Estrada Palma, Tomás (1835–1908)
Estrada Palma, Tomás (1835–1908)
Tomás Estrada Palma (b. 9 July 1835; d. 4 November 1908), Cuban patriot and politician, president of Cuba (1902–1906). Born in Bayamo, Tomás Estrada Palma grew up in Oriente, the center of Cuba's protracted struggle for independence. He was sent by his family to study in Havana and then pursued a law degree at the University of Seville in Spain. A family crisis required Estrada to return home and assume administration of the family estate before he had finished his studies; nevertheless, he retained his passionate belief in the value of education and tried to set up rural schools for the benefit of his community.
As a young and progressive man, Estrada Palma participated in the Ten Years' War (1868–1878), joining the rebels in 1868 and quickly rising to the rank of general. In 1876 Estrada was elected president of the Republic in Arms but fell prisoner to the Spanish the following year. He was transported to Spain and released in 1878, when the Pact of Zanjón ended the war. Estrada then moved to Paris, where he began a discussion group for political exiles and took an interest in the intellectual life of Europe.
Estrada Palma left Europe for America in the late 1880s, passing through New York, where he visited José Martí, and continuing on to Central America. He settled in Honduras, where he met and married Genoveva Guardiola, the daughter of the Honduran president. At the insistence of Martí, Estrada moved his family to New York, where the two expatriates formed the Cuban Revolutionary Party in 1892. Following Martí's death in battle in 1895, Estrada Palma reluctantly accepted the title of provisional president of Cuba after the defeat of Spain. He was elected president in his own right in Cuba's first independent election for the office, held in 1902.
A decent, honest, and hardworking man, Estrada Palma accomplished much as president: expansion of public education; a treaty of reciprocity with the United States; the completion of a national railroad; and the repayment of debts and reconstruction after a decade of war. His reputation, however, has suffered from his preference that the island remain a protectorate of the United States rather than a fully independent state. Estrada's decision to employ government resources to support his reelection efforts in 1905 prompted the opposition Liberal Party to boycott the proceedings. In the ensuing crisis, Estrada invited in a U.S. military force, which remained on the island from 1906 until 1909. Estrada resigned in 1906 and returned to his humble family plot.
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Pérez-Stable, Marifeli. "Estrada Palma's Civic March: From Oriente to Havana, April 20-May 11, 1902." Cuban Studies/Estudios Cubanos 30 (2000): 113-121.