Mario Garcia Menocal (1866-1941) was the third president of Cuba. An engineer and a major general of the army during Cuba's War for Independence, he became a prominent public figure during the first decades of the Cuban Republic.
Mario Menocal was born in the province of Matanzas on Dec. 17, 1866. When Cuba's Ten Years War (1868-1878) against Spain broke out 2 years later, he was taken to the United States and then to Mexico, where his father settled as a sugar planter. At 13 he went to the United States to attend several schools, obtaining a degree in engineering from Cornell University in 1888.
Soon after graduation Menocal began practicing his profession. He joined an uncle in Nicaragua who was studying the feasibility of a Nicaraguan canal route. In 1891 Menocal returned to Cuba and was employed by a French company. He surveyed a proposed railway in Camagüey Province but soon got involved in Cuba's political problems.
When Cubans resumed the war against Spain in 1895, Menocal joined. He fought under Máximo Gómez, Antonio Maceo, and Calixto García, the leading generals of the war. As a soldier, he exhibited talent for military affairs and a definite aptitude for strategy, achieving the rank of general. When the United States declared war on Spain and intervened in Cuba, Menocal was promoted to major general in charge of Havana and Matanzas provinces.
During the United States military government of Cuba, Menocal was made Havana's chief of police, a post he held only briefly. He soon returned to engineering, building the Chaparra sugar plantation for the Cuban-American Sugar Company. Under his able management, Chaparra became one of the largest sugar-producing estates of its kind in the world.
A successful businessman, a veteran of the war for independence, and his popularity increasing, Menocal turned to politics after Cuba became independent in 1902. In 1908 he ran unsuccessfully for the presidency on the Conservative party ticket, but he was elected in 1912, becoming Cuba's third president.
Menocal served two terms (1913-1921). During his first administration, education, public health, and agricultural production improved. He introduced administrative and financial reforms, particularly the establishment of a Cuban monetary system. He strengthened relations with the United States and exposed the corruption of the previous administration. As time went by, however, his administration deteriorated. Graft and corruption became widespread. Opposition and violence increased. The regime resorted to repressive measures. Menocal's reelection in 1917 caused much discontent. Opponents complained of fraud.
Despite United States warnings that revolution would not be tolerated and that the Menocal administration would be supported, the Liberal party, led by former president José Miguel Gómez, staged an unsuccessful revolt that was harshly suppressed.
American supervision of Cuban affairs and American economic influence grew during Menocal's administration. On April 7, 1917, one day after the United States declared war on Germany, Menocal took Cuba into the war. Cuba floated loans in the United States, and marines landed on the island, supposedly for training purposes. Although Cuba's contribution to the war effort was slight, Menocal collaborated with the United States and sold Cuba's sugar production to the Allies.
This arrangement resulted in a short-lived period of great prosperity called the "Dance of the Millions." Prosperity brought corruption, speculation, and inflation. When sugar prices collapsed in 1920, Cuba plunged into depression and misery. As the 1920 elections approached, the United States sent Maj. Gen. Enoch H. Crowder to prepare an electoral code. American control of Cuban affairs was growing and with it nationalism and anti-Americanism.
After turning over the presidency to Alfredo Zayas in 1921, Menocal returned to business, but he always kept close to politics. He was defeated in the 1924 presidential elections. When President Gerardo Machado extended his presidential term, Menocal participated in an ill-fated expedition and uprising against the regime in August 1931. He made another unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 1936 and was a member of the convention that drafted the 1940 Constitution. Shortly after, in 1941, he died in Havana.
Information on Menocal's life and administration is in Charles E. Chapman, A History of the Cuban Republic (1927).