The rise and fall of Cuba’s first elected president

Rolando Armando Alum in PanAm Post:

The Rise and Fall of Cuba’s First Elected President

Tomás Estrada Palma Was an Accomplished Democratic Leader Whose Memory Has Suffered Under the Castros’ Propganda

Today, February 24th, Cubans everywhere commemorate the beginning of Cuba’s War of Independence from Spain in 1895. During its last four months, the conflict turned into the Spanish-(Cuban)-American War (April-August 1898), which led to Cuba’s independence in 1902.

Most Cubans and Cuba experts are relatively familiar with the name of Tomás Estrada Palma (1835-1908), the island-nation’s first elected president, whose memory has been demonized by Fidel and Raúl Castro’s “socialist” regime since 1959. Few, however, are well informed about Estrada Palma’s crucial role in leading efforts abroad for a free Cuba.

Margarita García, a New Jersey psychology professor turned historian, recounts details of Estrada Palma’s pre-presidential life in Before Cuba Libre: The Rise of Tomás Estrada Palma.

García’s research took her to historical sites and archives in Spain, France and Honduras. She also conducted interviews with Estrada Palma’s descendants in the US and elsewhere.

Born in Cuba’s eastern city of Bayamo on July 9, 1835 to cattle ranching parents, Estrada Palma renounced his “bourgeois” life and joined the first Cuban anti-colonial insurgency in what became known as the “Ten Years’ War”.

He rose through the revolutionary civilian leadership, becoming the fourth president of the Republic in Arms (March, 1876-October, 1877) that controlled liberated territories. Estrada was then captured by the Spaniards, jailed in Cataluña’s Castell de Sant Ferran (which García visited and photographed), and was released after the 1878 armistice. He chose to sail to New York after stopping in Paris.

The poet laureate Joaquín Palma was Estrada’s cousin. Palma had developed connections with reformist-liberal President Marco Soto in Honduras, and he encouraged Estrada to move to that Central American country. Once there, Estrada Palma was entrusted chiefly with organizing the Honduran mail service and the teachers’ training school. In 1881, Estrada Palma married a mestizo younger neighbor, Genoveva Guardiola, daughter of a late Honduran president.

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