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.

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[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.]

 

Argument Between Wall Street Journal and Cuba’s Ambassador to U.S.

The Wall Street Journal and the Cuban Ambassador to the U.S. are engaged in an argument that started with the newspaper’s April 22 editorial.

The Editorial[1]

 “Eighty-six-year-old Raúl Castro grabbed headlines last week when he ceded the title of president to 58-year-old civilian Miguel Diáz-Canel. Too bad this change at the top is nominal when it comes to freedom for the Cuban people.”

“Mr. Diáz-Canel is . . .[not] an independent thinker. Cubans have every reason to believe him when he says, as he did in his acceptance speech, that he is committed to preserving a police state. If Mr. Diáz-Canel wants to keep his job and privileges, human rights won’t be on his agenda.”

“Raúl still leads the Communist Party and has kept the two most powerful regime positions under his control. Col. Alejandro Castro Espín, his son, runs counterintelligence for the Interior Ministry that controls the secret police. Gen. Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas, Raúl’s former son-in-law, is top dog at GAESA, the military’s holding company that owns the tourism industry, the shipping company, the airline, construction companies, auto imports and sales, the real-estate business, the banks and control of container traffic at the Port of Mariel. Ramiro Valdés, a regime enforcer, still sits on the Council of State, Cuba’s highest government body.”

. . . .

“Now Havana’s crime family has again run out of other peoples’ money. Its largest sources of hard currency are the doctors and nurses who live in poverty while Cuba “rents” them to countries around the world. Yet even this multibillion-dollar human trafficking isn’t enough to support the broken Cuban economy.”

“President Trump has reined in some of Barack Obama’s executive orders that made it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba. But the regime’s bigger problem is that investors who kick the tires on the Castro jalopy increasingly walk away. There are plenty of opportunities in emerging markets these days, and the smart money doesn’t want gangsters for partners.”

“Promises of greater economic freedom for Cubans have never materialized. Small businesses can operate as long as they are subsistence operations. But they can’t hire and the regime has again cracked down on permitting lest it lose control. Cuba’s poverty suggests something has to change. But liberalization is not in the interests of the Castro family or the military. And they’re still in charge.”

The Cuban Ambassador’s Response[2]

On May 6 Cuban Ambassador José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez responded to this editorial with the following letter to the Journal.

“The U.S. corporate press has always been predictable in its articles on Cuba and even more so when it comes to its editorials. Newspapers such as yours were against Cubans being free from Spanish power in the 19th century. Later on, they commended local corrupt politicians who supported the invasion—first militarily and then economically by American companies during the first half of the 20th century. Finally, those newspapers relentlessly demonized the Cuban Revolution since 1959.”

“However, I was caught off guard by the sordidness of the language used by your editorial board when referring to my country. It is the typical exercise of those who are left without arguments. There is still a financial, economic and commercial embargo imposed on Cuba intended to starve our population into submission. However, the information blockade has decreased. Americans massively travel to Cuba and 75% of them support a better relationship with our country.”

“Your renewed efforts to promote the business of the ‘dissidence’ in Cuba will not have the slightest success. History is wise and has forgotten (and will forget) the names of the annexationists of Cuban origins, but any educated human being who inhabits the earth today will be able to tell you about Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, José Martí, Antonio Maceo, Julio Antonio Mella, Ernesto Guevara and Fidel Castro; those are the names of the pro-independence figures.”

“To maintain a part of the audience you still have, before criticizing Cuba again, or any other Latin American or Caribbean country for that matter, please start by looking at yourselves in the mirror.”

Conclusion

Although I believe that U.S. policies regarding Cuba are heading the wrong direction in the Trump Administration and deplore its abandonment of many (but not all) aspects of  the Obama Administration’s opening of relations with Cuba and although I have met and respect the Cuban Ambassador, this exchange or argument is unsatisfying.[3]

The Journal, given its general support of free markets and capitalism, should have (a) encouraged the Cuban government to engage in further efforts to promote the expansion of its private sector of bed-and-breakfasts, restaurants and other ventures and (b) criticized some of the Trump Administration’s policies that discourage such Cuban expansion of free enterprise and markets.

Such efforts enable Cubans to increase their financial circumstances and offer better-paying jobs to other Cubans and thereby provide the Cuban economy with desperately needed boosts. Cuba’s efforts last year to restrict such expansion were misguided out of fears of changes.

This would have forced the Cuban Ambassador into the difficult position of trying to justify the regime’s clamp-down last year of expansion of the private sector.  The Ambassador in this hypothetical, however, could have argued that the Cuban Government needed to be cautious on these issues because of illegitimate U.S. efforts, overtly and covertly over many years, to promote regime change in Cuba.

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[1] Editorial, Cuba Gets a Castro Convertible, W.S.J. (April 22, 2018).

[2] Letter to Editor, Cabañas to W.S. J., W.S.J. (May 6, 2018).

[3] See List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.