William McKinley and His America

By H. Wayne Morgan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER l6
From Peace to War

HAVANA IN 1898 bore the marks of its divided character. To the casual visitor and tourist it was a charming, if inconvenient, city. From this seat of imperial power expeditions had set out to conquer an empire. In 1898 the city still boasted this air of grandeur, but now it was uneasy, sitting in the midst of a crumbling world, prey to fear as the conflict ate at Cuba's vitals. Now within its confines stood not a conquering army but a garrison amid the rabble and misery that war bred, prey to disease, fearful of tomorrow. It shared the dubious honor of Spanish power with only one other major Cuban city, Santiago de Cuba.

Havana was not Madrid, nor were the attitudes of its people the same. Both its civil and military officials saw things in a different light from that which filtered through the instructions and correspondence from Spain. The military commander who undertook a Cuban responsibility often lost heart when he faced his command and surveyed the scene of battle. The civil administrator who determined to reform the island to save it for his country soon fell into laxness and defeatism on facing the island's bureaucracy. From the somewhat seedy but still ornate government palaces in Havana there issued edicts and pronouncements intended to change Cuba to American satisfaction, but they seldom impressed anyone.

Much of the problem was inherent. Spaniards born in the island ran the Cuban economy and political system. Loss of the island would mean loss of office to them. Their control over the fiscal system, the debt, and the economy in general would vanish. The Cuban Spaniards clung largely to the past, urging the captain-general, Marshal Blanco, to subdue the rebellion at once. Their opposition to insular reform, together with the rebels' manifest refusal to accept anything but independence, was the basis of Lee's skepticism about autonomy, no matter what intentions motivated Madrid.

American pressure had only sharpened that sullen opposition during 1897, for the Spanish elements in Cuba were far more conscious of the “Yankees”

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