On the 1st of January 1899, the United States formally occupied Cuba, true to its secular ambition. The question now was defining the future of the Island. Whatever the future would be, the Government in Washington considered it would be convenient to dissolve all institutions that represented the Cuban liberation movement. To this end, the US would work to increase the weaknesses and contradictions already existing, namely, the differences between General in Chief of the Liberation Army, Máximo Gómez, and the Representatives of the Constitutional Assembly, the highest political body of the Revolution, in reference to the methods used to license the Liberation Army. Consequently, both institutions disappeared and this, together with the dissolution of the Cuban Revolutionary Party by its delegate Tomás Estrada Palma dispersed independence forces and left them without a leadership.
On May 20, 1902, after almost five years of U.S. military occupation, Cuba launched into nationhood with fewer problems than most Latin American nations. Prosperity increased during the early years. Militarism seemed curtailed. Social tensions were not profound. Yet corruption, violence, and political irresponsibility grew.
The Cuban Constitutional Assembly was established according to Military Order No. 301, dated on July 25, 1900. The Convention had to, according to the military orders, draft and adopt a Constitution for the Cuban people and, as part of such document provide and regulate with the Government of the United States all matters related to the relationship between both countries and governments.
While the Cuban constitutional commission in charge of regulating on the future relationship between Cuba and the United States was working, the US Congress passes the Platt Amendment, according to which the US government had the right to interfere in the internal affairs of the Island whenever it was considered convenient. In spite of the opposition of the delegates to the Constitutional Assembly, the American pressure placed the Cubans in a very difficult disjunctive: having a Republic with an amendment to the Constitution which limited its independence or continue under a military occupation. The Cubans had no other choice, and the Constitution was thus passed with the Platt Amendment on June 12, 1901.
Nevertheless, the major problems affecting the Island had not been solved. On the contrary, the contradictions sharpened and in turn promoted a climate of social unrest among the different sectors and groups of society. Low wages, long working shifts and discrimination against local workers, who were displaced from the best paid jobs, were among the most important demands of the newly born working movement. The unmet demands triggered strikes and other protests, for example the so called "Apprentices' Strike" soon after the proclamation of the neocolonial Republic on May 20, 1902.
US authorities had "approved" the first President, Tomás Estrada Palma, sought as a possible restraint to a more radical potential military leadership in the country and, at the same time, to prevent them from increasing their prestige within the revolutionary circles. This entire situation turned José Martí's substitute as delegate of the Cuban Revolutionary Party into one of the favorite candidates among the popular sectors of the Cuban population, notwithstanding political affiliation. After the constitution of the Pro-Masó coalition, the Estrada Palma-Masó political candidacy - that Máximo Gómez had promoted - failed. This and the further aloofment of the last President of the Republic in Arms dramatically increased the lack of union that already existed and strengthened the political position of the most conservative sectors, which had grouped themselves in the coalition.
The first Cuban government had among its tasks one unpleasant and unrewarding: the formalization of a relationship that would tie the dependence towards the United States. To this effect, a set of treatises were voted, passed and signed. These included the Treaty for Commercial Reciprocity, which ensured the control of the Cuban market by the United States and consolidated the structure of an economy based on one product. And the Permanent Treaty, which granted a lawful, juridical form to the Platt Amendment and was designed to define the establishment and final location of the US naval stations.
Estrada Palma's peculiar austerity granted him in history the halo of a well-founded honesty, much more well founded because of the blatant dishonesty of his successors. However, the elder president could not resist his political ambitions and managed a rigged reelection that inaugurated an invariable republican tradition. The act provoked an uprising of the opposing Liberal Party, which in turn unleashed the events leading to another US intervention. For almost three years (1906-1909), the Island was once more under a US administration. Again, the period contributed to define the traits of the republican system by means of a curious combination of juridical norms and government corruption.
Under the Platt Amendment, two major political parties, the Liberal and the Conservative, founded on the dominance of the local bosses and on the needs of clienteles, disputed power one to the other by means of electoral cheating and riots. The winner's loot would be the public treasure, a source of wealth for a "political class," which, given the growing control of the Cuban economy by US capitals, could not fin a better area in which to use, in a more profitable way, its talents. Government management would thus become the motive for frequent scandals.
Scandals were frequent during the government of José Miguel Gómez (1909-1913). His government was also marked by the bloody repression of the uprising of the Independientes de Color (Colored Independents), a movement in which many blacks and mulattos tried to fight against racial discrimination, though without a clear awareness of how to do it. The severe conservatism of his successor, Mario García Menocal (1913-1920) was not enough to hide corruption, which was in this case favored by the economic boom after the First World War. Menocal managed to win a reelection with the already usual and normal procedures, which, in turn, caused another liberal uprising and the resulting interventionist haste from the United States.
The Government in Washington, concerned by the already frequent political unrest in its new colony, had devised a new tutelage policy. The so-called preventive diplomacy, which reached its highest point with the designation of General Enoch Crowder as a virtual proconsul to control the government of Alfredo Zayas (1921-1925).
This administration would witness transcendental socio-political movements. Generalized rejection against US interference and government corruption gave way to several movements for nationalistic and democratic claims. The students' movement showed particular radicalism and it will soon go beyond its initial purpose of a university reform under the leadership of Julio Antonio Mella and would assume open revolutionary scope. The working movement, which origins went as far back as the last decades of the 19th century, had followed also an upward course characterized by strikes - the Apprentices' (1902), and the currency strike (1907) - among the most important. The inflation resulting from World War I would thus favor the subsequent wave of strikes. At the same time, the development of the proletariat - both organizational and ideological - due to the influence of the October Revolution in Russia, brought about the constitution of a national workers' union in 1925. Coincidentally and as an expression of de conjunction of the most radical political trends of the working movement personified by Mella and Carlos Baliño, the first Communist Party was founded in Havana.
The political and social unrest had profound roots. The Cuban economy had grown quickly during the first two decades of the century, encouraged by the Treaty for commercial reciprocity with the United States and the favorable situation of after the world war. However, such economic growth was unilateral, based almost exclusively on the production of sugar and on the relations with the US market. US capitals increasingly being invested in the Island had been practically the sole beneficiaries of the economic growth, for they controlled 70% of the sugar production apart from controlling also the infrastructure and other collateral businesses. The economic wellbeing originated by this process - testimony of which can be found in the magnificent houses in Vedado - would be extremely fragile and unequally distributed. This became evident by 1920, when the sugar prices dropped dramatically creating a bank crack and producing the bankruptcy of almost practically al the Cuban and Spanish banking institutions in the country. Shortly after, at a time sugar production in Cuba went up to 5 million tons, saturation of the markets became evident, a clear sign of the fact that the Cuban economy could not continue to grow based exclusively on sugar. The other options were either stagnation or diversification of production, though this last choice was hindered by the monopoly existing in land owning and by commercial dependency.
The ascent of Gerardo Machado to the presidency of the Republic in 1925 would mean the oligarchy would face the latent crisis. In the implementation of its program, the new regime would try to reconcile the economic interests of the different sectors of the bourgeoisie and US capital. The government offered guaranties of stability to the middle classes and new jobs to the most popular sectors of the population combined with a selective but at the same time harsh repression against political adversaries and opposition movements. Under a supposedly efficient administration, the government tried to put an end to the conflicts between traditional parties with the assurance that they would enjoy access to the national budget or treasure by means of the formula of "cooperativism." Once the consensus was obtained, Machado decided to reform the Constitution and perpetuate himself in power.
Despite partial successes during the first years of the administration, Machado's dictatorship could not silence political dissidence and much less crush the people's movement. Heated by the regime's excesses and the rapid deterioration of the economic situation as a result of the 1929 world crisis, these forces started to show a growing belligerence. Being the students and the proletariat the fundamental pillars for the opposition against Machado an endless succession of strikes, uprisings, attempts against members of the government and sabotages began to all of which the dictatorship responded by increasing the repression against the people to intolerable levels. By 1933, the regime was at the brink of giving way to a revolution.
