Dr. Ramón Grau, Sergio Carbó and Sgt. Fulgencio Batista, leaders in the government formed by the coup
|Commanders and leaders|
|Sergeants Pablo Rodríguez, Fulgencio Batista, Eleuterio Pedraza; Lieutenants Manuel Benítez, Francisco Tabernilla|
The Sergeants' Revolt (Spanish: Revuelta de los sargentos), also called the Cuban Revolution of 1933, was a coup d'etat that occurred in Cuba in September 1933. It began as a revolt of sergeants and enlisted men in the military, who soon allied with student activists in the Directorio Estudiantil Universitario.
The coup deposed Carlos Manuel de Céspedes y Quesada as President, installing a new government led by a five-man coalition, known as the Pentarchy of 1933. After only five days, the Pentarchy gave way to the presidency of Ramón Grau, whose term is known as the One Hundred Days Government. The leader of the revolt, Sergeant Fulgencio Batista, became the head of the armed forces and began a long period of influence on Cuban politics.
The authoritarian policies of Gerardo Machado and the Great Depression beginning in 1929 plunged Cuba into an economic and social crisis, amidst which opposition groups proliferated. Pressure and demonstrations by the Directorio Estudiantil Universitario (Student Directory) and workers, as well by US Ambassador Sumner Welles, forced Machado to resign.
Carlos Manuel de Céspedes y Quesada led a provisional government that included members of the opposition group ABC in its cabinet. Other groups from the Machado opposition were unsatisfied with the provisional government, which to them represented an unacceptable compromise with US interventionism. On August 24, the Student Directory issued a Manifesto-Program that denounced the ABC and made various demands, including the formation of a new government.
After the fall of Machado, the military perceived its situation as precarious. Opposition forces controlled Havana, and took their revenge on supporters of the Machado regime, including police and some soldiers. The military was reluctant to intervene in this situation lest the public perceive it as an agent of the old regime. Arrest of 50 soldiers and 21 officers did not satisfy demands for reform.
Critics of the Céspedes government, including within the military, charged that it was not taking sufficient action against Machado's backers within the military, and that it had failed to reinstate officers who had opposed Machado. This situation exacerbated longstanding tension (related to age, class, and race) between the ranks of officers.
A group of sergeants began meeting at the Columbia barracks, forming the Columbia Military Union. Their ambition to improve conditions in the army quickly expanded to a plan for regime change. This group, later called the Junta of the Eight (despite uncertainty about numbers) included Batista and other members of his ABC cell, as well as Pablo Rodríguez, whom some perceived to be the group's leader.
A funeral for Sergeant Miguel Ángel Hernández y Rodríguez, captured and killed by the Machado government in May 1933, took place on 19 August 1933. This gave Batista the opportunity to do a passionate oration which brought him attention as a future leader. At the funeral he met with journalist Sergio Carbó, who acted as an important contact for him in the civilian world.
In August the group of sergeants created a manifesto calling for dignity, respect, and benefits for soldiers, and declaring the duty of soldiers to rebel. Batista asked the ABC, to which he belonged, to publicize the manifesto. The ABC, which had established itself as part of the status quo government, refused, and Batista and others left the group.
Other factions within the military were also plotting against the Céspedes government, and some spoke openly against it.
As the movement grew, the plotters met in larger venues, including the masonic Gran Logia de Cuba and a military hospital. These preparations became somewhat obvious, but meetings continued to occur on the pretext of planning projects to improve quality of life for enlisted men. The action mostly took place in Havana, with some outreach to Matanzas Province soon before the coup.
When we left for Columbia, we did not even remotely consider — in spite of the psychological determinism that will soon become evident — that the sergeants would constitute the ultimate solution to the military conflict Machado had left behind. Perhaps — we felt more or less subconsciously — this might be an opportunity to bring down the Plattist regime Ambassador Welles had imposed and, after a very brief intermediate step, we might achieve an easy formula of happy adjustment to the apparatus of the state.
