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Cuba Libre


Budding Pines...the symbol of a new Cuba

As I am driving across south Florida on my way from Tampa to Miami, I pass by fields of young pine trees and remember a conversation I once had with a bar owner in Merida, Venezuela. As he served me up a drink called Cuba Libre "Free Cuba," he prompted me with a riddle. "Why is this drink a contradiction, Esteban?" he asked. I shot him a confused look and he replied, "Because the drink isn't really Cuban, and Cuba isn't free!" I stared down into my drink and thought about how true those words really were. And now here, passing by young pine trees, which symbolized the birth of a new Cuba more than a hundred years ago, I start to think about those words again.


At the end of 19th century, with thoughts of alcoholic beverages pushed to the back of his head, Jose Marti did not think Cuba was free either. In fact, he was just about sick of Spain's colonial rule over his land and was ready to fight for his freedom and lead his people to independence.


He traveled around speaking to Cubans in exile about his ideas, and rallied many to support Cuba's independence from Spain. Unfortunately though, their struggle wasn't as successful as they had planned. As it became clear that Cuban revolutionaries were not going to defeat the Spanish military alone, Cubans began to consider the possibility of accepting other countries to help them with their cause.

Enter the United States.

As Cuba was struggling for independence, the US was laying the foundation for becoming a world power. With confidence in their country, the majority of the American public was in favor of intervening in Cuba's revolution was at a max. The US news media successfully tapped into Americans' sympathy for the Cuban revolutionaries, who like the American rebels a century before, were fighting to be a free country. Though most people wanted to genuinely help Cuba, many American businessmen liked the idea for the moneymaking opportunities that could be found in Cuba's resources and its new commercial markets.

These motives of American businessmen supported the logic of presidents like Cleveland and McKinley who saw intervention as the only means by which to prevent the development of a Black republic! Both presidents actually wrote speeches explaining their fear that if Cuba were to defeat Spain without the help of the US, Cuba's ethnic population would become the leaders of the new nation.

And so, the Spanish American War began.

Isn't Stephen a little too bundled up for the beach?
Isn't Stephen a little too bundled up for the beach?

The US enters the war on Cuba's behalf, defeats Spain in three months, and hooray (!), everybody is happy, sovereign, and free. Right? WRONG! Cuba was far from free.

After the end of the war, the US military pretended that the native Cuban revolutionary movement did not even exist. When Spain surrendered, for example, Cuban officials were not allowed to join in on the surrender or to sign it. Defeating the Spanish, then, brought little change to Cuba beyond the influx of American companies wishing to take advantage of Cuba's land resources. By the end of US military occupation, almost 80% of Cuba's mineral exports were in US hands.

Freedom NOW!

The Cuban population began to grow angry with the US for behaving this way, and used strikes to protest, in hopes of forcing the US out of the country. However, the US military refused to leave without a guarantee that the US had the right to intervene in Cuban government affairs whenever they saw fit. To the American public, this demand revealed that the US had betrayed Cuban independence. It was like handing the keys to your house over to a stranger and letting them come and go as they please. To make matters worse, the American military occupation eventually forced Cuban nationals to give in. With this surrender, any hope for an independent Cuba was destroyed.

It seem obvious now that the Spanish American war was fought over Cuba and not for it. The US entered the war under the mask of securing Cuban independence, when it really was only securing access to foreign markets and resources. After hearing that riddle from the Venezuelan bartender, is it really any surprise that I've never been able to enjoy another Cuba Libre?


Please email me at: stephen@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Stephanie - A state for Puerto Rico?
Jen - The first U.S. president of Nicaragua!
Neda - A little taste of the Philippines - at the mall food court
Stephen - The Great Panama Canal Grab