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History of Cuba, to Understand Hemingway

Platt Amendment 

The Platt Amendment was an Amendment put into the Cuban Constitution of 1901 by the United States. The goal of the amendment was to give Cuba independence on paper, while in reality being controlled by the United States. The amendment consisted of four parts. The first part stated that Cuba would be forbidden from making a treaty with another country without the United States’ approval of the treaty beforehand. The second part of the amendment stated that Cuba must maintain financial stability, and this financial stability would be checked by U.S. financial advisors. This was done in order to

Orville Platt the Connecticut Senator who proposed the Platt Amendment. 

regulate the Cuban economy and make it dependent on the United States for imported and exported goods. The third part of the amendment stated that the United States retained the right to invade Cuba in order to protect U.S. interests. The United States used this clause to invade Cuba four times – 1906,1912,1917 and 1920– as the United States felt that Cuba was becoming unstable and straying away from U.S. interests. The final provision of the amendment was that Cuba must provide territory for the United States to establish military bases in the region. As can be seen, the amendment severely limited Cuban domestic and foreign policy, making it effectively a U.S. colony, while technically being independent.  Eventually, in 1934, due to Franklin D. Roosevelt's Good Neighbor policy, the United States allowed Cuba to remove the Platt Amendment from their Constitution. Though the United States still maintained partial control over Cuba, the Cuban leader, Fulgencio Batista, was propped up and supported by the United States, until he was overthrown by Fidel Castro in 1959. Even though Batista was overthrown in 1959, the United States still maintains its military base from the Platt Amendment, which is today known as Guantanamo Bay.

The Relationship of Tampa and Cuba

Since Tampa’s founding in 1823, the city has been connected with its Cuban neighbors. Tampa first started its relationship with Cuba as workers fled to Tampa during the first war of Cuban Independence known as the Ten Years War (1868-1878).  These workers, primarily cigar rollers, fled to Ybor City – now part of Tampa– where cigar factories were established. Eventually, after the Ten Year War ended, a significant number of Cuban workers chose to stay in Tampa. Later, as the cigar industry grew, more Cuban workers came to Tampa to work in these factories, making Tampa the largest producer of cigars in the country during the 19th century. Interestingly, the tobacco used for these cigars did not come domestically from Tobacco Road – Central North Carolina–  but directly from Cuba, making it not just a movement of people but also goods.  At the end of the nineteenth century, Jose Marti, the father of Cuban Independence, who was in exile in the United States, made several trips to Tampa to help organize the War of 1895 (Cuba’s final war of independence). During the trips down to Tampa, Marti gathered funds from cigar workers and inspired the foundation of patriotic clubs in favor of Cuban Independence. The financial donations and clubs were so influential in starting Cuba’s last war of independence that Marti called Tampa the base of Cuban Independence in the United States. Sadly, José Marti died five weeks into the War of 1895 while fighting Spanish troops in Cuba. Marti influenced the city of Tampa so much that the city put up a statue of him and named a park after him in Ybor City. In 1898, the United States joined the War of 1895 in order to get Cuba to become a colony of the United States –see the Platt Amendment of the Cuban Constitution–. When deciding where to launch ships to Cuba, the United States decided to use the port of Tampa, with the Tampa Bay Hotel acting as the headquarters for officers. Currently, the Tampa Bay Hotel is situated on the University of Tampa’s campus where it houses offices and classrooms. As can be seen, Cuba and Tampa relationship through the nineteenth century had been closely intertwined. So much so that Cuban workers made one of the most iconic sandwiches, the Cuban, in Tampa.

The Tampa Bay Hotel in 1902, in 1898 this hotel served as the base of operations for the U.S. invasion of Cuba 

