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The Volunteers: An autonomous phenomenon within the Spanish Empire? . Society of Latin American Studies Annual Conference. University of Aberdeen, 12-14 April 2015.

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The Institute of Volunteers, which was first created in Cuba in 1855, and extended to Santo Domingo in 1861, Puerto Rico in 1864, and the Philippines in 1896, represents one of the most unexplored phenomena of the Spanish imperialism. This was a
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  1 Society of Latin American Studies Annual Conference University of Aberdeen, 12 th -14 th  April 2015 Fernando J. Padilla Angulo University of Bristol The Volunteers. An autonomous phenomenon within the Spanish Empire? From 1855 to 1898 the Institute of Volunteers was one of Spain’s strongest elements of power in Cuba, an island divided between loyalty to the Crown, ideas of independence, and projects of annexation to the United States. During these years this militia saw passing by four Monarchs, a Republic, 43 different governments, and 39 Captains Generals. Amidst such instability, the Volunteers saw themselves as the guardians of the Nation and the Empire. José Gener, a rich Catalan cigar producer and Captain of Volunteers established in Havana, wrote an article in 1870 to the  Diario de la Marina   (Cuba’s main newspaper   by then) stating that “ the Spanish flag would not wave in the Morro castle without the Volunteers. We are Spaniards willing to lose everything before permitting the enemies of the Nation to prevail ”. Demographic factor This militia not only was one of the most stable elements of Spanish rule in Cuba, but also a clear example that support for colonial rule in the island was not exclusive of metropolitan Spaniards, whom never were more than 10% of the  population throughout the 19 th  century. It is estimated that up to 80,000 men joined the Volunteers during the first war of independence, known as the Ten Years’ War  , 1868-1878. In fact, according to José Ferrer de Couto, a New York-based political commentator, by 1872 two thirds of them were born in Cuba. As to the war of 1895-1898, the Volunteers had summoned about 60,000 men, although Arturo Amblard, Cuban affairs adviser to Antonio Maura (Spanish Minister of the Colonies in 1892-1894) and witness of that war, considered their actual numbers were ca. 85,000 men. Although the men lists we keep are quite incomplete, the  2 casualties ’ toll  published by the Spanish Ministry of War after 1898 shows that nearly 45% of the Volunteers killed during the conflict were born in Cuba. This percentage could be higher, since the casualties from some important combats are not included (the July 1898 battle of Santiago de Cuba being the most notorious), and up to 20% of records do not include the birthplace. Nonetheless, if we give credit to that 45%, and apply it to the total number of Volunteers, we would have between 27,000 and 38,000 Cubans in this Loyalist militia. Taking into account that the insurgent  –  or mambí  - roughly included more than 25,000 men, we could infer that there were more Cubans fighting for a Spanish Cuba than for a Cuba free of Spain. Besides there were also Cubans serving in the Army, the Navy, and the Guerrillas (a counterinsurgency irregular force created in 1895), so the total numbers of Cuban Loyalists was higher, comprising ca. 50,000 men in arms. Most Cuban-born Volunteers came from the Western provinces of Havana, Matanzas, Santa Clara  –  where the sugar mills were concentrated, plus Pinar del Río, the cradle of Cuban tobacco. The Eastern provinces of Santiago de Cuba and Puerto Príncipe (nowadays Camagüey) were less developed in economic and demographic terms. Their weak commercial relation with Spain and the United States (the latter Cub a’s closest and biggest market) it is  one of the reasons this area of the island was the centre of the revolution during the wars of independence. Their economic weakness left them out of the commercial trade linking the island with its political metropolis (Spain) and its economic one (the United States). The Eastern contribution to Cuba’ s population was not notable either. Only 26% of Cubans were orientales , whereas only 5% of the Cuban-born Volunteers came from this area of the island. As to the Volunteers born in Spain, a majority came from the provinces  bordering the Bay of Biscay: Galicia, Asturias, and Santander (nowadays known as Cantabria, by then part of Old Castile), and Catalonia in the Mediterranean. These migrants from these areas of the country tended to settle in the cities and have commerce-related jobs, whereas the ones coming from Andalusia and the Canary Islands were mostly employed as peasants and farmers in cattle ranches, sugar mills, and tobacco vegas . In socio-economic terms, the Volunteers reflected th e society’s structure. Chiefs and officers were affluent men, usually businessmen, landowners, and contractors of the  3 State in Cuba. After all, these men had to afford uniforms and weapons for a battalion of about 600-800 men. This was the case of the Basq  ue Julián Zulueta (Cuba’s b iggest slave owner), the Catalan José Baró, or the Cuban Francisco Calderón y Kessel. Most of other officers below the rank of Colonel were shopkeepers, overseers, and civil servants. Low rank Volunteers, on their turn, were mostly recruited among the working class in the cities (store-dependants, coachmen, and cigar makers), and among peasantry in the countryside. Years of peacetime The Volunteers ’ influence , who had been created in 1855 to fight against violent attempts of annexation to the US, reached its climax during the first war of independence in Cuba. Coinciding with years of instability in the metropolis after the ousting of the Bourbon dynasty in September 1868 (during the revolution known as  La Gloriosa ), these men imposed their will in Spanish-controlled Cuba, especially in the capital. A reign of terror was established in Havana. Apart from