Fernando Damaso, 26 June 2018 — As I understand it, the presidents of countries deal with the main problems of those countries, and do not waste their time on matters that, at most, are the responsibility of their ministers or lower levels of the administrative apparatus of the State.
The case of Cuba is different: here the president deals with how old elevators in old buildings are replaced by new ones; how construction materials are sold in the establishments created for this purpose; how fuel is distributed among the organs and institutions of the State; and how, all around it, a huge black market operates; the coverage of sanitary napkins for our women on their critical days; and so on. The litany of trifles to which the president dedicates his attention could be endless.
He is not the only one, since his two predecessors did the same. We remember, among the “presidential tasks”: the design of school uniforms; the differentiated prices of beers and malts; the installation of establishments to sell hamburgers with added soft drinks; the four ounces of coffee mixed-with-peas per consumer; the cow “Ubre Blanca” (White Udder) and its one hundred liters of milk; the coffee pot gasket rings; the eucalyptus candies; the energy saving light bulbs; the Chinese bicycles without night lighting; the chocolate bar; the soy yogurt; the electric stoves and the cooking utensils; and many other things.
Such an original country, where presidents fulfill “important tasks,” can not advance, develop, or create anything prosperous and efficient.
The job of a president is not to visit provinces and municipalities to do political proselytizing, nor dunk a basketball at a school to demonstrate their physical skills.
The job of a president is to steer the state responsibly and make it work efficiently in the interests of citizens.
Fernando Damaso, 11 June 2018 — In the Granma newspaper of June 6th of this year, there is an article by the historian Rolando Rodríguez, under the title “A Hero Courageous Before Every Test,” referred to the patriot Ramón Leocadio Bonachea. In one of its paragraphs it is stated that “he was part of the escort of Major Ignacio Agramonte and participated in the rescue of the man who would later be traitor Julio Sanguily.” No arguments or evidence are offered for the accusation.
As I learned in school and after I read different historians, “Julio Sanguily was one of the most prominent figures of the Revolution of 1868. Taken prisoner by the Spaniards on October 8, 1871, he was rescued by Ignacio Agramonte at the head of 35 men, in a brave and reckless charge. Subsequently, his left foot was crippled and his right hand atrophied, and though he wanted to participate in the War of 1895, he could not do so, being held in prison by the Spaniards and locked in a dungeon in La Cabaña Fortress on February 24, dying in 1906.” continue reading
Regardless of his fondness for the game, which brought him enough problems, I do not understand that he was designated as a traitor. I do not know where this accusation would have come from, although for a few years now, the history of Cuba has been suffering a lot of manipulation and distortion by political interests, and the word “traitor” is applied too often. Events and important personalities of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century are questioned and distorted, and their place is occupied by less important events and personalities.
Due to this, General Narciso López is accused of being an annexationist, although there is no document, declaration or fact that proves it. There is also talk and writings about General Antonio Maceo of the Baraguá Protest on 15 March 1878, but nothing is said of Maceo on 9 May 1878 (55 days later), when he left the fight and left for Jamaica in the gunboat “Fernando el Católico,” placed at his disposal by the Spanish general Martínez Campos.
Nor does anyone speak or write about 28 May 1878 (19 days later), when the Baraguá Protesters accepted the terms of the Zanjón Pact and laid down their arms, with the exception of Brigadier Ramón Leocadio Bonachea, who prolonged a futile resistance eleven months longer, in areas of Camagüey and Las Villas.
And if that wasn’t enough, even José Martí himself, in a stage of exacerbated dogmatism, was questioned for not communicating Marxist ideas and criticizing them. In other words, the “historical opportunism” has grown like the invasive marabou weed.
It would be interesting if Cuban historians, so concerned about the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, decided to jump over the wall of 31 December 1958 and begin to judge the events and personalities of these last sixty years, which are also history, with its lights and its shadows.
Fernando Damaso,6 June 2018 — The history of Cuban constitutions is an interesting one. All of them — beginning with the Guáimaro constitution (1869), continuing on to Jimaguayú constitution (1895), the Yaya and Santa Cruz constitutions (1897 and 1898), the constitution of 1901, and the constitutional reforms of 1928 and 1940 — left open the possibility that they could be modified, in whole or in part, in accordance with changes that had occured since their ratifications and implementations. This was the case even in the socialist constitution of 1976 and in its reforms of 1992 and 2002, when the arbitrary article about “the irrevocability of the socialist system” was added on.
