Freedom from Spain has an Ironic Twist

On January 1st, 1899, during official ceremonies in Havana signaling the end of four hundred years of Spanish rule, Cubans looked on as outsiders as the island passed from Spain to the United States. Cubans were denied an official role in the proceedings.

The Cuban Constitutional Convention was advised that the United States Army would not leave the island until the Platt Agreement was agreed to. The amendment excluded the Isle of Pines from its national boundaries, and demanded Cuba sell or lease lands necessary for coaling.

Members of the new Congress battled this amendment, but within the next three months, pressure became too great.  The Cuban Congress adopted the Platt Amendment. As General Leonard Wood wrote to Theodore Roosevelt in 1901:  “There is, of course, little or no independence left Cuba under the Platt Amendment.”

Ordinary Cubans tried to do the most they could with what they had. Antonio Victor refurbished La Viña Gallega, adding a tobacco shop and bar, as an added source of income. Comecara was sold to an investor from Georgia, and Jorge Roy concentrated on improving La Mathilde Belford. In the course of his endeavors, he fell in love with the illegitimate daughter of a former Mambise General, Pura Echavarria, and started his own family.

Bernard and Henry Jose came for a visit after they were discharged from the army, attending the first general elections in December 31st, 1901.

Henry Jose O’Reilly stayed and established a hardware store in Santiago, but Bernard Roy returned to Key West to run the family business first established by his grandfather and father, Billy.

Many other men armed with capital, both thousands of foreigners, and returning Cuban-Americans, took over farms at the rate of nearly four thousand a year between 1898 and 1900. Moneyed interests from the United States descended on the island, taking over lumber, railroad, mine, and sugar interests. In a few years, thirty million of American capital was invested. United Fruit moved into the Cuban sugar industry and bought nineteen hundred acres of land for about twenty cents an acre. By the end of the occupation in 1901, at least eighty percent of the export of Cuba’s minerals were in American hands, mostly Bethlehem Steel

Back to Top