History of Europe

The day politicians didn't accept a bribe... and we lost the Spanish overseas empire

Last updated:2022-07-25

At 9:40 p.m. on February 15, 1898, an unexpected explosion disturbed the nightlife of Havana. An explosion on the US battleship Maine It sank him hopelessly. That episode, "used" by the US as an excuse to intervene in Cuba, changed the history of Spain and ended up turning the "victim" into the first military power of the 20th century. On April 25, 1898, the United States officially declared war on Spain. The US plans were favored by the Spanish economic instability, our obsolete fleet, the weakness of the government of the liberal Práxedes Mateo Sagasta and the winds of independence that were blowing more and more intensely in Cuba. The Treaty of Paris of 1898, signed on December 10, put an end to the Spanish-American war… and to the Spanish overseas empire. Spain renounced its sovereignty over Cuba and ceded the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico to the US for 20 million dollars.

But what happened that February 15 in the port of Havana (Cuba)? At twenty minutes to ten at night the American battleship Maine suffered a mysterious explosion that caused a terrible fire in the bow area. Despite the rapid and massive help from the Spanish and Cubans, nothing could be done. The ship sank and two hundred and sixty-four sailors and two officers lost their lives. The next morning, as the ship was in waters under Spanish jurisdiction, an investigation was launched by the Spanish authorities to find out what had happened. Surprisingly, the US authorities did not allow the remains of the ship to be examined as they considered it US territory. So, given the only external evidence, in the hole that the explosion caused in the hull of the ship, the steel plates were bent outwards, it was determined that the explosion occurred inside and that, therefore, it must have been a accident. The Americans had their own theory:the attack with a howitzer or a mine. The North American newspapers, like creators of opinion, were in charge of spreading this crazy theory and creating the ideal breeding ground for the subsequent declaration of war.

But there was a previous letter that betrayed the intentions of the US. Spain was not going through one of its best periods in history, neither economically nor militarily, so the United States thought that a few crumbs would be enough to get Cuba. Days before the Maine accident , Washington had sent a letter to Madrid:

The US army will intervene on the island if Spain does not agree to sell Cuba to the United States for three hundred million dollars. To facilitate the operation, a million dollars is also offered for the negotiators who mediate in said agreement.

Oddly enough because of the many backgrounds of our politicians, and I want to believe that out of honesty and patriotic pride, the negotiators did not accept the million-dollar bribe and the proposal was rejected. Although the threatening tone of the letter made the intentions of the US government very clear, they will never admit that the theory of Spanish sabotage of Maine it was a hoax. Since, in the hypothetical case of doing so, said recognition would imply that his own government was responsible for the death of 266 compatriots.

And it is that if we are masters of our silences and slaves of our words, here it could be added that we are also slaves of our letters.