Background

Spanish Governor of Cuba Valeriano Weyler


In the 1890s, the United States and Spanish colony of Cuba developed deep economic contacts. Cuba exported substantial sugar to the US and the United States had invested millions of dollars in Cuba’s infrastructure such as railroads and plantations. In 1894, when the United States imposed a tariff on Cuban sugar, Cuban sugar sales to the US dropped dramatically, wreaking havoc on the Cuban economy. Under worsening economic conditions, adherents to José Marti, an exiled Cuban poet and writer, rebelled against the Cuban government.

“Blood on the roadsides, blood in the fields, blood on the doorsteps, blood, blood, blood…” – The World describing Spanish atrocities

Although President Grover Cleveland insisted that the US  remain neutral  in the conflict, many American citizens sympathized with the rebels. American “yellow journalism” revealed outrageous atrocities committed by the Spanish such as feeding Cuban prisoners to dogs. Americans also smuggled weapons and aid to Cuban rebels from Florida.

In response to the rebellion, the Spanish send 200,000 troops to the island and appointed General Valeriano Weyler to serve as governor of Cuba. Known as “El Carnicero – the Butcher,” Weyler herded Cuban residents into “reconcentration camps,” in which thousands died, further fueling American sympathy for the rebels.

In spring 1897, US President William McKinley pressed Spain to end the conflict, threatening US intervention. Spain consequently granted autonomy upon the island, which failed to satisfy Cubans who yearned for full independence. However, Spanish actions did actuate Loyalists, who viewed the autonomy as a threat to their power, to uprise. Concerned that chaos would hurt Americans or damage American property, President McKinley preemptively sent the Battleship Maine to Cuba, which would potentially evacuate Americans. Thus, the foundations for the Spanish American War were set.

The Spanish American War