The Cultural Exchange of Baseball in Cuba

Though baseball originated in the United States during the mid 19th century, it soon spread throughout the world. One of the first places it spread was Cuba, due to its close proximity to the United States. Due to how close the United States and Cuba were geographically, the game of baseball had the ability to be spread several ways to the Island. The first way it spread to the Island was due to wealthy Cubans sending their kids to the United States to be educated. Once in the United States, wealthy Cuban children learned to play baseball in addition to getting an education. Eventually, when they returned to Cuba, the boys brought the game back with them. The second way the game spread to Cuba was because American missionaries brought the game to Cuba. There were two primary reasons missionaries brought the game.  The first reason missionaries brought baseball was that they thought it would be a good way to teach kids how to be a moral person, due to the game's rules. The second reason missionaries showed baseball to Cubans was “sports also measured the inferiority of non-white bodies, rationalizing the superiority of the dominant group [white Americans]”. The final way baseball spread to Cuba was through Cuban refugees. During the first war of Cuban independence, thousands of Cubans fled to the United States to escape the violence. Once here, similar to the Cuban college students, they learned the game of baseball. Eventually, once the war ended and Cubans were able to return home, they brought the game of baseball with them. Today there are no professional teams in Cuba, as after the Communist Revolution, all sports teams became amateur teams. Though Cuba does participate in international baseball competitions, most recently the 2023 World Baseball Classic where they made it to the semifinals stage. 

The 1895 Cuban Revolution

Though it is commonly believed that the United States helped to liberate Cuba in 1898 in the Spanish American War, this is not true. Nor was it true that the United States joined the War of 1895 –known in the United States as the Spanish-American War–  in response to the explosion of the USS Maine. The truth is that the Cuban people had been fighting for independence on and off for nearly thirty years, but towards the end of the war the United States invaded the island in order to become an empire. In planning for the final war for independence, Jose Marti attempted to codify an ideology to rally behind. This ideology can be summed up with the phrase, anti-racism is anti-imperialism is anti-Spanish. This showed Marti’s goal for Cuba was a society where all Cubans were equal. This can be seen in the non-discriminatory practices of the Revolutionary Army, which allowed non-white officers to lead white troops. One example of this is Antinio Maceo, who was a free black man born in Santiago who joined the rebel army in 1868 as a foot soldier, but by the time 1895 rolled around, he was a general in the Cuban Army. One specific tactic that should be brought up that the Spanish used was called “reconcentration”. This policy consisted of moving Cuban citizens from rural areas to urban areas and fortifying the cities. But any Cuban citizen who refused to go to one of the cities was seen as an enemy combatant. Though this is already brutal, the Cuban cities were not large enough to hold such a large population, leading to twenty five percent of the Cuban population dying due to disease and lack of resources. Eventually, in 1898, due to Cuban rebels attacking US sugar plantations, the disgust by the American public of the "reconcentration” policy  and fears that Cuba might actually become independent, the United States invaded all of Spain's colonies to prevent them from becoming independent and netting the United States an empire. Therefore, the explosion of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor was not the cause of the Spanish American War, nor was it a false flag operation; it was American concern for life and their own property.

Image of Antonio Maceo

History of Slavery in Cuba

Slavery and Cuba have been intertwined on the island [Cuba] since the island was first colonized by the Spanish during Christopher Columbus’ first voyage to the New World in 1492. Originally, the Spanish used the native Cuban people as slaves, but their population soon dwindled due to the brutal working conditions and the introduction of new diseases not native to the continent. Additionally, native Cubans often escaped their Spanish captors, and because they knew the island better, they were able to hide. In the mid-1500s, Spain started to import African slaves to work on the highly profitable sugar plantations. Due to Cuba’s size and climate, the island quickly became one of the wealthiest in the Caribbean as it produced thousands of tons of sugar for Spain and its empire. Since slavery had been practiced on the island for so long, there was a constant fear of slave revolts. The revolt of Carlotta Matonzas in the 1840s is one of the most famous ones in Cuban historical memory due to the violence of the rebellion, and the fact that it was led by a woman. During the nineteenth century, as Spain’s empire fell apart, the Spanish government decided to put more resources into Cuba in order to make up for the lost profits. This included the importation of thousands of slaves from Africa, which boosted the population of the island from thirty-nine thousand in 1770 to four hundred thousand in 1840. Interestingly, Spain encouraged mechanization in Cuba –despite it being a slave – society because they saw mechanization as a way to increase the efficiency of the slaves and produce more sugar, and therefore garner more profits. Even as Britain and France ended the international slave trade in their empires in the early 1800s, Spain continued the importation of African Slaves to the New World. Eventually, under pressure from the United States, Great Britain, and France, Spain ended the international slave trade in 1867. This made it the last Western country to officially abolish the international slave trade. However, slavery continued on the island till 1886, making Cuba the second to last state to end slavery in the Western Hemisphere – Brazil being the last nation. Even though slavery was officially abolished, slavery continued unofficially in the form of former slaves and workers from other countries being forced into indentured servitude which had very similar conditions to slavery. Therefore the history of Cuba and the history of slavery on the island are deeply intertwined and can not be separated.