Concerned by the situation existing in Cuba, the new U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, appointed B. Summer Wells as ambassador in Havana, with the specific mission of finding a way out to the crisis within traditional mechanisms of neocolonial domination. However, the events overcame mediation of Wells: on August 12, 1933 Machado fled from the country overthrown by an extended general strike.
The provisional government, installed by the rightwing opposition under the auspices of the US ambassador would barely last a month. An uprising amidst the rank and file of the army, together with the Directorio Estudiantil Universitario (University Student's Directorate) and other insurgent groups led in power a revolutionary government presided over by Ramón Grau San Martín. By the initiative of Antonio Guiteras - Secretary of Government, War and Navy - the government passe several measures for the benefit of the people. Nevertheless, harassed by the United States and the opposition, and at the same time victim of its own internal contradictions, the revolutionary government could only stay in power for a few months. An extremely important factor influencing the fall of the government would be the former sergeant who had become Colonel-Chief of the Army, Fulgencio Batista self- appointed arbiter in the political process.
In spite of the unconditional US support made evident by the abrogation of the Platt Amendment and by the measures for economic stabilization -- namely the system of sugar quotas and a new Treaty for commercial reciprocity -- the parties of the oligarchy, once again in power, showed an open inefficiency in the exercise of government. For this reason, Batista and his followers in the army would in fact rule the destiny of the country. However, a ruling formula, which combined repression with certain socio-economic reforms, was eventually unable to offer a stable reliable solution for the Cuban situation. In turn, this led to a compromise with the revolutionary and democratic forces -- weakened by internal division -- compromise that appeared in the Constitution of 1940. With this new Carta Magna, which included many important popular measures, a new period of institutional legality was opened.
Fulgencio Batista was the president of the first government in this new period. His candidacy for power had been supported by a coalition in which the communists participated. Though this alliance brought many important improvements for the working movement, other sectors of the population did understand neither its advantages nor the need of it at that time, and so was a factor for division among the revolutionary forces. Under Batista's government, the country's economy improved considerably favored by the Second World War. Such situation also favored Batista's successor, Ramón Grau San Martín who was elected president in 1944, with a wide support from the population that thanked him for the nationalistic and democratic measures adopted during his previous administration.
However, neither Grau nor his successor, Carlos Prío Socarrás (1948-1952), both leaders of the Partido Revolucionario Cubano (auténtico), were able to take advantage from the favorable economic conditions existing during their respective terms. Timid and scarce reforms barely affected the existing structures of agricultural property and commercial dependence that blocked rather than prevented the development of the country. They did, however, took advantage of the economic bonanza produced by the sugar industry to plunder the public treasury at unprecedented rates. Administrative corruption shared the republican scenario with gangster mobs that were used by the "Auténticos" to get rid of the communists who were part of trade unions leaderships within the favorable atmosphere provided by the cold war. Rejection to such shameful situation paved the way for the appearance of the political civic movement "orthodox" leaded by the charismatic Eduardo Chibás, who committed suicide in 1951 in the midst of a heated argument against government representatives.
It seemed that the triumph of the orthodox party in the elections of 1952 would be evident, but the hopes of the Cuban people were frustrated by a military coup d'état. The "authentic" had plunged the reformist formulas and the republican institutions into disrepute. At the same time, the favorable disposition on the part of American interests and some sectors of the bourgeoisie for a "strong man" government favored the ambitions of Fulgencio Batista, who, at the head of the military coup, assaulted power in 1952.
United States Occupation - 1898-1902
The military occupation became the experimental framework in the implementation of the policy towards Cuba. This period in the United States was, at the same time a period of strong domestic and foreign tensions, characterized by constant pressure and negotiations regarding governmental decision-making.
Among the factors that had a bearing on the internal restlessness was precisely the way in which the Cuban situation was manipulated by the sectors that were, in one way or another, interested in a particular end for such situation. In spite of the efforts of the groups in favor of peace in the US, the annexionist trend, in any of its diverse modalities, was opening itself a wider and wider space in the various spheres of power. The rather pejorative concept that the Cuban people suffered from "infantilism" was present in all the annexionist groups. The infant, meaning the Cuban people, was starting to walk and had to have the strong arm of the father for support and protection from any fall.
The campaign in favor of annexionism reached its climax at the end of the government of John Brooke, the first military governor in the Island. In the United States, the idea of transferring in one single stroke the sovereignty of the Island to a government that will turn Cuba into a part of the American territory was gaining force among expansionist circles and their spokesmen.
However, internal opposition and the Cuban people's resistance to the idea, made the new Governor, Leonard Wood think of the need to "Americanize" the Island by means of a long occupation. His idea had two main directions. First, a centralized comprehensive project of reforms "from above", which essentially aimed at the transformation of the Cuban social context (schools, health care, judicial reforms, city councils). Second a line of action aimed at encouraging Anglo-Saxon immigration, of course, and a gradual colonization which would establish "from bellow" the spirit and customs of the American people.
None of the measures had as an objective the transformation of the old colonial structures. On the contrary, they aimed at creating the necessary conditions to encourage a "land market" and to facilitate transfer of properties to the hands of US politicians, financial tycoons, economists and planters. Meanwhile, the scarcity of investment and loan capitals placed Cuban planters in a very difficult position, a great disadvantage to restart business, mainly all the activities related to the sugar industry.
However, the need for a change in policy increased every day. The issue of how the way for annexation could be paved, not by extending occupation, but by establishing a Republic in a short term and under certain specific conditions had been discussed since very early in 1899. The alleged incapacity of the Cubans to rule themselves would eventually force them to plead for annexation with their powerful neighbor.
The defenders of imperialism were not unchallenged. In the United States Congress, Senator Henry M. Teller won approval for the Teller Resolution, which pledged the United States to support an independent Cuba. Roman Catholic and labor leaders criticized the United States and called for the granting of complete independence to Cuba. Similarly, Cuban leaders complained that Cuba was not a part of the Treaty of Paris (1898), which ended the Spanish-American War, that their soldiers had been excluded from the cities by the United States Army, and that despite innumerable sacrifices independence still loomed more as a hope than a reality. Although Spain relinquished Cuba under the Treaty of Paris, Manuel Sanguily, a staunch defender of Cuba's sovereignty, denounced the fact that the most reactionary Spanish elements had been permitted to remain on the island and retain their possessions.
Those who criticized United States policies, however, were voices crying in the wilderness. This was the finest hour for United States expansionists, and they were not about to give up Cuba completely. It was not until 1902, after two years of United States occupation of the island, that the United States granted Cuba nominal independence, and only after Congress had defined the future relations of the United States and Cuba. On February 25, 1901, Senator Orville H. Platt introduced in Congress the Platt Amendment (see Glossary), which stipulated the right of the United States to intervene in Cuba's internal affairs and to lease a naval base in Cuba. The bill became law on March 2.
On June 12, 1901, a constitutional convention met in Havana to draft a constitution. On June 21, by a majority of one, it adopted the Platt Amendment as an annex to the Cuban constitution of 1901. The constitution also provided for universal suffrage, separation of church and state, a popularly elected but all-powerful president, and a weakened Senate and Chamber of Deputies.
Despite the opposition that it generated, the occupation did have a number of beneficial and generally supported results. The United States faced a difficult task indeed in governing Cuba. Famine and disease were rampant. Industrial and agricultural production were at a standstill. The treasury was empty. The Cuban revolutionary army was idle and impatient. With no experience in colonial affairs, the United States tackled the job. The military governors, Generals John Brooke (1899) and Leonard Wood (1899-1902), supported by a variety of Cuban secretaries, were the supreme authority, and under them were other United States generals in charge of every province. These were soon replaced by Cuban governors. A method of food distribution was established that proved effective. A system of rural guards, initiated earlier by General Leonard Wood in Oriente, was soon extended to all the provinces, providing employment to many soldiers after the Cuban army was disbanded.
