HOLIDAY IN HAVANA: VISITORS MAKE A STOPOVER AT THE WOLFSONIAN ENROUTE TO CUBA

This last Wednesday, March 14th, The Wolfsonian-FIU hosted approximately ninety CEOs from around the country in an after-hours dinner event. The visitors were leaving the following morning for a three-day tour of Havana, and so we pulled some of the Cuban materials in our collection to give them a sense of what U.S.-Cuba relations were like in the pre-Castro era.

Thanks to gifts from the private library of Frederic A. Sharf, our own library collection now holds a substantial and important collection of materials dealing with the protracted struggle of Cubans fighting for independence from Spain that culminated in U.S. intervention during the Spanish-American War. Following the first (and unsuccessful) Guerra de los Diez Años (1868–1878), Spain further exasperated economic conditions on the island and angered U.S. interests by nullifying a trade agreement between Cuba and the United States in 1894. This triggered a second struggle for independence inspired by Cuban poet and revolutionary advocate, José Martí.

GIFT OF JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF

While the guerrilla tactics of the revolutionaries liberated most of the island by January 1896, the Spaniards placed General Valeriano Weyler in command of Spanish forces. To deprive the revolutionaries of support in the countryside, General Weyler forced hundreds of thousands of rural Cuban civilian “Pacificos” into “reconcentration” camps where disease and starvation killed tens of thousands, earning him the moniker, El Carnicero, or The Butcher.

GIFT OF JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF

Although Spain recalled Weyler in 1897 and tried to pacify the revolutionaries with promises of reform and home rule, by 1898 revolutionary sentiment remained universal and the rebel armies still controlled nearly three-quarters of the island. The atrocities of the long conflict and the mysterious explosion and sinking of the U.S.S. Maine in the harbor of Havana provided American yellow journalists like William Randolph Hearst and his former mentor and rival Joseph Pulitzer with the slogan “Remember the Maine, and to Hell with Spain” and plenty of other incendiary material to sell their rags and to whip up war hysteria in the United States.

Hearst recruited Frederic Remington, the famous artist of the Indian Wars of the West to produce graphic illustrations of Spanish war atrocities for his paper, and many of these were later republished in books, like Cuba in War Time.

GIFTS OF JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF

Although President McKinley initially resisted the demand for American intervention in the conflict, by April 1898 he relented, asking for and receiving Congressional approval for military force to end the civil war, to support Cuba’s bid for independence, and disclaiming any intention to annex the island or occupy it other than for purposes of pacification. After a declaration of war, the U.S. Navy blockaded several Cuban ports, invaded the island, and destroyed Spain’s Caribbean squadron. By the summer of 1898, the fighting was over and Spain and the United States negotiated a treaty of peace. Although the Treaty of Paris recognized Cuban independence, the Cuban revolutionaries had neither the chance to sign the document nor to participate in the official surrender ceremonies in Santiago de Cuba.

Although the United States did not annex Cuba, as she had the Philippines and Puerto Rico, U.S. troops continued to occupy the island through 1901, a U.S. resident and citizen—the only candidate—was elected president of Cuba, and the Platt Amendment was passed dictating conditions for withdrawal that seriously compromised Cuban sovereignty for the next three decades. Not surprisingly, U.S. commercial interests soon dominated the island. By 1902, U.S. companies controlled 80% of Cuban ore exports and owned the majority of sugar and tobacco factories; and three years later nearly 10% of Cuban land had been bought up by U.S. citizens. Sugar interests dominated early twentieth century U.S.-Cuba trade relations, and this is reflected in a rare insurance map of the sugar warehouses at the principal ports on the island of Cuba surveyed and published for the Trust Co. of Cuba by the Sanborn Map Company in 1920.

The library also holds a couple of volumes of statistical annuals, the Memoria de la zafra for 1937 and 1938, published in Havana by the Secretary of Agriculture.

GIFT OF CARLOS ORTIZ

Ratification in 1919 of the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution also had an enormous (if unintended) impact on U.S.-Cuba trade relations. As the United States began enforcing Prohibition, those Americans interested in continuing to drink alcoholic beverages legally soon found in Havana a congenial atmosphere for partying and imbibing strong drink. Sheet music covers from the early twenties reminded thirsty Americans that “It would never be dry in Havana (no matter what happens ‘round here).”

GIFT OF VICKI GOLD LEVI

From the twenties on through the late nineteen fifties, Cuba was marketed to Americans as an exotic tropical paradise offering sunny skies, beautiful beaches, and glamorous nightclubs.

 

GIFTS OF VICKI GOLD LEVI

Thousands of brochures and other promotional materials were printed in the English language with colorful covers and illustrations depicting smiling island beauties and happy American tourists.

GIFTS OF VICKI GOLD LEVI

In 1949, Cuban bandleader Desi Arnaz starred in the Columbia motion picture, Holiday in Havana, playing Carlos Estrada (rather than Ricky Ricardo) and paired with Lolita Valdez (actress Mary Hatcher) rather than Lucille Ball. Thanks to a donation by Vicki Gold Levi, the library holds a large poster and lobby card advertising that film, a sheet music cover for Cuban Pete, and a record jacket for Babalu and Seven other Favorites by Desi Arnaz and his Orchestra.

GIFTS OF VICKI GOLD LEVI

Of course, Fidel Castro’s victory in the Cuban revolution brought a definitive end to the U.S.-Cuba tourist trade in 1959.

From Santiago de Cuba, Fidel announced that “This time the revolution will not be thwarted. This time, fortunately for Cuba, the revolution will be consummated. It will be not be like the war of 1895, when the Americans arrived and made themselves masters of the country; they intervened at the last-minute and later did not even allow Calixto García, who had been fighting for thirty years, to enter Santiago de Cuba.” Although our own collection of Cuban materials ends with the revolution, we do possess a couple of periodicals from the post-Castro period that capture the radical political change that occurred. The first is a copy of Bohemia Libre published by Cuban exiles in Venezuela in January, 1961, with a cover illustration that depicts the Communist leader as an enemy of the faith.

GIFT OF VICKI GOLD LEVI

The second is a later issue of Bohemia, which continued to be published on the island under the watchful eye of the Castro regime. This 1970 issue spends much of its editorial and pictorial energy demonizing the United States and eulogizing the fallen Communist revolutionary, Ernesto (“Che”) Guevara (1928-1967).

GIFT OF VICKI GOLD LEVI

Wolfsonian Associate Librarian Rochelle Pienn has been finishing up interpretative and descriptive label text for a display in our fifth floor galleries of some of the recently donated Sharf materials about the Caribbean phase of the Spanish-American War. Be sure to drop in later this month to see that exhibit if you happen to be living here or near Miami Beach, or just passing through.

~ by "The Chief" on March 17, 2012.

One Response to “HOLIDAY IN HAVANA: VISITORS MAKE A STOPOVER AT THE WOLFSONIAN ENROUTE TO CUBA”

  1. These primary resources are very interesting to help us understand the history of Cuba and its impact on the present. Congratulations, great blog!

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