Occupation of Cuba

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Occupation of Cuba


Under the laws of war

What are the beginning and ending dates for the military occupation?

Who is the occupying power?

What are the beginning and ending dates for United States Military Government jurisdiction over Cuba?

When did Spanish sovereignty over Cuba end?

When did the Spanish flag come down?

What was the “receiving country” for the Cuba cession?

If there was no receiving country for the Cuba cession, what was the “receiving entity”?

April 11, 1899
ESSAY (excerpted from TT article)

in the post-Napoleonic period, international law recognizes that "territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of a hostile army." All military attacks against Spanish installations and fortifications in Cuba were conducted by US military forces, hence the US was the principal occupying power. Upon the surrender of Spanish troops in Cuba, the flag of the principal occupying power was raised.

In the post-war peace treaty, Spain ceded Cuba, but no "receiving country" was specified. This is very close to Taiwan's situation after World War II, and so we can call this a "limbo cession." Unfortunately, the Taiwanese people don't understand how the sovereignty of Cuba was transferred from Spain to the Republic of Cuba between the period of 1898 to 1902. As such, it is impossible for them to understand Taiwan's current international legal status.

As a basic orientation, remember that "military occupation" is conducted under military government, and for the US this is the US Military Government (USMG). Military occupation may be conducted directly or delegated, and hence, hence it is proper to speak of the principal occupying power and a subordinate occupying power. The subordinate occupying power is merely acting as an "agent."

For the Cuban people, it is important to note that "Cuban independence" was only one possible outcome of the Spanish-American War. Even though not ceded to the United States in the Treaty of Paris, Cuba might have remained as an overseas territory of the United States for an indefinite period. Let us examine how this might have been arranged.
In the first scenario, suppose that in early 1899, two separate groups began "nation building," by promulgating a new government organization chart, appointing members for a Senate and House of Representatives, selecting suitable individuals to head up various government ministries, holding discussions on the drafting of a constitution and other laws, holding seminars on democratic governance, personnel management, duties and rights of the citizens, etc. and so on. One group might have been in eastern Cuba while the other in western Cuba. In other words, two new "governments" were emerging. One important question is: Who would have decided which "government" is the lawful authority?
But before we answer that question, let us imagine the emergence of a third new “government.” Suppose that in 1898 the USMG had delegated the military occupation of Cuba to Venezuelan military forces. With the coming into force of the post-war peace treaty, President of Venezuela might suggest to the US president: "Why don't you just let us take over the island of Cuba and establish a new government? Our people share many of the same cultural, religious, and other values with the Cubans, and I am sure they would be happy under our government."
Who would have decided whether to adopt this proposal?
As a further complication, suppose that there had been a coup d’etat in Venezuela in late 1898, and remnants of the old Venezuelan government transferred their central government to Cuba, which was currently under the control of Venezuelan military forces, who exercising delegated administrative authority for the military occupation?
At this point the Venezuelans have become a government in exile in Cuba. Most likely, no action has yet been taken by the US State Dept., and this “Venezuelan government in exile” in Cuba is still recognized as the sole legitimate government of Venezuela.

For an area under US military occupation, the United States should nurture some local group to become the new government of Cuba. Initially, this will be known as the Cuban civil government. There are now three groups competing for this recognition.

According to the evaluation of some observers, all three groups are of equal standing, and are equally valid choices. However, a closer examination reveals that at the most basic level, the third group is not composed of local persons, but of exiles from the old government of Venezuela.
Moreover, after some research it is found that this third group has committed many illegal acts during its occupation of Cuba. Among these are (1) announcement of Cuba Retrocession Day shortly after the surrender ceremonies for Spanish troops in Cuba, (2) mass naturalization of the local Cuban populace as Venezuelan citizens some three months later, (3) the institution of mandatory military conscription policies over native Cubans (in occupied Cuban territory) etc.
In consideration of its failure to respect the tenets of international law (and even its own domestic law and constitution), the group of Venezuelan exiles should be excluded from consideration as a valid civil government for Cuba.
In this regard, we can imagine a situation where in the late 1800s, Cuba had a large community of Venezuelan exiles. Indeed, it is possible that these exiles might come together to form a civil government and try to “promote” themselves as a valid “civil government” for Cuba, to which the United States could transfer its jurisdiction in preparation for the end of military government. However, at the same time it is true that the local Cubans do not regard these Venezuelans as local persons, but rather as exiles.


After the coming into force of the Treaty of Paris in 1899, would the United States have recognized (a) a group of Venezuelan exiles as a legitimate government for Cuba?

Xx (b) a group of Mexican exiles as a legitimate government for Puerto Rico?

Xx © a group of Russian exiles as a legitimate government for Guam?

Xx (d) a group of Vietnam exiles as a legitimate government for the Philppines?

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