Cuba of to-Day and to-Morrow
AT no time in the recent history of Cuba has it been more difficult than now for the people of the United States to obtain a correct view of conditions on that island. This may appear to be an unwarranted statement in the face of the peace which now prevails, the reviving commerce, the presence in every community of Americans, and the great amount of space which is now devoted to Cuba and her people by the press. It is true, nevertheless, as any one knows who has looked into the matter from an unprejudiced and disinterested point of view. Even when Spain held Cuba by the throat and discouraged Americans from coming to the island, the people of the United States were fairly well informed as to what was happening. It is the purpose of a large part of the press to secure sensational news. Two years ago Cuba was an inviting field. News obtained from there could easily be made exclusive, could rarely be corroborated, and while possibly there was considerable exaggeration in some of the antebellum horror stories of 1897 and 1898, the facts were sufficiently startling to make the exaggeration inconsiderable as a whole.
The situation to-day is peculiar. Cuba has been “ worked out ” by sensational journalism from its point of view, and abandoned to the statistician, the theorizing economist, and the government expert. With a national campaign in progress, and an administration, with its hands full of trouble in other directions, looking for indorsement at the polls, it is considered highly desirable by administration officials that Cuban affairs be kept in the background as much as possible. This attitude in Washington has a marked effect upon the conservative press of the country; for many newspapers not in favor of the present administration are more averse to the triumph of the silver democracy, and hence will exclude matter from their columns which might fill the ammunition chests of the common enemy. Together with the strictly administration papers, this includes nine tenths or more of the respectable newspapers of the country.
The few special writers who have visited Cuba of late are nearly all controlled necessarily by these influences. The press correspondents stationed on the island have found it useless to waste their energies on anything outside of the daily happening or the chance description of some picturesque bit of life. As to whether the Cubans favor or oppose annexation, whether the Americans are liked or disliked, whether the Cubans are fit for self-government or not, whether they are cheerful or sullen under the forcible injection of American ideals into their Spanish system of government, — all these and other fundamentals are largely forbidden topics. When in Cuba last winter, and after patient inquiry among all classes of people, I reached the conclusion that the Cubans were overwhelmingly opposed to the annexation of the island to the United States. In a carefully considered article I published this fact in the United States. The statement aroused surprise and criticism. The latter subsided when my opinion was confirmed emphatically by Generals Wood, Ludlow, and many others. A clever and responsible newspaper man, stationed at Havana for one of the great New York dailies, remarked bitterly to me anent the discussion the publication of this news had aroused : “ After studying that question six months, I wrote a twocolumn article taking the same view as yourself, and that was five months ago, but it never was printed. It was heresy.”
American government officials unite in the chorus of “All ’s well” for obvious reasons. It pleases the Cubans, advances the cause of the appointive power at home, and satisfies the people of the United States. The only discordant note which has reached the shores of this country is in the statements of returning officials who have lost their muzzles, those made by business men, newspaper men, and other intelligent observers who have spent some time upon the island. The contrast between what is said by the government officials and politicians and the others is so marked, that it in itself throws suspicion upon the sincerity of the statements made by the two firstnamed classes.
The great difficulty in presenting these matters aright is the impossibility of quoting the real views of those whose opinions would command attention. What Secretary Root, General Wood, General Ludlow, Colonel Black, Colonel Rathbone, General Chaffee, and others really know and really think about the Cuba of to-day and the Cuba of to-morrow would be intensely interesting. If known it would go far toward forming public sentiment in the United States, and thus influence national legislation upon the subject. They may believe that the Cubans are all that is hoped of them, that they are willingly, even joyfully and in humble spirit of thankfulness, accepting the teachings of the Americans, and that it will be but a few months before the Cuban ship of state can be launched from the American shipyard, and, manned by a Cuban crew, make a successful and profitable voyage. On the other hand, they may believe the task the American government has ostensibly undertaken is hopeless. They may have reached the conclusion after eighteen months of trial that the Cuban prefers his own ideals, customs, and ways of doing, to those of the Americans, and that no progress has been or can be made with this generation in the matter of substitution. They may even have reached the conclusion also that such is the lack of political control in the very nature of the masses of the Cubans, that with their own choice of executive and judicial forms they cannot conduct a stable and independent government. If they are optimists they may give expression to their optimism. If pessimists they must be reticent.
