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Machado y Morales, Gerardo (1871–1939)

Machado y Morales, Gerardo (1871–1939)

Gerardo Machado y Morales (b. 28 September 1871; d. 29 March 1939), president and dictator of Cuba (1925–1933). A man of humble origins, Machado joined the rebels during Cuba's second war of independence (1895–1898), rising to the rank of brigadier general. After peace returned, he became a prominent politician and businessman. In association with American capitalists, he invested in public utilities. He had become wealthy by the early 1920s, when he managed to win control of the Liberal Party and, with a platform of national "regeneration," was elected president in 1924 in a relatively fair election.

Although Machado is usually condemned by historians for eventually turning into a dictator, in his first presidential term not only did he appear to be genuinely concerned with "regenerating" the nation, but he also embarked on an impressive public works program that included the completion of a much-needed central highway and the construction of a national capitol building. In addition, he made a serious attempt to regulate sugar production and became the first president to promote Cuban sovereignty vis-à-vis the United States. His most important step in this direction was a tariff reform bill he sponsored in 1927 that provided protection to emerging Cuban industries.

Betraying his electoral promises, however, Machado did contract several loans with U.S. banks to finance his public works program. He also showed a disposition to resort to force in order to solve problems, so that striking workers, restless students, and other dissidents at times suffered from his actions. On the whole, however, in 1928–1929 he was still popular and had a grip on the political situation.

Ironically, this control proved to be Machado's undoing, for through bribes and threats he brought all the opposition parties under his influence and subordinated the Congress and the judiciary to his will. He was consequently able to push forward a change in the constitution that allowed reelecting himself virtually unopposed for a new six-year term. At the time of his second inauguration, 20 May 1929, he was still being hailed as the savior of the fatherland. But after that the number of people forced into active opposition increased considerably, and when shortly afterward the shock waves of the worldwide depression reached Cuba, the anti-Machado movement assumed the characteristics of a revolutionary upheaval.

In 1930 there were several antigovernment demonstrations, the most serious of which culminated in the closing of all the schools in the country. The following year, the leaders surviving from the wars of independence staged a full-scale military uprising in the countryside. Machado succeeded in crushing these revolts because he could count on the army, which he had transformed into the overseer of the civil government. But not even the full resources of the army could prevent the revolutionary struggle from degenerating into a vicious fight (as it did from 1932 onward) between the government's brutally repressive forces and clandestine opposition groups such as the so-called ABC movement and the Student Directorate, which were bent upon overthrowing the regime through sabotage and terrorism.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt became president of the United States in 1933, political stability was seen as essential for the successful development of New Deal Cuban policy. Thus, Sumner Welles was sent as ambassador to Havana for the purpose of finding a peaceful solution to the Cuban imbroglio. At first he tried to mediate between the Machado government and its opposition, but as the negotiations went on, he began to push Machado toward making concessions to his enemies. Playing for time, Machado accepted some of the conditions, but he soon drew the line and refused to yield to further pressure, paradoxically assuming the same nationalistic stand as radical opposition groups such as the Student Directorate, which had earlier rejected Welles's good offices. Thus the attempted mediation ended in a deadlock that was resolved only when a general strike paralyzed the nation. Machado then offered favorably disposed Communist labor leaders legal recognition and official support if they would use their influence to end the strike. This maneuver failed, however, and on 12 August 1933 Cuba's armed forces, fearing U.S. armed intervention, moved against the president.

Thus the defiant Machado, who even at the last minute sought to arouse the populace to defend Cuba against a U.S. landing, was finally forced to take a plane to Nassau in the Bahamas. He eventually settled in the United States, where he died, six years later, in Miami Beach. Cuban governments since have refused to authorize the transfer of his remains to his native soil.

See alsoCuba, Revolutions: Revolution of 1933xml .


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

Additional Bibliography

Argote-Freyre, Frank. Fulgencio Batista: From Revolutionary to Strongman. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2006.

Fuente, Alejandro de la. A Nation for All: Race, Inequality, and Politics in Twentieth-Century Cuba. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.

Ibarra Guitart, Jorge Renato. La mediación del 33: Ocaso del machadato. La Habana, Cuba: Editora Política, 1999.

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

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

                                    JosÉ M. HernÁndez

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