Monday, July 02, 2007

Overthrows #2, #3, and #4: Cuba, Puerto Rico, and The Phillipines

Most weeks I'll still keep to 1 overthrow of a foreign government by the US, but since these all happened during the Spanish-American War, I thought it made sense to do all 3 (plus they were all in the same chapter of the book I'm pilfering: Steve Kinzer's Overthrow)

Spanish American War

People who say the US has never been an imperialist nation aren't just failing to notice our many tacit takeovers, they are completely ignoring the Spanish American War of 1898. Why did we go to battle with Spain? Were we whipped into nationalistic frenzy by William Hearst's yellow journalism? Were we picking on a declining powerhouse (Spain)? Was it our natural next progression after Manifest Destinying to the end of our continent? Could it be that our ever-expanding industry needed more countries to sell our products to? Or, maybe it was just about the USS Maine (REMEMBER IT- DAMN IT!).

Regardless, after the USS Maine, who was just innocently sitting in Havana's harbor btw, was attacked all these factors combined into a war with Spain. Now, some conspiracy theorists claim we blew up the US Maine ourselves, to give us a reason to attack. There is some logic (Spain didn't appear to want a fight) and precedent (The Mexican War) for this, although it did result in 250+ US soldiers dying. Anyway, despite Spain suing for peace throughout, we kicked their asses from the Caribbean to Manila Bay and received, for our efforts, 3 prizes: Cuba, Puerto Rico, and The Philippines.


In 1898 Cuba was at the end of its own war w/ Spain. They had been fighting for independence on + off since 1868. Still, victory was very close and they had no interest in US help. But that didn't stop us. Even though the US didn't like Spain controlling Cuba, business leaders were even more worried that an independent Cuba would redistribute land, and with it the $50 million they had invested.

Congress decided that Cuba needed us and we were going to give it to them whether they liked it or not. Many in Congress, presciently, were concerned we'd step in and take over. So they only agreed to McKinley's war resolution after adding the Teller Amendment, which said: "The United States hereby disclaims any disposition or intention to exercise sovereignty, jurisdiction, or control over said island except for pacification thereof, and asserts the its determination, when that is accomplished, to leave the government and control of the island to its people."

Nevertheless, we arrived at the 12th hour, blew up a few Spanish warships, and won a battle where Teddy charged up a hill. After Spain abdicated, the US passed the Platt Agreement, which gave us military bases, the ability to veto Cuban treaties and, "the right to intervene for the preservation of Cuban independence." The Cuban delegates were forced to decide between starting a new war with the US or allowing their semi-independence. By a vote of 15-14 they accepted the US's agreements.

Puerto Rico

Spain had just granted Puerto Rico considerable autonomy and they were just hoping we would let them be. No such luck. On May 12th 7 US warships showed up outside of San Juan, battled for 3 1/2 hours, and set up a blockade. After the war was over, at the peace conference in Paris, Spain tried to hold onto Puerto Rico, but to no avail. Soon, the US controlled, "You lovely Island," Puerto Rico.

The Philippines

Adding The Philippines was almost random. Basically, after kicking Spanish tail in the Manila Bay, we had a choice, just set-up an army base there or take control of the entire archipelago. After, supposedly, praying, McKinley came to the decision that we should take over all 7,000 islands to "Christianize" them. Besides being culturally egotistical, this also showed how ignorant McKinley was about the new country, they were already almost entirely Christan (Catholics). Another reason to take them over, probably the primary one, was the closeness to China, and the potential for selling goods to that most mass of mass markets. As McKinley said to Congress, "We could not turn (The Philippines) over to France or Germany, our commercial rivals in the Orient. That would be bad business and discreditable."

What the US also didn't know about The Philippines was the degree to which they wanted independence. A brutal guerrilla campaign for independence was already underway against the Spanish and would quicky switch to their new oppressors. In the 3 year campaign 4,000+ US soldiers, 16,000+ guerrilla, and at least 20,000 civilians were killed. In 1902 Teddy Roosevelt considered The Philippines finally pacified.


The Republic of Cuba was born in 1902, and with it sporadic uprisings and attacks on US property. In the 30's, these protests got so big that FDR encouraged the Cuban army to coup. The replacement, a seargant named Batista, would be awful (what a surprise!). He crushed dissent, invited US mafia in to make Havana Las Vegas Caribbean ("The hottest spot north of Havana"), and would cancel the elections of 1952. Ironically, Fidel Castro was going to run in these. But Fidel will get to be president, the old fashioned way. In 1959, with his rebel army triumphant, he marched into Santiago and made his first speech, "This time the revolution will not be frustrated! This time, fortunately for Cuba, the revolution will achieve its true objective. It will not be like in 1898 when the Americans came and made themselves masters of the country." Castro, of course as you know, still (well more or less) rules today.

In Puerto Rico's aftermath, the US made them less autonomous than they were under Spain. Also our corporations will come in to take the best land and convert most of the island to sugar plantations. The Puerto Ricans will become gradually poorer, their unemployment rate increasing from 17% pre-US to 30% in 1925. At this time 1/3 were illiterate and their life expectancy was 46. Starting in the 60's, the US will grant Puerto Rico more control and it has become increasingly stronger economically. Currently, its status is in limbo between statehood and territory.

The Philippines will be granted independence in 1946, although 2 US military bases will remain. This will become a problem when Marcos is elected and then won't leave. We will continue to monetarily support him (we don't want to lose our bases) while he closed Congress, jailed the opposition, and enriched himself and his shoe crazy wife. Our bases and Marcos are gone now, but many locals there still blame us for their country's current poverty.

Ranking (worst to least worst)

1. Cuba

2. The Philippines

4. Puerto Rico

1 + 2 and 3+ 4 are close for me. I believe Hawaii is a richer state, but Puerto Rico might actually be lucky for their quasi status. We won't ever let them fully bottom out and they can steadily immigrate here if they want. On the other hand, they've managed to keep their traditions much more so than the native Hawaiians. With Cuba and The Philippines I can really see either way. The Philippines campaign was horiffic. But what bumps Cuba to the top for me is 2 things, (1) The utter lameness of us sweeping in after they were just about to get victory after 30+ years of fighting. And that we had the nerve to claim we should get credit for helping them? Shameful. (2) As much as I think Cuba is cool, the place is impoverished (A favorite Cuban joke: "The 3 successes of the revolution- sports, health care, and education. The 3 failures- breakfast, lunch, and dinner.") and have more or less no free speech. And I don't think a Castro exists other than a backlash to our overthrow.

But don't worry, we'll have plenty of other competitors for worst overthrow, starting next week with Nicaragua!

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Blogger Jenny! said...

How many are there?

2:24 pm  
Blogger chuckdaddy2000 said...

The author of the book I'm basing this on considers there to be 14 times the US directly caused a change in a foreign government.

So far...

(Watch out Iran)

2:46 pm  
Blogger Jenny! said...

Wow, we are nosy bastards!

8:02 am  

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