With an intimate knowledge of what has or has not been accomplished by the American intervention during the past year and a half, these men are in a position to enlighten the American people as to what may be expected as the outcome of the Cuban situation. In the very nature of things, however, they cannot do it. They must be self-deluded, evasive, or optimistically untruthful. The relations of the United States to Cuba are now so false and unnatural, the relations of the Cuban question to national politics in the United States are so full of possible dangers to the dominant party, that plain talk is beyond the possibility of the hour from those who are sustaining present policies in hopes of making those of the future. It can easily be seen, therefore, that a majority of the people of the United States have little opportunity at this time for judging the real situation in Cuba, and in consequence can form no really intelligent opinion as to what the future is likely to bring forth in the relations of the United States to that island and its people. The present acuteness of Puerto Rican and Philippine matters also serves to divert public attention from Cuba. Some marked disturbance of the apparent peace which now reigns in that direction, or some lull in interest now taken in other matters, will be necessary before the restless American newspapers will grasp the opportunity here presented for exploitation and comment. At present it is comparatively easy for those interested to discredit any disturbing rumors.
To review briefly the conditions existing in Cuba when the American intervention began is necessary for purposes of comparison. Under Spanish rule the head of the government was a military official with autocratic power supported by an armed force. The shadow of home rule prevailed in the form of a subordinated civil government extending from state affairs to the municipalities. The judiciary was a subordinate function of the government, the supreme power resting in the “ fiscal ” of the supreme court, who was in reality a government officer. The courts were slow and venal. Laws were made for the rich and influential, and so administered. The system of taxation was so devised as to allow the landed aristocrat to escape, and the man of business and the consumer paid the bills. Import duties were heavy on necessities and light on luxuries. The church played a strong hand in the government, and by an iniquitous law a legacy to the church became a mortgage upon an estate which held in the full amount against each and every purchaser of a foot of land from that estate. These so-called church mortgages now amount to millions of dollars, and to-day cloud the title to hundreds of thousands of acres of the most valuable land. The postal affairs of the island were so imperfect that few cared to trust an important letter to the mails, and the collect-on-delivery system had become a species of blackmail. Of the three hundred thousand children in Cuba of school age about four thousand attended what were dignified by the name of public schools. Public education was merely perfunctory, and the percentage of illiteracy in consequence now runs as high in many communities as eighty or even ninety per cent. Brigandage prevailed throughout the country, and was inspired and sustained by men high in office and social position in Havana. In brief, life, liberty, and justice were not assured to citizens of Cuba unless they could pay handsomely for immunity from assassination, imprisonment, or disastrous legal complications.
In time of peace despite these wrongs, so great when viewed in the light of modern civilization, Cuba flourished. Her fertile soil yielded sugar, tobacco, and fruits. Life was not a hard matter for the poor with their simple wants and happy dispositions. For the rich it could be made desirable according to means and influence. The Americans came to Cuba in time of war, when there was added to these conditions the blight of long civil conflict, with consequent starvation of the people, reconcentration, stagnation of trade, and like evils. It is difficult to conceive of so fair a land made more desolate by the evil passions of men.
