Friday, August 7, 2009

Here I am in downtown Havana: no more picture postcards for Americans

A lot of you have probably been wondering about the Spanish-American War. I understand this curiosity, and I understand the main thing you are curious about is Cuba. Cuba and communism. The Spanish-American War, Cuba, and communism. That shouldn't take too much time or space, so don't worry that this post is going to be long.

Spain had always been a world power from even before the New World exploration and colonization. Spain REALLY colonized the Americas, except for what is now Canada. Spain fought a famous naval battle with Great Britain during the reign of Elizabeth I, and lost. As a result of her explorations and colonizations, Spain had many territories all around the world by the 19th century. By the end of the Century, Spain's star was fading. Her fling had flung.

The Spanish-American War took place in 1898 and lasted perhaps 4 or 5 months. The U.S. picked the war with Spain for no particular reason that I can see. Cuba was fighting for independence and Spain wouldn't give it to them and so we used that as an excuse. I know, I know. Then someone blew up a U.S. battleship, the Maine, in Havana harbor and that was the last straw. I don't think it was Spain that blew it up, though. Probably some of the Cuban revolutionaries trying to get the U.S. to kick Spain's ass so they could be independent. Or not. Who knows.

After the "war," the U.S. was the proud owner of places like Puerto Rico and Cuba and, on the other side of the world, the Philippines and Guam. Guam, U.S.A. Where the sun first rises on America. Like that. And like we needed Puerto Rico, but that is 'nother story.

A sharp student of history might notice that all these places spoke mostly Spanish and the U.S. didn't speak any at all, but no matter, right? Our culture can become YOUR culture. And so we began to culturize Cuba as best we could without being able to speak Spanish, which was the only place we really wanted to take from Spain anyway.

Let me hurry. I still have to cover communism.

As usual, we plundered Cuba and supported fat-cat dictators who did what we wanted them to do and Cuba became a vacation backyard for the American wealthy. And gangsters. And people who liked to gamble and party with prostitutes. Las Vegas south. You get the picture. The last tin-horn dictator was a guy named Batista. A real sweetheart. The Cuban people adored him. Not.

Anyway, shortly after the war, in 1902, because Rough Rider Teddy R. thought they were plucky, the U.S. gave Cuba the independence they had wanted so much, except they had to put in their constitution that the U.S. could interfere/intervene in Cubas affairs pretty much at will. Oh, and they agreed to lease us a Naval Base at a place called Guantanamo Bay forever. But that was all, and in return Cuba got to rake in a lot of tourist dollars and all the common people had to do was bring the fat Americans drinks on the beach and smile a lot. And Batista took most of the money. Of course.

Communism didn't happen until 1958, and you are probably asking yourself why it took so long for the people to get pissed off enough to off Batista and throw out the gambling and prostitution and humiliation. And the Americans.

So Papa Fidel was welcomed by the compesinos as a hero, and rightly so. Fidel had started growing a beard during his time of hiding in the hills and swore he wouldn't shave it until the revolution was over. Citation needed. I just made that up. Although I think it is true. He still hasn't shaved, though. Fidel wasn't always a loco revolutionary, being a star baseball pitcher and a U.S. educated lawyer who speaks one hell of a lot more English than you think he does.

Where was I? Hurry, hurry.

But communism being what it is, the people it was supposed to save got the short end of the stick as usual and are still driving 1954 Chevrolets with hand machined replacement parts. To paraphrase my blogging friend Descartes about the Romans, Fidel just killed everyone who wanted to fight and then put everyone else to cutting sugar cane. And that was the name of that game. Yo.

I may have left out a piece here and there, but I am trying to be leaner and meaner with my blogging. I failed again with the leaner part.


  1. Ah, Relax Max, you make me old.

    On the one hand, I think you're description of the history of Cuba sounds flippant but is remarkably spot on (and reminds me that a pattern of "power to the people" that depends on a charismatic leader who never leaves the director's chair has historically always been a bad deal for the "people" involved) and American motives for a lot of things the US has gotten involved with historically are pretty specious.

    However, I don't know what to make of the statements, "Spain had always been a world power from even before the New World exploration and colonization. Spain REALLY colonized the Americas, except for what is now Canada."

    How could Spain be a world power before exploration and colonization? Before Ferdinand and Isabella, it was still partially occupied by the Moors (and you could make a good argument that the Muslim factions that occupied Iberia and Northern Africa were a world power, but their star had seriously waned before Ferdinand and Isabella. But Spain's stars flashed and began fading in the space of about a 100 years.

