USS MAINE Explosion in Havana in 1898: The Other Theory

USS Maine entering Havana Harbor on 25 January 1898, where the ship would explode three weeks later. On the right is the old Morro Castle fortress.

There are a few theories about why the USS MAINE exploded in the Havana Harbor in the late 19th century. Including one that no one talks about.

Napoleon’s invasion of Spain 1807-1808 provided the spark the rebels needed to try to get their independence from the colony all over Latin America and the Caribbean. The Iberian empire got distracted, and everything took its place.

Latin Americans went for their freedom

Spain formally recognized Mexico’s independence on August 24, 1821, an effort that was started by Father Miguel Hidalgo, a priest living in the town of Dolores, Mexico.

Hidalgo himself was captured and executed in July of 1811 by the Spaniards.

In the north part of South America, Bolívar fought the Spanish in Venezuela, Ecuador and Colombia for several years, decisively beating them several times. By 1822, those countries were free, then came Peru and Bolivia, the last and mightiest Spanish holdout on the continent.

In the south the fight against the Spanish forces for Argentine Independence was led by José de San Martín, an Argentinean who had been trained in Spain. In 1817, San Martin crossed the Andes into Chile, where Bernardo O’Higgins and his army had been fighting the Spaniards since 1810. There, they fought together and defeated the Colony at the Battle of Maipú on April 5, 1818, effectively ending Spanish control over the southern part of South America. It took Simon Bolivar a few more years to do his part.

The Caribbean

Hispaniola, due to slave uprisings in Haiti, was free and independent on January 1, 1804, and Spain only had Cuba and Puerto Rico left. Here, nationalist forces staged occasional uprisings, including a notable one in 1868 known as Grito de Lares.

None of them were successful, but Puerto Rico became independent from Spain in 1898 as a result of the Spanish-American War. The island became a protectorate of the United States. Now it is known as the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico or Associated Free State of Puerto Rico.

Cuba’s 30 Years War

In Cuba things were different. Spanish forces put down several major rebellions, including one which lasted 10 years, from 1868 to 1878 and was known as the 10 year war or La Guerra Grande.

This war was started by Carlos Manuel De Céspedes, a wealthy man from the city of Bayamo in Oriente province. De Céspedes burned Bayamo, freed the slaves on his own sugar plantation La Demajagua and invited them to help overthrow Spanish colonial rule.

Carlos Manuel de Céspedes

Carlos Manuel de Céspedes was also called El Padre de la Patria or The father of the Country. This title he earned when the Colony forces captured his son Oscar. In a letter to him, Spaniards ask him to drop all weapons and surrender and they would give him his son back, otherwise they would kill him. Céspedes read the letter and answered them: “You can go ahead and do what you say you are going to do. But I can not surrender my weapons, my people and my country. Oscar is not my only son, every Cuban who had died for the revolution I started, were also my sons”.

Oscar Céspedes was executed in a firing squad that morning.

José Julian Martí y Pérez

Jose Marti was also one that fought the Spaniards for decades, he was and is a Cuban national hero, and an important figure in Latin American literature. He also came to the United States of America to help Cuba’s cause against Spain.

On January 5, 1892, Martí participated in a reunion of the emigration representatives, in Cayo Hueso, Key West, where the Bases del Partido Revolucionario Cubano -Basis of the Cuban Revolutionary Party – was passed. He began the process of organizing the newly formed party. To raise support and collect funding for the independence movement, he visited tobacco factories, where he gave speeches to the workers and united them in the cause.

Jose Marti never saw his country free from Spain, and was killed in the battle of Dos Rios in 1895.

All these efforts that had been underway in Cuba to end Spanish colonial rule had generated widespread support for the Cuban cause in the United States.

The Butcher

To combat this, the Spanish government dispatched General Valeriano Weyler to finish the rebels, or Mambises, like they were called in Cuba.

Arriving in the Island, Weyler began a brutal campaign against the Cuban people which involved the use of concentration camps. This led to the death of over 100,000 Cubans and Weyler was nicknamed the Butcher by the American media.

The USS Maine

After discussing with the Spanish people and receiving their blessing, President McKinley passed his request to the US Navy. To fulfill the president’s orders, the second-class battleship USS Maine was detached from the North Atlantic Squadron at Key West on January 24, 1898. One day later, commanded by Captain Charles Sigsbee, USS Maine entered Havana harbor.

At 9:40 on the evening of February 15, 1898, the harbor was lit by a massive explosion that ripped through the forward section of USS Maine as five tons of powder for the ship’s guns detonated. The US determined that the Spanish were not involved in the sinking of their ship. The Navy formed a board of inquiry and on March 28, 1898, the board determined that the ship had been sunk by a naval mine.

The accident with the Maine served to accelerate the approaching diplomatic impasse over Cuba.

On April 11, President McKinley asked Congress for permission to intervene in Cuba and ten days later ordered a naval blockade of the island. This final step led to Spain declaring war on April 23, with the United States following suit on the 25th. The rest is history.

After the war, Cuba became a US protectorate and was granted independence in 1902, of course, with the Platt Amendment that lasted until 1934.

The case of USS Maine was reopened in 1976 by Admiral Hyman G. Rickover who believed that modern science might be able to provide an answer to the ship’s explosion. After consulting with experts and looking at the documents from the first two investigations, Rickover and his team concluded that the damage was inconsistent with that caused by a mine.

The Other Theory

Then there is another theory. Could it have been that Cuban rebels planted explosives in the USS Maine to create a conflict between the US and Spain?

We will probably never know.