Gerardo Machado y Morales

Gerardo Machado y Morales (1871-1939) was a general in Cuba's War for independence of 1895-1898 against Spain. Later elected president, he developed into a harsh dictator.

Gerardo Machado was born in Santa Clara, Las Villas Province, on Sept. 28, 1871. He spent his childhood on his family's cattle estate, attended private schools, and in his early 20s engaged in growing and selling tobacco. During Cuba's Ten Years War (1868-1878) against Spain, Machado's father had joined the Cuban rebels, attaining the rank of major. Machado followed in his father's steps, and when the Cubans resumed the war in 1895, he enrolled, rising to the rank of brigadier general.

After the war ended, Machado turned to politics and business. He became mayor of Santa Clara and during José Miguel Gómez's administration (1909-1913) was appointed inspector of the armed forces and later secretary of interior. Soon after, he engaged in farming and in business and, together with American capitalists, invested in public utilities. He grew wealthy, returning to politics in the early 1920s. He won control of the Liberal party and, with his slogan "Water, roads, and schools," was elected president in 1924.

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Reform President

Machado's first administration coincided with a period of prosperity. Sugar production expanded, and the United States provided a close and ready market. Machado embarked on an ambitious public works program which included the completion of the Central Highway, the construction of the national capital, the enlargement of the University of Havana, and the expansion of health facilities. He also sponsored a tariff reform bill in 1927 providing protection to certain Cuban industries. Despite these accomplishments, Cuba's dependence on sugar continued, and United States influence and investments increased.

Before his first administration ended, Machado sought reelection. Claiming that his economic program could not be completed during his 4-year term and that only he could carry it out, Machado announced his decision to have himself reelected and to extend the presidential term to 6 years. He prevented the growth of political opposition by controlling the Conservative party and the small Popular party. Through bribes and threats he subordinated Congress and the judiciary to the executive will, and in 1928 he was reelected over virtually no opposition.

Repression and Reaction

Machado's second term was fraught with problems. Affected by the shock waves of the world depression and oppressed by an increasingly ruthless dictator, many Cubans, led primarily by university students, organized resistance to the regime. In 1931 former president Mario García Menocal led a short-lived uprising in Pinar del Río Province. That same year an anti-Machado expedition landed in Oriente Province, only to be crushed by the army.

As urban violence increased, so did repression. Machado's police raided secret meeting places, arresting students and opposition leaders, whom they tortured or killed. The United States, attempting to find a peaceful solution to Cuba's political situation, sent special envoy Sumner Welles to mediate between government and opposition. The mediation was supported by most political factions and leaders with the exception of the conservatives and, particularly, the students. Welles's efforts finally led to a general strike and an army revolt which forced Machado to leave the country on Aug. 12, 1933. Machado settled in the United States and died in Miami Beach, Fla., on March 29, 1939.

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Further Reading on Gerardo Machado y Morales

There is no biography of Machado in English. Background information is in Robert F. Smith, The United States and Cuba: Business and Diplomacy 1917-1960 (1960); Wyatt MacGaffey and Clifford R. Barnett, Cuba (1962; repr. 1965 as Twentieth Century Cuba); Robert F. Smith, Background to Revolution: The Development of Modern Cuba (1966); Ramon E. Ruiz, Cuba: The Making of a Revolution (1968); and Hugh Thomas, Cuba: The Pursuit of Freedom (1971).