Even after the repeal of the Platt Amendment, the USA dominated the Cuban economy. Around two thirds of sugar exports went to the USA under a quota system at prices set by Washington; two thirds of Cuba's imports came from the USA; foreign capital investment was largely from the USA and Cuba was effectively a client state. Yet, despite the money being made out of Cuba, its people suffered from grinding rural poverty, high unemployment, illiteracy and inadequate healthcare. The good life, as enjoyed by the socialites in the casinos and bars of Havana, highlighted the social inequalities in the country and politics was a mixture of authoritarian rule and corrupt democracy.

From 1924 to 1933 the 'strong man'
Gerardo Machado
ruled Cuba. He was elected in 1924 on a wave of popularity and set about diversifying the economy and investing in public works projects. However, a drastic fall in sugar prices in the late 1920s led to strikes and protests which he forcefully repressed. In 1928 he 'persuaded' Congress to grant him a second term of office, which was greeted with protests and violence from students, the middle classes and labour unions. Widespread Nationalist popular rebellion throughout Machado's dictatorship was harshly repressed by the police force. The USA was reluctant to intervene again, but tried to negotiate a deal with its ambassador. The Nationalists called a general strike in protest at US interference and Machado finally went into exile. The violence did not abate, however, and there were more strikes, mob attacks and occupations of factories, which the new government was unable to quell. In September 1933, a revolt of non-commissioned officers including
Fulgencio Batista
, then a sergeant, deposed the government and installed a five-member committee chosen by the student movement, the
Directorio Estudiantil
. They chose as president a professor,
Dr Ramón Grau San Martín
, but he only lasted four months before Batista staged a coup. Batista then held power through presidential puppets until he was elected president himself in 1940.

Batista's first period in power, 1933-1944, was characterized by Nationalist and populist policies, set against corruption and political violence. Batista himself was a mulatto from a poor background who had pulled himself up through the ranks of the military and retained the support of the armed forces. He was also supported by US and Cuban business interests while gaining control of the trade unions by passing social welfare legislation, building low cost housing and creating jobs with public works projects. The students and radical Nationalists remained opposed to him, however, and terrorism continued. In 1940, a new Constitution was passed by a constituent assembly dominated by Batista, which included universal suffrage and benefits for workers such as a minimum wage, pensions, social insurance and an eight-hour day.

In 1944, Batista lost the elections to the candidate of the radical Nationalists: Dr Ramón Grau San Martín, of the Partido Revolucionario Cubana-Auténtico, who held office from 1944-1948. His presidential term benefited from high sugar prices following the Second World War, which allowed corruption and political violence to continue unabated. Grau was followed into the presidency by his protégé,
Carlos Prío Socarrás
, 1948-1952, a term which was even more corrupt and depraved, until Batista, by then a self-promoted general, staged a military coup in 1952. Constitutional and democratic government was at an end. His harshly repressive dictatorship was brought to a close by
Fidel Castro
in January 1959, after an extraordinary and heroic three-year campaign, mostly in the Sierra Maestra, with a guerrilla force reduced at one point to 12 men.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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