THIS DAY IN CUBAN HISTORY
The Grau-Guiteras Social Democratic Revolution
On September 9, 1933, the “Pentarquía” was dismissed by the unexpected student-sergeants alliance, that was forged on September 4, at Columbia Military Base, following the fall of dictator Gerardo Machado. The “Pentarquía” lasted less than 120 hours in power. The following day, (September 10) Ramón Grau San Martín was appointed President by the revolutionary alliance. Three days before, Sergeant Fulgencio Batista had been promoted to the rank of colonel and army chief.
The students and sergeants’ revolt had turned into a revolution, and, throughout the island, there was great uncertainty and fear, but for the young student leaders energized by an all-embracing nationalistic sentiment, this was the time of redeeming the broken dreams of the War of Independence. It was Sergio Carbó,a brilliant journalist, that best defined the students’ perception of that historical moment: “The Republic came of age and with cries of joy escaped from the American Embassy.” It was evident that the idealistic students and bewildered soldiers had broken away from the U.S. tutelage and, in the process, embarrassed the U.S. Ambassador Benjamin Summer Welles. Yet there were two terrible forces from which they could not escape: The economic depression and the bloody fight of the political factions. As the army and the police retreated to their barracks, public order broke down and violent groups took to the streets. In the Central Mabay near Bayamo, strikers took control of the sugar mills for several weeks.” In the midst of this power vacuum and political confusion the newspaper El Mundo asked the obvious question: “Who is ruling Cuba?” With unbounded pride and exalted emotions, the Cuban youths had marched directly into the political turmoil of a nationalist revolution.
With the cry “Cuba for the Cubans” the soldiers and students gave Grau’s presidency the support and momentum needed to enact the Laws for political and social reforms. Antonio Guiteras y Holmes, a Philadelphia born social democrat was named Interior Minister and became the folk hero of the revolution and leader of Grau’s government radical wing. Guiteras was the son of a Cuban who was a French teacher and of a Puritan American mother. The family moved from Philadelphia to Pinar del Rio when he was seven years old. He attended the University of Havana, joined the 1927 Student Directorate and earned a pharmacist degree.
Guiteras was a thoughtful and laconic man of action. He was an anti-communist social democrat, with strong nationalistic ideals. Guiteras wrote few articles but led the implementation of the revolution’s radical decrees.
For the communists, Antonio Guiteras was a dangerous demagogue. On this issue, historian Hugh Thomas wrote” “Unlike many of his comrades, he had never been a communist, not even a member of the ‘comunizante’ ala izquierda estudiantil.” The fact was that the speed and depth of the social, political and economic changes led by Guiteras were simply breathtaking. A day after Grau was appointed president, the Revolutionary Coalition announced the abrogation of the Platt Amendment. Ten days later, established a maximum work day of eight hours; lowered the utility rates by 40 percent; dissolved all political parties that had supported Machado; created the Department of Labors; gave women the right to vote; and provided autonomy to the University.
Guiteras social justice struggle culminated with the enacting of the “Labor Decree of Nationalization” by which 50 percent of all employees in the island had to be Cuban natives, with the exception of technicians and managers that could not be substituted by Cubans. Despite the strenuous efforts of the Castro regime to fabricate a communist profile on Antonio Guiteras, the evidence is direct and crystal clear. Guiteras was a non-Marxist-social Democrat, who fought for workers rights and individual freedoms within a market economic system.
* Pedro Roig is Executive Director of the Cuban Studies Institute. Roig is an attorney and historian that has written several books, including the Death of a Dream: A History of Cuba. He is a veteran of the Brigade 2506.