American intervention in the conflict between Cuba and Spain, resulting in the Spanish-American War, transformed the character of the drive for Cuban independence. American armed forces took over conduct of a movement conceived initially to secure national independence and, in the process, annulled the ultimate objective of the Cuban struggle. Within the context of the Spanish-American War, Cuba was simply one theater of operations. The American command withdrew the Cuban Ejército Libertador or Liberating Army from major operations and limited Cuban participation in the war effort to ancillary contributions, using Cuban troops as scouts, messengers, trench-diggers, pack-carriers, and sentries.1 This reduced both the Cuban contribution to ultimate victory, and the Liberating Army’s voice in the post-war planning. The capitulation of Santiago de Cuba in July, 1898 aptly revealed the American perception and objectives of the war. While the Cubans fought to expel the Spanish, the terms of the capitulation permitted Spanish troops to remain in Santiago, protected by American forces, on the strength of a pledge not to take up arms against the United States for the duration of the war.2

Santiago exposed the contradictions inherent in the joint United States-Cuban effort against Spain. General William R. Shafter, the American commander in Cuba, reported that General Calixto García, the Cuban army chief, declined to enter Santiago because the Americans left Spanish civil officers in power provisionally. The “trouble with General García,” Shafter concluded with some impatience, “was that he expected to be placed in command at this place; in other words, that we would turn the city over to him.” The American commander reported he had “explained fully that we were at war with Spain, and that the question of Cuban independence could not be considered by me.”3 Independence, in fact, was never more than a coincidental by-product of the Spanish-American War, subject at all times to the vagaries of American wartime policy. Cuban insurgents found themselves circumstantial allies in the Spanish-American War rather than agents of Cuban independence.

The Treaty of Paris, ratifying American sovereignty over the island, gave Washington responsibility for the protection of life and property during the occupation. More important, American sovereignty altered the relationship established between the Liberating Army and the United States army during the war. The cessation of hostilities transformed the Cuban army into a body of armed nationals in a territory occupied by a foreign force; the Liberating Army represented a potential challenge to the American occupation of the island, threatening the life and property the United States had contracted in Paris to protect, and menacing the law and order demanded by the American Provisional Government. The Military Governor of Santiago found over 11,000 Cuban soldiers in the area when he assumed command.4 Under these circumstances, General Leonard Wood foresaw “quite a period of time” before the establishment of a stable government.5 The commander of Matanzas, General James H. Wilson, listed some 350 towns occupied by Cuban troops who refused to submit to civil authorities.6 In the west, General Fitzhugh Lee, Military Governor of Havana and Pinar del Río, reported Cuban soldiers concentrated outside cities and towns, retaining their weapons, and “producing more or less unrest in the public mind with the fear that many of them, unaccustomed to work for so long, would be transformed to brigands, and not become peaceful law-abiding citizens.”7

The continued presence of an organization of armed Cubans in a post-war setting challenged American political and military authority over the island. The legitimacy of the Provisional Government was further disputed when the Cuban army, in October, 1898, formed the Asamblea de Representantes del Ejército Cubano, or Assembly of Representatives of the Cuban Army. Composed of forty-four generals and colonels representing different army corps, the Assembly agitated for immediate independence, claiming sovereignty over the island.8

The Cuban army further possessed the capacity to contest the American occupation militarily. By preserving its organization into the period of American sovereignty, the Liberating Army emerged as the co-occupier of the island. As long as the Ejército Libertador maintained its armed unity and promoted its political pretensions through the Assembly, American control remained incomplete, and the specter of armed resistance to the occupation haunted officials of the Provisional Government.

United States occupation officials were fully sensitive to the implications of disaffection within the Liberating Army. General Fitzhugh Lee perceived that Cuban soldiers viewed the Americans as intruders and sought “to rule the island without the aid, consent, or advice of the United States, or the presence of the American soldier.”9 As early as August, 1898, one American officer reported that Cubans had “no love for the Americans,” concluding that the insurgents “expected after the present war was ended a conflict between themselves and the United States; and, further, they expressed a readiness to participate in such a conflict when it did come.”10

American military officials recognized very early the capacity of armed Cubans to complicate the occupation experiment. In August, 1898, General H. W. Lawton, commander in Santiago, appealed for definite instructions from Washington as to the policy to be observed toward the Liberating Army. Cuban troops still maintained their organization, Lawton explained, and were “threatening in their attitude,” keeping the “inhabitants stirred up and panicky by threats and acts of violence.”11 Interference in the exercise of American authority, Lawton was instructed, could not be tolerated. Washington demanded Cuban recognition of the military occupation and the authority of the United States as outlined in the Treaty of Paris.12 General William Shafter discerned the full dimensions of the problem confronting the United States in Cuba, and expected trouble until the Cuban army disbanded. Alluding to the army’s military and political pretensions, Shafter stressed that a “dual government can’t exist here; we have got to have full sway of the Cubans.” Otherwise, Shafter predicted, there would inevitably be a war between the occupation forces and Cuban troops to resolve competing claims of sovereignty.13 Governor General John R. Brooke, when asked about the possibility of reducing American units in Cuba to cut costs, cautioned against any withdrawals prior to the disbandment of the Cuban army.14

Tension in Cuba heightened considerably in February, 1899, when rebellion broke out against the American Provisional Government in the Philippine Islands. The implications of the war there were readily apparent in Washington. Henry Adams wrote from the capital that the “President and everybody else” were as “eager to get out of Cuba as they were a year ago to get into it.” The “thought of another Manila at Havana,” Adams suggested, “sobers even an army contractor.”15

Throughout the early months of the occupation American officials searched for a viable approach with which to dismantle the Liberating Army. The Provisional Government sought to provide employment opportunities to lure officers and men away from army ranks. Governor Brooke was convinced that Cuban officers without work threatened order on the island.16 In Santiago, General Wood exchanged jobs for arms.17 Public works programs, designed to provide employment for the idle, pulled many Cubans out of the Liberating Army.18 Nonmilitary departments of the Provisional Government were staffed largely by veterans, care being taken to assign civil positions commensurate with the rank held in the Cuban army. Thus, virtually every civil governor appointed held the rank of general in the Cuban army, and the civil government of Havana was composed largely of former Cuban senior officers.19 By mid-1899, several thousand Cuban veterans had abandoned the army for civilian employment.20 With veterans occupied in jobs, Wood predicted confidently, one “couldn’t stir up an insurrection in the province with the aid of the best agitators in Cuba.”21

Employment opportunities reduced the Cuban army, but failed to produce the desired dissolution of the military organization. However reduced, the Liberating Army remained invested with its organization and concomitant system of allegiances. In the end, anxious to disband the Cuban army, Washington offered to fund the army’s demobilization, granting each veteran a bonus of $75 upon surrending his arms; throughout the spring and summer of 1899, veterans filed past sites specially designated for that purpose. By the end of the summer, the Cuban army had been dissolved.

