TALKING IS FINE, BUT CAUTIOUSLY
By Manuel E. Yepe
When Cuba is bound to a profound change in US foreign policy –that has come to be characterized as “normalization of relations with Cuba”– two instances must be recalled –for the sake of caution– that cast a dangerous shadow over the history of such links: the doctrine of “manifest destiny” and the “theory of the ripe fruit” [in Spanish: fruta madura, despite the fact that in the original statement Adams uses the word apple] .
In June 1783, John Adams, the second president of the United States, said that the island of Cuba was a natural extension of the North American continent and its annexation was indispensable to the continuance and integrity of the Union itself. He said the United States would never allow its independence and that the best way to proceed would be to let Cuba remain as a possession of Spain until the island could be absorbed by North America.
“Manifest Destiny” was the concept developed in those years as the doctrine that granted the United States the special mission of bringing its system of economic, social and political organization first to all of North America, and then to the whole Western Hemisphere.
Westward expansion took place in the late nineteenth century and, as a result, the indigenous population was virtually annihilated and the Mexicans lost almost half of their territory (Texas, New Mexico and California).
In 1823, President James Monroe proclaimed what became known as the Monroe Doctrine or “America for the Americans”. It declared that any interference by any European power within the emerging Latin American republics would be considered an unfriendly act against the United States and, therefore, Washington had the right to “protect the region.” This apparent defensive paternalism toward the rest of the hemisphere soon turned out to be obvious expansionism.
Some years before, John Quincy Adams –then Secretary of State for the Monroe administration and later his successor as President– had written: “… If an apple, severed by the tempest from its native tree, cannot choose but fall to the ground, Cuba, forcibly disjointed from its unnatural connection with Spain, and incapable of
self-support, can only gravitate towards the North American Union which, by natural law, cannot reject it from its lap.”
This principle was not an obstacle, however, to the United States to try buying Cuba from Spain. An offer to buy the island for a hundred million dollars was rejected by the Spanish crown.
Already by 1880, US capital was strongly involved in Cuba, especially in the sugar industry as a result of its global interest in turning the Caribbean islands into sugar-based economies.
As their revolutionary roots were still alive in the popular memory of the US and many ordinary citizens in that country had sympathy with Cuba, this fact overlapped with a tense preparation in the United States for direct military intervention in the war for Cuba’s independence against Spain.
Then, in 1895, a few hours before falling in battle, Cuban
revolutionary leader Jose Marti wrote that by fighting Spain, Cuba wanted to “prevent with its independence United States expansion over the Antilles and its falling with that additional strength on our lands in America … Everything I’ve done so far has been to that end,” he emphasized.
On December 24, 1897, US Undersecretary of War J. C. Breckenridge wrote in a memo: “This population [the Cuban] is made up of whites, blacks, Asians and people who are a mixture of these races. The inhabitants are generally indolent and apathetic… Since they only possess a vague notion of what is right and wrong, the people tend to seek pleasure not through work, but through violence… It is obvious that the immediate annexation of these disturbing elements into our own federation in such large numbers would be sheer madness, so before we do that we must clean up the country… We must destroy everything within our cannons’ range of fire. We must impose a harsh blockade so that hunger and its constant companion, disease, undermine the peaceful population and decimate the Cuban army. The allied army must be constantly engaged in reconnaissance and vanguard actions so that the Cuban army is irreparably caught between two fronts … Our policy must always be to support the weaker against the stronger, until we have obtained the extermination of them both, in order to annex the Pearl of the Antilles.”
More than a century later, Cubans are forced to act cautiously when it comes to realizing at the negotiating table, a victory as hard-won as it was deserved.
December 25, 2015.