Cuba | Ada Ferrer

Summary of: Cuba: An American History
By: Ada Ferrer


Delve into the enthralling narrative of ‘Cuba: An American History’ by Ada Ferrer to explore the intricate and long-standing relationship between Cuba and the United States. Discover how Cuba’s strategic location, economic dependency on precious minerals, and chattel slavery contributed to its historical development. Unravel the political implications of Cuba’s War of Independence, the Spanish-American War, and Cuba’s ongoing struggle for autonomy, as well as insightful details on key historical figures such as Fidel Castro. Ada Ferrer beautifully expounds upon the complex web of diplomacy, domination, and independence that lies at the heart of the relationship between these two nations.

The Myth of Columbus as the Father of America

Columbus is often viewed as the founding father of the United States of America. However, this perception is a myth that overlooks the dark origins of American history. In 1492, Spain’s monarchs forced Jews to convert to Christianity or leave the country. The same year, they led a “Christian Reconquest” by driving Muslims out of Spain. It was in this backdrop that Columbus sailed to the New World, never setting a foot in North America. The Americas were already inhabited, and their people were subjected to brutal and prolonged genocide by Europeans. Despite this, the myth of Columbus gained popularity in the 19th century when the US sought to acquire parts of Spain’s collapsing empire. While other Europeans had landed in North America before Columbus, his story became the preferred avatar for America. Therefore, the Columbus myth is not a credible point of origin for the US, and Cuba, where Columbus landed, remains of critical importance to American history due to its connection to the country’s imperial ambitions.

Havana: Key to the New World

In the 16th century, Havana’s crucial location on the Gulf Stream made it the gateway to the New World, where its economy thrived on minerals from other Spanish territories and goods from across the globe. However, Havana’s affluence depended on chattel slavery, and by the 17th century, Africans comprised a significant portion of Havana’s population, working the sugar mills and mining copper for artillery that protected the valuable and vulnerable harbor. For centuries, Havana remained outward-focused and prosperous, thanks to its economic dependencies.

Impact of British Occupation in Cuban Sugar Production

The Seven Years’ War between Britain and France saw Britain’s invasion of Havana, Cuba. Although Britain did not introduce sugar production to Cuba, it expanded it, given its profitability. Barbados served as Britain’s most lucrative colony, and the British understood that sugar production on islands with decimated native populations would require African slaves. The brief British occupation of Havana helped to develop Cuba’s reliance on sugar production, slavery, and ultimately, changed the city itself. The sugar industry expanded, while slave ships poured into the city’s harbor. The massive fortress built in Havana used materials from Virginia and New York, and many merchants were English speakers from locations like Boston and Baltimore. Despite Britain returning Havana and Cuba to the Spanish after the war, the British occupation significantly impacted Cuba’s history by catapulting the country’s dependence on sugar production for centuries.

American Triumph in Cuba

The US Congress declared war on Spain in 1898 and took over Cuba. The country promised Cubans self-government, but American elites wanted a say in their politics and control of their land. The Platt Amendment, which allowed the US to occupy and rule Cuba, was reluctantly accepted by Cuban delegates.

Cuban Sugar and American Influence

In 1917, both the United States and Cuba entered World War I, which sparked a boom in Cuba’s sugar industry due to high demand. This led to increased borrowing against the inflated prices, defaults, and the collapse of Cuban banks. American banks acquired properties through these defaults and controlled over half of Cuba’s sugar output by 1922. The United States’ economic influence in Cuba became persistent and shaped various aspects of Cuban life, including food, transportation, work, and tourism. While some people benefited from American influence, others opposed their lack of sovereignty and control over Cuba. The Cuban Communist Party was founded in 1925, and its leader, Julio Antonio Mella, was assassinated in 1929. The Great Depression and Cuba’s political crisis increased repression and prompted threats of intervention by the US Secretary of State for Latin America. Cuba’s president fled in 1933 under the threat of the military.

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