The dissolution of the Liberating Army, and by extension of the Assembly, dismantled a structure of allegiance independent of American control. The assistance rendered by Cuban troops to the American occupation forces during and immediately after the war with Spain, however, suggested to United States officials a practical use for armed Cubans. Whatever the dangers inherent in a formal Cuban army as co-occupier of the island, American forces were unable to patrol every village, pursue every highwayman, and arrest every law offender; American officials detected in the island’s veteran ranks an efficacious way of consolidating United States authority. An accommodation was envisioned in which armed Cubans, severed from the allegiance system of the Liberating Army, would serve as an ideal adjunct force in the occupation experiment. American policy planners sought to dissolve the old army only to reconstruct from it a new Cuban armed force, more responsive to the needs of American policy objectives.

In Washington the new military organization was proposed as a measure designed to reheve employment pressures created by the entry of some 30,000 veterans into the labor market. The threat of violence, even after the demobilization, was underscored by President McKinley’s Secretary, John A. Porter, who predicted:

Even though without arms it would be extremely dangerous to cast thousands of men on the mercy of the community absolutely penniless and without resources. They would have to continue to live on the country in large numbers, and some might be driven by the extremity of their wants to take food and clothing by stealth and force. With such men wandering aimlessly about, the planters would not dare buy the cattle necessary to begin the operation of their plantations, and even those disposed to work would thus not find the opportunity of doing so. Unless this element of danger is entirely removed, a large American military force will be necessary to guarantee peace, involving a great expenditure of money.22

Discussing the fate of the Liberating Army with a Cuban commission in Washington, McKinley expressed an interest in a “colonial army” composed of 10,000 veterans. The Army, the President believed, would absorb countless thousands of Cubans who otherwise would encounter difficulty finding employment.23 General Máximo Gómez shared McKinley’s hope that a colonial army would spare Cuban veterans the vicissitudes of entering a labor market not prepared to absorb a large influx of job-seekers.24

Imperial considerations also underscored the need for a colonial armed force. Secretary of War Elihu Root contemplated recruiting a Cuban regiment modeled on the plan adopted by the British in Egypt, commanded by United States field officers, Cuban captains and lieutenants, and American sergeants. The colonial army would “dispose of a lot of men most likely to make trouble in Cuba,” Root mused, “turn them from possible bandits, and educate them into Americans.”25 American administrators in Cuba similarly endorsed the projected military organization. General Leonard Wood saw in the colonial army the means with which to reduce the American military commitment in Cuba, transferring these troops to the Philippine Islands. Agreeing with Root, the Military Governor of Santiago predicted that “native regiments” would incorporate the “restless and wild spirits which have been engaged in the recent war.” By reserving lieutenancies for Cubans serving under American officers, the former through promotions would ultimately assume senior grades and command of the military establishment. More important, “native regiments” offered an ideal control agency. Cubans would “more readily and gracefully . . . submit to authority and force by their own people,” Wood suggested, “than by a people of absolutely alien blood.” Ultimately Cubans would “become intensely loyal to us and our methods” and, together with other reforms, Wood divined, “I do not believe you could shake Cuba loose if you wanted to.”26

The early success of American colonial administration in Cuba, however, mitigated the need for a formal colonial military institution. The project was, in many ways, predicated on difficulties anticipated in the dissolution of the Liberating Army. The speedy and uneventful demobilization and the relative success of non-military employment reduced the necessity for a colonial army. In addition, Governor General Brooke opposed the projected army as generating distrust about American intentions in Cuba.27 More important, however, the realities of American administration in Cuba had already necessitated local paramilitary variants of the colonial army. By late 1898 and early 1899, well before senior American planners had come to appreciate the need for a colonial military institution, a native armed force, designed by American army personnel, and no less “colonial” in organization, substance, and mission than the project articulated in Washington, was at the service of the government of occupation.

This force, the Guardia Rural or Rural Guard, responded at once to the general objectives of the American mission on the island and the specific needs of the occupation administration. The American task, suggested in the Teller Amendment, consisted largely of creating an institutional setting propitious for a stable and viable Cuban republic. Throughout the early months the Provisional Government was preoccupied with establishing administrative agencies, reorganizing municipal government, improving health and sanitation facilities, and outlining a system of constitutional government for the future republic. And however vital to the success of the occupation law and order may have been, the Provisional Government did not wish to employ American troops as police agents. Indeed, upon the termination of the occupation in 1902, American forces were reported to have engaged at no time in active police work.28

The Rural Guard served to enforce the authority of the Provisional Government in districts remote from the locus of American power. United States provincial commanders were simply unable to extend adequate protection in the interior.29 The Military Governor of Puerto Príncipe, Colonel L. H. Carpenter, for example, reported that “people were afraid to go into the country and make any start with cattle or in other directions without being assured of protection;” these conditions, Carpenter indicated, necessitated creating a rural guard force for regions where it was reasonable to expect incidents of lawlessness.30 Throughout the interior of the island, the Rural Guard was responsible for protecting life and property.

