Enigma's First Episode: Colonization of Cuba, roots of revolution
Al Mayadeen documents the Cuban revolution, presenting the first episode of the documentary Enigma that narrates the most momentous stops in the history of Cuba's liberation.
In an attempt to define and solidify the Cuban revolution among the Arab and Islamic communities in our region and the world, Al-Mayadeen Network presents Enigma, a documentary series that it produced and executed in cooperation with an elite Cuban team, led by the Cuban media preparation team official, Arleen Rodríguez Derivet, Director Michael Porto and the supervision of Director of Al Mayadeen Espanol, Wafiqa Ibrahim.
The series is five episodes long and tackles the history of the Cuban island and its struggle, starting from the 14th century till the present day.
The first episode of the series will discuss how Cuba gained independence, how Cuban nationalism was shaped in the face of British colonialism and exploitation, and the most prominent figures of the Cuban struggle, as well as the developments of their strategies.
Cuba: Republic of the revolution
Cuba, the country whose name originates from the Indigenous word Cubanacan, is located east of the Gulf of Mexico and is the largest archipelago between the Antilles and the Caribbean Sea.
The closest land to it from the north is Florida Island, which is 180 kilometers away, and Jamaica from the South, with 140 kilometers between it and the southern part of the island. To the east, Haiti is only 95 kilometers away, and to the west, the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico is more than 200 kilometers away.
Cuba: Key to the Gulf
Cuba is known as the "key to the Gulf". The island was named after its prominent geopolitical location, but in one of the most significant events in human history, when Europeans met the Americans, the indigenous groups that inhabited Cuba were annihilated almost a century later due to European violence and the diseases they brought with them.
The Spanish city center, led by Cuba's first governor, Diego Velázquez, established seven communities and towns across the island in less than a decade. Following the invasion and colonization of the American continent, as well as the spread of Christianity, major exploratory campaigns were launched in the years that followed.
After Hernán Cortés led the Conquest of Mexico from Havana in 1519, the current capital of Cuba turned into a logistical base for conquest campaigns, supplying provisions for the fleets returning to Spain laden with spoils of theft.
This early geopolitical fame earned it a place in history, which was beginning to formulate into what was known as the New World, and since then, the island has been called "the key to the Gulf".
British occupation of Cuba
The first indications of the nation in its infancy appeared 200 years after the conquest and colonization of Cuba in the 18th century, through an event that broke colonial dependence: during the British occupation of Havana, England sent more than 20,000 men to subdue the city, and this was the largest military expedition across the ocean.
The British siege on the city extended from June to August 1762. Still, the resistance, led by Pepe Antonio, mayor of Guanabacoa, faced the strategies used by the colonial ruler who was unable to save the most valuable Spanish outpost in the Caribbean: Cuba.
Eleven months later, the British occupation ended, and the period was enough to detect the first signs of a nationalist community.
Cuban nationalism and independence
One of the intellectual geniuses of the 18th century, priest Felix Varela, provided another significant way of viewing the world that was beginning to impose itself. He challenged his students to judge and make decisions on their own.
Varela also fought against slavery and defended through his newspaper El Habanero the principle of Cuba's independence from any foreign power, which he underlined should be achieved without any foreign assistance.
Similarly, Cuban nationalism was born in Bayamo, within a National Archaeological Site, the residence of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, the father of the Cuban nation. There is also the National Anthem Square, where the national anthem was composed and first performed, and the Revolution Square, which was the first square in Cuba to bear this name.
Cuba remained isolated from the influence of the wars of independence that were shaking the American continent and remained a convenient strategic location for the Spaniards, thus earning the title of "most loyal". However, in conjunction with this title, the patriotic consciousness that embraced the concept of nationalism took shape gradually.
Why did the Cubans decide to stand up to the Great Spanish Empire in 1868?
During the second half of the 19th century, patriotism grew and was bolstered in Cuba, in terms of quantity, depth, and strength. For its part, Spain obstinately refused, among other things, to carry out reforms or ensure the autonomy of Cuba, which had been a frequent and longstanding demand of Creole circles.
The first of the military confrontations was the Ten Years' War, also known as the Great War, initiated by Carlos Manuel de Céspedes of the "Criollos,” with the uprising of October 10, 1868, from the sugar cane mill (La Dimahagua) owned by de Céspedes in the eastern part of the country.
Céspedes became the revolution's leader after acting in the interests of humanity, leaving a symbolic and undeniable legacy by emancipating all of his slaves.