There are now indications that, in the draft of the newest Magna Carta, the article defining “the role of the Communist Party as the “organized vanguard and leading force of society and the State” will remain unchanged. continue reading
Just as the Platt Amendment remained in force in the 1901 constitution until 1934, the intention now is to retain the “Castro Amendment” as a compulsory straitjacket on present and future generations. The “historical assumption” is that socialism was accepted by our sovereign people when in fact it was imposed on April 16, 1961 in an event with a few hundred armed and ardent militiamen on the corner of 23rd and 12th streets in the capital’s Vedado district without consulting the the Cuban people. This was subsequently ratified in the 1976 constitution by an “exercise in popular approval,” which more closely resembled a farse than a legal action, in response to a tirade by the president, who urged Cubans to sign his decree at tables set up in every neighborhood of the country.
Certainly, when any political, economic or social system comes to power, it tries to secure its interests and legally shield itself by drafting its own constitution. This was the case in Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union as well as in the latter’s satellite countries. However, sooner or later, they all came to an end and were replaced by other constitutions to address the new realities. The same has happened in other systems, which reformed or changed constitutions based on the needs at the time.
What is interesting is that the restrictions and prohibitions imposed by these articles serve no purpose. Times change, other men will modify them and, if they decide to shed the burden of socialism, they will change them entirely.
It is also pedantic and arrogant to think of themselves as framers of the “absolute constitution.” Such a position only demonstrates how out of touch people become when they exercise absolute power for too long.
Fernando Damaso, 14 April 2018 — Cuban aborigines–Ciboneys and Taínos–were at very primitive stage of civilizational development at the time of the Conquest, and barely left any important marks on the national identity.
The Spanish colonizers arrived in 1492, establishing the “primal roots” with their customs, language and culture, planting the first seeds of what, with the passage of time, would become the national identity. continue reading
It is noted that a decade later, in 1502, the first African slaves were brought to Cuba, replacing the depleted aboriginal labor force. African slaves occupied an inferior level on the social scale from that of the aborigines. It is at this time that the so-called “African root” appeared in our as-yet unformed nationality, although its influence was still rather poor, being limited to the vicinity of the barracks where the slaves were crammed and exerting no other, transcendental influence upon the life of the colony.
As the years went on, the original “Spanish roots” blend with the African, Chinese and those of other immigrants to the Island, comprising the “cultural ajiaco” of which Don Fernando Ortiz would speak. However, it should be kept in mind that, like any other good ajiaco, the “protein” came from the “Spanish roots,” and the African and other roots contributed the starchy vegetables.
In the crucible of the struggles for independence were united desdendants of Spaniards (the majority), of Africans, of Chinese and other nationalities, giving rise and growth to the national identity.
According to the 1953 Census, the last one conducted during the Republican era, 72.8% of the Island’s inhabitants comprised the white population, 14.5% the “mestizo” (mix of black and white), 12.4% the black and .03% the yellow (Chinese). In this setting, the majority religion was the Christian–primarily Catholic, with more than 70%–and the minority was composed of African religions and others. Today these percentages have changed, but the majorities are still held by whites and by Christianity in a syncretic form.
During the years of the Republic and in many of the socialist era, the black and mestizo populations were discriminated against, primarily in relation to their religious beliefs and practices, until–more for political convenience than out of a sense of justice–these stopped being an impediment to membership in certain political organizations and to occupying some official positions.
This caused the surge in Afrian culture, particularly in music, dance and the plastic arts–as well as the massive “initiation of the saints”–for snob appeal in the case of nationals, and in the case of foreigners, for tropical exoticism. It should be noted that, regarding the latter, a lucrative business has developed, charging prices that range between two and five thousand CUC to obtain the “initiation” by the “babalawos.”*
This does not mean that there have not been nor currently exist talented artistic creators who profess these religions and defend their “African roots” in their works. However, there also many merchants who have made out of “the African” the raw material for obtaining abundant and easy earnings.
The official empowerment of “African roots” to the detriment of the “Spanish” ones has always been in response to political conveniences–as well as to place them above the majority Catholic religion, which is less dependent on the economic, political and social system implanted in the country. This is the source of their national proliferation, obviating the fact that the majority of Cubans have always sung habaneras, sones, boleros, guarachas and the like, and not African chants; and they have danced flamenco, waltz, contradanse, danzón, mambo, cha-cha-cha, pilon and other dances, and not African dances. These latter, in one or another case, have been relegated to very specific folkloric or ethnic troupes in some regions of the country.
It is notable that, when thousands of Cubans in the 1990s decided to adopt a foreign citizenship, they opted for the Spanish one and not one from any African country. Nor are our Afro-Cuban women and men interested in marrying African citizens–rather, they prefer Spaniards, Europeans, North Americans and even Latin Americans.
