Cuba's Part in the World War

By Gen. Mario G. Menocal
President of the Cuban Republic

[The New York Times/Current History, November 1918]


The same day President Wilson sent to the Congress of the United States his famous message relative to the declaration of war against Germany that is to say, on the 6th of April, 1917, and almost at the same time that the Congress passed, with exceptional solemnity, that memorable declaration Cuba spontaneously and resolutely took the same attitude. Inspired by the unanimous sentiment of the people of Cuba, as revealed by unmistakable signs, I had the honor to send to the Cuban Congress my message of April 7, in which I surveyed the unheeded protests against repeated violations of international law by the German Empire, and especially against the submarine campaign, made by the United States, and added an appeal to Congress for a declaration of war against the Imperial German Government.

The Cuban House of Representatives and Senate, unanimously and in the midst of utmost enthusiasm, adopted, in conformity with the recommendations of the Presidential message, a joint resolution declaring war.

The spontaneity and decision of these acts impart to them a very high and patriotic significance. No recommendation of the Government of the United States moved the will of the Government of Cuba or excited the generous passions of her people. None was necessary. The horror universally inspired by the haughty and violent attitude in which an imperialistic power, vain of its might, attempted to impose upon the world an intolerable domination was joined in the Cuban people with the energetic will, the noble ambition to cooperate with all their strength and with all their resources in the sacred defense of the liberty and sovereignty of all peoples against the malignant and menacing military power.


There was no discrepancy of opinion among any portion of the people or any opposition to these unanimous determinations. Party discord and animosity ran very high in consequence of the seditious movement brought about in February by the leaders of the Liberty Party, and which I had put down with all necessary energy. It might well have been feared that this political situation would be an obstacle to the declaration of war, to the policy of action to be adopted therewith. It did not turn out thus, for public opinion unanimously decided for war and it was unanimously proclaimed in both houses of Congress by the representatives of the people, and all needed powers and authority to wage war were granted me.

This declaration was soon vigorously put into practice, within the limits of the possibilities of the country, sparsely populated but of great spirit and proverbial wealth derived from its immense production of sugar and tobacco.

A relatively considerable number of large German steamships were held by the war in Cuban ports. I ordered their immediate seizure, as the Governments of all the belligerent nations have done in similar cases, and turned them over to the United States to use them freely in the prosecution of the war. The Red Cross had been established in Cuba years before, but in a very modest way and with very limited resources. Without loss of time steps were taken to reorganize it, and it was very soon reconstituted under the active Presidency and direction of my wife, Sra. Mariana Seva de Menocal, who succeeded in gathering around her a considerable number of ladies and gentlemen of distinguished social position for that purpose, and measures were taken immediately to raise funds, which now amount to a large sum, and which have been applied, and are being applied, strictly in the aid of similar institutions of the nations at war and their gallant soldiers. Conformably with this noble inspiration, a law recently approved by me to which I gave my support, both before and after its enactment provides a fund for aiding the Allies, out of which the public treasury has remitted a quarter of a million dollars to different countries.


Upon my express recommendation the Congress authorized an issue of $30,000,000 in bonds for raising necessary funds and new taxes to meet interest and amortization charges of the bonds taxes which have produced more revenue than all calculations, leaving a large surplus. It having been declared by the Government of the United States, in accord with the allied Governments, that sugar was a commodity of prime necessity, the production and consumption of which should be regulated, the Government of Cuba lent its co-operation in the control of production and price and to a plan for the exportation and shipment of the entire crop, which amounted this year to 3,500,000 tons, the greatest in our industrial history. Food distribution was also subjected to severe regulations in agreement with the food authorities of the United States.

In several messages I recommended to Congress in connection with the declaration of war the implanting of obligatory military service in order that the country might dispose of all the military forces necessary for its defense and for repairing to the theatre of war which might be assigned in case the participation of its armed forces should be considered necessary. The obligatory military service bill has been passed. It is now a law and will soon be put in force, and the country equipped with a military organization consistent with its means and its aims.

To the same end of frank co-operation the Government of Cuba authorized the sending of American troops to different points in Cuba for military instructions and preparations. For the same purpose a goodly number of officers and enlisted men of the Cuban Army were sent to the United States to complete and perfect their training for war.


The law establishing obligatory military service empowers the President to take steps for sending a contingent of our present regular army to the European battlefields, reinforced by such volunteers who wish to go and who have already, indeed, begun to enlist in considerable number. The President is also authorized to send military missions to the United States, England, France, and Italy.

Effective measures were adopted by executive decree against espionage and enemy propaganda, and a large number of German and Austrian subjects were on specific charges or reasonable suspicion interned in a camp provided ad hoc. And in the contingency that these decrees might prove deficient for the purpose sought, the passage of a law of ample scope has recently been obtained, giving the Government a strong repressive hand.

