The United States, Cuba, and Castro: An Essay on the Dynamics of Revolution and the Dissolution of Empire

By William Appleman Williams | Go to book overview

1
The Epoch of Empire

The United States had no active interest in acquiring title to Cuba when revolution erupted across the island in 1895. For one thing, America's own house was in considerable disarray. The Panic of 1893 and the ensuing depression created serious and extensive social unrest, and raised the specter of revolution in the minds of a good many influential Americans.

Foreign policy matters were by no means ignored during the first part of the depression. Indeed, they were steadily winning an increasing and active amount of attention from farmers and workers as well as from businessmen and politicians. But Americans were looking primarily to the markets of Asia, not Cuba or Latin America, as the solution to the depression, which they had come to explain as the result of overcapacity and overproduction. President Grover Cleveland warned in 1894 that the Sino-Japanese War, and the threatened dismemberment of China, "deserves our gravest consideration by reason of its disturbance of our growing commercial interests." It is not at all surprising, therefore, that Cleveland's objective in Cuba was to help Spain "pacify the island."

This determination to "pacify the island" remained the basic policy of the United States from 1895 to the outbreak of war with Spain in April, 1898. As he neared the decision to go to war to make peace, McKinley told the Spanish that the mess in Cuba "injuriously affects the normal functions of business, and tends to delay the condition of prosperity to which this country is entitled." Cuba was thus defined as a causal factor in American democracy and prosperity, and Spain was charged with the responsibility for handling that element in a manner specified by the United States. There has been no

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