The war advanced rapidly into the eastern battlefields, and thousands of free whites, blacks, and other ethnicities joined the fight.
In October, the wealthiest landowner in eastern Cuba, Francisco Vicente Aguilera of Bayamo, made a symbolic decision for unity, endorsing the takeover of Bayamo. With this, the nascent revolution captured the capital. However, after a few months, the Spaniards tried to recapture the city, but the revolutionaries resisted. After a heroic war, the people of the land set fire to their city, refusing to surrender.
The Cry of Yara
The Cuban liberation project kicked off on October 10, 1868, with the Cry of Yara; a name that is deeply embedded in Cuban culture and accompanied Cuba throughout the many years since its inception. On November 4, 1868, less than a month after the Cry of Yara, which marked the beginning of the first Cuban war of independence, Cuba's first military campaign using machetes in Tienda del Pino, near Baire, was victorious against the Spanish colonizers.
However, a momentous rebellion led by General Antonio Maceo, the commander of the eastern region, in Baraguá, saw the commander underlining that the war for liberation would never end so long as the Spanish had a hold on Cuba and as long as it takes for Cuba to regain its independence from Spain.
In order to ensure that unity won over the divide, Cuban nationalist poet and philosopher José Marti founded the Cuban Revolutionary Party in Cayo Hueso, the United States; a party that would take the political reigns of the nationalist revolution taking place against the imperialist Spanish colonialism throughout all of Latin America.
Marti went in September 1892 to Santo Domingo to hold talks in person with Dominican Generalissimo Máximo Gómez, and they both agreed that they desired independence for Cuba. The people's unity was realized after a bilateral meeting between the two in Costa Rica, which saw Gómez joining Marti's liberation movements, and the two drew up Cuba's future in a document dating back to 1893.
José Marti and the fight against imperialism
Marti barely got to fight against the colonialist regime, only taking up arms for 14 days during the war's harsh conditions. On the eve of his martyrdom in Dos Rios, the revolutionary leader wrote an unfinished letter in which he revealed his deepest political convictions: the anti-imperialist goal, which accompanied him throughout his life.
"I am in daily danger of giving my life for my country and duty, for I understand that duty and have the courage to carry it out - the duty of preventing the United States from spreading through the Antilles as Cuba gains its independence, and from overpowering with that additional strength our lands of America. All I have done so far, and all I will do, is for this purpose," Marti wrote the day before he was killed, never getting to finish his letter.
In Marti's absence, Gómez and Maceo continued leading the war for independence, and within a month, the former was able to triple the number of men that had arrived with him at Camagüey. Fighting took place in three different governorates that constituted 70% of all Cuban land. Once again, the revolutionaries were able to secure a strong foothold in an embattled nation, allowing them to create a nationalist state in the midst of Cuban turmoil.
Jimaguayú, the place where Ignacio Agramonte was martyred during the first war, saw the Cuban people organizing the second Constituent Assembly in the midst of a conflict, with two goals: turning the war into a national cause by forcing Spain to fight wars all over the country and destroying the resources that the colonialists were profiting from through taxation.
Spain realized that it was losing the war against the Cuban people, which made it appoint a new Governor-General of Cuba, Valeriano Weyler. The colonial administrator imposed a siege on the civilian population of Cuba to dispute the revolutionary Cuban forces' supply chains, which saw them receiving food supplies, military equipment, and logistics.
This policy led to the death of around 200,000 people, the majority of which were civilians. Meanwhile, this led to December 1896 being a very harsh month for Cuba, leading to many losses for the revolutionary forces. Maceo continued his campaign in the West, while Gómez's bid to send military reinforcements to him due to internal conflicts failed.
However, in central Cuba, the leader of the revolution fought with an unprecedented proportional disadvantage for the revolutionaries, with a hundred Spaniards for each Cuban soldier.
Additionally, the takeover of Las Tunas and Guisa affected the balance of power, until Spain was getting closer to its last days in Cuba.
Finally, on December 10, 1898, Spain and the United States signed the Treaty of Paris, which saw the North Americans stripping Spain of all of its lands in America, and giving Cuba and Puerto Rico, as well as the Philippines, to the US.
When the United States took Cuba and hijacked its national independence, just years after the 19th century ended, the 20th century brought upon Washington a new war; a highly brutal war that stood in the face of the fierce hegemony over the biggest island of the Antilles.
That is where a new generation emerged, one that combined the heritage of all of Cuba's heroes to achieve José Marti's dream. This paved the way for Fidel Castro and his comrades to kick off the last battle against the United States and its aspirations to force Cuba into submission.