Spanish-American War: AD 1898

The brutal Spanish repression of the Cuban independence movement, including the details of the concentration camps, is vividly reported in the American press. Humanitarian outrage, combined with instinctive sympathy for a colonial people fighting for freedom, leads to popular demand for US intervention. This is resisted by two American presidents, Cleveland and McKinley, but war becomes unavoidable after an incident in February 1898.

The US battleship Maine is in Havana harbour, on standby to protect American citizens and property, when an explosion sinks her with the loss of 260 lives.

It is assumed in the US that a mine of some kind is responsible. The Spanish insist that it was an accident (and indeed a fire in the ship's coal bunkers spreading to the ammunition store could well be the reason), but President McKinley now demands Cuban independence as the price of peace.

Spain cannot yield this much and by the end of April the two nations are formally at war. On May 1 an American squadron steams into the harbour of Manila, in the Philippines, and sinks the Spanish warships riding at anchor. American troops arrive in the Philippines in August in sufficient numbers to occupy the city of Manila.

Meanwhile another Spanish fleet has been destroyed off the shores of Cuba. Some hard fighting brings the Americans into Santiago, after which the Spanish garrison on the island surrenders. At the same time an American force occupies Puerto Rico, which has recently been making its own strenuous efforts to win independence.

In the resulting treaty, signed in Paris in December 1898, Spain cedes to the USA the islands of Puerto Rico, the Philippines (for a payment of $20 million) and Guam in the Marianas. Cuba is 'relinquished' to the USA specifically in trust for its inhabitants, to whose independence America is already committed.

The loss of these territories brings to an effective end the earliest and for many years the most powerful of the European overseas empires. The gradual dismantling of Spanish America, which began with the Independence movements of the early 19th century, is thus complete before the century is out.

Only one colony remains which has been nominally in Spanish hands from before the 19th century. The island of Fernando Po off the west African coast came into Spanish hands, by courtesy of the Portuguese, in 1778. But almost a century passes before Spain shows any interest in the region which later becomes Spanish guinea.

This History is as yet incomplete.

Meanwhile, as Spain enters the 20th century, her only other imperial interests are two territories, both recently acquired, in northwest Africa.

The enclave around Ceuta, on the other side of the straits of Gibraltar, is enlarged by military action from 1860 to become known as Spanish morocco. And the arid Western sahara is declared a Spanish colony in 1884. Both regions eventually become part of Morocco.