Updated as essential backstory for Obama’s visit to Cuba
As President Obama became the first sitting US President in almost 90 years to visit Cuba he took the same stage where Calvin Coolidge in 1928 lectured the Cubans on democracy. The US then controlled Cuban national and foreign politics and the Cuban economy and had done so since the end of the Spanish American War in 1898. The US had refused to end the military occupation of Cuba unless Cuba changed its constitution and ceded its sovereignty to the US.
The infamous Platt Amendment of 1901 gave the U.S. the right to intervene unilaterally in Cuban affairs and included a clause that eventually led to the perpetual lease of Guantanamo Bay.
All this was in force when Coolidge took the stage in 1928. Nevertheless he lectured the Cubans on democracy and said about the United States: “Our most sacred trust has been, and is, the establishment and expansion of the spirit of democracy.”
Now, in 2016, I can’t think of a better program to revisit than the extraordinary lecture by Dr. Michael Parenti on the Spanish American War. US media and politicians are still lecturing Cuba on democracy and very few commentators are looking back at the history among the two countries. Meanwhile President Raul Castro asked Obama during his visit for the return of Guantanamo Bay.
Michael Parenti uses the history of the Spanish American War to answer several very intriguing questions. Who first expressed the desire to annex the island of Cuba – and when? The early African American emancipation movement inside the US was critical of US plans to attack Cuba. Why, their leaders asked, was the US government concerned about Spanish repression of the rights of Cubans while the repression of African Americans within the US was ignored. Some said the Negro needs freedom just as much as the Cubans.
Why did the US attack the Philippines when it was Cuba that they wanted to take over? Why did the US give verbal support to the Cuban liberation movements against Spain while selling weapons to Spain to fight the poplar movement? The Spanish American War was an important turning point in the transition of the US to an imperial power and many of the forces at work are eerily contemporary.
Michael Parenti is among our leading progressive political analysts. He received his Ph.D. in political science from Yale University in 1962 and has taught at colleges in the US and abroad. Parenti lost his access to tenure when he was arrested and seriously beaten in a protest against the war on Vietnam.