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Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Mexico, 1929-35

Cuba's sugar industry and economy as a whole was hit hard by the Depression. Public works brought little relief, and President Gerardo Machado applied repressive measures against the rising threat of those opposed to his rule, but it didn't work. In 1933 a violent uprising and general strike forced him from office and into exile. A coalition of political parties named a provisional president, and in August 1933 a cabal of rank and file soldiers overthrew the government and set up a revolutionary junta. More political chaos and bloodshed followed, and after four months the junta surrendered power to Colonel Carlos Mendieta, who was backed by the coalition of political parties trying to bring order and legitimate rule to Cuba. The United States and other countries recognized Mendieta's government. Strikes and disorders continued. The head of Cuba's military, Fulgencio Batista, became the power behind the presidency, and Batista was to rule Cuba as a dictator until Fidel Castro overthrew him in 1959.

In the Dominican Republic, General Rafael Leonida Trujillo Molina headed the National Guard. In 1930 he agreed to let a politician, Estrella Ureña, overthrow the government if he, Trujillo, would be the presidential candidate in the elections later that year. Trujillo kept the National Guard in their barracks, allowing Ureña's rebels to take the capital virtually unmolested, and on March 3 Estrella was proclaimed acting president, with Trujillo confirmed as head of the police. In the presidential elections, Triol was the only candidate allowed to campaign effectively. Trujillo won 99 percent of the vote. He took office in early August, and Estrella Ureña was his vice president. Two years later Ureña was out of office and pushed aside. Trujillo had consolidated his power and remained the undisputed ruler thereafter, becoming one of the world's most notoriously brutal dictators. He ruled with murder, torture and theft. He, his family and a few cronies grabbed all the best land and acquired monopolies on all businesses, from salt to selling girls in the white slave trade.

Next door to the Dominican Republic, Haiti was still under occupation by a small US military force. Latin American nations were criticizing the United States for this, while the US was trying to organize what it hoped would be a proper government there. In 1936 the US ended its military occupation of Haiti, nineteen years after it had begun, the administration of Franklin Roosevelt hoping that Haiti would now embark on a path of independence and stability.


In Mexico in the mid-twenties the Roman Catholic Church was unhappy over the government creating state elementary education in place of what had been the Church's monopoly in elementary education. And the Church had been resisting a ban on religious processions, deportation of foreign priests, orders that priests must register with the government and the closings of monasteries and convents. In 1926, Catholics – some of them priests – took up arms against Mexico's federal and state governments – known as the Cristero War. Trains were blown up. Public schools were attacked and burned and teachers were killed. The government retaliated and tried to kill a priest for every murdered teacher. The government wore down the Cristero Rebellion, but on July 17, 1928, a Catholic partisan murdered the President-elect, Alvaro Obregon (Obregón).

The political party that took power in 1917, led then by Venustiano Carranza, still held power, and a peaceful passage of power based on free elections had become tradition. Mexico's presidency in 1934 passed to General Lázaro Cárdenas. Cárdenas had an unpretentious personality, and he could not be bribed. He had wanted to be a school teacher but joined revolutionary armies opposed to the Huerta dictatorship and rose as a field commander to the rank of general. As president his main interest was in improving the lives of the Mexican people, and he launched a six-year plan to advance agriculture and industry. He nationalized foreign-owned oil companies and became known for making Mexico independent of foreign capital, and Britain and the United States responded with boycotts.

Cárdenas divided agricultural lands for Mexico's numerous peasants, creating what became known as mini-fundia, which proved a disaster in that it was poor in productivity and its harvests fed hardly more than the families of the proprietors, leaving little in agricultural surpluses for export and foreign currency. Bigger farms began to develop as people got around the law by putting adjacent lands in the names of relatives.

Meanwhile, the depression continued and industrial productivity was falling. Mexico neared bankruptcy. But unlike many other Latin American nations, Mexico remained politically stable, with Cárdenas maintaining the respect of the Mexican people.


The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, published by Harper and Brothers, 1950

Democracies in Crisis: public policy responses to the Great Depression, by Kim Quaile Hill, 1988

The Dust Bowl, a documentary film by Ken Burns

Night Comes to the Cumberlands, by Harry M. Cadill, 1963, about corporate attitudes and practices, coal mining and people in Eastern Kentucky in the era of Roosevelt and the New Deal. (See reader comments at

Wall Street Journal, "The Krugman Recipe for Depression," by Amity Shlaes, November 29, 2008

The Lords of Finance, Liaquat Ahamed, 2009

America's Greatest Depression, by Lester V. Chandler, 1970

Democracies in Crisis: Public Policy Responses to the Great Depression, by Kim Quaile Hill, 1988

Lessons from the Great Depression, by Peter Temin, MIT Press, 1989

The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, by Paul Kennedy, 1987

Economics and World History: Myths and Paradoxes, by Paul Bairoch, University of Chicago Press, 1993

Nicaragua in Perspective, by Eduardo Crawley, 1979

Argentina 1516-1982, Chapter 6, "From Oligarchy to Populism, 1940~1946," by David Rock, 1985

Latin America: the Development of its Civilization, Third Edition, by Helen Miller Bailey and Abraham P Nasatir, 1973

Online description of the Cristero Rebellion, at Mexconnect, by Jim Tuck

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