Leadership of Cuba in the 1930s

To Have and Have Not takes place in the mid 1930s during the midst of the Great Depression. As is a common theme in Cuban political history, there was extensive political unrest in Cuba. This was because the country had recently ended the eight year long military dictatorship run by Gerado Machado y Morales. During the 1930s, the country was officially run by a multitude of presidents, all with relatively short terms. In reality, Fulgencio Batista ran the government from the background after Machado deposure in 1933. Though Batista controlled the presidents of Cuba, Batista himself served as a puppet to

Batista circa 1938

the United States government and executed the will of the U.S. Government. Batista would  take complete control of Cuba in 1940 and held this role until he stepped down in 1944. He then came back in 1952 and ruled till the Cuban Revolution of 1959.

The Sugar Industry

The history of sugar and the history of Cuba are intertwined in such a way that one could not tell the story of Cuba without telling the story of sugar. From Cuba’s first discovery by Europeans in the early sixteenth century, Spain started to import African slaves to work on sugar plantations. These plantations usually made white sugar, molasses, brown sugar and rum. Due to Cuba’s size and climate, the island quickly became one of the wealthiest islands in the Caribbean, rivaling the French Colony of Santo Domingo – modern day Haiti. Traditionally, sugar was grown in the eastern provinces of Cuba as that climate was most conducive to growing sugar. When the Spanish Empire collapsed in the nineteenth century, Spain decided to import more slaves to grow more sugar on plantations in order to make up for lost profits in losing their empire. When Cuba received its independence from Spain in 1898, the country came under U.S. rule for several years where its economy was remade to support the U.S. economy.This led to a major increase in




One of the requirements for Cuba to be granted independence officially from the United States was to sign the 1903 Reciprocity Treaty. This treaty significantly lowered the tariffs between the United States and Cuba. Specifically, Cuba received a twenty-percent tariff reduction for exporting goods to the United States, which lowered the importation cost from Cuba to the United States. Additionally, the United States received between a twenty- and forty-percent reduction in tariffs for goods exported to Cuba. Therefore, the tariff was advantageous solely for the United States: U.S. companies were able to export their goods to Cuba with less tariffs increasing their profits, while other U.S. companies were able to buy Cuban sugar significantly cheaper because of a decrease in importation costs with sugar coming from Cuba. It may have appeared that the Cuban people would benefit from this treaty, since they would easily be able to sell their sugar; however, the reality was that the U.S. companies owned sixty percent of the Cuban sugar harvest, with other foreign companies owning significant portions as well, meaning that few sugar plantations were actually owned by native Cubans. This treaty unfortunately destroyed a lot of local Cuban industry: Cubans bought goods from the U.S. because the cheap importation cost made these outsourced goods less expensive.

In 1925, Cuba started to experience an economic depression. The country was a banana republic based on sugar, and by 1925, the global supply of sugar exceeded its demand and caused a significant drop in pricess – a banana republic is when a country's economy is based on one crop often with a more powerful country controlling a majority of the land the crop is grown, in this case the crop is sugar and the more powerful country is the United States. When the Great Depression started four years later, demand for sugar dropped again, and companies downsized or went out of business – which lowered the price of sugar again. The sugar plantations became practically worthless during this time, and American citizens sold their sugar plantations to the Cuban people. This made Cubans responsible for the majority of sugar plantations and mills in Cuba for the first time. But it took decades for the Cuban sugar industry to recover, and by 1955 one third of Cuba’s labor force did not have full-time jobs because of the Sugar Crash.

1867 illustrations of Cubans Harvesting Sugar Cane

the production of sugar - though the plantations were owned by American companies which left Cubans in poverty. During the 1920s, there was a crash in sugar prices that led to a depression happening in Cuba. This led Americans to sell their now worthless sugar plantations back to Cubans. As the twentieth century continued,  the sugar plantations gradually gained value back such that in 2019, Cuba produced 1.3 million metric tons of sugars.