The task presented for the Americans was no light one, for it was to bring order out of chaos, and it can be said without prejudice that no people could have done it quicker or more effectively. The starving were fed, life was rendered safe in every city, village, and neighborhood. The custom houses were turned into mints, and the money collected therein was honestly accounted for. The entire island was cleansed and disinfected, actually and figuratively speaking. To sum up everything accomplished is to say that Cuba was policed as no Spanish American country has ever been in the history of this hemisphere. Natives as well as foreigners breathed a sigh of relief. Men ventured into the fields to till the land. The quick soil responded gladly to slight encouragement. Commerce revived and gathered strength as the months went by, for over all floated the flag of the United States, which meant that here, there, and everywhere, were the quiet, keen-eyed, resolute officers of the American army, with hundreds of sturdy, impetuous, and well - equipped soldiers at their call. So far all was well. The United States had carried out its programme. The Spaniards had been driven from Cuba, and order was restored. This closed the first chapter of the American intervention in Cuba. Difficult and trying as this was, it was easy of accomplishment as compared to what was to follow, because the Americans had thus far required no cooperation or assistance. They conceived and executed their own plans. While carried out in a strange land and under new conditions they were not unfamiliar with the work. Distress had been relieved and order restored elsewhere. It was merely a matter of adapting men, material, and common sense to a tropical climate.
Following this, however, was to come the preparation of the island for freedom and independence, for the American people, in their anxiety to prove disinterested motives, had pledged themselves to give Cuba to the Cubans. There was a qualification to the pledge, however, which is contained in the promise made to the world at large, that Cuba should always maintain a stable government. At the first glance over the field it was apparent to the Americans that to guarantee this Cuba would have to be first rendered permanently quiet, the iniquities contained in the legal code eliminated, honesty made the rule in all departments of the government, the children properly educated, the church retired to its legitimate sphere of influence, the system of taxation revised, and a new form of government created. The Cubans, owing to their lack of experience, were manifestly unable to accomplish these things for themselves, so the Americans with vigor and enthusiasm set about to teach them. The story of this effort is the second chapter of the tale of the intervention, and it cannot all be written as yet, though, as with most tales, some idea of what is to come may be gleaned. The real difficulties now began, and for the simple reason that the task required the coöperation of the Cubans. Heretofore the Americans had worked alone ; now they were but to guide, and the Cubans were to do the work to which they had long believed themselves allotted.
Calling to his assistance the men whose names had been most generally identified with the struggle for Cuban independence General Brooke attempted a quasi-civil form of rule. He followed the advice of his Cuban counselors so far as he was able, and they led him into pitfalls from the start. He discovered the Cuban leaders had fought for a change of masters and not of methods. They quarreled with the people and among themselves. They opposed reform, and fomented trouble between the natives and the Americans. The situation became so serious that chaos was again threatened, and General Brooke was retired by an alarmed administration to make room for General Wood who had shown the most tact and the best results in the department under his administration. General Brooke was probably glad to escape. The place did not suit him, nor he the place. General Wood was a younger man with his life still before him, and he seized the great opportunity here presented. His first act as governor was one which won for him the applause of the conservative, property-owning Cubans, for he turned out of office the gang of brawlers General Brooke had gathered together, and substituted therefor the autonomists, the most dignified and admirable group of men identified with the struggle of the Cubans against Spain.
General Wood continued to feed the hungry, disinfect the cities, police the country, collect the necessary income through the custom houses, and spend the money where it was most needed. Recognizing the evils of the legal system and other public regulations which were left behind by the Spaniards, he appointed commissions to revise them all, and on each of these commissions he placed Americans to give the Cubans the benefit of their system and experience. Day by day as matters of wrong have been brought to his attention he has righted them. In his intense desire to keep the island peaceful, both for his own sake and that of the administration which placed him in his high position, he endeavors to placate all opposing elements. If a Cuban with a following becomes too noisy or is inclined to be critical, he gives him an office. This policy has been pursued so assiduously that now to call the roll of the office-holders is to call the roll of the principal agitators of the island who flourished in times of stress and rebellion. This does not mean, however, that these men are fit to lead the people in time of peaceful reconstruction, for many of them are ignorant and dangerous demagogues, and nearly all of them are only biding the time, and not too patiently at that, until they shall be free from the strong control of the American governor, that they may work their own will in public affairs as they have dreamed of doing during all the years they envied the Spaniard the exercise of his autocratic power.
