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The Search for Stability, Batista’s First Regime

sugar cultivation, Cuban economy, clandestine operations, universal suffrage, agrarian reform

In January 1934, with the encouragement of the U.S. government, Batista led a coup that ousted Grau. Over the next few years, a number of politicians served as president. However, as head of the military, Batista held the real power, governing from behind the scenes from 1934 to 1940. His will to sustain order was tested at first by radicals who ran clandestine operations and organized strikes in an effort to dislodge his government. But within a year, the military had repressed the radicals, arresting and executing many of their leaders. These actions brought peace and stability to the middle and upper classes.

Economic conditions in Cuba improved between 1933 and 1940. The United States increased Cuba’s sugar quota (the amount of sugar Cuba was allowed to import into the United States each year), and the price of sugar rose from 25 cents per pound in 1933 to 31.4 cents per pound in 1937. Improvements in the sugar industry reinvigorated the Cuban economy. To prevent a repeat of the speculation that had ruined Cuban growers in the past, the government passed the Sugar Coordination Law in 1937. This law allowed the state to control all lands used for sugar cultivation, apportion acreage to producers, and regulate prices and wages.

Cubans also turned their attention to unresolved constitutional questions. Since Grau had not been elected according to the provisions of Cuba’s constitution, his reforms were of dubious legality. Cubans had also grown to resent the 1901 constitution essentially written by the U.S. occupation government. To ratify Grau’s reforms and write their own constitution, Cubans called a Constitutional Assembly. Throughout 1939 political associations and trade unions met to decide their positions on issues and to nominate their delegates to the assembly. In November 1939, Cubans elected 81 delegates, 44 of whom belonged to the Autentico Party, which Grau had formed to preserve the reforms instituted during his presidency. The delegates adopted many of Grau’s reforms, such as universal suffrage, equal rights, fair elections, free political organization, agrarian reform, labor safety codes, minimum wages and maximum work hours, retirement pensions, national insurance guarantees, and the right to strike.

During the late 1930s, Batista developed a broad base of political support, building close relationships with political groups ranging from conservatives to Communists. In 1940 Batista felt confident enough to enter politics as a civilian candidate for president. He ran against Grau and won in a relatively fair election. During his four-year term, he supported the reforms of the new constitution. Batista’s term ended quietly in 1944, and he retired to the United States after his handpicked successor lost the election.

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