A Brief History of the Cuban Revolution

Elio Delgado Legon

At the San Carlos de la Cabaña Fortress across the bay from downtown Havana.

HAVANA TIMES — This coming October, the Cuban Revolution will celebrate the 150th anniversary of its birth, when Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, the Father of our Homeland, an educated, wealthy lawyer and owner of a sugar mill and slaves, put all of his fortune and life on the line for Cuba’s freedom, which had been colonized by Spain since the beginning of the 16th century.

On October 10, 1868, a long war ensued which lasted 10 years and wasn’t able to bring about independence and the abolition of slavery in the end, due to the lack of unity between rebel groups to some extent, where some leaders had differences of opinion.

The shameful Pact of Zanjon put an end to these hostilities, although the Baragua Protest, led by Antonio Maceo, salvaged the honor of Cuban forces when he rejected the pact and continued to fight (although he had to abandon this struggle later, as rebels were at a huge military disadvantage).

The main leaders of the independence movement left the country by sea and settled in different countries like Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica.

A long time before the start of this first war, the United States had made several offers to Spain to buy the island of Cuba, however, Spain didn’t accept them.

In 1810, efforts were made to try and annex the island to the United States. When talking about the occupation of Western Florida, Governor William C. Claiborne said:

(…) As events unfold, there is nothing I want more than to see my flag waving above the Castillo del Morro. Cuba is the real mouth of the Mississippi River and the country who owns this, will possibly be able to dominate the western region in the future. However, let this island be ours and the American Union will never be open to change.

In 1825, Secretary of State Henry Clay expressed his interest in Cuba and Puerto Rico when talking to Spain and said:

“The United States are happy that the abovementioned islands belong to Spain, with their ports open to our trade, like they are today. Our government doesn’t want any political changes in them.”

In 1836, U.S. Consul Trist presented a plan to President Van Buren (1837-1841), where the crisis Spain was experiencing was taken into account and that an offer of 40 million USD could be made to purchase the island of Cuba.

During the wars that developed in Cuba in order to gain independence, the United States had never supported pro-independence groups at any time, instead it stood in the way of their actions in the US, the only country which could have supplied them with the arms they needed to fight the war in Cuba. Let’s remember Jose Marti’s failed attempt with his Fernandina Plan, as the weapons he had gone to great lengths to buy in that country were then seized.

In the end, after much sacrifice, and Jose Marti undertaking the difficult task of unifying groups, the war resumed again on February 24th 1895, which was about to win independence after almost four years of successful battles.

The United States waited until the very last moment to intervene in the war, when Spain had already been defeated by Cuban rebels, and they pretended to be benefactors who supported Cuba’s independence. However, they occupied the island and imposed conditions such as the Platt Ammendment, before leaving, which was political blackmail essentially, and something that the Cuban people will never be able to forget.

Then sell-out and corrupt governments came into power, who were friendly with the United States, none of which were concerned about the Cuban people’s poverty, unhealthy conditions and illiteracy. Even the bloodiest dictatorships, such as those of Gerardo Machado and Fulgencio Batista, always had the United States’s support.

That’s why we needed to pick up our arms again to get what we couldn’t before and which started to materialize after the Revolution triumphed on January 1st 1959.

After 150 years of fighting, during which thousands of thousands of Cubans perished, to win our real independence, the independence Jose Marti had dreamed of, don’t anyone go getting any funny ideas that the Cuban people are going to let others snatch away their achievements, or that they dream of capitalist siren songs, because what we have achieved continues to be a fantasy for many people in the world. With regard to the path the Revolution is taking, everything that needs to be tweaked is being tweaked, but within a socialist system always, which is the most just system humanity has ever known throughout its history.

12 thoughts on “A Brief History of the Cuban Revolution

  • Curiosity! Did Elio respond?
    If not and you want the answers that he would give, just address your questions to the Propaganda Department of the Communist Party of Cuba.

  • Because of where I work, construction, and because of my lack of friends residing in Cuba, my all generation fleet (exaggeration) except for my wife and that is why I had to return, it is hard to find people to talk about this, and in general is hard to find people willing to discuss looking for some truth and not just proving a point.

    My very first question when I think in the XIX century war is, was it needed, was it wanted for a majority, was it useful, was it the only option?

    The revolution leaders were really so convinced of all that to start killing? Were they so sure that Cuba was going to be so better for itself that was worthy to kill so many people pursuing that idea? They were so sure about that watching the Latin America disaster?

    My very first idea when I think in the XX century war is, psychotic mother fucker, pathological liar and manipulator.

