In the latter half of the 19th century, the Cuba Libre (the Cuban independence from Spain) movement grew stronger. This movement grew from the economic elites’ desire to have more control over their ecopoltical futures and reached a peak in 1868. The brutal rule of Captain-General Francisco Lersundi in Cuba as well as Spain’s internal political instability after the deposal of Queen Isabella II in 1868 served as catalysts for the rebellion that began the Ten Years War. 

Rebellion started by radical Creole landowners in the eastern part of the island, where the plantations were smaller and more provincial. As such, they hadn’t benefited from the earlier sugar boom and saw rebellion as a path to wealth. Many factors weakened the rebellion, but the dissension among leadership regarding slavery was the most significant. While some expatriates in the U.S. send down supplies and weapons to the rebels, the U.S. government did not recognize the rebellion due to its ambiguous support of slavery. In February 1878, the Peace of Zanjon was agreed to and ten years worth of hostilities were suspended.

Cuba's Continuing Rebellion 

Though the Ten Years War was lost by the rebels, Cubans continued to gain a sense of nationalism and individual identity, that, concurrent with the growing trade with the United States, set up the Cubans for a second rebellion. The United States people and government largely sympathized with the nationalists and U.S. naval intelligence began to prepare a war plan against Spain.

In response, the Spanish government created internment camps for the island’s loyal inhabitants; anyone outside the camps was considered a rebel and open for execution. The Spanish then vandalized and terrorized rural villages and farms. The rebellion seemed unlikely to be successful once again. However, the cost of the war as well as the U.S.’s seemingly imminent intervention caused the Spanish government to offer limited autonomy, comprehensive suffrage and self-government within their empire.

The First U.S. Blockade

Though the United States’ President McKinley and U.S. businesses favored political settlement, Cuban nationalists and rebel commanders continued to advocate for total independence. Riots ensued throughout Havana in support of total political autonomy, which led President McKinley to dispatch the USS Maine to Havana to protect U.S. property and citizens. For unknown reasons, the Maine suffered an explosion on February 15, 1898 with 260 casualties. With yellow journalism sensationalizing the story, public hysteria and hostility toward the Spanish grew. In accordance with the U.S.’s growing imperialistic intentions, McKinley offered to buy Cuba for $300 million; this offer was refused, tensions rose, and a U.S. blockade then went into effect before war was ultimately declared on April 1899.

It was during this war that the famed battle at San Juan Hill in Santiago took place and raised Roosevelt and his Rough Riders to American celebrity. Though the war was declared over with the Treaty of Paris that December, Americans excluded Cuban troops and officials from participating in the Spanish surrender or subsequent meetings of governance. These interactions and American disparagement signaled the tone of future American-Cuban relations. With its weakened economic infrastructure, Cuba could not counter the power of American Manifest Destiny. Cuba found itself placed under U.S. occupation. In 1901, the Platt Amendment passed and continued to shape Cuban-American relations as unequal with American dominance over foreign relations and economic authority.