The Wood administration gave particular attention to health and education. It built hospitals, improved sanitation and health conditions, and eradicated yellow fever, primarily through the work of the Cuban scientist Carlos J. Finlay, who discovered the mosquito vector of yellow fever. The Wood administration established a public school system and modernized the university. Wood also reorganized the judicial system, provided it with buildings and other facilities, and placed the judges on salary for the first time. In 1899 Wood proclaimed an electoral law that gave the franchise to adult males who were literate, owned property, or had served in the revolutionary army. Elections for municipal offices were held in June 1900, and in September, thirty-one delegates, mostly followers or representatives of the revolutionary army, were elected to the Constitutional Convention that drafted the constitution of 1901.
On May 20, 1902, the occupation ended. On that day, General Wood turned over the presidency to Tomas Estrada Palma (president, 1902-06), first elected president of the new republic and former successor to Marti as head of the PRe. It was a day of national happiness, as the Cubans plunged into a new era of political freedom and republican government. Optimism, however, was tempered by the shadow of the United States hanging over the new nation. Looking into the future, a few Cubans warned that the immediate task was to resist foreign encroachments. Many still remembered Marti's prophetic words: "Once the United States is in Cuba, who will get it out?"
Independent Cuba - The Setting
Apparently highly favorable conditions accompanied Cuba's emergence into independence. There were no major social or political problems similar to those that other Latin American nations had experienced after their break with Spain. There was no large unassimilated indigenous population, and although blacks represented a significant proportion of the total population, there was no major racial conflict. The two groups had learned to live together since colonial times. In addition, no strong regionalism or powerful church challenged the authority of the state. Furthermore, the liberal conservative feud that plagued countries like Mexico during the nineteenth century was nonexistent in Cuba.
The economic situation was also favorable. The infusion of foreign capital, the increasing trade with the United States, and favorable sugar prices augured a prosperous future. Cuba and the United States signed a Commercial Treaty of Reciprocity in 1903 that guaranteed a 20 percent tariff preference for Cuban sugar entering the United States. In return, Cuba granted certain United States products preferential treatment. The treaty reinforced the close commercial relations between the two countries, but it also made Cuba further dependent on a one-crop economy and on one all-powerful market. Under the terms of the May 1903 Treaty of Relations (also known as the Permanent Reciprocity Treaty of 1903) and the Lease Agreement of July 1903, the United States also acquired rights in perpetuity to lease a naval coaling station at Guantanamo Bay, which has remained the United States Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay ever since.
Despite apparently favorable conditions, Marti's vision of a politically and economically independent nation failed to materialize in the post-independence years. Whether he would have been able to prevent the events that followed the War for Independence can only be conjectured. A process of centralization extended the great sugar estates of the colonial period, restraining the growth of a rural middle class and creating an agrarian proletariat of poor whites and mulattoes. Cuba became more and more commercially dependent on the United States, and the inclusion of the Platt Amendment into the Cuban constitution of 1901 established United States supervision of political developments in Cuba.
Another problem was Cuba's preservation of the colonial Spanish attitude that public office was a source of personal profit. Electoral fraud became a standard practice. Politics became the means to social advancement, a contest between factions for the spoils of office. Personalismo was substituted for principle; allegiance to a man or a group was the only way to ensure survival in the political arena. The Spanish legacy of political and administrative malpractice increased in the new nation too suddenly to be checked by a people lacking experience in self-government. The United States' dissolution of Cuba's veteran army prevented a repetition of the typical nineteenth-century Spanish-American experience. Nevertheless, many veterans took an active part in politics, and their influence was felt in the years following the establishment of the republic in 1902.
As successor to Spain as the overseer of the island's affairs, the United States unwittingly perpetuated the Cubans' lack of political responsibility. Cubans enjoyed the assurance that the United States would intervene to protect them from foreign entanglement or to solve their domestic difficulties, but the situation only encouraged an indolent attitude toward their own affairs and was not conducive to responsible self-government. In the early decades of the republic, the Cubans developed a "Platt Amendment mentality," which led them to rely upon the United States for guidance in their political decisions.
This civic indolence was also not conducive to the growth of Cuban nationalism. Although the Cubans were enclosed in a geographic unit and shared a common language, religion, and background, they lacked national unity and purpose. The influence of the United States weakened the forces of nationalism in the early part of the century. As the century progressed, another force, espafiolismo, became an important factor in keeping the nation divided. When Cuba became independent, Spaniards were guaranteed their property rights and were allowed to keep commerce and retail trade largely in their own hands. Immigration from Spain, furthermore, increased considerably, and by 1934 there were an estimated 300,000 Spaniards on the island. This influx constantly strengthened Spanish traditions and customs. Many Spaniards themselves remained divided, retaining the ways of their own native provinces, hoping for an eventual return to Spain and thus failing to assimilate into the mainstream of Cuban society.
Early Political Developments - 1902-1925
A dangerous tendency to solve differences through violence also permeated the political atmosphere. In 1906 President Estrada Palma called for United States intervention to offset the so-called Little August War. Organized by Jose Miguel Gomez and his liberal followers, who were outraged by Estrada Palma's fraudulent reelection, this revolt aimed at preventing Estrada Palma from serving a second term in office. United States Marines were sent to end the conflict, initiating a new intervention that lasted from 1906 until 1909.
This second intervention differed significantly from the first. The United States was not eager to embark on a new period of rule in Cuba, and the provisional governor, Charles E. Magoon, turned to dispensing government sinecures, or botellas, to pacify the various quarreling factions. Magoon also embarked on an extensive program of public works, gave Havana a new sewerage system, and organized a modern army. These accomplishments, however, were partially overshadowed by extravagant spending that left Cuba with a debt where there once had been a surplus. Magoon also drew up an organic body of law for the executive and the judiciary, and for provincial and municipal government. He also provided an electoral law, as well as laws for a civil service and for municipal taxation.
Evidently, the United States government considered enactment of fair legislation that would prevent civil wars to be one of the main purposes of the intervention. Having pacified the country and introduced this new legislative apparatus, the United States called for municipal and national elections. In 1908 the Liberals, members of the newly created Liberal Party (Partido Liberal), won a solid majority and elected their leader, Jose Miguel Gomez (president, 1909-13), to the presidency. The United States seemed willing to allow the democratic process to follow its course, and on January 28,1909, the interventionist forces were withdrawn from the island.
The impact of this second intervention was far-reaching in other, less positive ways. It removed any pretense of Cuban independence, strengthened the Platt Amendment mentality, and increased doubts about the Cubans' ability for self-government. Disillusionment took hold among many leaders, intellectuals, and writers, and this feeling was transmitted to the mass of the population. Cynicism and irresponsibility increased and so did the resort to violence to solve political differences. Even hitherto peaceful racial relations were affected.
The 1908 electoral fiasco of a group of radical blacks, who had organized a political party called the Independent Colored Association (Agrupaci6n Independiente de Color-AIC), increased the frustration of blacks. When the Cuban Senate passed a law prohibiting parties along racial lines, the AIC staged an uprising in 1912. The uprising alarmed Washington, which landed United States Marines in several parts of the island, over the protests of President Jose Miguel Gomez. Trying to avert another full-fledged intervention, Gomez moved swiftly and harshly. Government forces captured and executed most of the leaders and crushed the rebellion. The AlC collapsed soon after. It was to be the last time that a revolt along strictly racial lines would develop in Cuba.
The tendency to resort to violence was displayed in two other instances at this time. In 1912 veterans of the War for Independence demanded the ouster of pro-Spanish elements from bureaucratic positions and threatened to take up arms against the government of President Gomez. When the United States expressed "grave concern" over these events, the veterans rapidly renounced their violent tactics. The second incident occurred again in 1917. This time the Liberal Party rebelled to protest the fraudulent reelection of Mario Garda Menocal (president, 1913-1921). Led by former President Gomez, the rebels took control of Oriente and Camaguey provinces. But Menocal, supported by a warning from the United States that it would not recognize a government that came to power by unconstitutional means, moved troops into the areas controlled by the rebels and captured Gomez. The rebellion soon died out, and, although its leaders were arrested, they were later pardoned.
