News / Culture

Cuban Independence Day Explained

On May 20th, 1902, Cuba – or phonetically speaking, Coo-Bah – declared its independence. The island nation was starting to recover from the brutal war with Spain and endured a period of American military occupation. While the date is a cause for celebration, the nation was effectively hamstrung by the cruel irony of independence without freedom. To anyone else, this was an expected course (normal being a relative word) for the island nation. In fact, the nation would only receive true independence-but-not-liberty fifty-seven years later. So, who the hell cares about this date anyway? Time to step back and remember…

Yeah, like that.

Yeah, like that.

In 1898, Spain was already dealing with a guerilla war in Cuba. Then the Maine happened and Americans collectively stood up and said ,“Let’s get it on,” which we promptly and awesomely did. As soon as Teddy Roosevelt finished beating Spaniards up with his mustache, the U.S government took over and promptly began to groom the island nation for protectorate status.

Groomed like Teddy's moustache.

Groom it like Teddy's moustache.

In case you’re keeping score, the US also scored the Philippines and Puerto Rico out of this. (Hawaii was the same year, but separate…)

America was not alone; France, Britain and other European countries have conquered territories for money and prestige. The difference with the US was that we had a major hang up over colonization; we had been a colony, and to entertain ideas of an empire was seen to be a perversion of the ideals of Washington and Lincoln.

So, how to reconcile present political realities with ideology? Easy; with smoke and mirrors of course! To be honest, even Theodore Roosevelt was slightly sympathetic towards some sort of independence. Then again, The U.S Congress declared Cuba’s independence before Spain even moved, a bad omen in retrospect. By 1900, work on a constitution began in earnest.  The Constitution took a page out of the American document; this was not to appease their benefactors but a reflection of a long held fascination with the American experiment. Throughout the 19th century, intellectuals all over Latin America looked to the US constitution as an example and even Cuban rebellions in the 19th century echoed the ideals of the American constitution.

Oh, yeah, this does look familiar.

Oh, yeah, this does look familiar.

Too bad it would be for naught.

Idealism was going to get jumped in the alleyway of realpolitik when the American government passed the now infamous Platt Amendment in 1901. The American government presumably passed the law after someone realized that the island nation could use some help with its bourgeoning nepotism industry. Orville Platt, a senator and the namesake to the amendment…

(Not this guy.)

(Not this guy.)

…promptly came to the rescue and gave an impassioned speech over the evils of self-determination and brought the house down with the now legendary one-liner ,“What; no sugar?!” (Not really.)

The government immediately ordered the Cuban government to add the amendment to its national charter. The result was as expected, heated. The amendment passed by a single vote and the ruckus left a bitter memory in the minds of many Cubans. The event would also affect Cuba economically; agriculture was the mainstay of the nation and the constitution all but guaranteed American influence over it.  No worries, we would need a lot of sugar and Cuba was the place to get it. We pay and they make a good earn – oh what’s that? Prices fluctuate sometimes? Oh, uh about that, uh run!!

estrada-palma2_smallCuba slowly and saucily made its way to the mid-20th century under continued American dominance. Sure, they were forced to deal with more military strongmen than Rambo. But on the plus side, they got to see our movies and when the threat of popular discontent go too much, America came to the rescue of freedom-loving leaders such as Tomás Estrada y Palma who dreamt of freely pushing people around. America sent in soldiers a couple more times just so the island could see that we would kill them but not abandon them. Talk about loyalty!

Speaking of which, to ensure the safety of the nation, the US permanently leased a piece of property; Guantanamo Bay. Now home to other brown people, Guantanamo was leased to the US under the Platt Amendment. Cubans everywhere applauded the decision since they wouldn’t need to wait for Americans to pass by and berate! The Cubans admired the thought put into making them even angrier.

Things began to take a turn for the better in the 1930’s. FDR was president and seeing how being a giant douche did little to endear the Cubans to Americans, the president set up a new policy. It was called the Good Neighbor Policy since State Farm apparently had access to a time machine. The government began to be held accountable to public will starting in the late 30’s. Reforms began to emerge. Things seemed to take a turn for the better then world history took a massive dump on Cuba with World War II and most importantly the Cold War. Suddenly, being a doting parent to an unruly country seemed to be back in vogue.  Too bad it would all end with two guys who dared to dream a little socialist dream and we are not talking about Corey Feldman and Corey Haim.

As soon as Castro and his pal Che came to the scene, everything was turning up Coo-bah. Cuba was able to dictate its own course for the first time in a very long time. Too bad the government took the island nation down another course that ended in an ism. This May 20th will mark the 110th year anniversary of Independence.  The island nation is restless again and the government is desperately clinging to achievements that have longed faded in the collective consciousness. At the same time, the government is trying to allow a compromise between ideology and economic realities. While people are now allowed to be masters of their wallets, how free is Cuba anyway? Is Cuba really so independent?