Grau San Martín, Ramón (1887–1969)

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Grau San Martín, Ramón (1887–1969)

Ramón Grau San Martín (b. 13 September 1887; d. 28 July 1969), Cuban physician and politician, president of Cuba (1933–1934, 1944–1948). Born into a privileged and well-known family, Grau San Martín received a first-class education in both the sciences and the humanities. He earned a medical degree and began a lifetime involvement with the University of Havana, where he served on many committees. Beginning in 1927, Grau actively and consistently opposed the dictatorship of Gerardo Machado; indeed, he was the only faculty member who refused to sign the edict authorizing Machado's honorary doctorate from the university. For his efforts, Grau was jailed and exiled from Cuba in the late 1920s.

In the early 1930s, the tide of anti-Machado sentiment in Cuba was swelled by the Depression and growing anti-American feeling. Progressive elements of the military and civilian groups banded together to force out Machado, who resigned through the mediation of U.S. representative Sumner Welles. A provisional government, headed by Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, was itself quickly overthrown on 4 September 1933. This revolt brought to the forefront Sergeant Fulgencio Batista y Zaldívar as its chief and Grau as the most prominent member of a civilian pentarchy.

Events unfolded rapidly and, backed by his faithful students, Grau and Antonio Guiteras became the principals of a brief but extremely important political experiment. On 10 September, Grau abrogated the hated Platt Amendment, which had kept Cuba in a state of dependence on the United States. The revolutionary government effected other dramatic changes, including the requirement that at least 50 percent of a business's employees had to be Cuban, the granting of autonomy to the University of Havana and removal of restrictions for enrollment, the extension of the vote to women, compulsory trade unionization and the creation of professional associations, and an agrarian reform designed to benefit peasants. Not surprisingly, the government's activism spurred demonstrations for more radical reforms, earning it the enmity of the political Right and hostility from the United States. Furthermore, as the demands of the Left began to outpace the reforms, another potential support base for the Grau-Guiteras team was alienated. In January 1934 a military coup led by Batista, by then the army chief, toppled the government, although the legacy of the experiment lived on.

Grau remained active in politics and university life for the next decade. He founded the Authentic Party and won the presidential election in 1944. During his four-year term, Grau returned to many of his previous policies. This time, in the years of euphoria after World War II, Grau found a more fertile and sophisticated political climate for his ideas. Although he was an opportunist with a keen sense of symbolism and ceremony, Grau held to his basic principles of anti-imperialism, nationalism, and non-Marxist socialism throughout his life.

See alsoBatista y Zaldívar, Fulgencio; Céspedes y Quesada, Carlos Manuel de.


Emma Pérez, La política educacional del Dr. Grau San Martín (1948).

Luis Aguilar, Cuba 1933: Prologue to Revolution (1972).

Samuel Farber, Revolution and Reaction in Cuba, 1933–1960 (1976).

Antonio Lancís y Sánchez, Grau, estadista y político (1985).

Louis A. Pérez, Jr., Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution (1988).

Additional Bibliography

Valdéz-Sánchez, Servando. Fulgencio Batista: El poder de las armas (1933–1940). La Habana: Editora Historia, 1998.

Vázquez García, Humberto. El gobierno de la kubanidad. Santiago de Cuba: Editorial Oriente, 2005.

Whitney, Robert. State and Revolution in Cuba: Mass Mobilization and Political Change, 1920–1940. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.

                                        Karen Racine