Revolution of 1933

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Revolution of 1933

The revolution of 1933 resulted from the violent opposition of the Cuban people to President Gerardo Machado's attempt to perpetuate himself in power in 1928. Political dissent was further inflamed by the widespread misery caused by the economic collapse of 1929, and by the fact that the 1920s were for Cuba, as for the rest of Latin America, a period of unrest and transformation. A new and more radical type of nationalism appeared on the island; students and rising labor unions undertook to promote the creation of a new and different type of society; and new leftist political organizations arose to defend the rights of the masses. It was the concurrent action of these forces that metamorphosed the anti-Machado protest into a revolutionary upheaval.

From 1930 to 1933 Cuba was caught between the violent tactics of the opposition, spearheaded by the Student Revolutionary Directorate and a secret organization known as ABC, and the brutal repression of the government, supported by the army. The struggle seemed to have reached a stalemate when President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who needed political stability in Cuba in order to implement his New Deal Cuban policy, sent his trusted aide Sumner Welles to Havana to seek a peaceful solution to the unrest. At first Welles acted as a mediator, but subsequently he pushed Machado toward making concessions, encouraged the opposition, and undermined the army's loyalty to the president. Machado was desperately trying to stand up to Welles's pressure when, in August 1933, a general strike paralyzed the nation. Fearing a U.S. intervention, the army moved against Machado, who fled the island.

Following the coup, the first in Cuban history, Welles moved to fill the resulting political vacuum with a hastily organized provisional government supported by the ABC and the majority of the opposition. But the new government proved unable to cope with the situation. In September the Student Directorate (which had rejected Welles's good offices) and other elements turned a mutiny of army sergeants led by Fulgencio Batista into a triumphant revolutionary takeover. The officers were removed from the army and replaced with sergeants, and the provisional government was unceremoniously supplanted with a new leadership headed by Ramón Grau San Martín, a physician and professor at the University of Havana.

For four months the revolutionaries struggled to push forward a radical and ambitious program of social and profoundly nationalistic reforms. But Welles thought that theirs was a "frankly communistic" government, and consequently Washington confronted it with a stern nonrecognition policy. This was far more than Grau San Martín and his colleagues could withstand, especially after Batista, who was less radical and more pro-American than the students, astutely withdrew his support from the government. On 15 January 1934, Grau San Martín resigned as president, thus ending the radical phase of the revolution.

Although the more advanced elements did not remain in power for long, the revolution of 1933 marked a turning point in the evolution of twentieth-century Cuba. It put new life into Cuban nationalism, helped to restrain U.S. influence on Cuban affairs, and opened the way for the enactment of new and progressive social legislation. Most of the trends that it initiated proved irreversible, and many of them were reflected and sanctioned in the Cuban Constitution of 1940. In many ways the type of society that existed in Cuba in 1958 grew out of the revolution.

See alsoCuba, Political Parties: ABC Partyxml .


The most comprehensive account in English of the revolution is Luis E. Aguilar, Cuba 1933: Prologue to Revolution (1972). See also Jules R. Benjamin, "The 'Machadato' and Cuban Nationalism, 1928–1932," Hispanic American Historical Review 55 (February 1975): 66-91; Harry Swan, "The Nineteen Twenties: A Decade of Intellectual Change in Cuba," Revista/Review Interamericana 8 (Summer 1978): 275-288; and Justo Carrillo, Cuba 1933: Students, Yankees, and Soldiers, translated by Mario Llerena (1994). On the role of the students, see Jaime Suchlicki, University Students and Revolution in Cuba, 1920–1968 (1969). In Spanish the reader may wish to consult Ricardo Adam y Silva, La gran mentira, 4 de septiembre de 1933 (1947); Lionel Soto, La revolución del 33, 3 vols. (1977).

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

Osa, Enrique de la. Crónica del año 1933. Havana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1989.

Ros, Enrique. La revolución de 1933 en Cuba. Miami: Ediciones Universal, 2005.

Soto, Lionel. Historia de Cuba: La revolución de 1933. Havana: Editorial SI-MAR, 2003.

                                                       JosÉ M. HernÁndez

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Revolution of 1933

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