As a result of the economic downturn of the 1920s, various groups protested Cuba's economic dependence on the United States. In 1920, after a sharp drop in the price of sugar created a severe economic crisis, Cuba was subjected to financial chaos and social misery. The crisis accelerated the desire for change and led to a questioning of the existing order of society among intellectuals and writers and also among other groups that were barred from becoming productive members of society. This economic crisis led in particular to a resurgence of economic nationalism. Several groups demanded protective legislation for Cuban interests and questioned the close economic ties between the United States and Cuba. The Platt Amendment as well as the repeated interventions of the United States government in Cuba's internal affairs came under attack. Anti United States feeling, xenophobia, and retrieval of the national wealth became the main themes of this blossoming nationalism. As the decade progressed, however, its scope was widened to include a call for social justice and for an end to political corruption and economic dependence on a single crop.
Liberal Alfredo Zayas y Alonso (president, 1921-24), as corrupt as his administration was, managed to take advantage of this nationalism to reassert Cuba's sovereignty vis-a-vis the United States and its special envoy, Enoch Crowder. Although his administration was overshadowed by graft and mismanagement, Zayas retrieved Cuba's credit, averted intervention, and through later negotiations secured definite title to the Isla de Pinos (now Isla de la Juventud) off the southern coast of Cuba after a two-decade delay imposed by the Platt Amendment.
The inability of Cuban society to absorb all university graduates accentuated the feelings of frustration in a generation that found itself with little opportunity to apply its acquired knowledge. In 1922 university students in Havana created the Federation of University Students (Federaci6n Estudiantil Universitaria-FEU), occupied university buildings, and organized short-lived student strikes. The students obtained a series of academic and administrative reforms, larger government subsidies, and the establishment of a University Reform Commission composed of professors, students, and alumni.
President Gerardo Machado y Morales (president, 1925-29, 1929-33)
The university reform movement, which had started as a crusade for academic reform, developed political overtones in 1928 when students began protesting the decision of President Gerardo Machado y Morales (president, 1925-29, 1929-33) to remain in power for another term. Claiming that his economic program could not be completed within his four-year term and that only he could carry it out, Machado announced his decision to reelect himself. In April 1928, a packed constitutional convention granted Machado a new six-year period of power without reelection and abolished the vice presidency. In November, through a fake election in which he was the only candidate, Machado was given a new term, to run from May 20, 1929, to May 20, 1935.
Whereas a similar attempt by Estrada Palma to remain in power had resulted in rebellion, Machado's decision at first brought about only a wave of national indignation against the invalidation of suffrage. The regime still enjoyed the support of the business and conservative sectors of society. Increased revenues had brought prosperity, and Machado's improved administration, especially in the field of public works, had gained him a strong following.
The Cuban armed forces, organized two decades earlier during Gomez's administration, also strongly backed the regime. Machado had successfully won over the military through bribes and threats and had purged disloyal officers. He used the military in a variety of civilian posts both at the national and local levels, thus increasingly militarizing society. The few officers who were discontented with Machado's reelection seemed powerless and ineffective to oppose the regime.
In the midst of growing domestic and international problems, the United States looked with indifference at events in Cuba and seemed unwilling to become involved in Cuban affairs as long as the Machado administration maintained order and stability and a friendly posture toward Washington. Machado, furthermore, prevented the growth of political opposition by winning control of the Conservative Party (Partido Conservador) and aligning it both with his own Liberal Party and with the small Popular Party (Partido Popular). Through bribes and threats, Machado was able to subordinate Congress and the judiciary to the executive's will.
Machado's decision to extend his presidency met with stern student opposition, resulting in riots and demonstrations in several towns throughout the island. Machado took immediate measures to prevent further opposition from that quarter. He temporarily closed the university, dissolved the FEU, and abolished the University Reform Commission. He also tightened political control. Several Spanish and European labor leaders were expelled from the country as undesirable aliens. Antigovernment newspapers were closed down, and the military took an increasingly growing role in surveilling and policing the population. Machado warned sternly that he would keep order and peace at any cost.
These measures, however, failed to control the students completely. In mid-1927, a small but active group organized the University Students Directorate (Directorio Estudiantil Universitario-DEU; hereafter, Directorio) to oppose the regime. The Directorio issued a manifesto defending the right of university students to discuss politics and attacking Machado's reelection attempts. When students demonstrated in front of the university, Machado rapidly retaliated. Following his orders, the University Council, composed of faculty and administrative officials, formed disciplinary tribunals and expelled most of the Directorio leaders from the university.
A clash with police that left Rafael Trejo, a student leader, dead was the turning point in the struggle against the regime. From that time on, many Cubans viewed the courageous student generation that battled Machado's police with admiration and respect. For some, the "generation of 1930," as these students were later known in Cuban history, seemed irresponsible and undisciplined, but for others it became the best exponent of disinterested idealism. Embattled by the first shock waves of the world depression and oppressed by an increasingly ruthless dictator, many Cubans, especially those among the less privileged sectors of society, turned in hope toward these young people. They placed their faith in a generation that, although inexperienced and immature, seemed incorruptible and willing to bring morality to Cuba's public life.
While the principal leaders of the Directorio were in jail in 1931, a small group formed a splinter organization, the Student Left Wing (Ala Izquierda Estudiantil-AIE). The AlE, however, became merely a tool of the Communist Party of Cuba (Partido Comunista de Cuba-PCC). The party, founded in 1925 and led in the early 1930s by Ruben Martinez Villena, a popular poet and intellectual, directed the organization's activities and used it to influence the student movement. Throughout most of his regime, the communists opposed Machado and advocated, as the only correct strategy to overthrow his government, the mobilization of the proletariat, culminating in a general strike. The PCC opposition, however, was ineffectual.
The DEU and the AlE were not the only groups opposing Machado. The Nationalist Union (Union Nacionalista), headed by a War of Independence colonel, Carlos Mendieta, also condemned the regime in newspapers and in public demonstrations. In 1931 Mendieta and Menocal, the former president, organized a short-lived uprising in Pinar del Rio Province. That same year, a group led by engineer Carlos Hevia and journalist Sergio Carb6 equipped an expedition in the United States and landed in Oriente Province, only to be crushed by Machado's army. In New York, representatives of several anti-Machado organizations united and formed a revolutionary junta.
Most prominent, perhaps, of these anti-Machado groups was the ABC, a clandestine extremist organization composed of intellectuals, students, and the middle sectors of society, established in 1930. Led by several Cuban intellectuals who were Harvard graduates, the ABC undermined Machado's position through sabotage and terrorist actions, and in December 1932 published a manifesto in Havana criticizing the underlying structure of Cuban society and outlining a detailed program of economic and political reforms. Although the means to achieve its political and economic program were not clear, the ABC called for the elimination of large landholdings, nationalization of public services, limitations on land acquisitions by United States companies, and producers' cooperatives, as well as political liberty and social justice.
Such was the existing condition on the island when the United States, attempting to find a peaceful solution to Cuba's political situation, sent Ambassador Benjamin Sumner Welles in 1933 to act as mediator between government and opposition. By then, United States interests in Cuba had grown significantly. Investment was concentrated in land and in the sugar industry, but also extended into transportation, natural resources, utilities, and the banking system. World War I had accelerated this trend, making Cuba more and more dependent on its neighbor to the North. As economic dependence increased, so did political dependence. A new crop of Cuban businessmen, technocrats, and, naturally, politicians had developed who identified with their counterparts in the United States and sought political guidance from Washington and Wall Street.
This "Platt Amendment complex" permeated large sectors of Cuban society, with the exception, perhaps, of some writers, intellectuals, and students who saw a danger in the close relationship for the development of a Cuban nationality and identified the patria with the workers, the poor, and the blacks. Their ranks were small, however, and economic prosperity drowned their voices. The fear of, or the desire for, United States involvement in Cuban affairs was the dominating theme, and many Cubans were willing to use the threat of or even actual intervention by the United States to further their narrow political and economic objectives.