The Guard was of inestimable service in fulfilling needs peculiar to the occupation. The substitution of Cubans for American troops reduced the health hazard presented by the susceptibility of the foreign occupation forces to tropical disease.31 Cuban veterans, acclimated and familiar with the rural districts in which they served, were particularly effective in minimizing rural insecurity. In addition, Cuban forces reduced the misunderstandings otherwise inevitable as a result of language and cultural differences.32

Political considerations, requiring American prudence in dealing with the population, further necessitated the use of Cubans in paramilitary law enforcement. The Provisional Government cast the Cubans as the primary executors of law under the occupation, thus sparing American troops from acting directly, in the process of law enforcement, against the population. Sensitive to developments in the Philippine Islands, American military commanders sought to avoid any situation capable of precipitating hostilities on the island. General Wood feared that use of American troops against Cubans was courting a disaster of the magnitude of the struggle in the Pacific.33 General Fitzhugh Lee suggested to a Washington lawmaker that “if by accident or bad management an exchange of shots took place anywhere between the Cubans and the American soldiers, resulting in many of the former falling into ranks again, the country might have a guerrilla war on its hands and our troubles [would] multiply.”34 A Cuban force would be freer to act. “The Cubans are perfectly willing to accept,” Wood wrote, “the acts of their own civil officers, which, if performed by soldiers of the United States, would give rise to a great deal of bad feeling and friction.”35

A new system of allegiance was built into the Rural Guard. Recruitment enforced institutional loyalty and assured American control. Officers and men were selected carefully from the “best material” in the Liberating Army.36 The Guard came to consist largely of Cubans sympathetic to the occupation effort; members were required to be, in Wood’s terms, “obedient and faithful” to the Provisional Government.37

Dependence upon the American military presence was basic to the Guard. Cuban officers were selected by and responsible to American commanders; the authority exercised by the Guard was determined by the Provisional Government. Captain H. J. Slocum, the American advisor to the Cuban armed force, reported that members of the Rural Guard had “gradually stiffened up to their work, protecting life and property, as they came to realize that they were backed by a powerful Government;” Cubans were made to understand from the outset, Slocum wrote, “that the strong arm of the Government of the Intervention was supporting them.”38

By the very setting against which the force emerged and the mission to which it was assigned, the Rural Guard could exercise effective authority only in the presence of American forces. This symbiotic relationship became a source of concern to American officials as Washington prepared the evacuation of the occupation forces. The Rural Guard did not preserve order; rather, as Secretary Root suggested in 1899, the maintenance of order was substantially the product of the restraining influence of the American military occupation.39 To guarantee the preservation of order, two regiments of cavalry and one regiment of artillery remained on the island after the departure of the occupation forces. This small force, General Wood indicated, remained as a guarantee of order after the establishment of the Cuban government; the Governor sought a “moral force to hold these people up to their work until the decent element assumes its normal position in the government of the island.”40

Preparations for Cuban independence further extended the supporting American military presence on the island. The Platt Amendment established an organic link between Cuba and the United States, in which American authority was grafted onto the Cuban system by appending the Amendment to the Cuban Constitution, and ultimately drafting the statute into the Permanent Treaty. By authorizing United States intervention “for the preservation of Cuban independence, the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty,”41 the Platt Amendment guaranteed American military assistance to bolster Havana if the Cuban armed force proved inadequate.

The Guantánamo Naval Base added another dimension to American armed support of Havana, serving to enforce the intervention clause of the Platt Amendment. “When we turn the government of Cuba over to Cuban hands,” Secretary Root suggested, “some one will have to decide what means the United States shall retain to require that government to fulfill all the obligations for protection of life and property.” And to maintain a strategic disembarkment point for American forces, Root was very desirous of securing Guantánamo naval station.42

By 1902 the Rural Guard had acquired a character peculiar to the occupation experience. It was in no way a regular military organization; the milieu in which it had emerged, the nature of its mission in occupied Cuba, and, particularly, the relation of the Cubans to the American army of occupation, reduced it to an elaborate police organization. Whatever military aspect the Rural Guard might have acquired under the Republic was vitiated by the omnipresence of the United States. The military dimension of protecting the island’s international integrity, for example, was appropriated by the United States. The Platt Amendment committed American military power to underwrite the viability of the constituted authorities in Havana.

The mission assigned to the Guard during the occupation was not altered substantially by the imminence of independence. The principal responsibility of the Guard continued to be protecting properties in the interior. Under the Provisional Government, the Guard served almost exclusively the needs of the rural economic sectors. Property holders often offered rent-free land contiguous to or on their property in the effort to secure a guardpost nearby. Owners often included in the offer land sufficient to permit maneuvers and drill, grazing land for livestock, free building material, access to drinking water, free construction of roads serving the detachment, and the establishment, free of charge, of a communications network to connect the smaller posts with provincial headquarters.43 In Cienfuegos, for example, planters and land proprietors supplied free telephone communications connecting all sugar mills and Rural Guard posts with the provincial capital headquarters. All this, the regional commander reported with some satisfaction, “without entailing any disbursement to the present or future government of the Island.”44 The Guard was assigned most frequently, as one Cuban official urged it should be, to “the country properties situated at strategic places, in order that it may be enabled to attend with more efficiency and activity to that which constitutes its main duty, which is no other than giving to agriculture, to cattle-raising, and to all other branches of wealth . . . defense and assistance.”45 By 1905, the overwhelming majority of the Guard’s outposts were on property privately owned: of 288 of its buildings, a mere twenty-eight were owned by the state; the remainder were either privately rented or donated rent-free by municipalities and business concerns, including the Chaparra Sugar Company, Juraguá Iron Company, and the United Fruit Company.48

The link between the rural economic sector and the Rural Guard was further strengthened by the recruitment system. Enlistment qualifications included good character and excellent standing in the community. Applicants, moreover, were required to submit letters of recommendation from at least two well-known citizens, “preferably property owners.”47 Planters frequently interceded directly with government officials to secure the appointment or reappointment of particular officers who had been uncommonly cooperative.48

The Provisional Government endowed the Republic with an armed force molded in the crucible of a foreign occupation. The Rural Guard, in many ways, served a foreign government; its authority did not rest on a national mandate or the legitimacy inherent in serving a national government, but rather found sanction in the American military occupation. The circumstances under which the Guard emerged made a “national” relationship between the Cuban armed force and its countrymen impossible. The occupation experience grafted onto the Guardia Rural a mission and a set of loyalties not necessarily consistent with the national needs of the new Republic. Armed Cubans in the service of the Provisional Government and subordinate to American commanders acquired a mission vastly distinct from that inherent in the Liberating Army. Indeed, the institutional expression of Cuban nationalism had been dissolved. The controls devised to define the relationship between independent Cuba and the United States also institutionalized the mission for which the Guard was initially intended. Within this peculiar system, the Cuban armed force—continuing to serve the country in precisely the same pattern established during the American occupation—had an a parenti relation to the United States.