  • Hi Repatriado,
    Always good to discuss these things…..
    And I think its good to look for things to agree on rather than things to disagree on!
    I see that we agree that the Cuban Government likes to have an official version of history (which is taught in schools etc).
    If they wish to forbid other interpretations then they fail. I am glad to say that I have had many discussions in Cuba with a wide variety of people about the country’s history. Different people have different interpretations.
    The idea that there is some kind of direct lineage from Carlos Manuel de Cespedes to the Triumph of the Revolution is overly simplistic. History is complex. History produces complex questions. These questions cannot be resolved with simplistic answers.
    Those who try to resolve these complex questions with simplistic answers are often merely trying to bend history to suit their own viewpoints or their own agenda.

  • Hi, Elio! I’m a journalism student from Brazil and like very much your text. Are you allowed to answer some questions about the subject? I’m writing an article about Cuba and it would help me a lot! Just a few questions. My email is [email protected]. Thank you!

  • Hi nick, nice to talk to you.

    I try to be very rationalist when I think about history or philosophy, I do not denied the Fidelist version because of the source of the information, I denied it because I don´t agree with their interpretation in a very high percentage, other thing apart is that I hate that they did an official version of history and forbid any other interpretation because they are not looking for the true, they have an preconceive agenda and bend history in consequence.

    El pacto del Zanjon was signed for the vast majority of the military and civil leaders during the 10 years’ war, including Maximo Gomez,
    100 years after that Fidel and company decided, because that was convenient, that the most relevant was that a few men with Antonio Maceo tried, with no logic at all, to continue fighting, so now Maceo, the minority, is the one that represent our history, while the rest are close to treason.

    Why was US to help to the mambises, I don´t loke to call it Cuban army, there were much more Cubans fighting in the Spanish army than with the mambises.

    The only one reason to independence was money, only money, they want Cuba independence because Spain economical legislation was stupid and the people in Oriente was broke, Like Cespedes, Occidente never joined to the war, that is why mambises had to do the famous invasion.

    Independence of the nation and freedom of the people are two very separated things.

  • You are right Carlyle, I omitted Cespedes releasing his 8 very old slaves from his broken very small family state, I should remembered and to use it as a demonstration of how pro-slaveries they were that only did such a thing when he needed manpower for his army.

    Francisco Vicente Aguilera, the man whom was going to be the leader of the revolution until Cespedes more or less took ahead, that one do was really rich, with more than 600 slaves and many states. He died poor in new York, was he a good person? I cant tell.

    Agramonte never joined Cespedes, in fact they hated one each other for long time, Maximo Gomez succeeded Agramonte as commander in Camaguey and Las Villas, but he was kicked out by the troops and send back to Oriente.

  • Socialism, in theory, is just. However, in the real world, Castro-style socialism has been, and always will be, an abject failure.

  • Hi Repatriado…..
    You present an interesting alternative version of Cuban History which differs from Elio’s version. Of course your version differs to the official version (that put forward by Cuba post revolution).
    I have lived in Cuba and have studied Cuban History to a certain extent. But I wouldn’t claim to be an expert.
    I do note that often those Cubans who oppose the Cuban government (and Fidelismo) often 100% reject absolutely everything that the Revolution has ever stated regarding Cuban History.
    The pact of Zanjón can be interpreted differently according to opinion and I would not claim to be an expert on this.
    Regarding the US involvement in Cuban ‘Independence’, I would point out that this was during an era of US imperialist expansion that included the acquisition/annexation of various countries (Cuba was just one part of that).
    Would Cuba have achieved independence from Spain anyway?
    According to a great many historians, quite probably if the USA had not prevented the rebels from importing weapons and ammunition.
    Was this ‘independence’ actually independent?
    Well not really. Cuba certainly became a lot more independent in 1959.
    Regarding Havana’s homes and hospitals, I would not disagree with you. But I would also say that many Cubans from elsewhere on the island think that Habeneros only ever think of Cuba in terms of the capital.
    Havana is not Cuba.
    I have a dear friend that lives in a small village in central Cuba. The older folks in the village tell me that prior to the Revolution the place was impoverished.
    Education for Farm Labourers’ children? Forget it.
    Healthcare? No chance.
    I think I would be correct in stating that the medical facility, school and a great many of the homes that now stand were built post 1959.

    I would certainly not ever claim that the Revolution has been 100% good (as Elio often seems to say). In my opinion, such a claim would be ridiculous.
    But I would not say that it has been 100% bad either.

  • For once I agree with much that Elio has written. However, it is perhaps interesting to extend the information about US involvement.

