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The Search for Stability, The Autentico Presidents

Carlos Prio Socarras, Chibas, political reformers, Autenticos, gang wars

Two Autentico politicians held the presidency for the next eight years: Grau was president from 1944 to 1948 and Carlos Prio Socarras from 1948 to 1952. As president, each oversaw a period of corruption unsurpassed by all previous presidents. The optimism and zeal for reform of Grau’s earlier administration had faded among many Autentico politicians. After spending most of their political lives excluded from the spoils of the political system, the Autenticos now controlled a government that for years had functioned on the basis of greed and corruption. They took full advantage of the system. Uncertain over whether Autentico rule would continue for long, government officials moved quickly to grab as much as they could from the public treasury. Governmental jobs supported thousands of Autentico allies. Organized crime controlled tourism, gambling, drugs, and prostitution. Politicians anxious to receive the spoils of office fought gang wars against one another, turning the streets into a violent political forum.

The economy was strong during the 1940s, mainly due to an increase in trade during and directly after World War II (1939-1945). Between 1945 and 1948 sugar production rose 40 percent. Sugar producers’ profits increased by hundreds of millions of dollars. The resulting increase in demand led to higher prices for many products, causing severe hardship for the poor. The most devastating effect of this boom was the mismanagement of the windfall earnings. The boom years brought increased capital into the sugar aristocracy’s bank accounts and into the national treasury as tax revenues increased. Neither the sugar barons nor the government invested in diversifying industry or manufacturing. Instead, sugar barons added to their estates and updated equipment for their plantations. Corruption skimmed off most of the government funds. Most of the money generated by the boom went into the pockets of wealthy individuals, and the distribution of wealth was skewed in favor of the wealthy.

In response to political violence and economic inequities, political reformers, led by Eddy Chibas, a former member of the Autentico Party, established the Orthodoxo Party in 1947. Chibas brought into the new party students, professionals, workers, and peasants. A passionate speaker, Chibas rekindled ideals of political integrity, democracy, and social reform. In frequent radio broadcasts, he accused the government of corruption and eroded Autentico authority.

On August 5, 1951, Chibas shot himself during a radio broadcast after he was accused of making false statements about an Autentico cabinet member. His death ten days later left the Orthodoxos without their center. His style and some of his principles influenced an Orthodoxo Party member, Fidel Castro, a young lawyer and political activist who was at Chibas’ bedside as he was dying.

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