It appears that the “African roots,” despite their imposition by the authorities and their deputies, have been unable to supplant the “Spanish roots” and what these mean to Cubans, regardless of the color of their skin.
*Translator’s Note: The practices described pertain to the Afro-Cuban religion of Santería. Babalawos are priests of this religion.
Fernando Damaso, 30 May 2018 — In 1944, when Grau assumed the presidency, Cuba was hit by a powerful hurricane. The Cubans saw in the storm the omen of a stormy government. And so it came to pass. Now, when the new president is taking office, the tragedy of the Boeing 737-200 plane in Havana has occurred and the storm “Alberto,” with its intense and prolonged rains, has caused serious floods and destruction in the country. Is it also a bad omen?
When one carefully observes the actions of the Cuban Government, it gives the impression of being a fossilized organism, totally paralyzed, stuck in a previous historical time and incapable of facing the present. continue reading
The decisions to try to solve the urgent national problems do not appear anywhere, supposedly because everything is being studied so as not to make mistakes and make new mistakes. An old saying goes, “delay, despair” and, in this case, “the delay” lasts sixty years.
In most countries, power is exercised for periods of four, five or six years and, if re-election is allowed, it can be extended to eight, ten or twelve. During these terms governments must face and try to solve problems.
The Cuban Government, unlike the rest, has settled down to exercise power for dozens of years, and to use all the time necessary for their studies and experiments, without taking into account that every fifteen years a new generation of citizens emerges, is incorporated into the national life, while another disappears. The generations endure and suffer from this state slowness in their relatively short lives.
Today, the problems accumulated over years without solutions, plus new ones, overwhelm Cubans. The accumulated problems are the lack of housing and the poor state of the existing housing, the chaos in transportation of all kinds and the bad state of the roads, the agricultural unproductivity, the livestock crisis, the industrial obsolescence and the lack of investments, the lack of many freedoms, those that are limited by regulations and provisions that restrict them in practice, and the emigration of young people in search of new horizons, among others.
New problems are the deterioration of the health and education services, low salaries and pensions, social indiscipline, generalized violence, public unhealthiness, the loss of moral values, citizens and homelessness, corruption, theft and the lack of management by the public officials in every state apparatus, among others.
Facing this reality can not be delayed by waiting for the arrival of the “Greek calends“: it is an obligation of today and a demand for those who have claimed the right to govern us.
Fernando Dámaso, 24 April 2018 — In April 1898 the United States got involved in the Spanish-Cuban War. 120 years have passed…
Lately, continuously, we hear and read in official media that, in the year 1898, when the intervention of the North American Army in the war took place between Spaniards and Cubans, that it was practically won by the latter.
We’ve seen some data, that we cannot confirm nor deny this assertion. continue reading
At the time of the events, the Spanish Army had more than 250,000 men in Cuba and some 60,000 Cuban guerrillas fought at their service. It controlled all the towns and cities, as well as the main roads and railways, in addition to the ports and piers. The naval force constantly sailed the Island’s territorial waters, hindering or preventing the arrival and disembarkment of expeditions with men, weapons and supplies.
Only about 12,000 troops participated in the defense of Santiago de Cuba, distributed in more than 110 defensive strongholds around the city, as well as in the nearest towns.
The Mambí (Cuban) Army, at that time, did not exceed 9,000 troops, with almost 5,000 in the central region of the country, under the command of General Máximo Gómez. In the East, Lieutenant General Calixto García only had about 4,000 troops scattered between Holguín, Jiguaní, Bayamo, Santiago de Cuba and Guantánamo.
In general, the Mambí Army, despite the arrival of some expeditions in recent months, was poorly armed, dressed and shod. In addition, throughout the war, although it had attacked and occupied some populations of relative importance, it could never keep them under its power, having to abandon them when the Spanish troops appeared. Nor did it control the roads or the existing railroads, but was forced to act through ambushes and live and move in the jungle,
At the political level, there were serious contradictions and divergences within the military commanders and between them and the political power, the main one being that between General-in-Chief Máximo Gómez and the Governing Council, which ultimately led to the end of the war, and the removal of Gomez from the front of the Mambí Army by the Assembly of the Cerro.
The death of some of their principal leaders, among them José Martí, Flor Crombet, José and Antonio Maceo, Juan Bruno Zayas, Néstor de Aranguren, José María Aguirre, Serafín Sánchez and Adolfo del Castillo, had a huge negative impact on Cubans, as did the capture by the Spaniards of Rius Rivera. In addition, in some territories soldiers and officers were deserting, as were complete units.