The force molded during the United States occupation proved very quickly incapable of sustaining the new political order. A Liberal Party uprising in 1906, protesting the re-election of President Tomás Estrada Palma, successfully challenged the armed force of the state. On September 8, presiding over the collapse of his government and unable to protect foreign fife and property, Estrada Palma called upon Washington for military assistance.49 President Roosevelt, less than anxious to intervene in a situation capable of involving American forces in a guerrilla war, dispatched Secretary of War William H. Taft and Assistant Secretary of State Robert Bacon as peace commissioners to seek a conciliation between the contending factions. After days of fruitless negotiations, and in the face of the utter collapse of authority in Havana, the commissioners established a provisional government on the island.50 The Cuban government, Taft concluded ruefully, had “proven to be nothing but a house of cards.”51

The success of the Liberal protest revealed the artificiality of the armed institution with which the Republic had been endowed. If the Cuban government had indeed been a “house of cards,” it was one stacked by the first American occupation. The very mission of the Rural Guard nullified military efficacy. The armed force was entrusted with the preservation of order, a task substantially preventive—not recuperative—in nature. To achieve this, the Guard relied upon a network of far-flung detachments from which patrols radiated outward into the countryside surrounding each post.

The effectiveness of the Rural Guard depended on political stability which, in the absence of a regular military institution, in turn required a voluntary allegiance to constituted authority. The withdrawal of the United States army in 1902 shifted the military underpinnings of political stability to the American military assistance implicit in the Platt Amendment. The Amendment, Senator Orville Platt wrote, removed the need for a Cuban army or navy. The Connecticut lawmaker introduced his legislation to guarantee an “independent . . . stable republican government which the United States will assist in maintaining against foreign aggression or domestic disorder.”52 Secretary of State Elihu Root similarly suggested in 1904 that the Platt Amendment counteracted “such revolutions as have afflicted Central and South America,” for it was “known to all men that an attempt to overturn the foundations of that government will be confronted by the overwhelming power of the United States.”53 The Rural Guard, then, continued in auxiliary service to the United States armed forces. It was the Cuban “utter military incapacity.” Roosevelt later wrote, that necessitated intervention.54 In the end, the Guard never possessed a military capacity; the intervention Roosevelt had sought to avoid was inevitable within the context of American treaty obligations.

The Liberal protest exposed the impotence of the island’s armed organization. The revolution, Estrada Palma lamented, had “surprised” the administration without sufficient arms, ammunition, and troops.55 The absence of a standing army foredoomed the government’s response to rebellion. Commander William F. Fullam, commanding a warship dispatched to Cienfuegos, was told by local authorities that it would have required “at least a year to raise the troops and prepare for an active campaign,” by which time the country would have been “devastated by the rebels.”56 The time spent preparing government forces for battle enabled the insurgency to spread quickly throughout the island. The American intervention simply delivered the coup de grace to a doomed government. The peace commissioners reported some eight to ten thousand insurgent troops preparing to converge upon Havana when they arrived.57 The commander of a naval force dispatched to Havana similarly indicated that the “immediate effect” of his arrival “was to prevent the occupation of Havana that night by the rebels.”58

American inquiry into the fall of the Estrada Palma administration brought the deficiencies of the Rural Guard into bold relief. The new Provisional Governor, Charles Magoon, suggested that the civil properties of the force precluded military efficiency. The Rural Guard was first and foremost designed to patrol the interior, arrest law offenders, and perform other police duties.59 The dispersal of the 5,300 officers and men in some 250 scattered and isolated outposts further attenuated the Guard’s military value. Captain C. F. Crain, appointed advisor to the Cuban force, discovered far too many outposts, particularly in the sugar districts of Oriente. “Every person of property,” Crain complained, “desires to have a post of the Rural Guard near his possession.” The distribution of the force, consequently, responded “to the influence certain persons have been able to exert.” The government policy of accepting land, equipment, and buildings rent-free, Crain suggested, placed the Guard “under obligation to the owners—which obligation undoubtedly at times conflicts with their duty.”60

The Provisional Government found the Rural Guard thoroughly demoralized. Political activity had discredited it in Liberal Party circles, whose political liberties it had abrogated in a summary fashion.61 The Guard, Magoon reported, was in general disfavor due to its political involvement.62 It was also professionally bankrupt. The far- flung outposts had discouraged direct administration and surveillance; relative freedom from direct supervision and infrequent inspections had produced laxness in remote detachments. Post discipline reflected a relationship to Havana—the further away from the capital, the poorer the professional standards.63

The Provisional Government very quickly devoted itself to the task of correcting the shortcomings discovered in the Cuban armed force. Officers of the American Army of Pacification were detached for advisory duty; the Provisional Government in Havana established a panel of United States officers to study changes proposed for the Guard. The larger American mission in Havana consisted primarily of breathing life into the moribund republic, providing the resuscitated government with the institutions to renew the experiment in self-government.64 It was incumbent on Washington, in order to avoid future interventions, to design an armed force of sufficient size and efficiency to guarantee the integrity and stability of the Cuban political processes.

American administrators planned to enhance the Rural Guard’s effectiveness for stability by enlarging it. As early as October, 1906, Secretary Taft, doubting the effectiveness of a mere 5,000 Rural Guards, advised Magoon to increase the force. “If it is necessary to make an additional appropriation,” Taft instructed the Provisional Governor, “I would make it because the truth is that Palma had not a large enough force, and the appropriation was not sufficient.”65 The Provisional Government planned to increase the organization to some 10,000 officers and men, confident such a force would be sufficient to guarantee stability. In January, 1907, the Secretary of War ordered Magoon to “go ahead and recruit the Rural Guard up to 10,000” so that “when we leave the government there we shall leave it something with which to preserve itself.”66

American army advisors attempted to correct the worst features of the outpost system. Major H. J. Slocum, recognizing the weakness inherent in the detachment network of the force, resisted demands of property owners for the distribution of posts of a few men, and proposed instead to concentrate Cuban troops. Fewer outposts, the army advisor reasoned, would necessitate a wider orbit of patrol, enabling the Rural Guard to acquire greater familiarity with the surrounding countryside.67