expelling liberal-minded Spanish authorities, they killed hundreds of independence supporters and caused the exile of many more Cuban families suspicious of favouring the revolution. They were as much a pillar of Spanish authority in Havana in the short-term, as a threat to it in the long-term. Hence, social peace was broken during the years of their  predominance. A negotiated solution between the authorities and the rebels was not an option for them. Consequently they did not save any efforts at hampering any prospects of talks between both sides. This situation didn’t change until the restoration of the Bourbons  to the throne and of a conservative government in Madrid in December 1874. The same elite which had established the Volunteers had also financially and politically supported the cause of the new king, Alphonse XII, son to the dethroned Queen of 1868, Elizabeth II. Also, the end of the civil war known as Third Carlist War (1872-1876) in Spain allowed the government to send more troops to Cuba, where peace finally came in February 1878 when most of the insurgent army accepted the capitulation terms of the Paz del Zanjón ,  presented by the General Arsenio Martínez Campos.  4 After the war several reforms were implemented in Cuba, among them the granting of free speech and reunion rights, and the election of representatives to the Spanish Parliament for the first time since 1837. Two big parties were created: the Unión Constitucional  (conservative) and the Partido Liberal  –  later  Autonomista-  (which advocated for autonomy for Cuba). Over the years, the Conservatives became the favourite option for many metropolitans, whereas the Liberals represented the interests of the educated urban Creole class. Although lacking a cohesive political stance, the Volunteer officers tended to support the Constitucionales . The years following the end of the war, saw great unrest in the island. The  protectionist policy imposed in 1882, which apart from keeping Cuba as a ‘captive market’ for metropolitan Spain products (mostly Catalan), almost coincided  with a lingering crisis in the sugar prices due to European beet sugar competence. Thousands of Cuban peasants were left jobless, and many of them nurtured the bandit gangs which  became a plague in the provinces of Havana and Matanzas. This rural criminality also flirted with ideas of independence, presenting themselves as the guardians of the revolutionary flame during an apparently peaceful time. This crisis and an almost inexistent repression against anti-imperial discourse would boost the spreading of nationalist propaganda. Captain General Polavieja (1890-1892), always distrustful of the Cubans, considered that a majority of them supported the idea of independence, whereas considerable numbers remained indifferent, and only a minority was sincerely pro-Spanish. The failure of the reforms plan proposed in 1893  by the Minister of the Colonies Antonio Maura, which would have granted a sort of Home Rule to Cuba, paved the way for a new war against Spanish rule. Actually, years of economic crisis, of deadlock on reforms plans, and of intense nationalist propaganda, had alienated many Cubans from supporting the imperial and national links with the Mother Country. Again, the war On February 1895 a new war for independence began in Cuba. The 60,000 (or  perhaps 85,000, as we have seen) Volunteers far outnumbered the 15,000 regular soldiers stationed in the island. Nonetheless, shortly after Martínez Campos arrived to  5 Havana with 20,000 soldiers to handle the situation. The first year of the war was crucial in setting the terms of the type of war to be fought this time. Contrary to the Ten Years’ War, the conflict went beyond the Eastern provinces and sprea d throughout the island. Also, it was essentially a war on Cuban economy. According to the rebel general commander Máximo Gómez, to destroy Cuba was to liberate it from the Spaniards. Plantations, farms, and ranches were burnt to ashes, and peasants harassed by both sides. Besides, this war also became a struggle between the cities and the countryside of Cuba. The former were to remain in Spanish hands (often Volunteer’s) , whereas the latter was ‘Cuba Libre’.  In fact, the only major town the insurgents managed to capture was Victoria de Las Tunas (Oriente), in September 1897. The strategy of Martínez Campos which combined limited military actions with a policy of attraction didn’t work. The unstoppable advance  of the rebels towards Western Cuba brought a tougher Captain General to the island: Lieutenant General Valeriano Weyler, a reputed soldier known for his harsh warfare methods, with experience in Spain, Cuba, Santo Domingo, and the Philippines. Weyler freed the Army soldiers from protecting plantations, railways, and small towns, by appointing the Volunteers for these tasks. The services of the latter were extremely convenient for Spain, for having them in the cities allowed the Captain General to have more soldiers fighting the rebels in the countryside. The tough methods of Weyler were translated into Pyrrhic victories in Western Cuba, but the effects of his policy of concentrating peasants in Spanish-controlled areas were appalling. It is estimated that 145,000 of them died, meaning that 1 out of 10 inhabitants of Cuba died in Weyler’s concentration camps . This fact, united to the harassment over autonomists, pushed many Cubans to support the insurrection. During the rebel’s invasion of the Western provinces, many small villages defended by Volunteers surrendered with almost no resistance, and their defenders even joined the insurgency. Others, however, were taken only after bloodshed. Weyler’s methods had brought Cuba into a chaos, and even the loyal Volunteers  began to question him. The Andalusian Santiago Barroeta, a Captain of Volunteers in Cienfuegos, wrote in 1897: “the Government must start a crackdown to reverse the situation. If it doesn’ t act quickly we will lose Cuba, and the scorn will fall upon the
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