Before Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and Fulgencio Batista, there was another bully in Cuba: the United States. With a population of around only 12 million and land mass 1/10th the size of Mexico, why the heck did the United States want to poke their nose into this little country’s affairs?
Between the years 1895 and 1989, Cuba received more U.S news coverage than any other country in Latin America. In fact, Cuba frequently made the front page; Americans were obsessed with the gory press. We loved opening our morning newspapers to find out what atrocious acts the Spanish had committed against the Cubans that day. Journalists portrayed the Spanish as cruel, merciless beings and suddenly, Cuba became an American cause. However, we didn’t exactly take them under our wing…
Sure, our curiosity may have gotten the best of us. I’d like to think that we had good intentions in the beginning, but when the USS Maine blew up in Havana Harbor on February 15, 1898, without a doubt, the United States jumped on the opportunity to occupy Cuba. We blamed the explosion on the Spanish, called for an intervention, and declared the start of the Spanish-American War right then and there. We came out the hero, celebrated, and then moved right onto Cuban territory.
In regards to independence, Cuba is an interesting country. The complete subordination of Cuba begins with the good ol’ Platt Amendment under the Roosevelt administration. For those of you who want the quick and dirty, it was essentially a US-Cuban agreement about Cuba’s liberation. We set up shop, creating a temporary provisional government for Cuba. Interestingly enough, this amendment included the stiffest, most rigid conditions that the United States has imposed on any other country ever. Cuba was not to make a treaty with anyone else, take on any debt that it could not cover, and was even asked to ratify all acts of the existing US Military occupation. In addition, Cuba was required to sell land necessary for US coal production and military stations (the result of Guantanamo Bay today). In short, it was up to the United States to decide if Cuba was “properly” managing its economy and foreign affairs as they saw fit; if not, the United States could intervene. This rule lasted until 1934, leaving a heavy mark on Cuban politics.
Cuba was so tied to the United States that nearly 70% of all their imports and exports came and went from the U.S. Funny enough, the only other country that even approached this number was Mexico, but that didn’t even happen until the 1960’s and 1970’s. This serious exceptionalism affected Cuba in more ways than one. Their culture was heavily permeated by Americanism- more English, more baseball, and more travel. The Cuban elite would travel back and forth to Miami so often that they began to think of themselves as part of the Union. The U.S Ambassador had more control over Cuban domestic politics than any other country in the world; basically their government didn’t even operate without the approval of the Ambassador.
To put it lightly, this absolutely destroyed Cuban nationalism. Cuba went from Spanish colonial rule to American colonial rule almost overnight. So much for their independence, huh? The best part is, all of these events happened even before Batista, Fidel, or the Cuban Revolution. I’ll save that all that for next time. It just goes to show that even the 90-mile ocean gap didn’t stop the United States from hassling Cuba. We were glad to step in, take charge, and become the bully right next door.