Most political factions and leaders supported Sumner Welles's mediation, with the exception of the radicals and the Conservative followers of former President Menocal, the Directorio, and a few Cuban leaders. The Directorio strongly opposed the United States' action. The leaders of the "generation of 1930" saw themselves as representatives of the national will and heirs to Marti's legacy, their mission was to carry on the revolution that "the United States had frustrated in 1898." Finding inspiration and guidance in Marti's teaching and his vision of a just society in a politically and economically independent nation, they opposed United States supervision of Cuban affairs and the humiliating Platt Amendment.
Sumner Welles's mediation efforts culminated in a general strike, in dissension within the armed forces, and in several small army revolts that forced Machado to resign and leave the country on August 12, 1933. This general strike deepened the schism between the PCC and the anti-Machado groups. Although the party had played an important role in promoting the strike, it reversed itself just prior to Machado's fall and issued a back-to-work order, fearing that the general strike might provoke United States intervention or the establishment of a pro-United States government. The failure to support the anti-Machado struggle discredited the PCC, especially among the students. From that time on, the party, alienated from progressive and revolutionary forces within the country, found it easier to reach agreements and work with traditional conservative political parties and governments, even with military presidents.
Sumner Welles and the army appointed Carlos Manuel de Cespedes to succeed Machado. The son of Cuba's first president during the rebellion against Spain in the 1860s and a prestigious although uninspiring figure, Cespedes soon received United States support and the backing of most anti-Machado groups. He annulled Machado's constitutional amendments of 1928, restored the 1901 constitution, and prepared to bring the country back to normalcy.
Returning Cuba to normalcy seemed an almost impossible task amid the worldwide chaos of the early 1930s. The deepening economic depression had worsened the people's misery, and Machado's overthrow had released a wave of uncontrolled anger and anxiety. Looting and disorder were widespread in Havana, where armed bands sought out and executed Machado's henchmen. In rural areas, discontented peasants took over sugar mills and threatened wealthy landowners. Although the appointment of Cespedes as president did not end the crisis, it reduced political tensions and the level of armed conflict.
An Attempt at Revolution, 1933-34
Machado's overthrow marked the beginning of an era of reform. The revolutionary wave that swept away the dictatorship had begun to acquire the characteristics of a major revolution. Although it lacked a defined ideology, this revolution was clearly aimed at transforming all phases of national life. The leaders of the "generation of 1930" were the best exponents of this reformist zeal. Espousing the usual anti-United States and nonintervention communist propaganda and advocating measures of social and economic significance for the less privileged sectors of society, the students monopolized the rhetoric of revolution. Cespedes's refusal to abrogate the 1901 constitution, which was regarded as too closely modeled after the United States Constitution and ill-adapted to Cuba's cultural milieu, created a crisis. The Directorio, furthermore, linked Cespedes to the deposed dictator, pointing to his serving in Machado's first cabinet and living abroad as a diplomat.
In September 1933, the unrest in Cuba's political picture again came to a head. Unhappy with both a proposed reduction in pay and an order restricting their promotions, the lower echelons of the army, led by Sergeant-Stenographer Fulgencio Batista y Zaldivar, invited the Directorio to meet with them at Camp Columbia in Havana on September 4. Batista's contact with Directorio leaders dated back to the anti-Machado struggle, when he had served as stenographer during some of the students' trials. By the time the students arrived at Camp Columbia, army discipline had collapsed. Sergeants were in command and had arrested numerous army officers. After consulting with Batista and the army, the Directorio agreed to Cespedes's overthrow and named five men to form a pentarchy (a five-member civilian executive commission) to head a provisional government That same night, Cespedes handed over the presidency to the five-member commission, which formally took possession of the Presidential Palace.
September 4, 1933, was a turning point in Cuba's history. It marked the army's entrance as an organized force into the running of government and Batista's emergence as self-appointed chief of the armed forces and the arbiter of Cuba's destiny for years to come, On that date, the students and the military, two armed groups accustomed to violence, united to rule Cuba, The marriage, however, was short-lived. A contest for supremacy soon began between the students and the military Very few expected the students to win.
The pentarchy's inability to rule the country became evident at once, The group lacked not only the support of the various political parties and groups, but also the support of the United States. The Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration, surprised and confused by events on the island, refused to recognize the five-member government and rushed naval vessels to Cuban waters. When one member of the pentarchy promoted Sergeant Batista to the rank of colonel without the required approval of the other four, another member resigned and the regime collapsed. In a meeting with Batista and the army on September 10, 1933, the Directorio appointed a university physiology professor, Dr. Ramon Grau San Martin (president, 1933-34,1944-48), as provisional president.
The new president had no political experience to qualify him for the job at such a crucial time. He had won the admiration of the students when in 1928 he allowed the expelled Directorio leaders to read their manifesto to his class. At a time when other professors refused the students' request, Grau's gesture gained for him a following at the university. While he was in jail in 1931, Grau and students met again and cemented their relationship. When the pentarchy collapsed, their old professor was the students' first choice. A witty and intelligent man, Grau projected a controversial image. He appeared indecisive and powerless, yet he was actually cunning and determined.
With Grau, the "generation of 1930" was catapulted into power. The students held Cuba's destiny in their hands. It was a unique spectacle indeed. Amidst thunder from the left and the right, and opposition from most political parties and personalities, the Directorio held daily meetings to shape governmental policy.
The Directorio leaders advocated several reforms. Now that Machado had been overthrown, they wanted to wipe out all vestiges of his regime, including corrupt, pro-Machado army officers, politicians, office holders, and university professors. They called for a complete reorganization of Cuba's economic structure, including revision of the foreign debt, tax reforms, and a national banking and currency system removing Cuba from monetary and financial dependence on the United States. Aware that the Platt Amendment allowed for continuous United States interference, they sought its removal. The students also demanded agrarian reform and eventual nationalization of the sugar and mining industries. Finally, they wanted an autonomous university, sheltered from political interference.
Grau's regime was the high-water mark of the revolutionary process and of the intense nationalism of the generation of 1930. Nationalist sentiment rather than radical doctrines dominated the regime's consideration of economic questions. The government was pro-labor and opposed the predominance of foreign capital. Soon after coming to power, Grau abrogated the 1901 constitution, promulgated provisional statutes to govern Cuba, and called for a constitutional convention with elections subsequently set for April 1, 1934. He also demanded the abrogation of the Platt Amendment, which was subsequently abrogated on May 29, 1934. Taking immediate action to eliminate Machado's followers from government positions, Grau appointed commissioners to "purge" government offices. Because the dictatorship had utilized the machinery of the old political parties, Grau issued a decree dissolving them. The government also complied with one of the oldest demands of the university reform movement by granting the University of Havana autonomy from government control.
With the island facing a mounting wave of strikes and social unrest, Grau implemented a popular and reformist program. On September 20, he issued a decree establishing a maximum working day of eight hours. On November 7, the government issued a decree on labor organization that sought to Cubanize the labor movement and restrict communist and Spanish influences by limiting the role of foreign leaders. It required Cuban citizenship of all union officials, and all labor organizations were ordered to register with the Ministry of Labor. On the following day, Grau signed the Nationalization of Labor Decree, popularly known as the "50 Percent Law." This law required that at least half the total working force of all industrial, commercial, and agricultural enterprises be composed of native Cubans (except for managers and technicians, who could not be supplanted by natives), and that half the total payroll be allotted to Cubans. Although these two decrees gained much labor support for the government and diminished communist influence in the unions, they also alienated the many Spaniards and other foreign minority groups living on the island.
Grau's measures also aroused United States hostility. The United States viewed the unrest in Cuba with much concern. The overthrow of the United States-backed Cespedes regime was undoubtedly a defeat for President Roosevelt's policy toward Cuba in general and for Ambassador Sumner Welles's mediation efforts in particular. Grau's seizure of two United States-owned sugar mills that had been closed down because of labor troubles, and his temporary takeover of the Cuban Electric Company because of rate disputes and additional labor problems, increased Washington's apprehension.