With the assistance of American experts the censorship of mail and telegraphic correspondence has been established and is operating with full rigor and efficiency.

The Fourth of July, anniversary of the independence of the United States, and the 14th and 21st of July, celebrated in France and in Belgium as patriotic fêtes, have been declared legal holidays.

Great public and official manifestations have been held in honor of Italy.


On Dec. 6, 1917, I sent a message to Congress requesting a declaration of war between the Republic of Cuba and the Imperial and Royal Government of Austria-Hungary, predicated upon the same ground as my message of April 7 and upon the important consideration that the Austro-Hungarian Government. intimately allied with that of Germany, had not ceased to second both on land and on sea the unjustifiable conduct of the latter, thus meriting equally with the latter the just reprobation of nations allied for the maintenance of international law and the rights of civilization and humanity; a course in which I was influenced also by the similar action of the Government of the United States. The Congress responded to my request by adopting the joint resolution of Dec. 16 by which the existence of a state of war between the Republic of Cuba and the Imperial and Royal Government of Austria-Hungary was declared, and the same powers vested in me as conferred by the joint resolution of April 7, 1917.

Cuba is showing her decided purpose to co-operate, to the extent of her power and by all means within her reach, in the triumph of the cause of liberty, democracy, and international justice, and to support without reserve the noble and disinterested action of the United States in this glorious effort. Near neighbors as we are of the great North American nation, we Cubans are able to observe with our own eyes the civic enthusiasm, the heroic decision, and the unparalleled effort of the United States in men, in war material, and in resources of all kinds which exceed anything that has ever before been seen in the world. This very proximity to the United States, and the constant intercourse between the two peoples growing out of the strong bonds of gratitude which join Cuba with the great nation which helped her decisively twenty years ago to gain her independence after long and devastating wars, and which on two occasions that is, after two interventions left her in full possession of her independence, her sovereignty, and her laws, without interfering with her administration or government, gives Cubans a peculiar insight into the high and disinterested motives with which the United States is already taking a predominant part in the war, which events have reserved for that country in order to uphold and save the principles of liberty and justice, and consequently the existence and sovereignty of small States, the freedom of the seas, the rights of neutrals, the faithful observance of international treaties, free self-determination of all peoples and the free co-operation of all nations in the maintenance of peace and international law, through a decisive victory over the Central Powers of Europe, and over the military despotism which they seek to impose upon the civilized world.


The people of Cuba have before their eyes the splendid picture afforded by the Americans from one extreme to the other of their immense territory, overflowing with faith, enthusiasm, and decision for the great causes whose defense they have assumed without a thought for any material interest, without any aim of conquest of territory, nor of advantages or compensations, which in no event could offset their incomparable sacrifices. Neutrality afforded them gigantic profits for their trade and capital, most solicitously sought by Europe, without incurring extraordinary expenditures or loss of life or exceptional effort; and they did not hesitate to abandon that neutral position, impelled by the noble purpose of defending the freedom of the seas, the inviolability of right, and the respect due the sovereignty of states, incurring enormous expenditures, contracting internal debts of stupendous figures never equaled, in order to lend financial assistance to the allied nations through heavy advances, imposing upon their people severe restrictions in consumption, with the consequent privations, in order to send to Europe vast quantities of supplies and munitions; limiting the freedom of domestic traffic with unrivaled abnegation in order to supply all kinds of war material to Europe; and, finally, accomplishing the greatest maritime and military effort on record in transporting in a few months, despite the enemy submarines, a million and a half soldiers splendidly equipped for war and ready to enter immediately into action 3,000 miles away from home and decide with their most valiant co-operation the destinies of the world.

With this great and noble example before them, the people of Cuba feel themselves more and more intimately convinced that all the democracies of America have their place of honor at the side of the great American Nation which, with her allies in Europe, defend at the cost of the hardest sacrifices the ideals of modern civilization, the right of all peoples, strong or weak, great or small, to a life of freedom and the full exercise of their sovereignty.

NOTE. Since General Menocal wrote this article the Cuban Government has announced its intention of sending 25,000 trained officers and men to France for immediate service. The Congress at Havana has voted $2,500,000 to be distributed among Red Cross organizations of the allied countries. Cuba's budget this year, most of it devoted to war purposes, is $64,000,000. A hospital unit of 100 doctors and nurses has been equipped and sent to the front. Brig. Gen. J. Marti, Cuban Secretary of War, said at the beginning of October:

"We have established training camps in Cuba, both military and naval, and through the courtesy of the United States we have placed officers at Key West and Pensacola for instruction. France has detailed two Cuban aviators, who have achieved brilliant records in France with the Lafayette Escadrille, to act as instructors in our aviation school. We have purchased additional equipment and materials necessary to make this arm of our service effective, and we expect soon to receive the supplies we need from the United States. The Cuban Government will withhold nothing it possesses that can be used to advantage by our allies in the fight against Prussian militarism."

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013

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