"" Writer's Wanderings: Cruise To Cuba: Getting A Perspective Of History

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Cruise To Cuba: Getting A Perspective Of History

Over the course of an afternoon and a full day at sea, we would get a little more perspective on the history of Cuba. Most of us aboard this cruise remember some of the more recent history growing up as kids but Sandy Cares, our Enrichment Lecturer, would give us an overall picture of the history from Cuba’s beginnings in the 1500s.

Of course when Columbus arrived in 1492 there were indigenous people here. Cuba was soon declared the key to the Americas. You can see a key on the country’s coat of arms along with the Royal Palm tree that is the national tree. When the Spanish arrived in full force, they used the indigenous people as slaves and between that and the diseases brought with them, the original inhabitants died off. 

Cuba is the 17th largest island in the world and has a population of around 11 ½ million. It consists of one large island and a smaller one called the Island of Youth. It also has thousands of small cays.

Velasquez who colonized the island started out by creating seven villas. In 1540, as more Spanish galleons arrived, they decided to build forts to protect them from pirates. In 1762, the British captured Havana but in the Treaty of Paris of 1763 Spain got back Cuba in exchange for Florida.

As Velasquez was trying to colonize the island, a native, Hautey, who was fleeing from Hispaniola and the Spanish there arrived in Cuba with 400 others in canoes. He tried to warn the Taino people of Cuba and organize them against the Spanish. Eventually he was captured and burned at the stake. Before they lit the fire a priest asked him if he wanted to accept Jesus so he could go to heaven. Basically he said if there were any Spaniards there, he'd rather go to Hell. Hautey is memorialized on the labels of some cigars and beer.

In the 1800s, sugar and tobacco production flourished but led to many slaves being brought in from Africa. Eventually, in 1886, slavery was abolished but the number of Africans remaining in the country led to a strong mix of African and Spanish culture. 

Cuba remained loyal to Spain despite the revolutions in other countries around them. The fight for independence was started by a wealthy landowner, Carlos Manuel de Cespedes. In 1868 he declared independence for Cuba and thus began the Ten Years War. At the end of the war, inhabitants of the island began calling themselves Cubans. 

Jose Marti was another figure that is recognized in the struggle for independence. There are several monuments to him. He was a poet and journalist as well as a patriot involved in the movement for independence.

Our lecturer told the story of Evangelina Cisneros, an attractive educated young woman who tried to free her father from his exile to the Isle of Pine in Cuba. She was imprisoned when she refused the advances of a colonel and was declared a rebel. The publisher, Hearst, heard about it and decided it was a great story that would boost his newspaper's circulation and outdo his rival, Pulitzer. He appealed to the Spanish government with petitions and letters to no avail. Finally he sent in a "swashbuckling" reporter named Karl Decker who rescued the damsel in distress--basically breaking her out of jail. She was disguised and put on a ship for New York where she began fund raising for Cuban independence.

The Hearst story of Evangelina's escape would soon be overshadowed however with the explosion of the USS Maine which along with Spain's brutal treatment of the Cubans and the continued losses of American investments in Cuba would begin the Spanish-American War. That war ended with another Treaty of Paris in 1898.

One of the final blows struck the Spanish was in Santiago de Cuba, the first of our stops in Cuba. In the bay of Santiago was where the US naval ships defeated the Spanish Armada.

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