    I and F, of course, set that exploration going (though, of course, exploration was really begun more by Portugal's Prince Henry the Navigator who did more to spur exploration by making trade with Asia so lucrative and securing the easiest route to the East via Africa). The falling out from England's Henry VIII's callous treatment of Catherine of Aragon (I and F's daughter) was as much a factor in Spanish/English animosity as anything. Defeat of (actually three) Spanish Armada(s) had less to do with exploration and more to do with Spanish/English animosity and didn't really change much except fail to change the then status quo.

    From 1492 to 1598, the Spanish did the most colonizing and, because they tended to conquer lands where gold was prevalent, they got filthy rich - at least what gold the English didn't steal from them. English pirates were endemic.

    But the Spanish really had very little to do with colonizing North America except for Mexico (which included Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona and California and, I believe, Nevada) and Florida. The French largely colonized what is now Canada and the English/Brits and Dutch colonized what eventually became the US (i.e. 13 colonies)

    But with all their succession issues after 1598, it wasn't so much Spain was a world power as it was an asset for European powers to fight over, from the ineffectual rulers following Phillip II's death (for the next 100 years - oh, the inbreeding!), through the challenges of the following succession struggles (where the Bourbons succeeded to the throne eventually)to being conquered by France (Napolean in 1808)and effectively freed by the Brits (1813). By then, of course, they had lost power drastically despite a great deal of territory overseas. But here is about where that started to fall apart.

  2. Great postcard! Great post! ;)

  3. @Sheila - Yeah. What do YOU know. :(


  4. @Stephanie B - Thank you for your comment. Yes, flippant. Well, only half flippant I think. I admit to not being as serious as I could have been, but was not meaning to show a disrespectful attitude to anyone. Let's just say "playful" instead, shall we? It is an unfortunate shortcoming you will encounter in my sad blog from time to time, this flippancy.

    Even worse: at times you will find complete and utter fabrications. And this doesn't even take into account the seemingly utter disregard for copyright law. It is hard to decide where to start to clean up this mess. I thought by starting a new blog from scratch things might be different, but - alas! - bad habits die hard and the shadows of discontent seemed to have followed me here.

    Hello, Stephanie B. :)

    Was there NOTHING you found acceptable in this post? Nothing truthful? No merit at all? :)

  5. How could Spain be a power before the New World? The same way Alexander the Great conquered the world. The same way Rome was a world power. The same way Gengis Khan owned everything in sight. The "world" was the "known world". Admittedly none of them ever went to Indonesia or West Texas or even heard of the Mayans and the Incas. But they were REALLY big time powers.

    So was Spain. And most people think they were important well into the 19th century. I differentiate between "world" and "planet". Just semantics perhaps, but I think spain was important.

    Not at the time of the Spanish American war when they lost their possessions,but at the time they TOOK those possessions. That's a really small part of this post, though. It's about the history of Cuba and telling some readers how we ended up with Puerto Rico. That Cuba used to be a playground for the U.S., and some people aren't even aware we used to own the Philippines.

    The bittersweet story of the continually dashed hopes of the Cuban people needs to be told, even if I can't go into great detail in a blog post. You must be flippant when you do that or you will cry.

  6. If you don't mind me saying so, Mexico the way it used to be covered one HUGE part of the North America that excludes Canada. Just my opinion.

    Ummm.... just to remind you - the Spanish enslaved an entire continent and took all its gold home to Spain. The English privateers who preyed on Spanish shipping and "stole" "their" gold were not any worse bad guys than the Spanish. My opinion.

    Slavers and mass murderers of entire civilizations have no pity coming when they are plundered of the loot they stole.

    I don't know about three Spanish Armadas during the reign of Elizabeth I. I defer to you on that, and on Spanish History before the christian reconquista of the peninsula. Thank you for the earlier history. I have to concede the point that before 1492, Spain was not yet united. 1492, not because that is the year of Columbus' first voyage, but because it was the year of the reunification of Castile and Aragon. You win that one.

    Interestingly, though immaterial to my post, that also marked the beginning of the Spanish Inquisition of the Muslims and the Jews. When you lose to Spain, you lose BIG.

    Thank you for your thoughtful and interesting input. I learned.

  7. If you go back and read my original comment, I agreed with your take the history of our relationship with Cuba entirely.

    I don't know that being flippant (or whimsical or whatever) is a bad thing.

  8. @Stephanie B - I'm joking with you. Just not funny, I guess. I DID appreciate your compliment! And I did learn something from you. Flippant is not bad. Well, sometimes.



Related Posts with Thumbnails