The inability of Cuba and the world producers of sugar to control production in order to stabilize prices (see “Machado and the promise of reform” 7/16/2014); the higher tariffs imposed by the United States on Cuban sugar; the increasing use by the United States of sugar produced in Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and the Philippines; and the global economic crisis of the Great Depression had a strong impact on Cuban production and export of sugar and had disastrous consequences for the economic and social situation of the country. The Cuban exportation of crude sugar to the United States declined from 3,752,410 tons in 1929 to 1,340,000 tons in 1933, so that it was only slightly more than one-third in 1933 what it had been in 1929; and the Cuban share of the US sugar market fell from 51.9% in 1929 to 25.4% in 1933. The Cuban national income from sugar nearly was cut in half from 1929 to 1933, from 571 million pesos to 294 million. The purchasing power per capita was reduced more than half, from 151 pesos in 1929 to 71 in 1933, adjusted for inflation (Instituto de Cuba 1998:282-86).
The deteriorating economic situation fueled the emerging popular revolution (see “The Cuban workers’ movement of the 1920s” 7/7/2014; “Julio A. Mella and the student movement” 7/8/2014; “The Cuban women’s movement of the 1920s” 7/11/2014; “The Cuban popular revolution of 1930-32” 8/4/2014; “Guiteras and the Revolutionary Union” 8/5/2014). The neocolonial republic was in full economic, political, and social crisis.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt ascended to the presidency of the United States in January 1933, at the depths of the Great Depression. He launched a significant change in direction with respect to US domestic policies, in that he turned to strong state action in order to reduce unemployment and social inequality. With respect to Latin America, however, he continued the imperialist policies of his predecessors (see “Imperialism and the FDR New Deal” 9/20/2013). He sought to reactivate and increase the sale of US manufactured products in Latin America and the purchase of Latin American raw materials by the United States. His strategy for this revitalization of the core-peripheral commercial relation, weakened by the Great Depression, was to negotiate trade agreements with Latin American governments. However, because of the emergence of anti-imperialist movements in Latin America, he sought to avoid direct US military intervention and to present US policy with a more democratic face, proclaiming that the United States desired to be a “Good Neighbor” (Instituto de Cuba 1998:297-98).
Roosevelt named his personal friend Benjamin Sumner Welles as US ambassador to Cuba. Welles’ task was to bring about the end of the political conflict and the restoration of constitutional authority by means of personal mediation and without US military intervention (see “‘Democracy’ becomes tyranny” 7/17/2014). Welles arrived in Cuba in May 1933, and tyrannical President Gerardo Machado was obligated to accept the mediation of the US ambassador, because of pressure from US companies in Cuba as well as the Cuban national bourgeoisie. Welles proposed the restoration of constitutional guarantees and freedom for political prisoners; the holding of elections in 1934, with Machado staying in office until May 20, 1935, when he would be replaced by the newly-elected president; the cessation of anti-government activities by the fascist (ABC) and reformist opposition; amnesty for members of the Machado government for crimes committed by the regime; and a clampdown on the revolutionary opposition (Instituto de Cuba 1998:298).
The reformist opposition and ABC accepted Welles’ proposals and suspended all activities in opposition to the regime. However, the revolutionary opposition, consisting of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), the National Worker Confederation of Cuba (CNOC), and the Revolutionary Union, firmly rejected the proposals. After some hesitation, the reformist University Student Directorate (DEU) also rejected Welles’ proposals (Instituto de Cuba 1998:298-99).
Ignoring the mediation of Welles, the people continued the offensive. In August 1933, a strike by workers in bus companies in Havana rapidly became a general strike, provoked by arbitrary measures taken against the strikers by the city government. The general strike was organized by PCC and CNOC, which put forth social and economic demands as well as a demand for the removal of Machado from power. Machado proposed acceptance of the social and economic demands but not his departure. The leadership of PCC and CNOC recommended acceptance of Machado’s proposal, but the workers, meeting in general assemblies, decided to continue the general strike until the dictator be overthrown. The leaders of PCC and CNOC conceded to the workers’ desires, and the general strike continued (Instituto de Cuba 1998:299).
Concerned by the possible triumph of the popular revolution, and fearful that the national situation could provoke a US military intervention, which could lead to the dissolution of the Cuban armed forces, high-ranking army officers rebelled on August 12, compelling Machado to resign. That same day, Machado and a good part of his clique departed for the Bahamas. The plans of the US ambassador for an orderly transition to a post-Machado government and the re-establishment of order to the neocolonial republic were ruined by the force of the people (Instituto de Cuba 1998:299-300).
The people had forced the tyrant to flee. But this did not mean that the people would be in control. The maneuvering of the Cuban political class and the US ambassador would continue, as we will see in the next post.
Instituto de Historia de Cuba. 1998. La neocolonia. La Habana: Editora Política.
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, world-system, world-economy, development, underdevelopment, colonial, neocolonial, blog Third World perspective, Cuban Revolution, neocolonial republic, Machado, FDR, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Good Neighbor