the Homeland,” gave freedom to his slaves and started the first war of independence against the Spanish colonial power.

July 26, 1953 [6]

This is the Day of the National Revolution (Dia de la Rebeldia Nacional) to commemorate the day that the Cuban rebels started the Cuban revolution with an attack led by Fidel Castro on the Cuban Government’s Moncada Military Barracks in Santiago de Cuba. The rebels lost that battle, Fidel was captured,, tried, convicted, imprisoned and eventually exiled to Mexico, from which he successfully returned to Cuba in 1956 aboard the boat Granma and thereafter orchestrated the successful overthrow of the Batista regime on January 1, 1959.

July 26th, therefore, was chosen as the date for a speech in Matanzas, Cuba in 1991 by Nelson Mandela only a year-and-a half after his release from prison in South Africa.

January 1, 1959 [7]

This is the Triumph of the Revolution (Triunto de la Revolución) public holiday to commemorate the triumph of the revolution led by Fidel Castro.

Conclusion

Yes, on May 20, 1902, Cuba officially ceased to be a colony of Spain. But on that same date Cuba became a neo-colony of the U.S. or a territory under a de facto U.S. protectorate. It, therefore, is an insult for the U.S. to use grandiose language to proclaim that date as Cuba’s independence day.The U.S. should stop doing so.

=================================

[1] White House, Presidential Message on Cuban Independence Day, 2020 (May 20, 2020); White House, President Trump’s Video Statement on Cuban Independence Day (May 20, 2020).

[2] State Dep’t, [Pompeo’s} Press Statement: Cuban Independence Day (May 20, 2020.  Secretary Pompeo also issued tweets with the same theme. (Bruno Rodríguez: May 20 is celebrated by those who ‘keep claims of imperialist domination over Cuba,’ Diario de Cuba (May 21, 2020).)

[3] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Bruno Rodriguez affirms Cubans don’t celebrate May 20th (May 20, 2000); Bruno Rodríguez: May 20 is celebrated by those who ‘keep claims of imperialist domination over Cuba,’ Diario de Cuba (May 21, 2020); Center for Democracy in Americas, U.S.-Cuba News Brief (May 22, 2020).

[4]  U.S. Entry Into Cuban War of  Independence and Establishment of Protectorate of Cuba, 1898-1934, dwkcommentaries.com (April 23, 2017); U.S. DeFacto Protectorate of Cuba, 1898-1934, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 27, 2019); Pérez, Cuba Between Empires, 1898-1902 (Univ. Pittsburgh Press 1983).

[5] Public Holidays in Cuba, Wikipedia. [This section was added to the original post after comments from several readers pointed out errors regarding its characterization of July 26th in Cuba.]

[6] Ibid.; Cuban Revolution, Wikipedia; Nelson Mandela Was Inspired by Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution, dwkcommentaries.com (May 18, 2018). [This section was revised after several readers pointed out errors regarding its characterization of July 26th in Cuba.]

[7] Public Holidays in Cuba, Wikipedia. [This section was added to the original post to complete the account of most of the major political holidays in Cuba.]

 

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dwkcommentaries

As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

One thought on “U.S. Insulting Proclamation of May 20th as Cuba’s Independence Day”

  1. July 26, 1953 is not celebrated in Cuba as an independence day from the US, it is commemorated as National Rebellion Day, the start of the Cuban Revolution. Ronald Reagan was the first US president to observe Cuban Independence Day, although just two Cuban Independence Day celebrations were hosted by the Reagan White House [1] [2]. The ideals of freedom and democracy that Jose Marti cherished were spurned not just by Fidel Castro but also Fulgencio Batista and another right-wing Cuban dictator, Gerardo Machado. There is no record of JFK, LBJ, Nixon, Ford, or Carter observing Cuban Independence Day, as these presidents were focused on trying to pull Cuba out of the Soviet Union’s orbit.

    I do have to say the Platt Amendment was motivated by William McKinley and Orville Platt falsely assuming that the Cuban people weren’t prepared for self-government. That amendment is one reminder that US-Cuba relations were fraught long before 1959.

    [1] https://www.reaganlibrary.gov/research/speeches/52083d
    [2] https://www.reaganlibrary.gov/research/speeches/052088a

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