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Cuba Then and Now: When Blacks were Republicans

 
Lunch for Today (a BLOG)

Cuba Then and Now, When Blacks Were Republicans

In 1898 victory was within grasp for the Cuban revolutionaries as the nearly 100 years quest for independence from Spain was almost in hand.  Spain had quelled all previous attempts until the Ten Years War (1868-1878) gave rise to Josè Martì and his lifelong friend Afro-Cuban General Antonio Maceo Grajales a renown military strategist.Although Spain prevailed in the Ten Years War, the cloak of invincibility had been removed.  Journalist, composer, poet, and patriot Martì traveled abroad to raise funds and conscience. 

The well documented cruelties of the Spanish forces under General Valeriano Weyler known as the Butcher had to be purged. General Maceo organized an efficacious military. The regular revolutionary forces led by Dominican General Maximo Gomez with Afro-Cuban General Calixto Garcia in charge of the rag tag insurgents had turned the tide.  The strains of the Martì anthem of the revolution, "Guantanamera" reverberated as the coup de gras, the advance to the Capitol, Santiago began..

With a dovish President McKinley and a hawkish Congress, the USA was divided in sentiments regarding involvement in  a major conflict, though coveting Cuba with national businesses interests virtually controlling the commerce of the Island 90 miles south of Florida.  The Navy was not deemed combat ready and Army enlistments were at its lowest point in decades.  So assured of the impending insurgent victory, the Navy had at the ready the battleship Maine docked in the Havana harbor to assist any American citizens choosing to evacuate Cuba.  The flames of revolution were fanned by incendiary accounts of living conditions from competing media giants William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer.  A war would be a boost in circulation and revenue. The irony of Pulitzer´s yellow journalism legacy is noteworthy as a descendant foundation renders awards for journalistic integrity. 

Fate joined the militaristic poker game as an explosion of unknown origin sank the battleship Maine. Some witnesses called this killing of 266 seamen a tragic accident, but the populace in the USA, sympathetic towards Cuba deemed this an act of sabotage by Spain, which Spain denied Congress voted to allow the Navy to block Havana harbor.  Spain deemed this intervention in the revolution an insult and declared War.  Following suit, Congress declared War for the fifth time in History and Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt ordered the strafing of Manila Bay, the opener in the first hand of a three plus year war in the Philippines.  Narcissistic, camera moth T R engaged the haberdashery, Brooks Brothers  to create a natty fawn colored uniform as he resigned from the Navy to join his friend Colonel Leonard Wood to raise funds and recruit for a detachment known as the Rough Riders.  Although at best having limited active military service was commissioned as a Lieutenant Colonel.  This unit at the time consisted of former rodeo cowboys, wranglers. drifters, outlaws and other scapegraces.

Patriotism reached new heights as the intervention in Cuba was imminent.  A call for enlistment for 50,000 additional recruits was answered by more than 220,000 college students and young Americans seeking adventure.  After several minor skirmishes the contingent with Roosevelt  embarked to the San Juan Hill ridges to participate in the capture of Santiago.  Roosevelt was placed in charge of the Rough Rider unit by Col Wood to take Kettle Hill. Lt Col John J "Black Jack" Pershing was directed to hold his detachment containing the Black 10th Regiment Buffalo Soldiers in reserve.  Gen Calixto Garcia, the leader of the Cuban multicultural rag tag insurgents had admonished that a frontal assault using troops on horses would be ill-advised.  Roosevelt rejected this advice and led the charge up Kettle Ridge where they were easy targets for the crack Spanish forces with superior rifles that were positioned on the crests.  Roosevelt's forces on horseback were neutralized and pinned down, while suffering a high casualty rate.  Master strategist Lt Col Pershing directed the Buffalo Soldiers to swoop around the Roosevelt contingent on foot to attack the Spanish flanks on Kettle Hill.  The Buffalo Soldiers  would scream loudly while ferociously charging and firing, disorienting the Spanish as they retreated down the hill 

When Kettle Hill was secured, Roosevelt bemoaning the absence of his usually omnipresent cameraman planted the American flag and began the charge towards El Carney San Juan Hill only to be restrained by Wood and directed to prepare for the anticipated Spanish counterattack.  Roosevelt with Gatling guns in place awaited the counterattack and ordered the Buffalo Soldiers to secure the perimeter.  The counterattack was quelled by the now well positioned American forces augmented with the rapid firing Gatling guns.  Capturing Santiago would be the next objective.

