U.S. Intervention in Cuba’s War of Independence from Spain, 1898

On Feb. 15, 1898, the USS Maine was sunk in Havana Harbor where it was temporarily stationed to provide support for Americans in the city during Cuba’s war for independence from Spain. A subsequent naval board of inquiry concluded that there was no US negligence in operating the ship and that it was “destroyed by the explosion of a submarine mine.” Although it did not say Spain did it, that was the logical conclusion. And William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers launched a campaign “Remember the Maine” that fueled U.S. citizens’ pressure for war against Spain. [1]

For various additional reasons, Americans in 1898 “flocked to the cause of ‘Cuba Libre,’ especially once fighting broke out on the island in 1895. The plight of the Cubans was particularly affecting: “Over the next three years, hundreds of thousands of civilians died, many in Spanish concentration camps, the existence of which spurred hundreds of Americans to join illegal filibuster missions to aid the rebels.”

On April 11, 1898, President William McKinley asked the Congress “to authorize and empower the President to take measures to secure a full and final termination of hostilities between the government of Spain and the people of Cuba, and to ensure in the island the establishment of a stable government, capable of maintaining order and observing its international obligations, ensuring peace and tranquillity and the security of its citizens as well as our own, and to use the military and naval forces of the United States as may be necessary for these purposes.” [2]

In making this request, McKinley “was moved above all by this humanitarian impulse.. . . [The] primary driver was the widely held belief that Spain was destroying Cuba. ‘A country nearly as large as England, with all the material conditions of opulent civilization, has been made a charnel house,” said John James Ingalls, a Kansas politician. The Spanish-American War was a ‘popular’ conflict in the literal sense.”

Nine days later (April 20, 1898) the Congress adopted a joint resolution for “the recognition of the independence of the people of Cuba, demanding that the government of Spain relinquish its authority and government in the Island of Cuba and withdraw its land and naval forces from Cuba and Cuban waters, and directing the President of the United States to use the land and naval forces of the United States to carry these resolutions into effect.” What became known as the Teller Amendment was proposed by Senator Henry M. Teller (Rep., CO) and adopted by the Congress. It disclaimed  “any disposition of intention to exercise sovereignty, jurisdiction, or control over said island except for pacification thereof, and asserts its determination, when that is accomplished, to leave the government and control of the island to its people.”

Because there were practically no military-trained men ready to fight, “McKinley authorized three volunteer cavalry regiments (800 to 1,000 soldiers), to be drawn from the ranks of men whose skills and life experiences made them predisposed to martial pursuits: cowboys, policemen, even college athletes.”

“The most famous of the three regiments, and the only one sent to Cuba, was the First United States Volunteer Cavalry — which reporters soon nicknamed the Rough Riders. Thanks to the renown of Theodore Roosevelt, who in 1897 as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, had said, ““A rich nation which is slothful, timid or unwieldy is an easy prey for any people which still retains those most valuable of all qualities, the soldierly virtues.”’and who in 1898 left the Department of the Navy to become the Volunteer Calvary’s  lieutenant colonel, the regiment was overwhelmed with applicants.”

“The Rough Riders landed in Cuba on June 22, 1898. By August, Spain was suing for peace. In the subsequent Treaty of Paris, Spain recognized Cuba’s independence and ceded Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines to the U.S.

“Above all, the Rough Riders became instant celebrities because they embodied the public’s newfound, idealistic militarism. ‘Whether Fifth Avenue millionaires or Western cowboys, they fought together and died together in Cuba for the great American principles of liberty, equality and humanity,’ an editorialist for The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote.”

From the U.S. perspective, Teddy Roosevelt and the Roughriders military success in Cuba became part of U.S. legend, and Clay Risen, a deputy Op-Ed editor of the New York Times has revisited that legend in a Times article and a book.[3]

Risen claims that this “war, however brief, was in fact a defining moment in America’s emergence as a global power. It captured the imagination of millions and changed how everyday citizens saw their place in the world. No longer content to merely inspire freedom for the world’s oppressed, . . . [many U.S. citizens] decided they had a personal obligation to bring freedom to them.”

“Underlying [this and other 20th century U.S. wars] is the same broadly held, deeply committed missionary zeal that drove . . . the Rough Riders to war. Until Americans learn to balance their commitment to global justice with an awareness of the limits to military prowess, the country will continue to make these mistakes.”

