Following the approval of the Cuban Constitution of 1901, mechanisms were established for elections. Máximo Gómez, always sensitive to the fact that he was Dominican, declined to be a candidate for president, in spite of popular clamor in support of the Chief of the Liberation Army. Tomás Estrada Palma and Bartolomé Masó emerged as the leading candidates. Both had been involved in the independence struggle since 1868. Estrada Palma was a believer in limited government and laissez faire economics, and he was an admirer of the United States. As we have seen, he assumed the leadership of the Cuban Revolutionary Party upon the death of Martí in 1895, and he dissolved this important revolutionary institution on December 21, 1898 (“The ‘democratic’ constitution of 1901” 6/30/2014). In contrast, Masó was an opponent of the Pact of Zanjón of 1878 and the Platt Amendment. He was suspicious of US intentions, and he demanded the absolute independence of Cuba. US military governor Leonard Wood, acting in accordance with US interests, supported Estrada Palma. He filled the electoral commission with Estrada supporters and took other steps that created suspicion of electoral fraud. In light of this situation, Masó withdrew, with the result that the only candidate on the ballot was Estrada Palma, who received votes from 47% of the electorate (Instituto de Cuba 1998:37-41).
Jesus Arboleya maintains that the election of Estrada Palma was a reflection of the political vacuum that resulted from the dismantling of revolutionary institutions and the emergence of amorphous groups that formed alliances on the basis of particular interests, personal loyalties, or interests of a local character. These dynamics made impossible the formation of political parties with clearly defined analyses and programs of action, and they facilitated a political fragmentation that the United States was able to exploit in order to attain its imperialist interests. And he maintains that this became the norm of Cuban politics during the following fifty years, and it is “the key element in understanding the intrinsic limitations of the representative democracy of the neocolonial state in Cuba” (2008:75).
Tomás Estrada Palma was inaugurated as president of the formally politically independent republic of Cuba on May 20, 1902. His administration rejected government interference in the economy. It followed a program of low taxes, limited spending, and limited social programs. There was no support for small farmers, as was demanded by the people. The government did not adopt laws restricting foreign ownership of land, as was proposed by Senator Manuel Sanguily (Instituto de Cuba 1998:46-49; Arboleya 2008:76).
During the government of Estrada Palma, a Treaty of Reciprocal Commerce with the United States was signed. The Treaty reduced US customs taxes on Cuban sugar, tobacco, and other products by 20%, and it reduced Cuban tariffs on many US manufactured products by up to 40%. The treaty increased the organic integration of the Cuban export of crude sugar and tobacco leaf with the sugar refineries and tobacco factories of the United States. And by expanding the access of US manufacturers to the Cuban market, it undermined the development of Cuban manufacturing, and thus contributed to the “denationalization” of the Cuban economy (Arboleya 2008as:76; Instituto de Cuba 1998:59-65).
With the establishment of the neocolonial republic, US corporations became owners of sugar, railroad, mining, and tobacco companies in Cuba, displacing Cuban as well as Spanish and English owners. The rapid entrance of US capitalists was made possible by the ruin of many proprietors in Cuba, caused by the establishment of the dollar as the currency of exchange in the Cuban domestic market, provoking the automatic devaluation of other currencies; and by the denial of credit to US competitors. In the first decade of the Republic, US investments in Cuba multiplied five times. By 1920, US corporations directly controlled 54% of sugar production, and US ownership reached 80% of the sugar exportation companies and mining industries. Thus, we can see that in the early years of the republic, the Cuban government promoted the interests of US corporations, rather than protecting the interests of Cuban capitalists through such measures as the protection of the national currency, the providing of credit, and establishing restrictions on foreign ownership (Arboleya 2008:65-66, 80; Instituto de Cuba 1998:110).
Because of extensive US ownership, the Cuban bourgeoisie was reduced to what Arboleya calls a “figurehead bourgeoisie.” Its role is to administer foreign companies and provide them with legal and financial advice. In addition, the role of the figurehead bourgeoisie is to control the population and ensure political stability (Arboleya 2008:80-81; see “Neocolonialism in Africa and Asia” 9/11/2013; “Neocolonialism in Cuba and Latin America” 9/12/2013).
US neocolonial domination also had an ideological component. More than one thousand Cuban school teachers received scholarships to study in the United States, and US textbooks were used in Cuban schools. North American secondary schools emerged to compete with Catholic schools in the education of the Cuban bourgeoisie and middle class. Large US companies created cultural enclaves, and North American social clubs provided social space for interchange between the Cuban bourgeoisie and representatives of US companies. Cuban architecture imitated the great buildings of the United States; North American films appeared in Cuban cinemas; Cuban newspapers provided news from the Associated Press and the United Press International; and Cuba became a favorite destination for US tourists (Arboleya 2008:65, 91-92).
The neocolonial situation made corruption endemic, as personal enrichment through the state became the principal means of individual upward mobility (Arboleya 2008:77-78). The government could not respond to the common good as demanded by popular movements, but it could provide a career in public life for officeholders. Inasmuch as governments have significant revenues that are distributed in various public service and public works projects, they provide opportunities for economic enrichment for many who have relations with the officeholders. And this situation of economic opportunity connected to the state occurs in a political context that is devoid of a meaningful social project. Pérez's description (1995:214-20) of the distortions of the political process as facilitating corruption in the early years of the republic provides insight into the social sources of corruption in neocolonized Third World countries.
Thus, we see that in the early years of the republic of Cuba the basic structures of neocolonial domination were established: a political process that is unable to respond to the interests and needs of the people; the preservation of the core-peripheral economic and commercial relation that was established during the colonial era; the reduction of the national bourgeoisie to a figurehead bourgeoisie that is unable to lead the nation in the development of an autonomous national project; ideological penetration of the neocolony by the culture and political concepts of the neocolonial power; and endemic corruption, as a consequence of its being an available strategy for upward mobility. (For further discussion of the characteristics of neocolonialism, see “The neocolonial world-system” 9/13/2013 and “The characteristics of neocolonialism” 9/16/2013).
The neocolony is the survival of the colony in a new form. And the neocolony lives on a foundation of fiction, for it pretends to be democratic. As the Cuban poet, essayist and novelist Cintio Vitier has written, “The colony was an injustice; it was not a deceit. The Yankee neocolony was both” (2006:122-23).
The establishment of the neocolonial republic under US control was a devastating blow to those who had sacrificed much in defense of the Cuban Revolution. It was the shattering of hope. However, hope would be renewed, and the popular revolution would continue. It is one of many examples of the endurance of the people in its quest for social justice in opposition to global structures of colonial and neocolonial domination. We will discuss the continuation of the Cuban popular movement in the context of the neocolonial republic in the next post.
Arboleya, Jesús. 2008. La Revolución del Otro Mundo: Un análisis histórico de la Revolución Cubana. La Habana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales.
Instituto de Historia de Cuba. 1998. La neocolonia. La Habana: Editora Política.
Pérez, Jr., Louis A. 1995. Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution, 2nd edition. New York: Oxford University Press.
Vitier, Cintio. 2006. Ese Sol del Mundo Moral. La Habana: Editorial Félix Varela.
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