    “The unexplained explosion of the USS Maine in Havana harbour on 15th February 1898 was used by the US as cause to declare war on Spain which occurred on April 25, 1898, however Spain anticipating US intentions. Adding the power of the US military to that of the Cuban revolutionaries who had been fighting for over two years, brought the conflict to an end and the Treaty of Paris was signed between Spain and the US on December 19, 1898. For Cuba whose people had rebelled against Spanish rule for many years the decision by the US not to include the Paris Treaty negotiations and to impose its own version of a constitution was degrading and the further insistence of the incorporation of the Platt Amendment in the constitution humiliating, being an infringement of Cuban sovereignty. Initially the Cubans rejected the proposal of the Platt Amendment but eventually had to accept it by a vote of 16 to 11 with 4 abstentions. The Amendment was introduced to the US Congress by Senator Orville H Platt on February 25, 1901. The political atmosphere in the US at the time being described by the Washington Post writing: ‘The taste of Empire is in the mouth of the people.’ The US religious right ever thinking that they had God at their side were referring to other nations as being ‘lesser’ people and General William Shafter wrote that Cubans were: ‘no more fit for self-government than gunpowder is for hell’. No doubt the annexation of Hawaii an independent state by the US on August 12, 1898 had fed the public appetite for power and expansion.”

    Cuba Lifting the Veil

    Repatriado omits commenting that the day prior to Cespedes declaring independence for Cuba on October 10, 1868, he had freed the slaves who worked on his family’s small estate. That ought to be seen in the light of a further 17 years before Cuba eventually ended slavery in 1886.

    Agromonte joined Cespedes on November 10, 1868 declaring:

    “Cuba’s only option is to gain its redemption by tearing itself from Spain through armed force.”

    Agromonte was killed at the Battle of Jimiguaya on May 11, 1873 to be succeeded by Maximo Gomez as commander of the revolutionary forces. At the end of that war, Gomez refused Spanish terms preferring to go into exile.

  • Hello Nick, I challenge you to tell which truths

  • Carlos Manuel de Cespedes and fellows were pro-slavery, it is not valid to me the historical relativism that they were men of their time, 150 years ago was the other day and the empathy is a human reaction that goes beyond the social conventions. Those cultured and travelled men should have made the war to liberate the slaves, no to change a government.

    The abolition of the slavery was never a central objective and what they did in this was because the black ones were the thick of the army, the army on foot mainly.

    The above-mentioned is worth equally for some fathers of the North American homeland. Incredible humanist while sexual abusers of slave.

    The pact of Zanjón, 1878, recognized an obvious defeat and it put an end to more unnecessary deaths to a war lost since the year 72.

    It is enormously painful that the Spanish government could not act rationally and to sell the island to the Americans, as same made Russia with Alaska or France with the Louisiana. How many mothers and how many fathers tears and pains would have been saved.

    Why did the Americans go to support to the mambises? Cuba was legally Spanish, a country with who United States had good relations and one owed a very important part of its own independence. Why did the American government go to support to an armed group of some thousands, in its best moment, to which his own people was never added in mass?

    The Spanish army it was not defeated, the Cuban army had not been able to take any great city apart from the big towns of the Tunas and Holguin, and even so they could not retain it more than some hours, the immense majority of the Cubans didn’t want that war.

    Was the American intervention opportunist, of course that it was, if you will enter in a fight better to wait that your opponent be weakened? did they make It for American economic interests, of course, for imperialism, that said Lenin, Marx, his teacher, was a great defender of the imperialisms that accelerated the history so he would have been charmed.

    The American intervention during 4 years has been the period that quicker and better has changed Cuban history, and they didn’t make it for kindness, at least not its politicians, for sure not, they were politicians, but it is what happens sometimes with the capitalism, by means of ends in principle selfish many times they finish making big things for the humanity, as those evil pharmacists that even want to be made richer curing the cancer.

    Other times they finish making directly evil things.

    The amendment Platt fucked us a lot, but worst was that the Americans have not been completely consequent and at least has offered the opportunity of the annexation to see that the people wanted, I believe that most of the people preferred the independence, but I don’t know it for sure.

    ” Then sell-out and corrupt governments came into power, who were friendly with the United States, none of which were concerned about the Cuban people’s poverty, unhealthy conditions and illiteracy”. In Habana 90% of the hospitals and of the housings are the same ones that were built 60 years ago by those governments so bad.

    Compare Cuba 1902 with Cuba 1958 and then Cuba 1959 with Cuba 2018 and tell me what period has been relatively more prosperous with regard to the world situation of each moment.

    Enough of philosophical swindle, the socialism is a way of government and society action inside a decentralized economic system, just the opposite to what there is Cuba.

    Martí was more than anything a humanist liberal democrat that is the only way of being democratic, has never been in favor of the inculcation of some human rights to achieve other, or dividing Cubans in those with me or those against me, he wanted with all and for the well of all.

  • Elio’s article tell some truths.
    But a helluva lot more ‘tweaking’ is required.

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