Front Door to Cuba

The USS Maine in Havana

Excerpt from "Cuba: A Short History"
Drawn from the Cambridge History of Latin America
Edited by Leslie Bethell, Cambridge University Press
from chapter 2, page 32

The Cuban situation had by this time become a major issue in the United States. Convinced that American interests on the island were best protected by Spain, which paid indemnities for damage done to American-owned properties in Cuba, while disdaining the 'Cuban rascals', President Cleveland maintained a 'neutrality' which essentially favoured Spain. However, Congress and particularly the press inveighed against Spanish policies and demanded Cuban recognition. With President William McKinley's inauguration, the anti-Spanish campaign reached emotional proportions. Cubans became innocent victims murdered by butchers like Weyler. At the same time sober, powerful elements added their weight to the campaign. Imbued with Alfred Mahan's ideas of sea power, expansionists such as Theodore Roosevelt welcomed the sight of the American flag in the Caribbean. And some American businessmen, no longer convinced of Spain's capacity to protect their interests in Cuba, increasingly favoured United States intervention.

Under the circumstances, President McKinley displayed remarkable restraint. In his annual message to Congress on 6 December 1897, he refused to recognize Cuban belligerency or independence, and proposed to await the outcome of the newly proclaimed autonomy. The waiting period was brief. coverThe rebels refused to recognize the legitimacy of the new regime, and early in 1898 pro-Spanish elements in Havana launched violent demonstrations against General Blanco and Cuban autonomy. Unduly alarmed, the American consul, Fitzhugh Lee, asked the captain of the battleship Maine, on alert in Key West since December, to prepare to sail for Havana. On 24 January, the American government received permission to send the vessel on a 'friendly' visit to Cuba. The following day a silent crowd in Havana harbor witnessed the arrival of the Maine. Captain Sigsbee had waited until midday to give the Spaniards ample opportunity to gaze at the symbol of American naval power.

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