In the time of the Spaniards a carpet-bag governor exercised an autocratic rule with certain legal limitations. An evasion of these limitations was possible, but was only accomplished by some secret trickery. Under the American rule a carpet-bag governor exercises a power which recognizes no limitations. Every judge is looked upon as a military officer under his authority, and every law stands but as a military order subject to change or even obliteration at a word from military headquarters. Under this absolute authority legalized injustice is held in check, prisons are emptied of prisoners unjustly confined, the tariff is adjusted so as, ostensibly at least, to tax the rich more and the poor less. The money collected is more generally accounted for and more justly distributed, Public instruction has received a strong impetus, and throughout the island the people are generally free to pursue their own will and pleasure in the arts of peace. Local officials were at first appointed in all the municipalities, and subsequently elected by a restricted franchise. It is doubtful, however, whether the results of the elections in the manner of men selected for office are as satisfactory as were those of the appointive system. The commissions appointed to plan reforms in the legal and fiscal systems have accomplished nothing tangible of their own volition. The laws of Spanish Cuba stand to-day with a few minor modifications as the laws of American Cuba.
Capital was invested in Cuba under Spanish rule by right of government guarantee and concession. No new capital has been invested in Cuba under American rule for two reasons, one being that the United States government has not dared to intrust to its own officials the right to grant concessions. The other reason is that capital of all nationalities is now afraid that the United States is going to hold to the popular conception of the pledge given by Congress to the effect that Cuba shall be given into the hands of an independent Cuban government. Not only has capital been reluctant to go to Cuba, but since the American intervention over one hundred and thirty million dollars of Spanish and other money has been actually withdrawn from the island. What has been accomplished in Cuba up to the present time by the American intervention may be included in the effective policing of the island, and no man, however optimistic he may be as to the future, can put his finger upon aught else of permanent value or point to an accomplished fact which can be used as an argument in favor of the contention that the Cubans will in a short time be able to conduct a government of their own, independently of American guidance and actual control, which can be termed stable.
There are good reasons for this. They are to be found in the nature of the intervention, the awkward political relations of the United States to the island, and the character and the disposition of the Cuban people. The intervention of the United States in Cuban affairs was that of an armed force present primarily to preserve order. This in itself implies superiority. This implication is most objectionable to any people however weak they may be nationally. To the proud, excitable Cuban, filled with natural race antagonism, a full realization of this attitude of the Americans, that of a stern schoolmaster with rod in hand compelling good behavior, brought with it resentment and aloofness from the proposed work of Americanizing the government in all its functions. Necessarily the military form of the American intervention has been continued. Necessarily the American governor has retained in his own hands final authority in all things. It has become more difficult every day to predict when this form of intervention could be dispensed with or at what time, or at what point American authority could be allowed to lapse and Cuban authority be made final. So far the Cubans are generally passive as to these things, but they, as well as the Americans who are exercising the authority, are fully cognizant that the day is not drawing perceptibly nearer, nor is it becoming clearer when and how the United States can “ let go.”
Spain was forced reluctantly to turn over her unruly child to the United States. The Congress of the United States, to satisfy the national conscience, still governed in 1898 by the isolation theory of national virtue, passed a resolution declaring it to be the sentiment of the step-parent that the child should be free and independent. There was a previous restriction, however, upon this intention which took precedence, and that was the promise to the international community by the parent-to-be that the child should always hereafter behave itself, not only to the world, but in its relations to those who cast their lot in its intimate companionship. In the course of an article entitled Growth of our Foreign Policy, in the March Atlantic, the Hon. Richard Olney voiced briefly the only meaning this pledge can have under present conditions, and that is that Cuba, from the signing of the treaty with Spain, belonged to the United States as trustee, and would continue so to belong. This conclusion is logical and inevitable whether the matter be viewed geographically, strategically, politically, commercially, or in the interests of the effective policing of the American continent, a task assigned to the United States by the nations of the earth, and claimed by that country as a right as well as accepted as a responsibility. The Paris treaty, as it affects the relations of the United States to Cuba, takes precedence over domestic legislation enacted as a matter of political expediency or apology, especially where such legislation merely expresses a sentiment, subject to legitimate change in the light of more complete information and experience.