To liquidate the Spanish resistance in Santiago de Cuba, the North American command landed, under the orders of General Shafter: 18,216 men, 16 field guns and 8 siege guns. For the attack they were joined by some 4,000 infantrymen of the Mambí Army, subordinated to General Calixto García, together totalling almost twice the number of Spanish defenders, also equipped with modern infantry and artillery weapons. It must be taken into account that, at that moment, United States naval forces surrounded the Island.
In the operations, in addition to participating in the securing of the landing, Cuban troops, being the best experts on the terrain and the tactics of the enemy, acted as vanguards, something normal in all operations of this type, when they participated jointly national and foreign troops, something that has come down to our days (Korea, Vietnam, Angola, Ethiopia, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.).
After analyzing this data, you may already be able to answer the initial question of this work. Was the war really won by the Cubans in 1898?
Leaving to one side the infantile jingoism, everything seems to indicate that no and that, but for the American disembarkation, the war would have been more prolonged, with an uncertain result and many more human and material losses.
In 1898 there had been an impasse in the warfare: the Spaniards could not defeat the Cubans, nor could the Cubans defeat the Spaniards. The first were exhausted and the latter tired. In addition, mutual stubbornness prevented any attempt at dialogue to resolve the situation. All this was taken advantage of by the government of the United States to impose its conditions and achieve its expansionist objectives.
Fernando Damaso, 22 May 2018 — Just a few days ago, Nicolas Maduro said that more than 20 million voters were expected to cast ballots, and that he expected to get no fewer than 10 million votes.
This Sunday, 21 May, the reality was otherwise: Only 9,261,839 voters showed up (46% of the predicted number), meaning more than 11 million people decided not to vote.
Maduro only got 6,157,185 votes (68% of those cast), falling 3,842,815 short of what he expected. continue reading
The remainder of the votes (32%) opposed him or were nullified.
In short, there were 20 million voters and only 9 million showed up, while 11 million did not. With these numbers we can infer that 14 million voters (the 3+ million who voted against him and the 11+ million who didn’t bother going) are not interested in Maduro or in his predecessor Hugo Chavez. Thus, Maduro will govern with the support of just 6 million Venezuelans, compared to the 14 million against or indifferent to him. This represents a third for him and two-thirds against him or indifferent.
Mathematics shows that, instead of a great victory, it was a pyrrhic victory, well seasoned by the left and its followers to make it drinkable.
Fernando Damaso, 15 May 2018 — In spite of a complete loss of credibility after years of mass demonstrations and marches of “revolutionary reaffirmation” that Cubans “spontaneously” attended on certain dates, authorities have been given the task of presenting the deceased “historic leader” as a kind of heavenly father who, from “eternal space and time,” guides, corrects, protects, scolds and directs us lest we veer from the path he has set out. It amounts to turning his words and actions into a “socialist bible,” a parody that more closely resembles a comic book than the original tome.
This is nothing new.
The same thing happened with Lenin. Ultimately, the Soviets decided to let him rest in peace inside his historic burial chamber even after they had changed, having set forth on the road to capitalist development. This phenomenon was repeated with Dimitrov in Bulgaria, with Mao Zedong in China and with Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam — to name a few well-known examples — though each country did it in its own particular way. continue reading
Official media outlets do not know how to maintain this “virtual presence.” They resort to saccharine articles, inept news spots, propagandistic documentaries, posters, billboards, dogmatic rhetoric and ridiculous statements that intrude on citizens’ daily lives. Cubans have opted to turn on their televisions only to watch soap operas, foreign mini-series, and sporting events, avoiding newscasts and so-called “opinion programs” such as Mesa Redonda. They turn on the radio to listen to music. They buy newspapers to wrap the garbage in. It is a normal reaction to exhaustion, an attempt to keep from losing one’s mind.
This celestial chorus — it is said the purpose is “to not forget history” — has included certain personalities from other eras, with an emphasis on warrior heroes from the 19th century, duly stripped of facts or words that might call into question the present.
This submission to the past — envisioning an ever more remote and unfeasible future while ignoring the terrible present — has been the government tonic for the last sixty years. In spite of recent changes, it seems it will continue to be.
It is worth remembering the words of José Martí: “We can stop praising those who were once universally praised. The world is full of incense bearers and there is no one with the authority or wealth to compel the world to fall to its knees.”
