Ramón Grau San Martin

Ramón Grau San Martin (1887-1969) was a Cuban physician. Appointed provisional president of Cubain 1933, he was elected to the presidency in 1944.

Ramón Grau San Martin was born in Pinar del Río Province on Sept. 13, 1887. Although his father, a prosperous tobacco grower, wanted him to continue in the business, Grau dreamed of becoming a doctor. Despite family opposition he entered the University of Havana, receiving his degree of doctor of medicine in 1908. He then traveled to France, Italy, and Spain to round out his medical training. He returned to Cuba and in 1921 became professor of physiology at the University of Havana. He wrote extensively on medical subjects, including a university textbook on physiology.

Political Career

Grau's reputation, however, rests not on his medical achievement but on his political involvement. In the late 1920s he supported student protests against dictator Gerardo Machado and in 1931 was imprisoned. After his release he went into exile in the United States.

With the overthrow of the Machado regime, Grau was catapulted into national prominence. When, on Sept. 4, 1933, students and the military led by Sgt. Fulgencio Batista deposed the provisional government of President Carlos Manuel de Céspedes and appointed a five-man junta to rule Cuba, Grau was selected as one of its members. The junta, however, was short-lived, and the students soon chose their old professor as provisional president.

First Presidency

Grau's regime (Sept. 10, 1933-Jan. 14, 1934) was the high-water mark of a revolutionary process that had begun with Machado's overthrow. In a unique alliance, students and the military ruled. The government was prolabor and nationalistic, opposing the dominance of foreign capital. Grau denounced the Platt Amendment and advocated its abrogation.

These measures aroused American hostility, and the United States government refused to recognize Grau. Since recognition was considered by Cuban political leaders as a key factor for the existence of any Cuban government, United States policy in effect condemned the Grau regime and encouraged opposition. On Jan. 14, 1934, Batista, now army chief, forced Grau to resign.

Grau went into exile, where he was soon appointed president of a newly created Nationalist party, the Partido Revolucionario Cubano (Auténtico). He returned to Cuba in time to be elected to the convention that drafted the 1940 Constitution. In the presidential election held that same year, he was defeated by his old rival, Batista. In 1944 he tried again, this time successfully.

Second Presidency

Grau's administration coincided with the end of World War II, and he inherited an economic boom as sugar production and prices rose. He inaugurated a program of public works and school construction. Social security benefits were increased, and economic development and agricultural production were encouraged.

But increased prosperity brought increased corruption. Nepotism and favoritism flourished, and urban violence, a legacy of the early 1930s, reappeared now with tragic proportions. The reformist zeal evident during Grau's first administration had diminished considerably in the intervening decade. He faced, furthermore, determined opposition in Congress and from conservative elements in his own party. For many Cubans, Grau failed to fulfill the aspirations of the anti-Machado revolution.

After turning over the presidency to his protégé, Carlos Prío, in 1948, Grau virtually withdrew from public life. He emerged again in 1952 to oppose Batista's coup d'etat. Grau ran for president in the 1954 and 1958 Batista-sponsored elections but withdrew just prior to each election day, claiming government fraud. After Castro came to power in 1959, Grau retired to his home in Havana, where he died on July 28, 1969.

Further Reading on Ramón Grau San Martin

For valuable information on Grau's first administration see Commission on Cuban Affairs, Problems of the New Cuba (1935). Grau's political career is discussed in detail in William S. Stokes, Latin American Politics (1959), and in Ramon Eduardo Ruiz, Cuba: The Making of a Revolution (1968). See also Hubert Clinton Herring, A History of Latin America (1955; 3d ed. 1968).