It may be assumed without going into detail that so long as Cubans have been intrusted with no great responsibility in any department of their own government, little or no progress has been made in inducting them into such a scheme of self-government as was possibly contemplated by those who two years ago, or even more recently, honestly advocated and believed in the possibility of a free and independent Cuba. The Cubans are now complaining bitterly that no one can tell whether they can govern themselves or not until it has been tried. The Americans soothe them with complimentary speeches, praise their patriotism, their generosity, their adaptability, their sentimentalism, their eagerness to add their names to the government salary list, and invariably conclude with a tribute to their social graces. To the persistent and oftrepeated inquiry as to how long the present status is to continue, the Americans are evasive, indefinite, or temporizing, for no man familiar with the island, its people and affairs, no matter how optimistic his belief in Cuba’s destiny as a free republic, has had the temerity to set a day in the near future when the American police power can with safety be withdrawn. This is due to the utter lack of political self-control which has been manifested by the Cubans on nearly all occasions where it might have been exercised to advantage. In the meetings of the commissions they have reduced the American members to despair and a feeling of hopelessness of ever accomplishing the object in view. As officials they have abused their power, and many of them have shown no conception of the idea of a public office as a public trust. Their incapacity, their non-progressiveness, and in many instances their dishonesty have kept the American officers busy correcting errors and righting wrongs. The Spanish idea of government is bred in them, and they are thoroughly imbued with its spirit. If the American intervention ceased today, Cuba would, within an incredibly short time, become a raging furnace of civil uproar caused by domestic war over the spoils. In time the strongest man or faction would triumph, and there would then be organized a government of the same undesirable character as those now found in Central American countries.
The Cubans do not like the Americans, and that is natural enough. With the intelligent Cubans the Americans represent a country they believe is now withholding from them their birthright. With the ignorant the race antagonism is strong. These are generalizations, of course, for there are many exceptions, as there are Cubans who favor annexation, but they are in a hopeless minority. With a free Cuba there is the race question, ever present, ever threatening, and ever dangerous. Fully a third of the people are black, and the one race does not mingle with the other on terms of social equality. It has even been seriously proposed by well-known Cubans that as soon as Cuba should be free it should be divided into two republics, the blacks to take the eastern part of the island, and the whites the western part. It is difficult for Americans not familiar with the people of the Spanish-American countries to realize the tremendous gulf which exists between them and the people of the United States in their customs, manner of thought, political ideals, and moral standards in matters affecting the public weal. The Cubans are Spanish-Americans. As in Mexico and Central America, the wealth and intelligence of Cuba are possessed by foreigners and a small percentage of natives who have lived much abroad or who possess exceptional qualities. An American-governed Cuba means a restricted franchise and comparative safety. A free Cuba means universal suffrage and the speedy downfall of the frail political structure designed and erected by Americans, and now kept intact only by their presence.
A continuation of the present conditions in Cuba will be possible for some time without serious trouble. The experiment of a free Cuba may even be tried in time, this depending largely upon public sentiment and the dominant power in polities in the United States. It will inevitably result in another intervention which will need no apologies, and will continue so long as the United States shall remain a nation. It may be that annexation will be brought about by a restricted franchise, which in time will lose hope of a free Cuba, and seek commercial advantage and political stability in a union with the United States. It is also possible that the situation in Cuba will become so tense, even to violence, that the United States will acknowledge a change of policy, and as gently as may be convey to the Cubans the impossibility of an independent republic in view of the failure of welllaid plans to the contrary. The only thing which seems absolutely remote, improbable, and almost impossible from every point of view is a free and independent Cuban republic. The hope of Cuba is not in the present generation, but in the generation to come. With education, development, contact with American institutions, and long respite from guerrilla warfare, the new people of Cuba will make a new Cuba. These people will not desire a separate political existence, for they will realize the greater benefits of free social and commercial intercourse with a mighty nation of which they are a part, and whose needs in certain directions can only be supplied by them.
J. D. Whelpley.