Fernando Dámaso, 20 March 2018 — Today the economic theory of poverty and wealth of countries is fashionable, depending on whether they have “exclusive” or “inclusive” institutions. Its authors, Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, thoroughly explore it in their book “Why Nations Fail.”
Consistent with this, as long as there is a government in Cuba with “exclusive” institutions, defenders of the one-party system, that reject citizens’ initiative and private property, prohibit the creation of wealth and discourage investment for development, we will remain in the vicious circle of poverty. To speak of an “efficient, prosperous and sustainable socialism” constitutes a fallacy. continue reading
For a nation to be efficient, prosperous and sustainable, “inclusive” institutions are needed, which promote the citizens’ initiative, ensure political and economic freedoms and do not punish the creation of wealth, but, on the contrary, stimulate it.
Until now, the “Cuban scheme,” centralized, dogmatic, exclusive and obsolete, has proved convincingly to be a sovereign failure. In sixty years of the exercise of absolute power, they have not been able to come up with a real solution to any of the great economic, political and social problems.
All their efforts have been concentrated on maintaining an iron grip on the citizens, assuring the collapse of the Nation. Today Cuba is among the poorest nations in the world, with most of its citizens having annual incomes of well under one thousand dollars, since the monthly average wage does not exceed twenty dollars.
They try to hide this widespread poverty by means of the propaganda of supposed free systems of health and modern and efficient education, when in fact both services are of bad quality and, in last instance, are financed by what is not paid to Cubans for their work, given their miserable wages.
These economic and social anomalies, unchanged for six decades, due to the existence of “exclusive” institutions, have led to labor unrest, widespread unproductivity, galloping corruption, social indiscipline, loss of moral and citizen values, violence and the irrepressible exodus of the population, mainly of the youngest.
The authorities, exhausted physically and politically, are unable to propose a courageous and decent exit, insisting, with the sole objective of maintaining power, in their obsolete arguments about “the defense of the independence and sovereignty of the Fatherland,” and manipulating the better feelings of the new generations, urging them to defend the indefensible and to swear unconditional loyalty to those who have always been unconditionally disloyal to the Nation, because, instead of serving it, they have dedicated themselves to living off of it.
Neither the recent electoral farce, nor the battered so-called “guidelines,” nor the absurd plans out to the year 2030, which is written and spoken about daily in the official media, will solve any problem: they constitute simple “soap bubbles” to continue trying to entertain the unwary and ensure a few more years of exercise of absolute power.
Fernando Dámaso, 14 March 2018 — Once again, as every March 15, the Protest of Baraguá is exalted as a transcendental event in our history, which “demonstrates Cubans’ vertical refusal to accept defeat and their tenacity.”
The gesture of Antonio Maceo and his followers of the Cuba Division, to not accept the peace agreed upon in El Zanjón by the majority of the insurgent leaders, although arrogant and brave, did not address the real situation of the war and of the opportunities to continue it at that moment, where the regional caudillismo proliferated, the fatigue of ten years of struggle without achieving victory and exhaustion and loss of interest in providing the necessary resources, for the emigration that supported and sustained it economically. continue reading
With regards to the situation prevailing at that time, Enrique Collazo, in his work “From Yara to the Zanjón,” states: “Peace was a necessity imposed by circumstances, since the insurgents were, according to Sanguily, exhausted, decimated, disenchanted, hungry, without ammunition and without faith.”
Subsequent events confirmed it: fifty-five days after Baraguá, on May 9, Maceo agreed to cease the fight and left Cuba for Jamaica in the Spanish gunboat “Fernando el Católico,” placed at his disposal by General Martínez Campos, the same one who had offered to sign the peace in Baraguá.
Eight days later Lieutenant Colonel Lacret, who had accompanied Maceo on his trip to Jamaica, returned with the conviction that the cause of Cuba was lost and that no resources should be expected from abroad (in Jamaica they had only seven men had signed up to come to Cuba, and the collection to acquire weapons and ammunition added the derisory amount of five shillings, that is, ten reales of the time). On May 28, with the exception of Limbano Sánchez, Leocadio Bonachea and some others, all of the “Baraguá protestors” accepted the Pact of Zanjón and laid down their arms.
Máximo Gómez and those who had accepted the Pact of Zanjón from the beginning (they knew the reality of the situation and acted in correspondence with it), were accused disparagingly of being “zanjoneros” for a long time.
Later Maceo settled in Costa Rica and became a prosperous landowner. Máximo Gómez returned to Santo Domingo and dedicated himself to tilling the land.
