Admiral Cervera y Topete is cited in many places as having thought that the Spanish couldn't defeat the Americans in war due to the dilapidated state of the Spanish Navy. The position of the Spanish government seems to have ignored Cervera y Topete's opinions, sending him to Cuba, and then forcing him to break out—contrary to the Admiral's own opinions. These events led to the near-complete destruction of the Spanish Navy for almost no gain in the war, with the Manila squadron already destroyed a few months previously. Therefore, it looks as if the Spanish Government did not have a strategic plan for its navy: was this so?
The admiral viewed the escalation of tensions between the kingdom and the United States with alarm, as he believed their defeat would be inevitable in a war because of the United States Navy's advancements between 1892 and 1896. Cervera thought that they were unprepared and did not possess enough ships to defend their colonies.
The Secretary of the Navy, Sr. Bermejo, and Cervera maintained a very intense correspondence, referring always to the state of the fleet and the need to curb any further delays in arming and fitting the ships, in order to be ready for any declaration of war. In these documents, Cervera exposed with great clarity and harshness, the large difference existing between the two naval forces of both nations, and he always received evasives or delays from the Spanish authorities. He never wanted to hide those things that the press did not mention, that is, that the sacrifice (of war) would be useless under such circumstances, but nonetheless, above all, if he were kept on at his current appointment, he would carry out his duty.
Spanish Ministry of the Navy (Ministro de Marino) had two leaders in the course of this stage of the war: the aforementioned Bermejo y Merelo and Auńón y Villalón. Both of them seem to have prevaricated with regards to specific orders, where to send fleets, and what to do with them:
Rear Admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete, a friend of his, pointed out the absurdity of such a plan, stating the Spain did not have the ability carry it out and that the American fleet was much more formidable than theirs. Bermejo continued to remain optimistic nonetheless, and on April 23, he led a meeting of Spanish naval officers to discuss the situation. Ultimately, they accepted the proposal of sending Admiral Cervera to Cuba and Puerto Rico (he was at the time awaiting their decision at Cape Verde). Bermejo's plan was adopted by the government and the only modification was allowing Cervera—who was appointed to lead the fleet—to choose his specific destination in the region. [Wikipedia]
Upon becoming Minister of the navy, Auńon was forced to make a decision of whether or not Admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete's squadron in Santiago de Cuba should sortie or not. He ultimately decided in favor, resulting in the Battle of Santiago de Cuba. [Wikipedia]
Further, it looks as if the Captain-General of Cuba, Blanco Erenas Riera y Polo, was also supportive of weakening his own defenses in Cuba by having Cervera y Topete sortie out from Santiago and do something (various sources seem to suggest going to the Philippines, attacking the enemy, escaping to the open sea, and other options):
The overland attack on the harbor fortifications [of Santiago] was in full swing, with a thousand Spanish sailors on shore aiding the army in their defense. But, according to the wire he had received, he was to take all those men on board and break out of the harbor. Removing the sailors would mean Santiago’s immediate fall. This was tantamount to abandoning Cuba itself. “Escaping now is meaningless,” he wired back to the governor general in Havana, who was relaying the wishes of naval headquarters at home. A wire virtually identical to the first came back: “Escape now. Urgent.”
—Shiba, 'Clouds Above the Hill, Vol. 1'
This seems to be a very poor decision by the person tasked with defending Cuba, i.e. its governor-general (and why was he in charge of naval forces in Cuba in any case?..). Further, as there was an extant fleet in Spain which was steaming about aimlessly (Cámara's squadron which made a journey to Suez and then back to Spain), options for planning an escape from Santiago and rendezvous should have existed. No such steps are evidenced in any mentions regarding the Spanish government of the day or individual naval ministers. There are also no mentions of any Chiefs of Naval Staff (Jefe de Estado Mayor general de la Armada) having strategic plans, with one of the only comments on Warleta y Ordovás's Wikipedia a note that he supported Bermejo's deployment to Cuba (without mention as to whether Warleta thought that Cuba should be a specific destination or that Cervera should be able to choose where to go nor as to waht Cervera should do when there).
Therefore, it looks as if there was no general plan for the war and every unit fought on its own based on orders from the Minister of the Navy. Was this the case, or was there some sort of a general strategic plan?