The USA involvement in the Cuban Revolution encompassed three months with the actual combat portion contained in a ten week period.  The Buffalo Soldiers were major players in this portion of the conflict as the Cuban insurgents were the driving force of the entire Revolution.  Roosevelt returned home as a national hero. There was endless news articles, photos and cartoons. Some cartoons and Roosevelt´s narrative account depicted him as prodding the Black soldiers to fight as they "lacked courage".  This was recanted as Roosevelt then stated that not all Coloreds lack courage and some were quite capable.  This recanting was necessary because Roosevelt would need the Black vote to further his political career ---- Blacks were solid in their support for the Republican Party due to their allegiance to Abraham Lincoln.  There were four Medals of Honor awarded to the Buffalo Soldiers in the Cuban Campaign.  The slight towards Blacks was not as egregious as the lingering insult to the Cuban insurgents who did not participate in the treaty negotiations conducted in Santiago.  General Calixto Garcia was outraged as the letter to the commander of the Cuban forces General Maximo Gomez underscored his discontent.

Colonel Pershing of the USA forces was a staunch supporter of Black troops and utilized them throughout his distinguished career.  Pershing was the only officer to receive the designation of General of the Armies while still living ---- George Washington, the other awardee was honored posthumously in the 1976  BiCentennial celebration.  Pershing could be considered the father of modern warfare as George Patton, Douglas MacArthur, Dwight Eisenhower, and Omar Bradley are included among the many luminaries he led and mentored. 

"Rough and Ready" Teddy´s political star was rising and he was elected as Governor of New York in 1898, selected as Vice-President in 1900 and succeeded the assassinated McKinley.  Despite his bluster and bravado, Theodore Roosevelt was one of the great Presidents of the USA as his inclusion on Mount Rushmore would attest.  His nephew Franklin Delano Roosevelt a Democrat, first elected in 1932 changed the allegiance of Blacks from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party. 

The Spanish American War expanded the USA as Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines were annexed from Spain as protectorates.  Cuba rejected annexation, opting to retain their hard earned independence, but gave the USA the area of Guantanamo for a naval base in a perpetual lease agreement. The commerce of Cuba was firmly in the control of the USA as US owned businesses dotted the island landscape.  Institutional racism proliferated  as large plantations and a wealthy class emerged. Tourism, organized crime and gambling prospered as Cuba became the "playground" for Hollywood stars. The USA next controlled the politics by backing Fulgencio Batista (1940-44, !952-59) as President/dictator. 

Enter Fidel Castro.  After leading the successful revolt that removed Batista stood in the palatial government estate to proclaim (translated) "This will not be like Santiago" as he referenced the slight to General Calixto Garcia. The common man, the bulk of the insurgents that did the "heavy lifting" in the Cuban Insurrection ending in 1898 had not been included in the drafting of the Treaty of Paris and peace negotiations.  Deposed former president Fulgencio Batista and his wealthy followers looted the treasury before fleeing mainly to  Florida. 

Castro was a media sensation in the USA.  Appearances on entertainment programs, constant interviews on radio and television programs, ticker tape parades, photos with celebrities and politicians ---- he was "the triumph of the common man", a cigar smoking folk hero dressed in green Army style fatigues.  Then the bubble burst.  Rebuffed by the USA when appealing for financial and humanitarian aid, he was courted by the opportunistic Russians engaged in a decade long cold war with the US.  The Prime Minister of Russia, Nikita Khrushchev directed financial and humanitarian resources to Cuba in exchange for creating missiles bases  and a political ideological alliance. 

A counter revolution sponsored in large by the wealthy, evicted, former ensconced residents was attempted.  The squashing of this CIA led invasion of Cuba was a political nightmare and an international embarrassment.  The payment of a ransom for the captured invaders would be the beginning of the collapse of diplomatic relations and an economic embargo.  Fidel Castro made a sarcastic, though prophetic statement in 1973 when asked if the trade embargo imposed by the USA would ever be removed ---- "Yes, when the USA has a Black President and the Pope is from Latin America".

Note:

The vintage faded newsreel showing Teddy Roosevelt leading the San Juan Hill charge was filmed at Thomas Edison's studio in New Jersey using actors as soldiers.  

 

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