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When Did Cuba Gain Independence?

Cuban flag
Cuba gained independence following the Spanish-American war.

The relationship between Cuba and the United States is long and complex. Older Americans may still view it as a troublesome neighbor from the Cold War era, while younger Americans may question why American sanctions so restrict the Cuban people. 

If we go back far enough, Cuba was a Spanish territory liberated by the United States. It was from there that the relationship quickly soured. So, when did Cuba gain independence from Spain, and to what extent were they controlled by the United States?

When did Cuba gain independence? 

The Cuban War of Independence took place between 1895 and 1898. This resulted in a brief American occupation between the Treaty of Paris and the formation of the Republic of Cuba.

However, the relationship between Cuba and the United States has been complicated ever since, including the second period of occupation and Cold War tensions. 

The Cuban War of Independence

Cuba fought against their Spanish occupiers for much of the latter half of the 1800s. The Ten Year’s War of 1868-78 was soon followed by a secondary conflict the following year. The last of these liberation wars came in 1895 and developed into the Spanish-American War of 1898.

Palacio Real
Cuba was under Spanish control from 1492 until 1898.

The Spanish-American War began after the loss of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor. This direct attack saw United States troops enter Cuba to help the island fight back against its aggressors.

With their involvement, and further conflicts across Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam, the United States and Cuba were victorious. 

Victory and The Treaty of Paris 1898

Following the loss, the Kingdom of Spain signed a treaty with the United States to formally end the war and relinquish the sovereignty of the territories involved.

Map of Cuba

This is not to be confused with the previous Treaty of Paris that led to formal independence for Cuba. An interesting additional clause in the treaty was compensation to Spain of $20 million. 

The victory and ratification of the treaty saw a shift in power in the region. The Spanish empire had fallen back in the Americas, and the United States now had much more land. As part of this, they soon made their presence felt in Cuba during the first occupation of the island. 

United States Control of Cuba Between 1898 and 1902

Even though Cuba felt the United States was there as a liberator, the United States manipulated the situation and remained in control. The Platt Amendment of 1901 ensured they could remain in occupation without annexing the island.

El Capitolio
El Capitolio, Havana, Cuba.

A reason given for the occupation was that Cuba was ill-prepared to take care of itself and form an adequate government. 

This meant three years of the First Occupation of Cuba – two of which occurred after the Spanish had been defeated. In 1901, Cuba saw the creation of a new constitution.

However, the American occupiers blocked their initial approval to ensure that the document better reflected American statutes. This constitution would remain in place until 1940. 

The Formation of the Republic of Cuba

In 1902, the United States finally allowed Cuba to take control of its affairs once more and form its government. The adoption and careful amendments of the new constitution allowed them to do so while still holding onto certain rights from the Platt Amendment.

This included the right to intervene militarily in future matters and acquire land for their benefit. 

A Second Occupation By The United States

It didn’t take long until the nation entered the Second Occupation of Cuba. The second occupation is known as the Cuban Pacification to the Americans and saw military control of Cuba for two and half years.

President Teddy Roosevelt
President Teddy Roosevelt sent United States troops into Cuba in 1906.

Up until this point, President Palma had governed Cuba. But, a revolt occurred when he attempted to outstay his welcome. 

President Teddy Roosevelt sent troops into Cuba to maintain the peace and protect islanders from further chaos. Yet, there was also the incentive to look after the land and secure economic interests.

The troops withdrew in 1909 after the successful election of President Gomez, and Cuba was left to take care of its own business again.

Rising Tensions During The Growth Of Communist Cuba

The relationship between the two countries didn’t get much better across the rest of the 20th century. Many in Cuba valued their American neighbors and sought to take advantage of American media, education, and travel.

Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz
Fidel Castro led the Cuban Revolution in the 1950s.

However, things went south following the Cuban Revolution, which began in 1952 and was led by Fidel Castro, who was less inclined to form strong ties. 

Castro and his Cuban rebels, aided by the charismatic revolutionary Che Guevara, eventually ousted the Fulgencio Batista government on December 31st, 1958.

Around this time, the United States was also caught up in the Cold War with the communist Soviet Union. Poor relations with the Communist Party in Cuba did not help. Eventually, the United States imposed a ban on US-Cuban trade. 

The Bay of Pigs Invasion and Cuban Missile Crisis

Tensions came to a head in 1961-62 with the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis. The former was a plan to overthrow the government via a group of Cuban exiles.

President John F. Kennedy
President John F. Kennedy was in office during the Bay of Pigs fiasco.

They soon surrendered, faced interrogation, and were exiled. This Cuban affair led to international embarrassment for the United States. 

In 1962, it was revealed that Cuba had agreed to house a series of Soviet nuclear weapons. This would place the missiles within close reach of American soil, exacerbating the threat significantly.

However, following a tense standoff, the Soviets withdrew due to the American response and growing distrust of Castro. 

Improved Relations in the 21st Century

President Barack Obama’s administration oversaw major changes in diplomatic relations with the Cuban government. He reduced restrictions on travel for Cuban-Americans in 2009. There was also a partial relaxation of the trade embargo for humanitarian shipments in 2012.

Barack Obama’s administration sought to normalize relations with Cuba.

There was a setback with the Trump administration after he rolled back Obama’s deal citing human rights violations. However, President Biden has worked to rectify this and rebuild relationships. That said, much of President John F Kennedy’s original embargo remains in place. 

Cuban Independence in 2022

Today Cuba is an independent nation with the ability to form its own government and not worry about further American invasions. However, the presence of embargo clauses shows that it isn’t yet 100% free from the restrictions imposed by the United States. 

There is also the issue of the controversial Guantanamo Bay detention camp, a United States military prison located in Cuba that houses several hundred detainees.

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