Independence Day in Cuba 2016: Reflecting on the first 467 years

By John Suarez in Notes from the Cuban Exile Quarter:

Cuba Independence Day 2016: A reflection on the first 467 years

Before the arrival of the totalitarian darkness

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Independence Day in Havana, Cuba on May 20, 1902

One hundred and fourteen years ago today at noon the flag of the United States was brought down and the Cuban flag raised over Havana as Cuba became an independent republic. However, when looking at Cuba one should look back over the past 500 years and where it is situated today to gain greater understanding of the unfolding tragedy.

Cuba is just 90 miles south of the United States with a population of approximately 11 million people. It is 780 miles long and has a land area of 40,369 square miles and is the largest island in the Caribbean and 17th-largest island in the world by land area.

Columbus’s second stop in the New World was on October 28, 1492 when he landed in Cuba. (The first place he landed on October 12 was the Bahamas). Cuba was a Spanish colony from Columbus’s landing in 1492 until 1898 when Spain lost Cuba in the Spanish-American War.

Cubans engaged in two protracted wars of independence. The first was the 10 Years War that took place between 1868 and 1878 and the second took place between 1895 and 1898 ending with U.S. intervention and a 4-year occupation that ended on May 20, 1902. Cuba’s first president was a Cuban exile named Tomas Estrada de Palma.

There are many important figures that emerge in the 19th century but for the sake of brevity will mention Father Felix Varela, Jose Marti, Antonio Maceo, Maximo Gomez and the Bacardi family.
Father Varela was a catholic priest who is said to “have taught the Cubans how to think” and entertained ideas of independence that led to his exile to the United States. Antonio Maceo and Maximo Gomez were Cuban generals that played important roles in both wars of independence. Antonio Maceo was of a mixed racial background: part Spanish and part African.

Jose Marti was a journalist, poet and revolutionary who organized and advocated for the 1895 war of independence and spent most of his adult life exiled in the United States in New York City.
Maximo Gomez, was an experienced military man of Dominican origin who oversaw the overall military campaign in the second war of independence and of the three previously mentioned was the only one who survived the war to see the arrival of the Republic.

The Bacardi family, began their world famous Rum business in Santiago de Cuba in 1862. Don Facundo Bacardí Massó founded Bacardi Limited on February 4, 1862. The family would also play an important role in civic life in Cuba, especially Santiago over the next century, and were constant opponents of dictatorship, political corruption and remained ardent Cuban nationalists over several generations. Forced into exile by the Castro regime the Bacardi family has maintained the traditions of the Cuban Republic celebrating independence day, carrying on the family business and continuing the fight for a free Cuba.

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