The American Spanish War

After the Ten Year War and the Little War that soon followed, the ideal of independence in Cuba was still very much alive, and United States, a country who not so long ago had been a colony of the British Empire itself, would use this as an opportunity to expand and grow as a world power. Even after most of the Spanish colonies had become independent nations, Cuba was still annexed to its old Motherland, since it was its most profitable and wealthy colony .

Those were convulsed times and the European powers were once again on each other's throats over frontiers and ports of their territories in Africa and Asia. The United States was a young nation and it set its eyes on The Caribbean and The Pacific where, of course, the Spanish had profitable colonies. The United States took advantage of the political chaos that shook Spain since Isabel II's reign.

Cuba War

The US offered to buy Cuba, but they were rejected several times, since it would mean the decay of the Spanish Empire. In the meanwhile the radical independence movements in the island and particularly in Havana continued growing. Spain and the United States maintained a wary stance towards each other while their respective press began campaigns discrediting one another.

As time passed a conflict between the two powers seemed unavoidable and at the same time many important Cuban citizens requested US intervention. Washington saw the possibility of the Cuban's free fighter armies finally overthrowing Spain and losing the chance of getting control over the island and decided to take action.

The USS Maine Incident

The US possibility sent the USS Maine battleship to Havana Bay and even though it was uninvited and not precisely welcome, it's crew was received by the Spanish authorities. The Captain of the ship Charles Sigsbee and commander Ramón Blanco became friends

But an event took place that would shape the history not only of Cuba but of Spain and it's colonies as it gave way for the American Spanish war.

USS Maine

The USS Maine exploded on the night of February 15, 1898, witnessed by Havana Port and half the city. Of a crew of 355, only 99 officers survived, who at the time were attending a soirée given by the unsuspecting (or not) Spaniards.

On the next day, the press of the United States lead by press magnates William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer had a party printing headlines accusing Spain of attacking the USS Maine. Both nations carried on separate investigations. The United States claimed that the explosion was provoked by external causes. Spain determined that if it had been a mine as the US said, there would have been a column of water visible at the time of the explosion, they would have also found dead fish in the port, which was not the case.

Historians still debate which version is the correct one but it is widely believed by Spanish historians and many others that the USS Maine was blown up on purpose to give the United States the excuse enter into conflict with Spain.

As it happens the American nation accused Spain of attacking their ship and demanded that they leave Cuba. The Spanish denied everything and refused to submit to their ultimatums. Perhaps war was inevitable at this point, Spain's war declaration in case of invasion came soon after, and it would be a hard lesson for the Spanish to learn that Cuba had already been blockaded by the US.

Different Theatres of War

    Battle of Manila Bay
  • The first military campaign of the US was the Battle of Manila Bay in the Philippines, when it manourvered a fleet stationed in Hong Kong to the Spanish colony only a few hours after war was declared (some remark how odd this was). Whether this was a planned strategy is still widely argued. The Spanish fleet was destroyed on May 1. The Filipino rebels allied themselves with the US troops and the Spanish forces surrendered in August.
  • The US troops that arrived in Havana, Cuba were not only poorly equipped but also enormously unprepared. Spain at some point believed it was close to victory, but the scales tipped to the other side when the Spanish fleet was destroyed by the US Navy in Santiago Bay. The Spanish troop surrendered a few days later, it was one of the most humiliating episodes of the American Spanish war.
  • After the campaign in Cuba the troops were ordered to continue to Guam and capture it. The Spanish authorities in Guam didn't even have a clue that Spain and the US were at war and surrendered without firing one single shot.
  • On May 12, 1898, the campaign in Puerto Rico began. The US Navy bombarded San Juan de Puerto Rico destroying many government buildings. The US forces encountered some resistance at the beginning. The first combat was the Battle of Yauko, followed by many others, however after some US troops were injured the force retreated.

The Consequences

Platt Amendment

The American Spanish war completely ended the Spanish Empire. As a result, Cuba gained its independence only after signing the Platt Amendment which gave the US the perpetual rights to hold a station in Guantanamo Bay, the same one that we know today. Despite the fact that the US could only win this battle with the help of Cuban insurrectionist and mambises their actions were not even recognized by the Americans. Puerto Rico became a dependency of the US and still is.

The Philippines fared quite differently, from being part of the Spanish Empire they passed into the hands of American power, and the Philippine-American war was soon to follow.

Spain experienced enormous economic growth, as the capital that had been circulating in the colonies returned and was re-invested, sustaining the growth of industry and modernisation. Politically, however, it became even more unstable.

The US became recognised as a world power; it got control not only of the Caribbean, but also of Pacific waters in Asia. The final stroke would be the purchase of the land that would become Panama (until then it was Colombian) and the Panama Canal was built, helping to establish the US's new found hegemony.