When the revolution began in 1895, Spain had just 14,000 soldiers and four warships defending the island. The Spanish forces, poorly led by Martinez Campos, were being beaten back steadily by the insurgents. Spain lost confidence in their chief administrator of the island and sent a new governor-general, Valeriano Weyler, to plot a new strategy.
Weyler had an interesting perspective on insurrection in Cuba; he had fought on both sides of it. During the Ten Years War, he led creole volunteers who fought against the insurrectionists. Later, he served beside Máximo Gomez, a rebel general.
As Chinese Communist Chairman Mao Zedong advised guerrillas decades later, Weyler knew that the rebels were hiding among the non-belligerents all over the countryside like “fish swimming in the sea”. Thus, he instituted the reconcentrado program, moving islanders into more populated towns and cities. He also had the army destroy homes, crops, and live stock to deprive the rebels of any succor.
The reconcentrado program was eerily similar to the same strategy employed by American forces in South Vietnam. However, unlike the Americans, Weyler didn't have the resources to feed, clothe and shelter the reconcentrados. Death and disease ran rampant.
Correspondents filed lurid tales of the plight of the reconcentrados with their newspapers in America. Images of bodies laying unburied in the streets, an infant sucking at its dead mother's breast, and other equally horrific scenes stoked the indignation of U.S. Citizens. It wasn't difficult to motivate Congress to act.