The Provisional Government sought to improve the force’s training, discipline, and morale. By late 1907, army schools were operating in Havana, Matanzas, Camagüey, and Santiago de Cuba; officers received additional training in specially designed programs.68 New recruits were selected carefully; the Provisional Governor, in fact, purged the Guardia Rural of objectionable men, particularly those “who were taken without due care under the stress of the insurrection.”69 The occupation government firmly pledged that promotions would not be secured by political activity or influence.70 Instead, Rural Guard Chief Alejandro Rodríguez assured new recruits that merit, ability, and study would earn future promotions.71

The Rural Guard never recovered fully from the 1906 uprising. The Liberal Party, victim of the government’s application of state force in 1906, remained implacably opposed to the force, however much reformed by the Provisional Government. Liberals remained unconvinced that the Guard had been divested of political loyalties pernicious to the Party cause. “The present officers of the Armed Forces,” Juan Gualberto Gómez, a prominent Liberal spokesman, suggested, “became prominent in all the irregularities of the regime which has been overthrown. The wickedness and abuses committed have caused them to lose forever the confidence of the majority of the people, and it is not possible that we enjoy tranquility with the delivery of the public power into hands, a great many of which are suspicious, and others which we deem even criminal.”72

Leading Liberal military and political leaders proposed a regular military force to replace the Rural Guard. As early as November, 1906, Liberal Generals Faustino Guerra, Carlos García Vélez, and José de Jesús Monteagudo, in a meeting with the Provisional Governor, disclosed their opposition to any increase in the Guard. García reminded Magoon that a mere 1,000 Rural Guards had sufficed during the first occupation, insisting that an increase in the armed force would not fill any real need.73 Liberal leaders submitted a counterproposal to the Provisional Governor, suggesting the creation of a permanent army. They would have retained the Rural Guard in its police capacity only, while creating a distinct army organization to assume the military task for which the Americans were attempting to mold it.74

Liberal leaders further invoked public economy to support their army proposal. Senator Tomás Recio estimated the cost of 10,000 Rural Guards at an additional $8-9 million. The budgetary problems created by an augmented Guard, Recio claimed, would force the subsequent Cuban government to “increase taxes, making living more expensive,” and to “abandon other government services,” including public works and education. Increased taxation, the Liberal Senator warned, would align the “tax-paying classes against us, of whom we must be considerate.”75 Juan Gualberto Gómez insisted that the Rural Guard, composed of cavalry, would cost a great deal more than infantry. A regular army consisting of infantry and artillery, the Liberals predicted, would reduce state expenditures significantly.76

American advisors to the Rural Guard unanimously opposed the army project. United States officers quickly addressed themselves to the anticipated professional limitations of the projected army organization. Major H. J. Slocum described the army, recruited “as it probably would be from those who recently took part in the insurrection,” as a grave political error. Slocum was convinced the Liberals intended that “this army will be a machine of their makings and workings.”77 The addition of a separately commanded army organization, Captain E. Wittenmyer suggested, could not fail “to breed jealously and discord and with politics creeping in, as it is sure to do under native administration, these two bodies will only be a cause for inciting rebellion and revolution.” There would be, Wittenmyer counseled, “twice as many opportunities to be disloyal in two organizations as there are in one.”78 “Is the future of Cuba,” Captain J. A. Ryan queried, “to be trusted to an army created by the direction of one political party? It is difficult to see the use to which this army would be put.” It was only a small band of political aspirants, the American advisor indicated, bidding for popularity, who hoped to “win adherents to their banners by holding out to them positions in the new army that is to be created.” Ryan further doubted the ability of a regular army to protect the “vast money interests,” including plantations, crops, and expensive machinery, “that make possible the wealth of Cuba.” “Would an army,” Ryan asked, “be of any protection to these wealth producing elements, with its stations far away, at points selected for convenience of supply and distribution?”79

However reasonable the opposition to the creation of a permanent army may have seemed, larger American policy considerations were governed preeminently by the need to establish a setting auspicious for political stability on the island. Indeed, Liberal statements appealed directly to the American search for order. General Faustino “Pino” Guerra shared the Provisional Governor’s view of the need for a large armed force, though insisting on a regular army to replace the Rural Guard. Guerra recommended reducing the force to some 3,600 officers and men, restricting its function to purely civil duties during peacetime, and using it as a cavalry division in the military during an emergency. The Liberal General revealed to Magoon an insight into the success of the Liberal protest of 1906:

The secret of revolutions is the fact that there has not been an effective army. A small band would go out, say in Santiago for instance, strike a few effective blows, and as the Government had no efficient force to turn against it, the people began to believe that the victory was on the side of the insurgents, whose number gradually increased until there was a large revolutionary army, when, if, in the beginning, a sufficient force could have been turned against it the revolution would not have lasted 48 hours. I say that if the Government has well organized troops, and if a revolution is immediately opposed by them, it will not receive converts, but if it is permitted to grow, it will soon have thousands of adherents.80

The general’s argument was authoritative, for it was Guerra who had inaugurated the successful 1906 rebellion. The Liberal general was confident that a regular army would make it a “difficult task to bring about a revolution.”81

The idea of an armed force, precisely to make it a “difficult task to bring about a revolution,” struck a responsive chord in American administrators. Support of the proposed army spread as the Provisional Government and policy planners in Washington detected in the Liberal proposal an instrument with which to promote United States policy objectives. The Platt Amendment had taken Cuban politics out of a purely national setting. An unsettled political order reverberated in Washington; instability produced conditions capable of compelling the United States, however unwilling, to intervene in fulfillment of treaty obligations. During the early months of the Provisional Government, military and civilian administrators labored to fashion an effective military fulcrum for Cuban stability and, at the same time, prevent the rise of conditions necessitating American intervention. “A military force pure and simple,” Magoon counseled firmly, “is a reasonable and necessary agency for the stability of the Government. The necessity of such a force was demonstrated by the insurrection of 1906.”82

The initial impulse to fashion the Rural Guard into the armed foundation of the Republic yielded to Cuban political needs and American policy objectives. Within the institutional options available to the Provisional Government, American administrators sought to reconstruct the armed force to meet Cuban and American needs. “My idea,” Secretary Taft wrote, “was after we got the Government fairly elected it was our duty to possess that Government with the means of maintaining itself, and naturally we turned to the Rural Guard as the body which might do it.”83 The efficacy with which the armed institution preserved order in the interior was largely undisputed; policy makers sought, however, a force capable of preserving political stability and national order. In the end, American administrators, swayed in part by the force of the Liberal arguments and partly by United States needs, arrived at an accommodation between the economic needs of the rural districts—“the vast money interest”—and the political needs of Havana. In 1906 Estrada Palma found it necessary to guard Havana and provincial capitals and maintain, at the same time, a force of sufficient size and strength to defend the interior. The Cuban president ultimately chose to concentrate government forces in the cities, leaving the countryside to uncontested insurgent control and jeopardizing life and property in the interior. “This would not have been the case,” Magoon speculated, “if a small military force had been available in each of the Provincial Capitals.”84 The Provisional Governor sought to create a dual armed force designed to preserve the integrity of a regime and enable that government to protect the source of wealth. The projected function of the military institution was entirely consistent with the mandate of the Platt Amendment. The new army would simply underwrite “the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty.”

