Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

CUBA AND THE INTERVENTION

CHAPTER I

CUBAN DISCONTENT

THE Island of Cuba became a Republic as an indirect result of revolt against a system of government which was deemed oppressive, and as a direct result of American intervention in Cuban affairs. It is probable that, without the American intervention, Cuba's revolt of 1895 would have failed as did its predecessors.

Contrary to a prevailing belief, Cuba has not been a land of revolutions. Its history offers no parallel with that of Hayti or Santo Domingo, or with that of the Central and South American Republics. Revolts, local in character, have played their part in Cuba's experience, but the history of the Island shows no general or national uprising until that of 1895. The most important and extensive of these revolts was the Ten Years War (1868-1878), entirely an affair of the eastern provinces. The revolt of 1895 was nationalized by what may be called artificial conditions. It is an important fact, though generally overlooked, that repressive economic laws have been in every case the provoking cause of Cuban revolt. Unlike those of her neighbors in Latin America, Cuba's insurrections have never been the outcome of purely political conditions. Nor have they ever been the result of individual ambition.

Spain's colonial policy was, in every instance, the cause of Cuban revolt. In that policy, she violated a fundamental principle of government. She assumed that the subject existed solely for the benefit of the sovereign. In establishing her colony she sought only her own financial advantage. Other colonizing countries learned, through experience, the folly of such a policy. Spain never learned it, and has now lost her insular possessions.

Three factors have contributed to Cuba's frequent protests and occasional revolts. These are:

First.

Undue trade restrictions;

Second. An arbitrary and unscientific system of taxation; Third. Retention of all government and of political patronage in the hands of Spaniards, to the exclusion of Cubans.

To these causes may be traced a large measure of the long-existing Cuban disaffection. To them, also, may be attributed Cuba's failure to attain that position in the world to which, because of her natural resources, her people rightly aspired.

At the very beginning of Spain's colonial history, closely restrictive laws were promulgated for the regulation of commerce with and between her colonies. In 1503, a royal ordinance established the Casa de la Contratacion, or House of Commerce, at Seville. This body was empowered to grant licenses, to despatch fleets, and to regulate and control Spanish colonial trade, of which it held an exclusive monopoly. In 1717, the institution was transferred to the port of Cadiz. The colonial trade was thus confined to a single Spanish port. Further restrictions prohibited both intercolonial trade and trade with any country other than Spain. For a period during the seventeenth century, such trade was made an offence punishable by the death of the

trader, and the confiscation of the property involved. As a natural result, smuggling became an established institution.

For the first fifty years of Cuba's history, Santiago was the only port on the Island through which merchandise could be either imported or exported without violation of the law. With the establishment of Havana as the capital of the Island, that city became the sole port officially recognized for over-sea trade. This condition held until the close of the eighteenth century, with the exception of the brief term of British occupation (1762–1763), during which Havana was made an open port. The limitation was removed by a royal order, issued in 1801, by which the Island ports were opened to foreign trade, subject only to the general conditions of world commerce. This system lasted only a few years. In 1809, foreign commerce was again prohibited.

Much difficulty was encountered during the early years of the nineteenth century in the enforcement of prohibitive laws against a trade which had become fairly established, and no little opposition was manifested by the Island people. A new policy was then adopted, less harsh in its appearance but almost equally restrictive in its results. It took the form of a discriminating tariff, applied to both imports and exports. That continued, subject only to sundry modifications from time to time, until the execution, in 1891, of the reciprocity treaty with the United States. That treaty lasted for three years only. It proved a marked benefit to Cuban-American commerce, though detrimental to Spanish trade. With the termination of the treaty, in 1894, there came a reversion to the system of discriminating, differential, and special tariffs in favor of trade with the peninsula as against that of all other countries.

The second of these factors in Cuban discontent was the

scheme of taxation. It was an unscientific system. Contrary to a prevalent idea, the taxation of real property, had it been honestly effected, would have given no ground for reasonable complaint. Such property was assessed upon its rental value, and, in normal times, a fair and honest assessment imposed upon real property in the city of Havana, a tax which amounted to less than $12 on the $1000 of fee value. This included State tax, municipal tax, and expense of collection.*

The tax upon country estates was a variable institution depending upon the location of the property, its product, and its facilities for marketing its product. For an average illustration it may be said that an estate producing $100,000 worth of sugar, having fair facilities, in location and means of transportation, for marketing its product, would bear a tax of about $1,500 per annum. An increase or reduction in its output, or in the market value of its output, met a corresponding increase or reduction in the amount of the tax. A farm producing a crop of the value of $1,000 for

*The basis was as follows:

State tax, twelve per cent on three-quarters of the rental value; municipal tax, a sum equal to eighteen per cent of the State tax, or a little over two per cent on three-quarters of the rental value; and five per cent of the total of the two added to them for the expense of collection. Thus, a property having a fee value of $10,000 would be taxed as follows:

Property value
Rental (say)

Tax imposed upon ( rental)

$10,000.00

1,000.00

750.00

12 per cent on $750 (State Tax)

18 per cent on $90 (Municipal Tax)

5 per cent Collection Tax on $106.20

Total Tax

$111.51

By special act, municipalities were permitted to impose, from time to time, an extraordinary tax, known as the surtax, which raised the municipal rate from eighteen per cent to twenty-three per cent of the amount of the State tax. An exception was made in the case of so called "fincas rusticas," or rural lands within the municipal limits. These bore a total rate of less than two and on-half per cent of the rental value, or about one-seventh of the sum imposed upon the fincas urbanas.

90.00

16.20

5.31

the year, would be taxed in the vicinity of $20 or $25. Idle or non-productive land paid no tax. The assessment was made by a commission duly appointed by law under the department known as the Hacienda, practically the Treasury Department. Justly imposed, these taxes are not to be regarded as burdensome. The notably objectionable feature of the system lay in its unequal application. Favoritism and bribery played active parts and led to much acrimonious controversy.

While it may be admitted that taxation upon real property was, on the whole, fairly reasonable, no such claim can be advanced regarding another department of direct taxation. This laid burdens upon the individual, upon the necessary articles of daily consumption, and upon all departments of industry. The cedula de vecindad was a graded certificate of citizenship, abolished at the beginning of the American occupation. The consumo de ganado was a tax upon all dressed meat sent out from the slaughter houses. In Havana, this tax was fixed, by a law of 1890, at four and one-quarter cents per kilo (about two and one-fifth lbs). There were also taxes upon the slaughtering of cattle, which was made a special privilege, and the exclusive right to slaughter was sold to the highest bidder. Both tax and bonus were, necessarily, added to the market price of the

meat.

There were special taxes upon fuel and upon building material, upon farm produce brought to market and upon horses used for pleasure driving, upon railways and upon country stage lines. There were professional taxes upon lawyers, doctors, and brokers, and industrial taxes upon carpenters, shoemakers, and masons. Few were exempt from some form of special direct taxation. In cities, there was a tax upon all forms of public amusement, upon public

« AnteriorContinuar »