Martí praised the gesture, with the aim of mobilizing Cubans for the new war he organized, intelligently linking the men of ’68 with the new generation. However, to achieve his goals, he needed to unite the “zanjoneros” (Máximo Gómez) with the “Baraguá Protestors” (Antonio Maceo), without whom the new contest would have been impossible.
But good intentions are not enough to ensure a good decision: Baraguá is an example. Our most recent history is lavish in stubbornness.
Fernando Damaso, 6 March — On March 11, General Elections will be held in Cuba, to elect the delegates to the Provincial Assemblies of People’s Power and the deputies to the National Assembly.
What is original about these elections is that the voters will vote, but they will not really “elect” anyone, since these candidates have been “elected” previously by the National Candidacy Commission. This also happened at the municipal level. continue reading
In the Cuban elections, the only one where the elector “chooses” is at the lowest level, that is, on the block where he resides, and even there, the “election” is conditioned by the actions of the so-called “factors” (representatives of the official mass organizations, organized, controlled and directed by the Party), who veto, as possible nominees, those who do not consider themselves “faithful to the revolution,” that is, “faithful to the system.” This ensures that those who disagree or have opinions different from the official ones, do not form part of any level of the People’s Power from the base.
The Cuban electoral process, copied from the electoral processes that existed in the extinct socialist countries, but Cuban style, constitutes a great farce, with a great deal of propaganda to try to make us see what does not exist, with a single objective: to perpetuate in power characters from a single party.
The only interest of these elections, lies in the announced (and postponed) retirement of some historical elders from their posts (which remains to be seen), and the taking of their positions by some new characters, chosen and prepared by them.
Everything seems to indicate that it will be more of the same, although, perhaps, with another “look.”
Fernando Damaso, 15 February 2018 — Cuban socialism started from the premise that stripping the rich of their wealth would accomplish the elimination of poverty. An absurd premise, since the relationship is not less wealth less poverty, but quite the opposite, greater wealth less poverty.
The problem is that poverty is not eliminated by taking wealth from the rich, but by creating more wealth. However, to create wealth, we must unleash the productive forces and let them act, without a chastity belt that limits and interferes with their development. continue reading
This truth has been learned and successfully applied by most of the former socialist countries, with the exception of Cuba and North Korea, which currently are precisely the most backward and without real prospects for development.
The obstinacy of the inefficient and obsolete Cuban leadership already reaches the limits of the illogical: it prefers that the country and Cubans continue sunk in misery and backwardness, in order to maintain their absolute power until the last breath.
What happens next does not interest them in the least. Hence their excessive praise of the person most directly responsible for the national tragedy, along with his closest followers, and their insistance on presenting as victories his many and resounding failures.
However, facts and reality conspire against this false vision: it has lost all political credence and very few believe in its stories. All that sustains it is the repression and fear induced in many about the necessary changes, which, in spite of everything, will come sooner rather than later.
Fernando Damaso, 24 January 2018 — This year will mark 116 since the founding of the Republic on 20 May 1902. Although it was the time of the nation’s greatest progress and development–with important economic and social achievements, including health and education–this period has been systematically discredited and distorted during the last 60 years when only its defects have been written and spoken about. The same has happened with its presidents. To better understand them, I start the publication of their biographical sketches and presidential periods. Here is the first:
The Teacher from Central Valley: Tomás Estrada Palma
As early the first months of the year 1959, the new authorities had already launched a campaign against the history of the Republic, demonizing or legitimizing figures and deeds according to their political interests. One of the first victims was the first President of the Republic. continue reading
Don Tomás Estrada Palma was immortalized in statues and busts in cities and towns, and his name appeared on streets, schools, and even a sugar milling company. Such an honor was bestowed by those who knew him and those who, with the approval of the majority of Cubans, respected his accomplishments since 1868. In Havana, his bronze figure was placed on a pedestal on the Avenida de los Presidentes, between 5th and Calzada streets, in the Vedado district.
“The revisers of History” began an attack on him and other personalities who did not share their political and ideological tendencies. Estrada Palma’s statue was cut at the ankles and removed, leaving his shoes on the pedestal as evidence of the vandalism. His likeness and name also were expunged from other public spaces and, if he is mentioned today, it is only to revile him. Why so much hatred, more than a century after his physical life, against the first President?
Tomás Estrada Palma was born in Bayamo in 1835 and was among the first who joined the war against Spain when hostilities began on 10 December 1868. In the then-Free City Hall of Bayamo, he was its first mayor and defended the abolition of slavery (which had been proclaimed by Carlos Manuel de Céspedes), but in a gradual manner.