The United States refusal to recognize Grau complicated the many problems facing him because Cuban political leaders considered United States recognition as a key factor for the existence of any Cuban government. The United States policy condemning the Grau regime encouraged opposition groups and rebellious purged army officers. Opposition was strongest from the communists, the displaced army officers, and the ABC. Student leader Eduardo (Eddie) Chibas bitterly complained that although the Directorio had never used terrorism against the ABC-backed Cespedes regime, the ABC used it to combat Grau's government. The ABC seemed unhappy over their inability to obtain a share of power and feared that the consolidation of the Grau regime might exclude them from future political participation.
Inner conflict in the government contributed to its instability. A faction led by student leader and Minister of Interior Antonio Guiteras advocated a continuation of the program of social reform. Strongly nationalistic and sincerely motivated, Guiteras initiated much of the regime's legislation, and many considered him the real brains behind Grau. Another faction, which was controlled by Batista and the army, wanted a conservative program that would bring about United States recognition. Grau seemed to have been caught in the middle of these conflicting forces. On November 6, 1933, the Directorio, feeling that its mandate had expired, declared itself dissolved, announcing, however, that its members would continue to support President Grau.
By January 1934, it became evident that the regime would soon collapse. Student support was rapidly waning, the military conspired to take power, and Washington refused to recognize a regime that threatened its vested interests in Cuba. In addition, industrial and commercial leaders opposed Grau's legislation. Fearing that the government's program would attract labor support, the communists violently attacked Grau. A national teachers' strike for better wages further aggravated the already unstable situation. On January 14, Army Chief Fulgencio Batista forced President Grau to resign. Two days later, Batista appointed Carlos Mendieta as Cuba's provisional president. Within five days after Mendieta's accession to power, the United States recognized Cuba's new government.
To the United States and to its ambassadors in Cuba-Sumner Welles and his successor, Jefferson Caffrey-Batista represented order and progress under friendly rule. Welles had been persistently hostile to Grau, distrusting his personality as well as his ideas and programs. He was fearful of the social and economic revolution that Grau was attempting to enact and the damage this might cause to United States interests in Cuba. Both Welles and Caffrey looked to Batista as the one leader capable of maintaining order while guaranteeing a friendly posture to the United States and its corporate interests in Cuba.
The Failure of Reformism, 1934-52
Despite its short duration, the revolutionary process of 1933 had a profound impact on subsequent Cuban developments and events. It gave university students a taste of power, catapulted them into the mainstream of politics, and created an awareness among the students and the population at large of the need, as well as the possibility, for rapid and drastic change. It also weakened foreign domination of the economy and opened new opportunities for several national sectors hitherto prevented from obtaining a bigger share of the national wealth because of Spanish and North American presence and control. Furthermore, the state's involvement in the management of the economy was accelerated, and new impetus given to the rise of organized labor. But the failure of the revolution also convinced many that it would be almost impossible to bring profound structural changes to Cuba while the country remained friendly toward the United States. For the more radical elements emerging out of the 1933 process, it became clear that only an anti-United States revolution that would destroy the Batista military could be successful in Cuba.
In the years following Grau's overthrow, the "generation of 1930" experienced the harsh facts of Cuba's power politics. The students thought that Machado's overthrow would signal the beginning of a new era of morality and change. They learned differently. Dominated by the army, Cuba's political life returned to the corruption and old ways of the past. To govern Cuba, Batista chose as allies many of the old politicians expelled from power with Machado. Opportunistic and unscrupulous individuals assumed important government positions, corruption continued, repression and terrorism flourished. The years of struggle and suffering seemed in vain.
Students felt disillusioned and frustrated. Most abandoned their earlier idealism and found comfort in professional and business ventures. Some departed for foreign lands, never to return. Others accepted radical ideologies such as communism or fascism. Several broke with their past and shared in the spoils of office. Desiring to continue fighting for their frustrated revolution, many joined the Cuban Revolutionary Party (PRC) , which was organized in February 1934.
Taking their name from Marti's PRC of 1892, this group, also known as the Authentic Party, became the repository of revolutionary virtue. Former Directorio leaders joined the new party, and Grau, then living in exile in Mexico, was appointed president. The party's program called for economic and political nationalism, social justice, and civil liberties and emphasized the right of Cubans to share more fully in the country's economic resources. Although the party was silent on the question of peaceful or forceful methods of achieving power, Grau seemed at first to favor peaceful opposition to Mendieta and Batista.
In the years that followed, Batista and the army all but dominated Cuba's political life. Until 1940, when he officially assumed the chief-executive office, securing his election through a coalition of political parties that included the communists, Batista maintained tight political control, ruling through puppet presidents. In addition to Mendieta, these included Jose A. Barnet y Vinageras (president, 1935-36), Miguel Mariano Gomez y Arias (president, 1936), and Federico Laredo Bru (president, 1936-40). Desiring to win popular support and to rival the autenticos (members of the Authentic Party), Batista imitated his Mexican counterpart, General Lazaro Cardenas (president, 1934-40), by sponsoring an impressive body of welfare legislation. Public administration, health, sanitation, education, and public works improved. Workers were allowed to unionize and organize the Cuban Workers Federation (Central de Trabajadores de Cuba-CTC). Legislation to provide pensions, insurance, limited working hours, and minimum wages largely satisfied the workers' demands.
Batista also made a serious effort to bring education and better living conditions to the countryside. Under his ambitious "civic-rural" program, numerous schools were built. Where teachers were lacking, he sent army personnel to fill their places. The Civic-Military Institute, which he established, provided for the housing and education of the orphans of workers, soldiers, and peasants. In 1936 he issued the Sugar Coordination Law, which protected the tenants of small sugar plantations against eviction. Although Batista and his associates continued the practice of pocketing some of the funds earmarked for these projects, they nevertheless made a sincere attempt to improve the health and educational level of the rural population.
In the late 1930s, Batista called for the drafting of a new constitution. With elections for a constitutional convention and for a new president in sight, politics took a more normal course. Grau himself, aware that violence would not bring him to power, returned from exile and engaged in electoral practices, thus legitimizing the Batista-supported regimes.
When the convention convened in Havana in early 1940, Grau was chosen president of the assembly. Despite pressure from both right and left, work went smoothly, with Batista and Grau competing for popular support. But when Batista and former President Menocal signed a political pact that left oppositionist groups in a minority position in the assembly, Grau resigned. Nevertheless, there was an unusual degree of cooperation among the various political groups, and the constitution was completed and proclaimed that same year.
The constitution was in many respects the embodiment of the aspirations of the "generation of 1930." The president was to serve only one term of four years, although he might be reelected after eight years out of office. Many civil liberties and social welfare provisions were defined at great length. The state was to playa strong role in economic and social development. Workers were guaranteed paid vacations, minimum wages, and job tenure. Cuban nationals were to be favored over foreigners in the establishment of new industries. The University of Havana's autonomy received constitutional sanction in Article 53. The convention thus fulfilled one of the oldest demands of the students.
Batista was the first president elected under the new constitution. Supported by a coalition of political parties and by the communists, he defeated his old rival Grau. His administration coincided with World War II, during which Cuba collaborated closely with the United States, declaring war on the Axis powers in 1941. The United States, in turn, increased aid and trade relations with Cuba. It granted Batista credits for agricultural development and for public works in Havana. Batista allowed for the establishment of a variety of United States military facilities on Cuban territory, and in early 1941 he concluded a sugar deal with the United States authorizing the sale of the whole harvest at $.0265 per pound. Many Cubans complained that the low price represented an excessive sacrifice for Cubans. This burden, combined with a series of war taxes that Batista had earlier imposed and shortages of finished goods and some food, caused much unhappiness among the population.
Although Batista enjoyed wartime powers, his administration was short of dictatorial. He enjoyed the backing of the propertied classes, and he cultivated labor support. He also catered to the left, allowing the communists complete freedom of operation. After Germany attacked the Soviet Union in 1941, the Cuban communists ended their denunciation of the United States as an imperialist power and began defending President Roosevelt as a "great statesman" and the war against Germany as a 'Just war." In 1944 the communists changed the name of their party from Communist Revolutionary Union (Uni6n Revolucionaria Comunista-URC) to the People's Socialist Party (Partido Socialista Popular-PSP) and issued a mild political program that called for racial equality and women's rights. The program failed, however, to attack the United States or even to request agrarian reform or large-scale nationalization of foreign properties in Cuba.
