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Yankees Or Yanquis? CT Connections And Forging A New U.S. Policy Toward Cuba


Are we yanquis or yankees? In my small state of Connecticut (pop. 3.5 million), we have been both. The Dutch word janke was popularized by Mark Twain and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’ Court. It wasn’t until the 1960s that we learned the slogan “Yanqui Go Home.”
Are we “Still Revolutionary?” That’s the slogan of our state’s advertising campaign, designed to attract tourists to Connecticut. We were, after all, one of the first American colonies to break away from England. The tourism plan costs $27 million.
Barack Obama’s new diplomatic initiative for normal relations could help redefine who we are when it comes to Cuba. But first, we must remember what originally tied us to your nation in the first place. If we promote what our two lands have in common, we might build mutual respect. Even my Connecticut has significant historical links to Cuba, for better or worse.
In fact, three Connecticut men played major roles in shaping U.S. policy toward Cuba:
Samuel Colt is the most famous (or infamous) gunmaker in U.S. history. A native of Connecticut, he built his firearms factory in Hartford, the state’s Capitol city. Historians note that the millionaire Colt aided Narcisco Lopez, the filibustero who invaded Cuba twice before the U.S. Civil War, in order to “liberate” it. Some hoped it would become a slave state and a new market for Colt’s weapons trade. It was the Colt revolver that Theodore Roosevelt and his “Rough Riders” carried as they charged up San Juan Hill against the Spanish. The Colt company also produced the Gatling Gun, used in Santiago (It was the first effective weapon of mass destruction, deployed against American Indians, Filipinos and U.S. workers on strike).
Orville H. Platt was born in the small Connecticut town of Washington. Platt was a life-long politician who served five terms as a U.S. senator. He is known as the author of the 1901 “Platt Amendment” which established Guantanamo Bay as a U.S. naval base. The law also dominated Cuba’s relations with other countries, allowing the U.S. Congress to intervene in the young nation’s affairs any time we felt threatened. When Cubans opposed his plan, Platt informed them that the U.S. would occupy the island until they agreed.
Mark Twain did not see Cuba as an imperialist conquest, however. He lived in Hartford for 17 years, writing his most famous works including Life on the Mississippi, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and The Prince and the Pauper. Twain was a prominent member of the Anti-Imperialist League which opposed U.S. domination of Cuba, the Philippines, and other former Spanish colonies. His transformation from novelist to activist came with great criticism and a personal cost. Yet Mark Twain continued to speak out. “I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land,” he wrote.
There are other connections that we in Connecticut can dust off and restore to our popular conversation when we consider our Cuban links:
Havana tobacco seeds grew well in Connecticut soil. As far back as 1884, local farmers were growing crops from the Cuban plant. The imported seeds produced what the yankee farmers called a “superior plant,” which was made into high-quality cigar wrappers. Hartford steamships carried tobacco filler from the island so that our local factories could manufacture the entire cigar;
Cuban baseball stars were recruited to Connecticut by the New Britain Aviators beginning in 1908. Armando Marsans and Rafael Almeida were among the first Cuban ball players to break into the American major leagues. New Britain’s Cuban stars visited Hartford often, playing (and beating) the Hartford Senators.
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