Cuban Émigrés and Independence in the Nineteenth Century Gulf World

Cuban Émigrés and Independence in the Nineteenth Century Gulf World

Cuban Émigrés and Independence in the Nineteenth Century Gulf World

Cuban Émigrés and Independence in the Nineteenth Century Gulf World

Synopsis

During the violent years of war marking Cuba's final push for independence from Spain, over 3,000 Cuban emigres, men and women, rich and poor, fled to Mexico. But more than a safe haven, Mexico was a key site, Dalia Antonia Muller argues, from which the expatriates helped launch a mobile and politically active Cuban diaspora around the Gulf of Mexico. Offering a new transnational vantage on Cuba's struggle for nationhood, Muller traces the stories of three hundred of these Cuban emigres and explores the impact of their lives of exile, service to the revolution and independence, and circum-Caribbean solidarities.

While not large in number, the emigres excelled at community building, and their effectiveness in disseminating their political views across borders intensified their influence and inspired strong nationalistic sentiments across Latin America. Revealing that emigres' efforts were key to a Cuban Revolutionary Party program for courting Mexican popular and diplomatic support, Muller shows how the relationship also benefited Mexican causes. Cuban revolutionary aspirations resonated with Mexican students, journalists, and others alarmed by the violation of constitutional rights and the increasing conservatism of the Porfirio Diaz regime. Finally, Muller follows emigres' return to Cuba after the Spanish-American War, their lives in the new republic ineluctably shaped by their sojourn in Mexico.

Excerpt

In 1909, the journalist Manuel Márquez Sterling criticized Cuban publicists for framing the Cuban independence movement as “a case apart … disconnected from the common problem of Spanish America … with no discernable relationship to the nations of the South.” the year 1909 marked the end of the second U.S. intervention in Cuba. Just over ten years earlier, the United States had declared war on Spain, “liberated” Cuba, and subsequently placed the island under colonial control. While U.S. territorial occupation would come to an end in 1902, Cuba’s adoption of the Platt Amendment— the condition set by the United States for its withdrawal—ensured Cuba’s continued subordination. It would not be long before political crisis brought U.S. navy ships back to Cuban harbors, in 1906. Manuel Márquez Sterling would characterize the second intervention between 1906 and 1909 as “a time of sad deception … when we believed we had seen our nationality forever unmade.” the first decade of Cuba’s independent life as a republic was not what most Cuban revolutionaries had imagined.

Many were blamed for Cuba’s grim fate. Some blamed the United States for intervening. Others blamed the insurgent army for laying down its arms too soon. For others, it was Cuba’s political elite that had betrayed the Cuban people who had fought so earnestly for independence. Finally, Cubans blamed Latin America for the diplomatic neglect that left insurgent Cuba adrift on a dangerous sea in its hour of need. While the United States’ blatant violation of Cuban sovereignty in and after 1898 was deeply disappointing, it was not surprising. Much more shocking for Cubans like Manuel Márquez Sterling was Latin American states’ refusal to support the Cuban independence movement as the insurgents fought doggedly to sever the island’s ties to Spain between 1895 and 1898. the framing of Cuban independence as a “case apart,” disconnected from Latin America, was thus a defensive response to Latin America’s abandonment of Cuba. As Esteban Borrero y Echeverria, a Cuban Revolutionary Party agent in Costa Rica pled with the president of that nation to recognize the validity of the insurgent’s struggle against Spanish colonialism, he wrote “Cuba, stained with the blood of the last battle turns her eyes naturally to [Latin America], as if she were looking for her own place in . . .

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