Student activist Justo Carrillo
On September 3 and 4 some of the lower-ranking officers at Columbia barracks directly raised issues of back pay and promotions with the senior officers. On September 4, Captain Mario Torres Menier appeared at a meeting of the enlisted men at Camp Columbia. Batista allowed him to enter. The soldiers made their complaints with mounting enthusiasm; Torres Menier withdrew to consult with other superior officers. Another meeting was scheduled for 8PM. In the interim, leaders of the coup rallied their supporters. Batista contacted Carbó and secured the support of Juan Blas Hernández, a rebel who opposed Machado for two years.
The meeting that evening took place in a theater. The senior officers had been excluded. Batista spoke from onstage, declaring:
From this moment forward, do not obey anyone's orders but mine. First sergeants must immediately take control of their respective military units. If there is no first sergeant, or if he refuses to take command, the senior sergeant must do so. If there is no sergeant, a corporal. If there is no willing corporal, then a soldier, and if not, then a recruit. The units must have someone in command and he must be an enlisted man.
Thus the sergeants took uncontested control of Columbia barracks and soon established communications with sympathetic officers in other cities. Members of the Student Directory—beginning with José Leyva, Ramiro Valdés Daussá, Juan António Rubio Padilla, Carlos Prío Socarrás, Rubén de León, and Justo Carrillo—came to the barracks and joined forces with the army. While President Céspedes was away from Havana to survey hurricane damage, the rebels forced the remaining government officers in Havana to leave their posts. They then issued a proclamation announcing that they were in control of the country, and set up a Pentarchy modeled on the then-current government of Uruguay.
After President Céspedes returned on September 5, members of the junta arrived at his office and informed him that they were to receive the government from him. Swayed by their claim to command the allegiance of the military rank and file, Céspedes vacated the Presidential Palace.
The junta of officers and students proclaimed that it had taken power in order to fulfill the aims of the revolution; it briefly described a program which included economic restructuring, punishment of wrongdoers, recognition of public debts, creation of courts, political reorganization, and any other actions necessary to construct a new Cuba based on justice and democracy.
Both Grau and Batista visited Welles on September 5 to seek support from the US and ascertain its position.
The coup displaced 900 officers from command. Of these, 200 rejoined the armed forces under Batista; 300 went into retirement, exile, or prison; and 400 gathered at the Hotel Nacional, to await a return to power. The sergeants consolidated their power over the military at the Battle of the Hotel Nacional, in which the higher-ranking officers were eliminated. Batista, having pushed Rodríguez out of power, emerged as the foremost leader.
The ensuing One Hundred Days Government issued a number of reformist declarations but never gained diplomatic recognition from the US; it was overthrown in January 1934 under pressure from Batista and the US.
- Aguilar (1972), pp. 159–160. "Already on August 26, 1933, a so-called "Junta de los Ocho," formed by dissatisfied sergeants, began to meet in the enlisted men's club at the Columbia military barracks. The result was the formation of the Columbia Military Union. The program of this junta aimed at organizing the lower ranks of the army in order to obtain better conditions and better opportunities for promotion. Soon, realizing the disorganization and weakness of the high-ranking officers they began to plot a general insurrection.
- "Directorio Estudiantil Universitario de 1927" [University Student Directory of 1927]. Directorio Democrático Cubano (in Spanish). Hialeah, Florida. Archived from the original on 2015-04-02. Retrieved 2015-03-19.
- Aguilar (1972), pp. 157–159. "The Program was a severe denunciation of the provisional government, the ABC, and the whole political power structure. It began by accusing the groups in power of a triple treason: (a) to the Revolution by sanctioning the illegal pre-revolutionary political structure, (b) to Cuba by openly admitting that her people were incapable of determining their nation's destiny, (c) to Latin America by approving Yankee meddling and penetration."
- Argote-Freyre (2006), p. 54. "The armed forces and police were unable and unwilling to control the mobs, because they themselves were suspect. As the bulwarks of Machado's regime, the military and police were viewed with apprehension and disdain. The slightest suggestion that soldier or officer had close ties with the disgraced dictator was enough to ensure his arrest. Many police officers abandoned their posts after becoming targets of mob violence. A national debate ensued over how to 'purify' the army. By the end of August, the Céspedes government arrested twenty-one officers and fifty soldiers, but no one thought the purification process should stop there."