In April, 1908, the Provisional Government created the Permanent Army. The Rural Guard was preserved intact, consisting of some 5,180 officers and men in 380 detachments.85 The new Permanent Army consisted of an infantry brigade, to be enlarged by the transfer of men from the Rural Guard. Separate command of the army was designed to reduce the danger of militarism and discourage any combined use of the armed forces against the central government.86 As the American Provisional Government prepared to return the island to Cuban administration, United States officials shared Magoon’s confidence that the new government “will start off well equipped with ordinary means and agencies of stability.”87

The Permanent Army served both American policy needs and Liberal politics. Within a Cuban setting, the stability-enforcing agency early acquired a distinct political substance, as United States military personnel had suspected it would. Very quickly the Liberal administration of José Miguel Gómez (1908-1912) converted the new army into an agency of their own partisan politics. Within the context of treaty relations between Cuba and the United States, the Permanent Army also fulfilled American policy objectives on the island. American support of the Cuban army underscored a growing perception in Washington of the burden imposed by the Platt Amendment. United States interventions were both costly and unpopular, and always carried the risk of involving American troops in a prolonged insurgency. The new army, designed to guarantee the integrity of the constituted authority, responded specifically to American hopes of avoiding future interventions. The Permanent Army used Cubans in place of Americans, relieving the United States of the military responsibility for maintaining a government “adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty.” As the Liberals had earlier suggested, a revolution challenging the government required the “intervention of soldiers,” not Rural Guards.88 Rut the soldiers intervening to underwrite the order and stability mandated by the Platt Amendment did not necessarily have to be American. In many ways, the United States bilateralized the enforcement of the Platt Amendment, for in assigning the responsibility for stability to the Cubans, American policy planners revised the Root and Platt interpretation of American protection against internal Cuban warfare.


Franklin Matthews, The New-Born Cuba (New York, 1899), p. 597; David F. Healy, The United States in Cuba, 1898-1902. Generals, Politicians, and the Search for Policy (Madison, Wis., 1963), p. 35; Charles H. Brown, The Correspondents’ War; Journalists in the Spanish-American War (New York, 1967), p. 336.


José Müller y Tejeiro, Battles and Capitulations of Santiago de Cuba, Office of Naval Intelligence, War Note No. I, Information from Abroad, in United States Congress, Senate, Notes on the Spanish-American War, 56th Congress, 1st Session, Document No. 388, Ser. 3876 (Washington, D. C., 1900), p. 145.


Major General William R. Shafter to Secretary of War R. A. Alger, July 29, 1898, United States Congress, Senate, Report of the Commission Appointed by the President to Investigate the Conduct of the War Department in the War With Spain, 56th Congress, 1st Session, Ser. 3859-3866 (8 vols., Washington, D.C., 1900), II, 1052 (hereinafter cited as RCAP).


Brigadier General Leonard Wood, “Report of Brigadier General Leonard Wood, U.S. Volunteers, Commanding Department of Santiago,” August 9, 1899, United States Department of War, Annual Report of the War Department, 1899, United States Congress, House of Representatives, 56th Congress, 1st Session, House Document No. 2, Ser. 3899-3904 (3 vols., Washington, D.C., 1899), II, part 1, p. 302 (hereinafter cited as ARWD/1899).


General Leonard Wood to Secretary of War, September 9, 1898, File 139813, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, Record Group 94, National Archives (hereinafter cited as RG 94).


Brigadier General James H. Wilson, “Report of Brigadier General James H. Wilson, U.S. Volunteers, Commanding Department of Matanzas and Santa Clara,” February 18, 1899, ARWD/1899, I, part 1, p. 156.


Fitzhugh Lee, Special Report of Brigadier General Fitzhugh Lee on the Industrial, Economic, and Social Conditions Existing in the Province of Havana and Pinar del Río (Quemado, Cuba, 1899), p. 3.


Emilio Roig de Leuchsenring, La lucha cubana por la república, contra la anexión y la Enmienda Platt, 1899-1902 (La Habana, 1952), p. 23.


New York Times, September 9, 1900, p. 14.


Lieutenant J. W. Heard to Adjutant General, August 21, 1898, United States Department of War, Annual Report of the War Department: Report of the Major-General Commanding the Army, 1898, United States Congress, House of Representatives, 55th Congress, 3d Session, House Document No. 2, Ser. 3745 (Washington, D.C., 1898), pp. 375-376 (hereinafter cited as ARWD/1898). See also Rafael Martín Ortiz, Cuba los primeros años de independencia (2 vols., 3rd ed., Paris, 1929), I, 32-33. Horacio Ferrer, Con el rifle al hombro (La Habana, 1950), pp. 135-137. One Cuban historian suggests that the Liberating Army increased after the cessation of hostilities with Spain in anticipation of a conflict with the American army of occupation. See Enrique Collazo, Los americanos en Cuba (La Habana, 1905), pp. 189-190.


General H. W. Lawton to Adjutant General, August 16, 1898, File 116542, RG 94.


Adjutant General H. C. Corbin to General H. W. Lawton, August 16, 1898, RCAP, II, 1098; Hamilton V. Bail, “The Military Government of Cuba, 1898-1902” (unpublished manuscript, Hoover Institution for War and Peace, Stanford, California, 1943), pp. 11-12.


General William R. Shafter to Adjutant General, August 16, 1898, RCAP, II, 1099.


General John R. Brooke to Secretary of War R. A. Alger, February 9, 1899, File 243539, RG 94.


