Cuba last week had its first revolution in seven years. Compared with the butcheries that clotted up the regimes of Gerardo ("Tyrant") Machado and preceding Cuban presidents, it was as genteel as a dowager's hiccup.
The seeds of trouble were sown back in 1933 when a brash, swarthy sergeant named Fulgencio Batista and several fellow sergeants ousted the corrupt officers' clique that controlled the Government and made themselves overlords of the shark-shaped island. Batista became boss. He promoted himself to Commander in Chief of the Army and pinned a colonel's epaulets on his shoulders. To Sergeant Jose Pedraza he gave the national police, and Sergeant Angel Gonzalez got the Navy. When he offered Sergeant Pedraza the rank of major, that worthy replied: "Don't bother. I've already made myself colonel." A compromise rank of lieutenant colonel was finally agreed upon for Sergeants Pedraza and Gonzalez, but they resented their inferiority to Batista, and rivalry began.
The sergeants' regime brought opulence and power to the Army, very little to the country. Education and other civic functions were placed under the supervision of the Army; the administration of lighthouses, fishing and customs went to the Navy. Many officers began to collect double and triple salaries for these additional duties. To his allotted tasks, Police Chief Pedraza added the State lottery and illegal numbers racket, and Navy Chief Gonzalez collared the extensive contraband trade that centred around Cuba.
Six years of success at remaining in power made Batista tolerant and social-minded, but only quickened the appetites of certain henchmen. Determined to put Cuba on a democratic basis that would convince the U.S. Treasury it was a good loan risk, Batista turned the Army over to Pedraza, promoted to colonel in 1936, got himself elected President. Last June he ratified a constitution that removed all civic concessions from the Army and Navy and reduced them to a position of subservience to the State. He also accorded labor extensive rights, to the annoyance of native and foreign investors. World War II and the consequent loss of the European sugar market seriously upset Cuban economy and confronted Batista with the problem of pacifying conservative groups while still keeping his promises to labor. The makings of a spicy political stew were in the pot. Last week it boiled over.
Trouble started when the President, impatient with Police Chief Bernardo Garcia, a Pedraza stooge, for not enforcing his decrees against gambling and vice, demanded and got his resignation. He intended to replace him with his friend, Lieut. Colonel Manuel Benitez, but Colonel Pedraza got to the police headquarters first and announced that he was again Chief of Police as well as Commander in Chief of the Army. It was a direct challenge to Batista's authority.
The President remained inactive for two days making plans. Impatient Colonel Pedraza demanded an audience, was refused. Fellow Plotter Lieut. Colonel Gonzalez, disgruntled over the loss of his customs concession and the sharp contraband control ordered by Batista, unlimbered the guns of La Punta fortress, trained them on the Presidential Palace. Guards set up machine guns around the Palace and piled sandbags in front of it. Cubans waited for the revolution.