At the end of World War II, as Grau and the autenticos came to power, the organized use of violence took on an unprecedented dimension. The relative calm of the war years suddenly ended, giving way to a violent and materialistic era. Urban violence reappeared, now with tragic proportions. Although part of the generation that emerged out of World War II retained a redemptionist fanaticism and a desire to fulfill the aspirations of "the frustrated revolution," a still larger part evidenced an insatiable appetite for power and wealth, and a determination to obtain both regardless of obstacles. Violence-prone refugees of the Spanish Civil War also extended their activism and rivalries to Cuba.
Elected to the presidency in 1944, Grau followed a conciliatory policy toward these groups and permitted their proliferation, in many instances placing their leaders on government payrolls. Fearing the power of these gangs and their trouble making capabilities if employed against the government, Grau allowed them almost complete freedom of action. This situation continued under the presidency of Grau's protege, Carlos Prio Socarras (president, 1948-52). Elected in 1948, the former Directorio leader also avoided confronting his old friends and continued his predecessor's mild policies.
A system of nepotism, favoritism, and gangsterism predominated. Despite numerous accomplishments that included respect for human rights, freedom of the press, and a democratic climate, the autenticos failed to provide the country with an honest government or to diversify Cuba's one-crop economy. The reformist zeal evident during Grau's first administration had diminished considerably in the intervening decade. Grau himself seemed softened after years of exile and frustration. He faced, furthermore, determined opposition in Congress and from conservative elements that had joined his party. Not only Grau, but many of the old student leaders of the "generation of 1930," shared in the spoils of office. When confronted with the reality of Cuban politics, their early idealism and reformism gave way to materialism and opportunism.
For many, the autenticos had failed to fulfill the aspirations of the anti-Machado revolution, especially in the area of administrative honesty. Perhaps the Cubans expected too much too soon. The people still remembered the rapid reforms implemented during Grau's first administration and expected their continuation.
Grau's failure to bring honesty and order to Cuba's public life and the presidential aspirations of Eduardo Chibas, an autentico congressman, produced a rift in the party. In 1947 Chibas and other autentico leaders formed the Cuban People's Party (Partido del Pueblo Cubano-PPC), Orthodox (Ortodoxo) branch, also known as the Orthodox Party (Partido Ortodoxo). Led by Chibas, a former student leader of the generation of 1930, the PPC became the repository of the ideals of the "frustrated revolution" and the refuge of a new generation determined to transform those ideals into reality.
By 1950 the ortodoxos (PPC members) had become a formidable political force. Although the party lacked a well-defined platform, its nationalistic program of economic independence, political liberty, social justice, and honest government, and its insistence upon remaining free from political pacts, had won for it a considerable following, especially among University of Havana students. With the slogan "verguenza contra dinero" (honor versus money), Chibas, now an elected senator, pounded on the consciences of the Cubans in his Sunday radio programs and sought to awaken their minds to the corruption of the autentico administrations. Chibas monopolized the rhetoric of revolution, becoming the exponent of the frustrated old generation and the leader of a new generation bent on bringing morality and honesty to Cuban public life. It was he more than anyone else who, with his constant exhortations, calls for reform, and attacks on Cuba's political leadership, paved the way for the Revolution that followed.
One of those captivated by the Chibas mystique was Fidel Castro Ruz. As a student at the Jesuit Belen High School in Havana in the early 1940s, Castro fell under the particular influence of two of his teachers, who were admirers of Franco's Spain and his fascist Falangist ideology.
While studying law at the University of Havana in the late 1940s, Castro participated in the activities of student gangs and associated closely with violent leaders. He soon acquired a reputation for personal ambition, forcefulness, and fine oratory. Yet he never became a prominent student leader. On several occasions, he was defeated in student elections or prevented from winning by the nature of student politics. Castro, as did many Cubans, followed Chibas with enthusiasm, regarding him as the only hope Cuba had of redeeming its political institutions and defending its sovereignty.
Yet in one of the most bizarre episodes of Cuban political history, Chibas committed suicide in August 1951, at the end of his radio program. Chibas's death produced a feeling of shock and sadness among the masses. It also created a leadership vacuum, produced a rift in the Orthodox Party, and facilitated Batista's coup d'etat of March 10, 1952.
By the time of Chibas's death, Cuba's political life was a sad spectacle. Although Carlos Prio Socorras, elected president in 1948, had introduced a number of reforms and gangsterism had diminished within the University of Havana, his administration resembled that of his predecessor. Politics came to be regarded by the Cuban people with disrespect. To become a politician was to enter into an elite, a new class apart from the interests of the people. The elected politicians did not owe allegiance to their constituents, not even to their nation, but only to themselves and their unsatisfied appetites for power and fortune. Political figures, furthermore, were the objects of popular mockery. In particular, the image of the presidency was ridiculed and abused. Chibas's criticism, furthermore, helped to undermine not only the authority of the autenticos, destroying what little prestige they still enjoyed, but also the stability of Cuba's already fragile political institutions. The breakdown in morale, respect, and values was aggravated by Batista's interruption of constitutional government in 1952. What Cubans believed would never happen again - the return to military rule - became a reality.
Batista's Dictatorship - 1952-1959
Convinced that he could not win the election scheduled for June 1952, Batista overthrew President Carlos Prio's regime in a bloodless and masterfully executed coup d'etat on March 10. The coup was almost entirely dependent on army backing and caught the Cuban population, as well as Prio and his followers, by surprise. Batista quickly consolidated his position by replacing dissenting army officers with his own loyal men, exiling or arresting key Prio supporters, and taking temporary control over the mass media. Prio himself sought asylum in the Mexican Embassy and later left the country.
The ease with which Batista took over underscored the weakness of Cuba's political institutions. The legislative branch was weak and permeated with corruption. Even the judiciary had lost prestige because of its subservient role to the executive branch. The ortodoxos were leaderless and had been largely ineffectual since Chibas's death. The autenticos' corruption and inability to bring profound structural changes to the Cuban economy had cost them a good deal of support and discredited them in the eyes of many Cubans. The failure of this democratic reformist party was perhaps the single most important factor contributing to the 1952 coup and the events that followed.
By then the importance and power of the business community had grown significantly, helped in part by the rapid economic growth experienced by the island in the 1940s. World War II had paralyzed sugar production in many areas of Europe and Asia, making possible the further expansion of Cuba's sugar industry. At the same time, the deterioration of international trade during the war years gave Cuba an extraordinary amount of foreign exchange that would otherwise have gone toward the purchase of agricultural and industrial import items. All of this served to accelerate the diversification process in Cuba's economic development. Domestic production flourished, and other new productive activities were established. This circumstance was put to good use by Cuban entrepreneurs, who began to occupy relatively important positions in the development of the island's economy.
Yet despite this progress, the Cuban economy suffered from certain structural weaknesses that prevented any sustained period of rapid economic growth. Chief among these was an excessive concentration on sugar production and foreign trade, a critical dependency on one major buyer-supplier, substantial unemployment and underemployment, and inequalities between urban and rural living standards.
Despite the apparent support of business, labor, and peasant groups, Batista failed to develop an active base of political backing. Political loyalties were often the result of intimidation or expediency and for that reason were often short-lived. Batista's actual political base was now narrower than in the 1930s. Even within the armed forces, and particularly in the middle and lower echelons of the officer corps, there were numerous disgruntled ortodoxo and autentico officers who engaged in conspiratorial activities against the regime.
The imposition of strict censorship by the Batista regime silenced all criticism. Opposition leaders were either jailed or exiled. Repression increased. The voices that clamored for a peaceful solution to the interruption of Cuba's constitutional process were soon drowned by voices clamoring for violence. Cuba again was submerged in terrorism and violence, a violence that finally culminated in a major revolution.
