From 1868 to 1898 Cuba fought three wars for independence, the longest from 1868 to 1878.
The last war began in 1898 and resulted in the American intervention and occupation of Cuba until the 20 of May of 1902.
This last war was organized by José Martí. Its beginning was obstructed and seriously jeopardized when the American authorities seized three ships with weapons in “La Fernandina” in Florida, an expedition prepared by Marti. The Cubans, nevertheless, launched the war. For the first time the Cuban Army was able to invade the western provinces: Matanzas, La Habana and Pinar del Río and the Cienfuegos region in Las Villas. This was the economically critical sugar producing area.
At the beginning of the war the slogan of the Spanish government was “For Cuba to the last man and peseta”, but a new government came to power under the banner “Not one more man or pesetas for Cuba”.
Essentially Spain was defeated, not in a big battle, like Stalingrad or the Ardennes, but by the capacity of the Cubans to have not been defeated, like the Vietnamese years later.
Spain granted “Autonomía” to Cuba, but it was too late and too little.
All of the sudden, after years of “neutrality” and without recognizing the Cuban forces as belligerents, the US declared war and invaded Cuba near Santiago de Cuba. Cuban forces, under the overall command of General Calixto García, protected the landing of the US troops, horses, supplies etc. on Daiquiri Beach.
Very quickly the war ended. The occupying American forces did not allow the Cuban army to march into Santiago or any other town. Calixto Garcia resigned and sent General Shaffer a letter full of honor and pride. However, to the scorn of the Cubans, Spanish local authorities were retained in their posts.
The occupying authorities dissolved the Cuban Liberation Army and created a new force, the future Cuban Army. Essentially, with differences introduced by time, this is the army that was defeated in 1958 by the Revolution. Cuban landowners who had lost their wealth, particularly in the east of the country, had to sell their land for pennies to American interests.
The Platt Amendment was introduced into the Cuban Constitution as a condition for the end of US occupation. In effect, Cuba was a US Protectorate until the Platt Amendment was voided in 1934 as part of the New Deal’s Good Neighbor policy, with the notable exception of continued US control over the Guantanamo Bay base.
The US lowered its flag on the 20 of May 2002 and the Cuban flag was raised over the Morro Castle. America’s imposed conditional independence frustrated the majority of Cubans, but pleased the big land owners in western Cuba and the Spanish who controlled trade in Havana.
Celebrating the 20th of May in Washington as Cuban Independence Day is living in the past, opening old wounds and reminding almost everybody on the island that maybe the US of 2009 is still the US of 1898 and 1902.
(The author is a retired reform minded official of Cuba's governmemt.)