Discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493, Cuba was considered the “Pearl” of the Spanish Empire — not only for its beauty — but for its sugar plantations. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the powerful Spanish empire was in decline and Cuba was in a period of unrest.
In 1866, the Madrid government organized the Junta de Informacion, a public relations arm of the government, to respond to the protesting voices of Cuban born nationalists. There were calls for emancipation of slaves, and equality in Cuban criminal codes. The Spanish government instead increased taxes and banned all political meetings about reformation on the island.
Results were not unexpected. Sugar planter Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, organized a movement in 1868, calling for independence from Spain. He formed the Republic of Cuba on October 10,l 1868, and by 1869 had written a constitution that abolished slavery and annexed the country to the United States.
Though not officially recognized by the United States government and consciously ignored by President Grant the Cuban Junta, already active in the United States, raised money and spread pro-Cuban propaganda, and both monetary and moral support to the Cuban rebels.
The leaders of the rebel movement were not of one mind. Maximo Gomez was controversial in his calls to burn the sugar plantations and thus ruin the Spanish economy. The Afro-Cuban rebel leader Antonio Maceo was hugely popular among Cuban blacks, and this made many Cuban white nationalists concerned about the results of a socio-economic revolution. By 1877, tensions among rebel leaders weakened the independence movement and the rebels ran out of material resources. In 1878, the rebel leaders and Spanish government signed the Pact of Zanjon which officially ended what became known as the Ten Years’ War.
While this first attempt to find freedom from Spain was unsuccessful, it lead to the groundwork for a later, more successful fight for freedom from Spain.