Nevertheless, Risen asserts that this was was “a half-baked, poorly executed, unnecessary conflict that pushed an immature military power onto the world stage.”

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[1]  See U.S. Entry Into Cuba’s War of Independence and Establishment of Protectorate of Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (April 23, 2017). Michael Beschloss in “Presidents of War” asserts that the naval board of inquiry was under implicit pressure to conclude that the Navy was not at fault, but that subsequent Navy studies concluded that the cause probably was not a Spanish mine. Indeed, in 1976, a team of American naval investigators concluded that the Maine explosion was likely caused by a fire that ignited its ammunition stocks, not by a Spanish mine or act of sabotage. (See Beschloss Discusses “Presidents of War at Westminster Town Hall Forum, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 15, 2018).

[2] Teller Amendment, Wikipedia.

[3] Risen, The Rough Riders’ Guide to World Domination, N,Y. Times (June 2, 2019); Risen, The Crowded Hour: Theodore Roosevelt, the Rough Riders, and Dawn of the American Century (Simon & Schuster, 2019): Millard, Book Review: Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders, N.Y. Times Book Review (June 4, 2019); Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders Involvement in Cuba’s War of Independence,  dwkcommentaries.com (June 20, 2019).

 

 

Cuba Calling Alleged Sonic Attacks on U.S. Diplomats “The Maine Sonic”

An intensive article in CubaDebate reviews the details of Cuba’s investigation of the alleged “sonic attacks” on U.S. diplomats in Havana and concludes that there is no credible evidence of such attacks.[1] The article asserts the following as preliminary conclusions of the Cuban investigation:

  • There “is NO evidence to indicate the occurrence of the alleged acoustic attacks;”
  • “It has not been possible to establish investigative hypotheses about the origin of these events, which by their nature are eminently sensory and do not leave traces or traces, an aspect supported by the representatives of the specialized agencies of the [U.S.] that traveled to Cuba.”
  • “Nor have possible authors or persons with motivation, intention or means to execute this type of actions been identified. In the work carried out by the team of Cuban researchers and in the information provided by US officials, the incidence of people or suspicious media in the places of occurrence or in its surroundings has not been established.”
  • “The medical team and Cuban scientists, after the expert technical analysis of the sound samples given by the[U.S.], certified the impossibility of these causing the health affectations described by the diplomats.”
  • “No evidence has been obtained of the existence in the country of any equipment that emits sound, such as the one described by the[U.S.]. No intentions, plans or the introduction to the national territory of these equipment through the air or maritime border have been detected.”

Now some in Cuba, including the authors of this article, are calling the alleged sonic attacks the “Maine Sonico.” This is an obvious reference to the U.S. claiming the 1898 explosion and sinking of the U.S. battleship S.S. Maine in Havana Harbor was caused by the Spanish and as a result the U.S. entered Cuba’s war of independence against Spain and after defeating the Spanish obtained a de facto protectorate over Cuba whereas a 1976 investigation by U.S. naval investigators determined the explosion was caused by spontaneous combustion in the battleship that ignited its ammunition stocks and caused the sinking of the ship.[2]

Conclusion

This characterization of the alleged sonic attacks is an explosive claim itself. It essentially and implicitly asserts that the U.S. allegations of sonic claims are fraudulent in their entirety and are being used by the Trump Administrationas a fraudulent excuse to reverse President Obama’s efforts to normalize relations between the two countries and to enable U.S. investigators, with Cuban consent, to go to the island and fraudulently investigate other issues.

Another possible explanation of the U.S. claims is that there were actual medical problems for some U.S. diplomats in Cuba that were caused by a secret and malfunctioning U.S. device and that the U.S. does not want to reveal the existence of this secret device.

Both of these theories need further investigation in the U.S. to determine if either or both are valid. The repeated State Department assertions that the U.S. investigations to date have not identified a cause or perpetrator of the alleged attacks is at best surprising and indirectly supports looking for other theories to explain the alleged attacks.

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[1] Falcón, Reinaldo & Martinez, Incongruences of the acoustic attack: Why is not the Maine Sonico against Cuba credible? (+ Video), CubaDebate (Oct. 30, 2017),

[2] The Maine explodes, This Day in History: February 15 [1898].

 

U.S. Supreme Court Comments on U.S.-Cuba History 

As discussed in a prior post, the U.S. Supreme Court on June 8, 2015, in Zivotofsky v. Kerry decided that the U.S. President had the exclusive power in the U.S. Government to recognize foreign nations and governments.