At the hearing on 27 October 1873 in Bijagual (Jiguaní) to depose de Céspedes as President of the Republic in Arms, conducted during the Chamber of Representatives session led by Salvador Cisneros Betancourt as deputy, Estrada Palma accused de Cespedes of “attempting to undermine the unassailable rights of the people,” and of practicing a system of favoritism by awarding military ranks to debtors and undeserving friends, endangering high-level collective interests. At the site, with more than 2,000 rebel troops, were Major General Calixto García, Generals Calvar and Modesto Díaz, and Brigadier Antonio Maceo. Along with Manuel Sanguily, Máximo Gómez, and other important leaders, Estrada Palma met with Vicente García in Loma de Sevilla, following the revolt of Lagunas de Varona, so that the latter would desist from his rebel activities and respect the authority of Juan Bautista Spotorno, the recently-designated President.
On 29 March 1876, Estrada Palma was elected President of the Republic In Arms in his own right by the Chamber of Representatives to succeed Spotorno, and due to Francisco Vicente Aguilera’s inability to return to Cuba to occupy the post. On 19 October 1877, he was taken prisoner by the Spanish in Tasajeras (Holguín). Francisco Javier de Céspedes, having taken as Interim President, could not prevent the demoralization of the revolutionary troops; the Chamber of Representatives elected as his substitute, to the surprise of all, Vicente García, the rebel from Lagunas de Varona and Santa Rita, to whom it feel to reach an accord with the Spanish General Arsenio Martínez Campos and forge the Pact of Zanjón.
Tomás Estrada Palma remained imprisoned in Spain until the signing of the Pact, which won him his liberty and later relocated to the United States, where he worked in education and ran a prestigious school in Central Valley, near New York City. He established political and personal ties with José Martí,* with whom he worked closely in pro-independence activities and who designated him (upon traveling to Santo Domingo en route to Cuba) as Delegate of the Cuban Revolutionary Party.
In 1901, upon Generalísimo Máximo Gómez’ refusal to run as a candidate for the upcoming elections, Estrada Palma was nominated by his party (with Gómez’ support) to face off against the other proposed candidate, Bartolomé Masó. On 31 December 1901, while residing in the US, Estrada Palma was elected as the first President of the Republic soon to be established. He returned on 17 April and assumed the office on the very birthday of the Republic of Cuba: 20 May 1902.
During his presidency, Estrada Palma continued the reorganization of the Public Administration begun by the US provisional military government in Cuba. He allocated major resources to education, bringing to 3,712 the number of schools and classrooms, creating Kindergarten schools, summer schools for teacher training, and the National Library.
He devoted attention to the development and protection of industries, improving public safety and the prison system, construction of communication lines, and obtained compensation for the members of the Liberating Army by way of a $35-million credit. It fell to him to confront the first labor strike in the Republic, that of tobacco workers calling for better salaries in November 1902, which was suppressed due to the country’s lack of means to satisfy their demands.
In February 1903, Estrada Palma ratified the Cuban-American Treaty of Relations, which insured against any economic disaster and conceded spaces within the national territory for the installation of naval and coal bases. This action reduced the initial requirement of concessions in Cienfuegos, Nipe, Bahía Honda and Guantánamo to only two (Guantánamo y Bahía Honda) and, finally, to only one–in Guantánamo– with a larger expanse.
During his presidential period of 1902-1906, Estrada Palma practiced irreproachable honesty, did not give or nor permit “botellas”** (public-sector positions which paid salaries for no work), reduced the Republic’s expenditures, maintained a just and flourishing annual budget, the sugar industry was rebuilt ***, public services were well-run, and citizens’ rights were respected.
Estrada Palma’s principal errors were of a personal and political nature, having presumed that nobody but he possessed the competencies to execute the presidency (an affliction that runs throughout our history, taken to the extreme in the last 56 years) and listening to those surrounding him who petitioned him to run for re-election. To achieve this objective he allowed frauds in the partial elections of February and, even worse, in the general ones, forcing the withdrawal of the Liberal Party which was putting forth José Miguel Gómez for President y Alfredo Zayas as his running mate.
On 20 May 1906, Estrada Palma once again assumed the presidency of the Republic against the wishes of most citizens, who wanted a change, and which provoked the so-called “Little War of August” incited by the Liberal Party. Unable to stop the events, Estrada Palma sought the US government’s intervention, which was denied, and he was ordered to resolve the situation through agreements with the opposition. He did not comply and again demanded US action from President Theodore Roosevelt, who refused and tried to remain neutral–although, to protect North American interests and citizens, sent ships, some troops, and a mediator.
