The American Press during the Spanish-American War: Race, Reconcentration, and Paternalism
Opening Paragraph In 1901, special agent Charles M. Pepper was commissioned by the US Department of Commerce to write a report on the economic conditions in Cuba and Puerto Rico. In the aftermath of the Spanish- American War, the United States directly controlled Puerto Rico, and, following the passing of the Platt Amendment, displayed complete dominance over the island of Cuba. Pepper’s mission was simple; to survey the populations of both islands and assess their capacity for economic development. In doing so, Pepper inadvertently revealed a great deal about the American conception of race in Cuba. While describing the population of Cuba, Pepper explained the racial heritage of the Cuban citizens, and determined in what manner their mixed Latin and African ancestry affected them. First, Pepper identified the different racial groups within Cuba. Most notably to him were the creoles, native-born people from Spain. This term could potentially refer to either whites or blacks, but was generally used to denote whites of Spanish descent. Next, Pepper mentioned that the revolutionary Cubans hated the Spanish “yet they [have] everything in common”. Pepper observed that Cuban music, culture, food, and even their wells are all descended from the Spanish tradition, and because of this ancestry, he did not believe the present animosity between the two races would persist. Finally, Pepper claimed that Cubans were “the most peaceful people in the world”. In fact, it was only because of their “Negro infusion” that they had any tendencies towards aggression and revolt. Pepper viewed the Cuban people as a mixed race, with both African and European heritage. They were neither fully Afro-Cubans nor creoles, but something in between.