In the course of that opinion, the Court discussed two facets of U.S.-Cuba relations. The first related to Cuba’s 1960 expropriation of U.S. property interests in Cuba, which Cuba’s official newspaper, Granma, just commemorated as covered n a prior post. The second related to the U.S. entry in 1898 into Cuba’s war of independence from Spain.

Cuba’s 1960 Expropriation of U.S. Properties

The discussion of Cuba’s expropriation occurred in a significant earlier decision of the Supreme Court, Banco Nacional de Cuba v. Sabbatino , 376 U.S. 398 (1964), which the Court this June asserted stood for the proposition that the Court already had endorsed the practice of U.S. presidents exercising unilateral power to recognize new states.

In Sabbatino the Court decided that the judicially-created act-of-state doctrine prevented U.S. courts from adjudicating a claim that the Cuban expropriation violated international law. According to the Court, ”the Judicial Branch will not examine the validity of a taking of property within its own territory by a foreign sovereign government, extant and recognized by this country at the time of suit, in the absence of a treaty or other unambiguous agreement regarding controlling legal principles, even if the complaint alleges that the taking violates customary international law.”

Important to that conclusion in Sabbatino was the Court’s opinion that at least in 1964, “There are few if any issues in international law today on which opinion seems to be so divided as the limitations on a state’s power to expropriate the property of aliens. There is, of course, authority, in international judicial and arbitral decisions, in the expressions of national governments, and among commentators for the view that a taking is improper under international law if it is not for a public purpose, is discriminatory, or is without provision for prompt, adequate, and effective compensation.”

However, the Court continued in Sabbatino, “Communist countries, although they have in fact provided a degree of compensation after diplomatic efforts, commonly recognize no obligation on the part of the taking country. Certain representatives of the newly independent and underdeveloped countries have questioned whether rules of state responsibility toward aliens can bind nations that have not consented to them, and it is argued that the traditionally articulated standards governing expropriation of property reflect ‘imperialist’ interests, and are inappropriate to the circumstances of emergent states. The disagreement as to relevant international law standards reflects an even more basic divergence between the national interests of capital importing and capital exporting nations, and between the social ideologies of those countries that favor state control of a considerable portion of the means of production and those that adhere to a free enterprise system. It is difficult to imagine the courts of this country embarking on adjudication in an area which touches more sensitively the practical and ideological goals of the various members of the community of nations.”

For the Court in Zivotofsky, Sabbatino was important because it held that “Political recognition is exclusively a function of the Executive” and because the U.S. “Executive had recognized the Cuban Government, the Court held that it should be treated as sovereign and could benefit from the ‘act of state’ doctrine.”

Congress was very unhappy with the decision in the Sabbatino case and immediately passed the so-called Second Hickenlooper Amendment that stated that the courts are not to apply the Act of State Doctrine as a bar against hearing cases of expropriation by a foreign sovereign unless the President requests the courts to consider the Act of State Doctrine because foreign policy interests may be damaged by judicial interference. This amendment was retroactive and subsequently found constitutional, leading to the dismissal of the Cuban bank’s complaint in Sabbatino. (This reaction to Sabbatino was not mentioned by the Court in Zivotofsky.)

U.S. 1898 Entry into Cuba’s  War of Independence

The reference to  the U.S. entry in 1898 into Cuba’s war of independence from Spain was raised by the plaintiff in Zivotofsky as purportedly establishing congressional power to recognize a foreign government. The Court disagreed, saying that it merely established that some presidents have chosen to cooperate with Congress, not that Congress has exercised the recognition power.

Here is the Court’s recitation of that history. “In 1898, an insurgency against the Spanish colonial government was raging in Cuba. President [William] McKinley determined to ask Congress for authorization to send armed forces to Cuba to help quell the violence. Although McKinley thought Spain was to blame for the strife, he opposed recognizing either Cuba or its insurgent government.”

“At first, the House proposed a resolution consistent with McKinley’s wishes. The Senate countered with a resolution that authorized the use of force but that did recognize both Cuban independence and the insurgent government. When the Senate’s version reached the House, the House again rejected the language recognizing Cuban independence. The resolution went to Conference, which, after debate, reached a compromise. The final resolution stated “the people of the Island of Cuba are, and of right ought to be, free and independent,” but made no mention of recognizing a new Cuban Government. Accepting the compromise, the President signed the joint resolution.”