Faced with this situation, Estrada Palma resigned, leaving a power vacuum which the Congress was unable to fill for not convening nor electing a President. This seemingly irresponsible behavior brought about the Second North American Occupation, which began on 19 September 1906 and lasted until 28 January 1909.
Some historians accuse Estrada Palma of having ordered the assassination of Quintín Banderas. Banderas was the brave, but undisciplined and troubled, Mambí general who had been sanctioned several times, had a summary judgment pending against him and was relieved of his command for the final 11 months of the last war, for which he did not receive back pay when the Republic was established. The accusation, supported by no type of evidence, does not fit in with Estrada Palma’s personality.
Tomás Estrada Palma, removed from power, retired to a country estate on the outskirts of Bayamo, where he died two years later, on 4 November 1908. He was interred in the Santa Ifigenia cemetery in Santiago de Cuba, near the tomb of José Martí. Despite the political mistakes he committed towards the end of his presidential period, the austerity, honesty, and patriotism that Estrada Palma maintained during the major part of his life make him one of the noblest Cuban figures of his time.
Translated By: Alicia Barraqué Ellison
Translator’s Notes: * José Martí lived in exile in New York at various times while garnering support for Cuba’s independence from Spain. ** “Botella” literally translates as “bottles,” but in this context is used as Cuban slang for sinecures. *** Which had been decimated during the Wars for Independence.
Fernando Damaso, 28 January 2018 — When reading the list of candidates for deputies to the National Assembly of People’s Power, prepared by the National Candidacy Commission (formed and directed by the Party, with designated representatives of the so-called mass organizations), I am struck by some of the elderly people which are part of it, some of them over 80 and others even over 90, although they are practically unable to exercise their duties due to their advanced physical deterioration.
I do not question their accumulated merits, real or fictitious, but the National Assembly should not be satisfied with deputies and honorary deputies: for this there are other institutional spaces. continue reading
It is assumed, although in reality it is not so, that in the National Assembly all currents of political, economic and social thought are represented and, through debate and confrontation, laws are drawn up and approved for the benefit of the Nation.
The current spawn, which represent a single thought and a single party, where only unanimity works, is a great farce. For that reason, it is possible to use the Assembly as a showcase for figures which might more appropriately be displayed in a museum.
On the street it is thought that, at least out of simple decency or out of respect for the citizens and themselves, some of the nominees should not be on the list, and rather should give way to representatives of the new generations, but this, it seems, was not the order that the National Candidacy Commission received. Instead, they were told to keep them until the last breath.
Today, January 28, the anniversary of the birth of José Martí, the greatest of all Cubans, it is good to remember this thought of his: “Only strong heads resist the poisonous vapor of power. The despotic spirit of man attaches itself with mortal love to the pleasure of looking down from above and commanding as an owner, and once having enjoyed this pleasure, he feels as if his life been torn up by the roots when they deprive him of it.”
Fernando Damaso, 9 January 2018 — I have always respected those who avoid extreme positions, which, in short, do not lead to anything good even if, at certain times, they might be considered correct.
The Pact of the Zanjón was a wise and intelligent decision, which responded to the reality of the time in which it was signed, although it was rejected by some and criticized historically by many, and its signatories with disparagingly referred to as “zanjoneros,” ignoring all their accumulated merits during years of struggle
The Baraguá Protest was an example of stubbornness, which did not respond to the reality of the moment, although it was approved by some and its participants honored by historians. In short, it lasted only a few days and, in the end, the “Protestors,” with a few exceptions, accepted the Covenant they had repudiated. continue reading
Without the the Pact of Zanjón it would have been impossible to preserve and rebuild the forces that, years later, would participate in the War of Independence that ended in 1898, since these individuals would have been decimated and their main leaders sacrificed in vain.
Years later, with the acceptance by the most reasonable Cubans of the Platt Amendment, the emergence of the Republic would have been impossible, because the US occupation troops would not have left Cuba, and Cuba would have become a protectorate, without actually constituting Nation, regardless of everything bad that would have flowed from this.
If. in the 1930s, the intelligence of certain groups had prevailed instead of their ambitions, the reality would have been different, and the country would have moved more quickly on the path of development.
If, in the decade of the 50s, those who worked for a political and non-violent solution had triumphed, instead of those who believed in armed struggle, we would have avoided these six decades of backwardness and misery.
That is, betting on the extremes has never been synonymous with wisdom, although some people are more attracted to noise and hubbub than to good sense. It would be convenient if, in the days and months to come, the latter would prevail.