Eric Tousaint’s study of the odious debt doctrine
by Eric Toussaint
Part 10 - The USA’s repudiation of the debt demanded by Spain from Cuba in 1898
The USA declared war on Spain in the middle of 1898, and sent their navy and troops to liberate Cuba from the Spanish yoke. Spain was defeated and negotiations between the two countries began in Paris in order to reach a peace agreement, finally signed in December 1898.
During these negotiations, the Spanish authorities defended the following position: since the United States had taken their colony, they were obliged to honour Cuba’s debts to Spain. Such were the rules of the game. And indeed the rules cited by Spain did constitute common practice in the 19th century. A State which annexed another state must assume its debts. Sack gives several examples of this.
The United States refused, saying it was not their intention to annex Cuba. In substance, they declared: “We liberated Cuba and gave assistance to independentists who had been fighting you for several years.”
The Spanish answered that if Cuba became independent, it must repay the debt, as had all the other Spanish colonies that had become independent during the 19th century.
The United States categorically rejected Spain’s demand of payment from Cuba. Finally, Spain signed the peace treaty with the United States and gave up on recovering the debt.
The most common version of the narrative of what took place tends to suggest that the United States rejected Spain’s debt claims against Cuba because that debt had served to maintain Cuba and the Cuban people under the Spanish yoke. But when we analyse the content of the negotiations, the explanation is very different. Admittedly, the United States advanced this argument, but it was only one among many others they used to justify their position.
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