The grand design behind the American occupation of Cuba was to remake Cuban society into a cultural mirror image of the United States. White Progressive middle-class America was the model which arch Progressive Leonard Wood adopted for his system of governance. Ultimately, most of Wood’s reforms had a waning existence following his departure as centuries old Cuban culture reasserted itself. In his book on America’s early twentieth century armed interventions in the Caribbean, Lester Langley chronicles the political/military dynamics of the American occupation of Cuba.
“When the vice-president of the provisional government, Domingo Mendez Capote, arrived in Washington in May 1898 to ascertain American policy, he learned that Cuban and Spanish conservatives were already pressing the Americans to remain after the Spanish surrender.
“The American military in Cuba was, by 1901, a skeletal force, its numbers drastically reduced since Wood became military governor in December 1899. Following the war, the Americans had paid off the Cuban rebels (at roughly seventy-five dollars per man) and created a Rural Guard, presumably apolitical, that undertook the task of policing the countryside and maintaining order in the towns.
“Preparation of Cuba for independence meant, of course, an educational system worthy of a young republic… The model curriculum, written by an officer on the governor’s staff, was patterned on the ‘Ohio Plan’ and emphasized preparation for citizenship and the acquisition of skills or the learning of a trade. Hispanic tradition was intentionally denigrated.
“Wood was convinced that filth explained Cuba’s epidemics of yellow fever, though an eccentric Cuban scientist (of Scottish ancestry), Dr. Carlos Findlay, argued correctly that the culprit was the mosquito. Wood’s vigorous sanitary campaign nonetheless probably helped to control another Cuban scourge, typhoid.
“When McKinley or Root or Wood spoke of Cuba, their comments were laced with references to its ‘special importance’ or ‘strategic position’ in the American geopolitical scheme. Cuba was vital and vulnerable – vulnerable to European machinations.
*All excerpts have been taken from The Banana Wars: United States Intervention in the Caribbean, 1898-1934, SR Books.
Leonard Wood and the American Occupation of Cuba – Lester D. Langley