- Carrillo (1994). "This policy, in terms of the watchwords of punishment and purge, menat refusing to court-martial officers gravely implicated with the deposed regime; nor did it allow a purge of the Army by retiring older, high-ranking officers with responsibilities derived from exercising the commands of regiments during the fallen regime. Neither were the enlisted ranks purged, especially of those (including Batista) who had organized the homage to President Machado ten days after the death of student leader Rafael Trejo.
Even the extremely conservative Colonel Cosme de la Torriente noted the terribly grave error of President Céspedes, the military, and the commanders of the August 11 coup [...]"
- Argote-Freyre (2006), p. 55.
- Argote-Freyre (2006), p. 57.
- Argote-Freyre (2006), p. 59.
- Argote-Freyre (2006), p. 60. "Efforts to broadcast and publish the manifesto accelerated after the Hernández burial. Over the course of several days, Batista took the manifesto to the ABC and asked them to broadcast it over their radio station, but they declined to do so. Batista attempted through his cell leader, Manuel Martí, to contact the leaders of the ABC to solicit support for the fledgling movement. The ABC leadership took a dim view of the issues raised by the conspirators, fearing their call for greater equality in the military would undermine discipline and foment revolt, consequently imperiling their position in the Céspedes government. The rejection by the ABC led to the resignation of Batista and some fellow conspirators from the organization."
- Argote-Freyre (2006), p. 56. "For lessons on loyalty, the sergeants and enlisted men needed only to observe the actions of their superiors, who were openly plotting against Céspedes. Just days after the new president was sworn in, several junior officers met with representatives of the Student Directory, which had been left out of the government, to dictate a plan of action for the Céspedes government. There were also reports that officers were going to former President Menocal's ranch, El Chico, to plot the overthrow of the provisional government. Officers were speaking out publicly on government policy on a wide array of issues."
- Argote-Freyre (2006), p. 61.
- Argote-Freyre (2006), p. 63.
- Argote-Freyre (2006), p. 62.
- Carrillo (1994), p. 138.
- Whitney (2001), p. 101. "On September 3 and 4, at the Camp Columbia Barracks outside of Havana, a group of Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs), sergeants, corporals, and enlisted men confronted their senior officers over issues of back pay, living conditions, and promotion possibilities. The officers refused to listen to the demands of the rebels and abruptly withdrew from Camp Columbia. As a result, the lower-rank soldiers found themselves in control of the barracks and in a de facto state of mutiny."
- Argote-Freyre (2006), pp. 64–68.
- >Argote-Freyre (2006), p. 68. His footnote: "I owe this account to Adam y Silva, who quotes an eyewitness to the event; La gran mentira, 158–164. Chester's account, on most points, closely mirrors the details provided by Adam y Silva; A Sergeant Named Batista, 60–63.
- Argote-Freyre (2006), p. 62. "Ironically, on the way back to Havana, the conspirators passed the motorcade of President Céspedes on his way east to check on recent hurricane damage in Matanzas and Las Villas."
- Aguilar (1972), pp. 161–162.
- Argote-Freyre (2006), p. 75.
- Aguilar (1972), pp. 163–164.
- Argote-Freyre (2006), pp. 77–80.
- Staten (2015), p. 69.
- Argote-Freyre (2006), p. 81.
- Argote-Freyre (2006), p. 58.
- Aguilar, Luis E. (1972). Cuba 1933: Prologue to Revolution. Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-0660-9.
- Argote-Freyre, Frank (2006). Fulgencio Batista: From Revolutionary to Strongman. Rutgers University Press. ISBN 978-0-8135-3701-6.
- Carrillo, Justo. (1994). Cuba 1933: Students, Yankees, and Soldiers. New Brunswick & London: Transaction Publishers. ISBN 1-56000-690-0. English version of Cuba 1933: estudiantes, yanquis y soldados (1985), Institute of Interamerican Studies, University of Miami, ISBN 0935501-00-2.
- Staten, Clifford L. (2015). The History of Cuba (2nd ed.). ABC-CLIO. pp. 66–71. ISBN 9781610698429.
- Whitney, Robert W. (2001). State and Revolution in Cuba: Mass Mobilization and Political Change, 1920–1940. University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0-8078-2611-1.