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The US in HAWAII, the PHILIPPINES and LATIN AMERICA in the 1920s (3 of 6)

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The US and Cuba

The World War curtailed sugar production in Europe, resulting in a boom in sugar production in Cuba and a boom in Cuba's economy. There, virgin lands were put into sugar production and numerous new sugar mills were built, some of them funded by US investors. Cuban politics, meanwhile, was in turmoil. The Conservative Party won the elections of 1916 using violence and other undemocratic methods. The rival political party, the Liberal Party, rejected the results, and civil war erupted. The United States looked upon this with distaste, and although it had a treaty with Cuba that allowed it to intervene to protect lives, property and individual liberty, it did not do so. In 1917, the Conservatives crushed the Liberals militarily, and the Conservative Party leader, General Mario G. Menocal, began his second term as Cuba's president.

By 1920, Menocal's administration was being denounced in the Cuban press as a "classic and vulgar dictatorship," and it was accused of having abandoned the maintenance of roads and other public services and having let education decline. Only a minority of Cuba's children were receiving any formal education.  US spokesmen spoke to Cuba's conservatives about their desire for a return to democracy in Cuba, and the Conservative Party, perhaps fearing US intervention, invited the US to Cuba to establish new election laws in anticipation of the elections that were to be held later that year.

In the new elections, a conservative-popular alliance ran Alfonso Alfredo Zayas. And, despite US efforts, the conservative-popular alliance ran a corrupt campaign. Zayas won, but barely. The Liberal Party appealed to the US, protesting that their candidate, José Gómez, was the real winner of the elections. Zayas took office in May 1921. The US convinced the Cubans to schedule new elections. Meanwhile, Cuba was in bankruptcy. There were labor strikes and demonstrations, and many unhappy Cubans were scapegoating the United States. Liberal Party leaders joined the rising tide of hostility toward the United States and decided that the new elections would be rigged to suit US interests.

The Cubans had mismanaged their economy, and from the United States came loans. And for help in organizing the economy the Cubans invited to Cuba an advisor, Enoch Crowder – a man respected by all for his honesty and integrity. In 1923 a substantial sugar harvest and a return of a better price for sugar helped bring economic recovery. Zayas has been described as less corrupt than preceding presidents and as having refrained from censoring the press or arresting critics, but he was accused of being involved in graft. In anticipation of the presidential elections to be held in 1924, the Liberal Party replaced him with Gerardo Machado as their candidate for president. Machado became president Machado in 1925. His administration coincided with an expansion of sugar production, with the United States as a buyer. Sugar production expanded, and the United States provided a close and ready market. Machado launched a public works program and was re-elected in 1928. Cuba's dependence on sugar continued, and business investments from the US increased.

Copyright © 1998-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.