Opposition developed from various sectors. Numerous ortodoxos, a faction of the Authentic Party under Grau, and most of Cuba's politicians peacefully opposed Batista, hoping for an honest election. Another faction of the autenticos, together with several Ortodoxo leaders, went underground and began plotting insurrectionary activities.
The active banner of rebellion, however, was to be carried by university students. Students laid aside their rivalries, directing all their efforts against the new regime. Militant anti-Batista student leaders emerged with effective political power, not only in the student community, but nationally as well. During the first three years of Batista's rule, student opposition was limited to sporadic riots, demonstrations, and protests. Although at the time these unorganized acts may have seemed unimportant, they did help awaken the minds of Cubans to the increasingly oppressive nature of Batista's regime and thus paved the way for the insurrection that followed.
Cuba's small communist party, the PSP (People's Socialist Party), also opposed Batista, but through peaceful means. Since the 1930s, when it supported the Machado dictatorship, the party had lost prestige and membership and was a weak, ineffectual contender in the political process. Now, as a result of the international situation, particularly the pressure of the United States, the communists were unable to arrive at a modus vivendi with Batista. Not until very late in the anti-Batista struggle did the communists join the revolutionary forces, and even then their participation contributed little to the final overthrow of the regime.The dictatorship was facing a critical situation because of the dramatic drop of sugar prices in the world market and of the formula of reducing production. To reduce the effects of the depression, the government started the compulsive mobilization of financial resources most of which would end up in the personal bank accounts of the regime members. Despite the introduction during the previous decade of new production items, the Cuban economy, yoked by sugar, could not develop satisfactorily. Proof of it was the huge masses of un-employed and sub-employed that by the middle of the 1950s they would represent a third of the total work force in the country.
By 1954 the tyranny intended to legalize its status by spurious elections that at least would serve to placate the bloody repression. The mock election of November 1954, from which Batista, running unopposed, emerged victorious, placed Cuba at a dangerous crossroads. The opposition wanted a new election, while Batista insisted on remaining in power until his new term expired in 1958. Government officials and oppositionist leaders met throughout 1955 in an attempt to find a compromise. The failure to reach an agreement forced the Cuban people onto a road leading to civil war, chaos, and revolution.
Such circumstance was used by the mass movement, which in 1955 had significantly increased its pressure to obtain the liberation of political prisoners - including the participants in the Moncada Garrison attack - and made workers strikes, particularly in the sugar industry sector. That same year the Movimiento Revolucionario 26 de Julio (26th of July Revolutionary Movement) was created by Fidel Castro and his comrades, and a year later the Directorio Revolucionario (Revolutionary Directory) by the most combative university students. From jail, Fidel Castro exhorted his supporters to organize and to cooperate with other groups.
The students reacted violently to the failure of political groups to find a peaceful solution. At the end of 1955, a series of riots shocked the country. On November 27, the FEU organized a ceremony to honor the memory of eight students shot by Spanish authorities in 1871. Rioting quickly spread to Havana. On April 21, a group of university students stoned a TV station where a government-sponsored youth program was being televised. Several participants were wounded. A police cordon was thrown around the grounds of the University of Havana, and, on the pretext of searching for hidden arms, government forces entered the university, demolishing the rector's office and destroying documents, scientific equipment, and furnishings. Batista replied to the moral indignation of university authorities and students by declaring that the autonomy of the university was limited to educational, administrative, and internal affairs; when subversive political elements were entrenched within the university, the government must enforce law and order.
Instead of seeking to discourage rebellion and demonstrations, particularly from university students, by moderation, the regime encouraged it by meeting terrorism with a counter-terrorism that defeated its own ends. No better method could have been devised to increase the bitterness and opposition of the people. Each murder produced another martyr and new adherents to the struggle against Batista. By the end of 1955, the leaders of the FEU realized that the efforts of nonpartisan organizations to reconcile government and opposition were futile. They proposed the creation of an insurrectionary movement to lead the struggle against Batista. When the FEU proposal found little response among the electorally oriented politicians, the students formed their own clandestine organization - the Revolutionary Directorate.
While student riots and demonstrations were going on, other Cubans not connected with student activities were plotting to unseat Batista. A group known as Montecristi plotted with army officers to overthrow the regime, but Batista uncovered the conspiracy and arrested its principal instigators in April 1956. That same month, another group, belonging to Prio's Authentic Organization (Organizaci6n Autentica), unsuccessfully attacked the Goicuria army barracks in Matanzas Province.
Despite the instability of the late 1930s, the fall of Machado had ushered in almost two decades of political freedom and constitutional government. The students and the Cuban people in general saw Batista's regime as only a temporary interruption of Cuba's democratic political development and as the consequence of Batista's own ambitions for power and Prio's corrupt rule rather than a symptom of more profound national problems.
The elimination of Batista's dictatorship became the panacea to cure all of Cuba's ills. This simplistic thinking served Fidel Castro's purposes well during his stay in the Sierra Maestra. Lacking a well-defined ideology, he proclaimed the overthrow of the regime as the nation's sole, overriding task, advocating only the most obvious popular reforms.
The Revolutionary Directorate, together with several autentieo leaders, planned to overthrow the government by assassinating Batista. Student leaders reasoned that such fast, decisive action would cause the regime to crumble and prevent unnecessary loss of life in a possible civil war. On March 13, 1957, in one of the boldest actions of the anti-Batista rebellion, a group of forty men stormed the presidential palace in the center of Havana and almost succeeded in killing Batista.
The defeat suffered at the presidential palace and the death of student leader Jose A. Echeverria, perhaps the most popular figure opposing Batista, during a simultaneous attack on a Havana radio station left the Revolutionary Directorate leaderless and disorganized. Almost a year went by before the organization recovered from the blow, and even then it never regained the prestige and importance that it had enjoyed prior to the palace assault. While the Revolutionary Directorate declined, Castro, unchallenged in the mountains, grew in prestige, strength, and following. He gained adherents in the cities and won to his side many discontented elements who, whatever differences they might have had with his Twenty-Sixth of July Movement, found no other insurrectionary organization to join.
Corroded by disaffection, corruption, and internal disputes, the army was unable to defeat the guerrillas during Batista's final year in power. This inability increased the guerrillas' prestige and contributed to the internal demoralization of the armed forces. Guerrilla warfare in the rural areas was accompanied by increased sabotage and terror in the cities. A large and loosely related urban resistance movement developed throughout the island. Underground cells of the Twenty-Sixth of July Movement, the closely allied Civic Resistance Movement (Movimiento Civico Revolucionario-MCR), the Revolutionary Directorate, and the autenticos conducted bombings, sabotage, and kidnappings, as well as distributed propaganda. These actions undermined the foundations of the government and helped to create the atmosphere of civil war.
This urban underground developed into the backbone of the anti-Batista struggle. It was the work of the urban underground more than anything else that brought about the downfall of the regime. The action of these groups provoked Batista and his repressive forces into such extreme retaliatory measures that the Cuban population became almost totally alienated from the regime.
United States policy also contributed somewhat to the growing demoralization within the military. Although the United States had supported the Batista regime, by the fall of 1957 the United States government began holding up shipments of weapons and munitions. An arms embargo was publicly announced in March 1958. Although these arms shipments were small and from Batista's point of view not decisive in the struggle against Castro, they did represent a sign of continuous backing for his administration. Thus, when the embargo was declared, many Cubans saw it as a change in Washington's policy, indicating disapproval and withdrawal of support for the regime. United States actions were undoubtedly a strong blow to the declining morale of the Batista regime and of the armed forces in particular.
The regime was further weakened when several institutions and sectors of Cuban society began a progressive withdrawal of their support. The church, professional and business groups, and the press exerted pressure on the government to allow a peaceful solution. At first they advocated free elections with absolute guarantees for all political parties, but the rigged election of November 1958, in which Batista's hand-picked candidate, Andres Rivero Aguero, won the presidency for a new four year term, convinced many that violence was the only means of eliminating Batista's rule. The army's refusal at the end of 1958 to continue fighting dealt the final blow to a crumbling regime.
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