Henry Adams to Elizabeth Cameron, February 26, 1899, in Worthington Chauncy Ford (ed.), Letters of Henry Adams (2 vols., Boston, 1930-1938), II, 20.


General John R. Brooke to Adjutant General, June 2, 1899, File 248666, RG 94.


Hermann Hagedorn, Leonard Wood, A Biography (2 vols., New York, 1931), I, 255.


Leonard Wood, “The Military Government of Cuba,” The Annals of the American Academy of Political Science, 21 (March, 1903), 154.


Roig, La lucha cubana, pp. 16-17.


P. E. Betancourt, Civil Governor of Matanzas, to Colonel G. M. Randall, May 27, 1899, File (1899) 3100, Records of the Military Government of Cuba, Record Group 140, National Archives (hereinafter cited as RG 140).


Hagedorn, Leonard Wood, I, 256.


J. A. Porter to Adjutant General H. C. Corbin, September 29, 1898, File 132052, RG 94.


“Memoria de la primera comisión enviada a Wáshington,” in Joaquín Llaverías y Emeterio S. Santovenia (eds.), Actas de la Asambleas de Representantes y del Consejo de Gobierno durante la Guerra de Independencia (5 vols., La Habana, 1932), V, 152-153.


Máximo Gómez to William McKinley, March 4, 1899, in Ramón Infiesta, Máximo Gómez (La Habana, 1937), pp. 227-228.


Elihu Root to William McKinley, August 17, 1899, William McKinley Papers, Library of Congress, Manuscript Division.


General Leonard Wood to Theodore Roosevelt, August 18, 1899, Theodore Roosevelt Papers, Library of Congress Manuscript Division.


Healy, The U.S. in Cuba, p. 105.


Captain H. J. Slocum, “Report of Captain H. J. Slocum, 7th U.S. Cavalry, Superintendent of the Rural Guard and the Cuerpo de Artillería of the Island of Cuba, for the Period of January 1st, 1902 to May 20th, 1902,” July 2, 1902, in Leonard Wood, Civil Report of Brigadier General Leonard Wood, Military Governor of Cuba, January 1st to May 20th, 1902 (6 vols., Washington, D.C., 1902), III, 67 (hereinafter cited as Civil Report/1902).


Brigadier General William Ludlow, “Report of Brigadier General William Ludlow, Commanding Department of Havana and Military Governor of the City of Havana, Cuba,” August 1, 1899, ARWD/1899, I, part 1, p. 228.


Colonel L. H. Carpenter, “Report of Colonel L. H. Carpenter, Commanding Department of Puerto Príncipe,” July 10, 1899, ARWD/1899, I, part 1, p. 331.


Secretary of War Russell Alger to Major General Francis V. Greene, November 12, 1898, File 2433548, RG 94.


“Orígenes de nuestro Ejército,” Boletín del Ejército (Havana), 3 (Julio-Agosto, 1952), 11.


Hagedorn, Leonard Wood, I, 214.


General Fitzhugh Lee to Joseph Benson Foraker, November 20, 1899, in Joseph Benson Foraker, Notes of a Busy Life (2 vols., 3rd ed., Cincinnati, 1917), II, 48.


Leonard Wood, “The Existing Conditions and Needs in Cuba,” North American Review, 168 (May, 1899), 600.


Ibid.; Herminio Portell Vilá, “La intervención militar norteamericana, 1899-1902,” El Mundo (Havana), 20 de mayo de 1952, p. 34.


Leonard Wood, “Civil Report of Major General Leonard Wood, U.S. Volunteers, Military Governor of Cuba, December 20th, 1899-December 31,1900, ” United States Department of War, Annual Report of the War Department, 1900: Report of the Military Governor of Cuba on Civil Affairs, United States Congress, House of Representatives, 56th Congress, 2d Session, House Document No. 2, Ser. 4080-4087 (2 vols., Washington, D.C., 1901), I, part 1, p. 65.


Captain H. J. Slocum, “Report of Captain H. J. Slocum . . . ,” Civil Report/ 1902, III, 26.


Elihu Root, The Military and Colonial Policy of the United States, ed. by Robert Bacon and James Brown Scott (Cambridge, Mass., 1916), p. 190.


Leonard Wood to Elihu Root, February 8, 1901, Leonard Wood Papers, General Correspondence, Box 29, Library of Congress Manuscript Division.


“Treaty of Relations between the United States and Cuba, Signed at Habana, May 22, 1903,” in James W. Gantenbein (ed.), The Evolution of Our Latin-American Policy, A Documentary Record (New York, 1950), p. 490.


Elihu Root to Leonard Wood, June 20, 1900, Wood Papers, General Correspondence.


Comandante B. Peña, Guardia Rural de Puerto Príncipe, to Major C. A. P. Hatfield, February 13, 1901, File (1901) 879, RG 140; J. F. Craig, President, Francisco Sugar Company, to General Leonard Wood, February 2, 1901, File (1901) 879, RG 140; W. I. Consuegra, Acting Chief of Rural Guard, Santa Clara, “Monthly Report for November, 1900,” File (1900) 6105, RG 140.


José de Jesús de Monteagudo, Chief of the Rural Guard, to Brigadier General Fitzhugh Lee, October 31, 1900, File (1900) 6105, RG 140.


Leopoldo Figueroa, President of the Municipality of Cienfuegos, to Leonard Wood, January 24, 1901, File (1901) 138, RG 140.


Cuba, Guardia Rural, Memoria explicativa de los trabajos realizados por el Cuerpo durante el año fiscal 1905 (La Habana, 1906), pp. 89-95. Not infrequently, municipalities donated land seeking to attract a Rural Guard detachment. Local citizens thus transferred the financial burden of law enforcement onto the central government. See Rafael Armas, President of the Ayuntamiento of Colón, to Leonard Wood, June 26, 1901, File (1901) 194, and Alejandro Rodríguez, Chief of the Rural Guard, to Adjutant General, Department of Cuba, August 28, 1901, File (1901) 194, RG 140.


Captain H. J. Slocum, “Report of Captain H. J. Slocum . . . ,” Civil Report/1902, III, 68.


See, for example, Eduardo Usabiega to General Leonard Wood, May 26, 1901, File (1901) 194, RG 140; Colonel Pío Domíguez to General Leonard Wood, May 16, 1901, File (1901) 194, RG 140.


