Once the flag of the stripes and stars was lowered amid popular rejoicing on 20 May 1902, Generalissimo Máximo Gómez proceeded to raise the national ensign at Palace of the General Captains. “I think we have made it,” were his words that day.
After four centuries of colonialism, three decades of independence wars, and more than three years of foreign occupation the Republic of Cuba was officially born. This new date altogether with January 28, anniversary of the birth of the Apostle (José Martí), October 10, the Cry of Yara, February 24, the beginning of the War of Independence, and December 7, the fall of the Bronze Titan (Antonio Maceo), would form a pentarchy of illustrious anniversaries, with a singularity when it comes to political material; May 20th taught us a lesson: negotiation.
In an attempt to reduce its importance and to shape this event into a particular ideology and into the objectives of those in power, May 20 has been compared to the military coup d’etat of 1952, and it has even been denied as the event that marked the birth of the Republic. An example of the latter was the opinion expressed by historian Rolando Rodríguez who said that May not be remembered as the day that marked the birth of the Republic because the Republic had already emerged in Guáimaro on April 10th of 1869… “That is where the origin of the Cuban Republic is,” he said.
Guáimaro, undoubtedly, is inseparable from the foundation of the Republic. It represents the beginning of that process, but that is different from the moment when it became a reality, when Cuba, despite the imposed limitations, debuted as an independent country, recognized by the international community. Guáimaro is the building block, but the advent, despite what our personal inclinations may be, was in 1902. Rolando simply confuses process and results.
His rejection of the date is not illogical. It is true that the Republic was not born with absolute independence or full sovereignty, but his reasoning does not take into account that this outcome did not only result from the effort and bloodshed of Cubans, as was desired, but also from the entry of the US Army into the war due to the geopolitical interests that were being defined in the international arena by the world powers of that time period. Like it or not, beyond our desires, that is what happened.
After Spain’s defeat and the signing of the Treaty of Paris, the occupying government issued Order No. 301 on 25 July 1900, calling the Cuban people to a general election to appoint the delegates of the Constitutional Assembly that would develop the Constitution and would define Cuba’s relationship with the United States. A commission charged with the task of defining US-Cuba relationships, but their result was rejected by US authorities. After multiple discussions, procedures and disagreements, the delegates received a final blow.
The Platt Amendment, passed and signed by the president of the United States, was delivered to the delegates to be incorporated into the Constitution, and it included a note signed by the Secretary of War stating that the President “is required to comply with [the ultimatum] and to execute it as it is […] he can neither change it nor modify it, add or take out anything,” as a condition of ending the military occupation.
What were the factors that led those Cubans to approve a document so lacerating to independence and national sovereignty? Simply, that they could not count on anything else, but their commitment, dignity, intelligence and capability to fight in the political arena. And that is what drove them, regardless of whether one or the other may have felt some sort of admiration for the occupying government. To add to this quandary, the Liberation Army had been demobilized, the Cuban Revolutionary Party dissolved, the Nation had not reached a crystallization point and lacked a Republic, with a State and a government of its own, and the people were exhausted from by the prolonged war.
The events that took place in March of 1901 attested to this. After the objectives of the Platt Amendment were publicly known, a demonstration of about 15,000 people walked through the streets of the capital toward the Martí theater, the headquarters of the Consitutional Assembly, to the residence of the military governor in Arms Square, demanding independence and sovereignty with an invocation directed to the American people.
However, a few days later, when a delegation of Cubans embarked to the United States to discuss our nonconformity only about 200 people showed up for their departure and barely a few dozen attended their return: a clear expression of the exhaustion and helplessness of the people in general.
In this situation, although intransigence might have seemed very patriotic, it was groundless and of no use. Choosing belligerence would have been suicidal before the superiority of the occupier.
The “all or nothing” expressed in “Freedom or Death,” “Independence or Death,” “Motherland or Death,” or “Socialism or Death” has proved itself unreal. Life went on after 1878 when we were not able to get our freedom. Life went on after 1898 when we did not completely win our motherland. Today, while this totalitarian Socialism is dying out, life goes on, which proves that intransigence, despite its solemn declarations, has contributed very little.
However, despite that this Republic of incomplete independence and limited sovereignty was not precisely the one José Martí dreamed of, Cuba joined the international community with a juridical personality of its own and closed the doors to annexation; the occupying army was withdrawn, and our destiny would not be that of Puerto Rico, Guam or the Philippines.
Time proved our wisdom. In 1904 the Hay-Quesada Treaty was signed, and our sovereignty over Island of Pines was recovered in 1925. In less than 20 years, Cuba managed to emerge from the economic stagnation and the social upheaval caused by the war; civil society strengthened; in 1934 we got rid of the Platt Amendment, and in 1939 the Constitutional Assembly convened, from which later emerged the brand-new 1940 Constitution that served Dr. Fidel Castro to support his defense at his trial for the Moncada Barracks assault in 1953.
Reminding ourselves that this Constitution endorsed the fundamental rights in the First Section of Part IV would be wiser than judging the Cuban delegates: the essence and spirit of habeas corpus, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and association for all legal purposes and freedom of movement. Freedoms/rights, inherent to human beings, that are the foundation of the respect and observance of legal guarantees, of citizen participation and the realization of popular sovereignty. Rights that are mostly absent today.
Published in Diario de Cuba
Translated by Chabeli
31 May 2013