In spite of his promise of reform (see “Machado promises reform” 7/16/2014), the Machado government from the outset encountered popular opposition. In reaction, Machado turned to repression, including assassinations, imprisonment, and deportations of leaders in worker and student organizations.
In the repression of the popular movement, the president was supported by the Congress, the press, and the university administration. The government approved various repressive decrees: on July 27, 1925, a decree that permitted the deportation of foreign workers; on May 5, 1926, authorization for the mobilization of the Rural Guard in territories where strikes were occurring; and on August 21, 1926, a decree authorizing the granting of licenses to owners of sugar plantations and sugar processing plants to employ private security forces. On March 28, 1927, the House of Representatives approved an extension of the presidential term from four to six years. On July 20, 1927, the Congress approved the convocation of a Constitutional Assembly, which was formed on the basis of elections in which less than 10% of the population participated, and which on May 11, 1928, approved a constitutional reform permitting the reelection of the president for a second term of six years. The three major political parties named Machado as their presidential candidate, so that he was reelected without opposition on November 1, 1928. The university administration also supported the Machado campaign of repression, expelling students who were involved in the popular movement. Meanwhile, the major newspapers sought to generate popular sentiment against the popular movement, maintaining that, due to the pernicious influence of foreign anarchists, the movement was engaging in terrorist acts. The press thus combined “red scare” and xenophobic tactics, seeking to tap popular resentment toward the significant immigration of poor peasants from Spain, in order to give legitimacy to repression (Instituto de Historia de Cuba 1998:253-77).
The assassinated leaders included: Enrique Varona (see “The Cuban workers’ movement of the 1920s” 7/7/2014), president of a railroad workers union in the province of Camaguey, assassinated on August 19, 1925; Alfredo López, founder of the National Worker Confederation of Cuba (see “The Cuban workers’ movement of the 1920s” 7/7/2014), arrested on July 20, 1926, and tortured and assassinated in prison; Carlos Baliño (see “Julio A. Mella and the student movement” 7/8/2014), one of the founders of the Communist Party, assassinated on June 18, 1926; Baldomero Duménigo, a well-known railroad workers leader in Cienfuegos, assassinated on August 20, 1926; José Peña Vilaboa, member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party and outstanding worker leader, assassinated on March 13, 1927; Julio Antonio Mella, the most important leader of the era and a symbol of connection between the worker and student movements (see “Julio A. Mella and the student movement” 7/8/2014), assassinated on January 10, 1929, in Mexico City; Santiago Brooks, secretary of the Workers’ Union of the Port of Tarafa, assassinated on November 1, 1929; and Rafael Trejo, founder of the University Student Directorate, shot and killed by police during a student demonstration on September 30, 1930. Others were killed, many were arrested under false charges, and some left the country (Instituto de Historia de Cuba 1998:253-77).
In addition to repression, another strategy developed by the Machado government was to form pro-government and pro-imperialist labor organizations, or to convert existing labor organizations to its ends. Beginning in 1927, Machado used the Cuban Federation of Labor for this purpose. The Cuban Federation of Labor was affiliated with the Pan-American Confederation of Labor, a mechanism used by the US Department of State to influence worker movements in Latin America. The Cuban Federation of Labor was not a powerful force in the Cuban workers’ movement, but it did create a degree of division as well as a level of corruption within the movement (Instituto de Historia de Cuba 1998:257).
In Cuba today, the people believe that there are heroes. They have come to this conclusion as a result of knowing their history of popular struggle. No one pretends that these martyrs, the great majority of whom were young men, were saints in their personal conduct; that they all possessed a fully developed understanding of the forces of oppression and exploitation against which they were fighting; or that they were exempt from the socially-accepted prejudices of their time and social location. But they were committed to a more just world, and they knowingly took great risks as they participated in the activities of revolutionary organizations that sought fundamental social transformation. They gave of themselves in defense of a just cause, and this courageous conduct makes them heroes. Today in Cuba, the “works” of the revolution, that is, the hospitals and clinics as well as schools and universities, are named for the martyrs of the revolution. One can enter any school or clinic and find displayed a brief biography of the martyr for whom it is named. Those honored represent the various stages of the revolutionary struggle from 1868 to the present, and they sometimes include prominent martyrs from other lands. In Cuba, there are heroes and martyrs, and they are remembered with a commitment that promises, they will never be forgotten. For me, a person from the United States, the Cuban recognition and remembrance of heroes is a refreshing contrast to the cynicism of the North and to our disposition to destroy our heroes.
The fierce repression of the Machado tyranny could not force the end of the popular movement. It would continue, and it would bring down the Machado government, as we will see in subsequent posts.
Instituto de Historia de Cuba. 1998. La neocolonia. La Habana: Editora Política.
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