Frank M. Steinhart to Secretary of State, September 8, 1906, in William Howard Taft and Robert Bacon, “Cuban Pacification: Report of William H. Taft, Secretary of War, and Robert Bacon, Assistant Secretary of State, of what was done under the Instructions of the President in Restoring Peace in Cuba,” Department of War, Report of the Secretary of War, 1906, Appendix E, United States Congress, House of Representatives, 59th Congress, 2d Session, House Document No. 2, Ser. 5105 (Washington, D.C., 1906), pp. 444-445 (hereinafter cited as Report/1906).


Ralph Eldin Minger, “William H. Taft and the United States Intervention in Cuba in 1906,” HAHR, 41:1 (February, 1961), 85.


William H. Taft to Elihu Root, September 15, 1906, William Howard Taft Papers, Series 8, Letter-book, Secretary of War, Semi-Official, File 5, Library of Congress, Manuscript Division.


O. H. Platt, “The Solution of the Cuban Problem,” The World’s Work, 2 (May, 1901), 732.


Root, The Military and Colonial Policy of the United States, p. 100.


Theodore Roosevelt to Joseph Benson Foraker, September 27, 1906, Foraker, Notes, II, 58.


Cuba, Cámara de Representantes, Mensajes presidenciales remitidos al congreso, transcurridos desde el veinte de mayo de mil novecientos dos, hasta el primer de abril de mil novecientos diez y siete (La Habana, n.d.), p. 176.


Commander William F. Fullam to Secretary of the Navy, September 15, 1906, Admiral William F. Fullam Papers, Box 4, Library of Congress, Manuscript Division.


Report/1906, p. 457.


Commander J. C. Colwell to Secretary of the Navy, October 4, 1906, Correspondence Relating to the Cuban Insurrection, 1906, Naval Records Collection of the Office of Naval Records and Library, Record Group 45, National Archives.


“Final Report of the Advisory Law Commission,” in Charles E. Magoon, Supplemental Report, Provisional Governor of Cuba, for Period December 1, 1908 to January 28, 1909, United States Congress, Senate, 61st Congress, 1st Session, Senate Document No. 80, Ser. 5572 (Washington, D.C., 1909), p. 22.


Captain C. F. Crain to Major H. J. Slocum, February 5, 1907, File 064, Records of the Provisional Government of Cuba, Record Group 199, National Archives (hereinafter cited as RG 199).


David A. Lockmiller, Magoon in Cuba: A History of the Second Intervention, 1906-1909 (Chapel Hill, 1938), p. 82; Russell H. Fitzgibbon, Cuba and the United States, 1900-1935 (Menasha, Wisconsin, 1935), p. 134.


Charles E. Magoon, Report of Provisional Administration from December 1st, 1907, to December 1st, 1908 (Havana, 1909), p. 105 (hereinafter cited as Report/1907-1908).


Captain C. F. Crain, “Report on General Conditions in Santa Clara,” December 27, 1906, File 104/3, RG 199; Alejandro Rodríguez, “Report of Commanding General, Armed Forces of Cuba,” Appendix H, in Charles E. Magoon, Report of Provisional Administration: From October 13th, 1906 to December 1st, 1907 (Havana, 1908), p. 498 (hereinafter cited as Report/1906-1907).


For an excellent treatment of this theme see Allan Reed Millett, The Politics of Intervention. The Military Occupation of Cuba, 1906-1909 (Columbus, Ohio, 1968).


William H. Taft to Charles E. Magoon, October 31, 1906, File 866/16, Records of the Bureau of Insular Affairs, Record Group 350, National Archives (hereinafter cited as RG 350).


William H. Taft to Charles E. Magoon, January 23, 1907, Semi-Official Correspondence, Series 8, Taft Papers.


Major H. J. Slocum to Provisional Governor, February 26, 1907, File 866/44, RG 350.


Rodríguez, “Report of Commanding General, Armed Forces of Cuba,” p. 498.


Charles E. Magoon to Secretary of War, November 16, 1906, File 866/16, RG 350.


Report/1906-1907, p. 19.


Rodríguez, “Report of Commanding General, Armed Forces of Cuba,” pp. 503-504.


“Stenographic Report of the Conference between Mr. Juan Gualberto Gómez, General Jósé de Jesús Monteagudo, General Garlos García Vélez, General Ernesto Asbert, Senator Tomás Recio, Senator Alfredo Zayas, and the Provisional Governor . . . February 6, 1907, File 062/2, RG 199.


“Report of Conference between Provisional Governor Magoon and General Guerra, García Vélez, Monteagudo . . . ,” November 28, 1906, File 012, RG 199.


“Stenographic Report of the Conference between Mr. Juan Gualberto Gómez, General José de Jesús Monteagudo, General Garlos García Vélez, General Ernesto Asbert, Senator Tomás Recio, Senator Alfredo Zayas, and the Provisional Governor . . . ,” February 6, 1907, File 062/2, RG 199.




“Memorandum of Conference between Secretary Taft and the Liberal Committee,” April 8, 1907, File 078/5, RG 350.


Major H. J. Slocum to Charles E. Magoon, February 26, 1907, File 866/44, RG 350.


Captain E. Wittenmyer to Major H. J. Slocum, February 26, 1907, File 866/44, RG 350.


Captain J. A. Ryan to Major H. J. Slocum, February 25, 1907, File 866/44, RG 350.


“Statement made by General Pino Guerra to Provisional Governor of Cuba,” February 19, 1907, in Charles E. Magoon to Secretary of War, February 19, 1907, File 062/6, RG 199.




Charles E. Magoon to the President, April 17, 1908, File 222/3, RG 199.


“Memorandum of Conference between Secretary Taft and the Liberal Committee,” April 8, 1907, File 078/5, RG 199.


Report/1907-1908, p. 108.


Charles E. Magoon to the President, April 17, 1908, File 222/3, RG 199.






“Stenographic Report of the Conference between Mr. Juan Gualberto Gómez, General José de Jesús Monteagudo, General Carlos García Vélez, General Ernesto Asbert, Senator Tomás Recio, Senator Alfredo Zayas, and the Provisional Governor . . .,” February 6, 1907, File 062/2, RG 199.

Author notes


The author is Assistant Professor of History at the University of South Florida, Tampa. Research for the article was made possible by a grant from the Ford Foundation.