The Cuban Rum Industry

Glass of Santiago De Cuba, a traditional Cuban Rum

As with sugar, the history of Cuba and rum are intertwined. Rum was first made in Cuba around 1502, making it one of the oldest producers of rum in the world along with Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Among rum enthusiasts, Cuba is considered to be one of the best countries for making rum due to its climate and abundance of sugar. Since Cuba is still a major producer of sugar, Cuban rum has been made the same way for nearly five hundred years. This is in  comparison to other Caribbean countries who  had to start importing sugar to make their rum, affecting its traditional taste due to the variations in climate and minerals in the soil that affect how the sugar cane grows. There are three requirements for Cuban rum to be genuine Cuban rum:  it must be made from Cuban Sugar,  it must be column distilled, it must be either 75% or 95% alcohol. Currently there are 12 rum distilleries still in Cuba, with Havana Club being the largest.

Hotel Law 2074

    In 1955, Fulgencio Batista (President of Cuba) passed Hotel Law 2074. This bill provided tax incentives, government loans, and casino licenses to new hotels with greater than $1 million of new investment or new nightclubs with $200,000 value (Moruzzi 176). Since leaders of mobs largely operated Cuba’s casinos and nightclubs at the time, they profited most from this new bill. Hotel Law 2074 also allowed Batista to give government money to mobsters directly, including Meyer Lansky – who helped make his casinos and hotels attractive to tourists and greatly profitable (176). The mob’s operations in Havana became much more financially beneficial, and more avenues for revenue soon became available for them. 

    Batista’s bill resulted in the great Havana building boom of 1956-1958, where several impressive casinos and hotels were built. Havana soon had hotels with “the biggest, most extravagant casinos outside of Las Vegas” (Moruzzi 176). The three most significant buildings of this era were the Hotel Capri, Havana Riviera, and Habana Hilton. The Hotel Capri was owned by mob boss Santo Trafficante Jr., though actor George Raft – who both acted as and befriended gangsters – served as a front for the 19-story hotel (176). Meyer Lansky owned the lavish Havana Riviera, a 21-story hotel inspired by Miami Modern design (178). Finally, the Habana Hilton was the last – and most expensive – of the Hotel Law 2074’s buildings: It cost $24 million to build, had 30 stories, and became known as “the most prominent symbol of American influence” (178).

In addition to working with actual gangsters, George Raft played roles in many gangster movies and shows, including Quick Millions (1931), Some Like It Hot (1959), and Ocean’s Eleven (1960). Photo courtesy of Turner Classic Movies.

Gangster Figures in Cuba

    The mob made its first appearance in Havana in the late 1930s. Before it materialized in Cuba, though, the Prohibition allowed members of mobs in America to flourish (Moruzzi 173). The Prohibition Era (1920–1933) began when the 18th Amendment to the United States’ Constitution banned the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcohol (Jones 78). This allowed a new “criminal occupation” to emerge – and certain mobsters to rise to power, either by sneaking in alcohol to speakeasies or by running the speakeasies themselves (Landesco 125). Meyer Lansky became notable after the repeal of Prohibition, where he focused on building a reputation as a gambler and as a manager of casinos. Though Lansky started in Manhattan with his brother Jake, Lansky was eventually invited to help “clean up” Havana’s casinos from any hint of cheating in 1938 – and then he was hired by President Fulgencio Batista as the government’s official advisor on gambling reform in 1953 (174). By the end of the 1950s, U.S. mafia bosses – including Lansky – were in charge of Cuba’s main hotels and casinos (Rovner 91).

    Several other mobsters also began their careers in the United States and looked to further develop their businesses in Cuba. This was particularly after a prominent mob summit was held at Havana’s Hotel Nacional in 1946, which the biggest gangsters of the era – including Lansky, Santo Trafficante Jr., and Charles “Lucky” Luciano – attended (Moruzzi 174). In fact, Santo Trafficante Jr. had been in Cuba since this mob summit. Trafficante managed the lottery rackets in Florida’s Tampa and St. Petersburg; he looked to invest in Havana’s gambling operations in 1948, which was especially appetizing after he was charged with tax evasion on his profits from the national Cuban lottery – or bolita – profits (Rovner 83). 

Photo of Meyer Lansky

Pictured is Santo Trafficante Jr. at the Sans Souci nightclub in Havana, Cuba. Photo courtesy of Tampa Bay Times. 

Audience of Gambling/Casinos

Tourism was a controversial tool for stimulating Cuba’s economic development, and the country’s casinos and gambling helped bring in the tourists that gave them profits. Cuba struggled with a lack of American tourism – since Cuba had great political disorder in the 1930s, and it was the end of America’s Prohibition and the beginning of The Great Depression (Moruzzi 127). When Fulgencio Batista came to power in Cuba in 1952, his neutrality toward Cuba’s expanding sex industry allowed Havana to rise to the status of “the world’s top destination for sex tourism” (127). Batista also strongly supported casino 

The Hotel Nacional on a post card circa 1930, where gambling occurred

gambling, which led him to hire Meyer Lansky as the government’s official advisor on gambling reform to prevent cheating in casinos and provide a clean appearance of Cuban casinos for tourists (174). Additionally, after World War II, many notable Americans visited Havana. This included entertainment stars like Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole and important politicians like Senator John F. Kennedy, prior to his election as president (134). Intriguingly, Kennedy is reported to have not only gone to Havana’s nightclubs but also enjoyed the “sensual aspects of Havana’s nightlife” (136). 

    Cubans also enjoyed their fair share of gambling, but it was not always in the casinos with American tourists. Batista turned Cuba’s national lottery (bolita) – a “ubiquitous Cuban obsession” – into a daily event, where Cubans had the potential to win millions of pesos (Moruzzi 148). Fortunately for Batista and his companions, they also received substantial kickbacks from these lotteries (148). Two popular gambling activities that remained popular during Batista’s presidency were cockfighting and jai alai. Since chickens were accessible, affordable, and adaptable, cockfights were easy for most people – regardless of social class – to organize (Davis 552). Jai alai, which originated as “Basque pelota” (named after the Basque region of northern Spain), became popular in Cuba at the beginning of the twentieth century and can be described as a variation of handball (Mahoney). Though these forms of gambling are a far cry from Batista’s goal of having high-end casinos for tourists to frequent, they are embedded in the history of Cuba and continue to be popular today – even when American tourism in Cuba is greatly limited now.

The Cuba Libre, also known as rum and coke, is a cocktail consisting of Bacardi rum, Coca-Cola, and lime juice. There are a couple different accounts of how the Cuba Libre first came to be, but many agree that the drink was invented after the end of the Spanish-American War – in which Cuba fought for several years to gain independence from Spanish colonial rule (Office of the Historian). 

When America became involved in the war in 1898, U.S. soldiers and tourists frequented bars and nightclubs in many of Cuba’s bustling cities, and this brought the popularity of Coca-Cola to Cuba (Gjelten 98). One story about origin of the rum and coke comes from Fausto Rodríguez, who later became the Bacardi advertising chief: A Cuban bartender named Barrio worked at an establishment that often served U.S. military personnel, and after ordering a supply of Coca-Cola to please his American customers, Barrio mixed some Bacardi rum with the Coke and offered it to his customers (98). According to Rodríguez, the customers enjoyed it and Barrio refilled the glasses and made a toast, exclaiming, “¡Por Cuba Libre!” (To Free Cuba!) – and thus the Cuba Libre was born (98). There is another account of the cocktail’s creation that claims a U.S. Army Signal Corps captain invented the drink when he decided to mix his Bacardi rum with Coca-Cola and intrigued other bar patrons, until he made the “¡Por Cuba Libre!” toast (Bacardi Limited). 

Regardless of who exactly exclaimed the famous revolutionary phrase, it was clear that the Cuba Libre was a great demonstration of the alliance between Cuba and America at the time. Additionally, it opened the door for the Bacardi family members who made the rum that was famously mixed in the drink (Gjelten 98).

Today, neither Cuba nor the United States actually produce the original Cuba Libre. Coca-Cola became a “symbol of capitalism” during the Cold War, and since it is closely associated with the United States, Cuba did not want to receive it, and the United States did not want Coca-Cola to sell their products to Cuba (Hebblethwaite). After Fidel Castro led the Cuban Revolution and forced out former President Fulgencio Batista, he began to seize products owned by foreign countries that had a presence there – namely those produced by the United States (Hebblethwaite). In response, President John F. Kennedy declared an embargo on U.S.–Cuban trade in 1962, which included Coca-Cola products (U.S. Department of State). As a result, Cuba now uses its own cola-based soda (tuKola) as a Coca-Cola substitute to make the cocktail, while the United States now calls the cocktail a “rum and coke” to distance themselves from Cuba (Wija). Dating back to the beginning of the twentieth century, the Cuba Libre started with a time for revolution that brought Cuba and the United States together, and it has become a casualty of a revolution that has made the two countries at odds with each other.

Rum and Coke

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