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Fulgencio Batista

Volume I, The Making of a Dictator, vol. 1

Frank Argote-Freyre

Publication Year: 2006

Pawn of the U.S. government. Right-hand man to the mob. Iron-fisted dictator. For decades, public understanding of the pre-Revolutionary Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista has been limited to these stereotypes, which barely scratch the surface of the complex and compelling career of this important political figure.

            Second only to Fidel Castro, Batista is the most controversial leader in modern Cuban history. And yet, until now, there has been no objective biography written about him. Existing biographical literature either borders on hero worship or launches a series of attacks aimed at rejecting his entire legacy.

            In this book, the first of two volumes, Frank Argote-Freyre provides a full and balanced portrait of this historically shadowed figure. Drawing on an extensive review of Cuban newspapers, government records, memos, oral history interviews, and a selection of Batista’s personal documents, Argote-Freyre moves beyond simplistic caricatures to uncover the real man—one with strengths and weaknesses and with a career marked by accomplishments as well as failures. 

            This volume focuses on Batista’s role as a revolutionary leader and his image as a “strongman” in the years between 1933 and 1939.  Through his study of Batista, the author is able to review an entire era that is frequently ignored by scholars—the Republican period of Cuban history. Bringing together global and local events, he considers the significance and relationship of the worldwide economic depression, the beginnings of World War II, the Cuban Revolution of 1933, the expansion of the Cuban middle class, and the nation’s gradual development of democratic institutions.

Fulgencio Batista and most of Cuba’s past prior to the Revolution of 1959 has been lost in the historical mists.  Cuba had a rich and fascinating history before the Marxist Revolution and the reign of Fidel Castro. This captivating and long-overdue book uncovers it.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xvi

Fulgencio Batista, and for that matter most of Cuban history prior to the Revolution of 1959, is lost in the historical mists. There was a Cuba prior to Fidel Castro and the Marxist Revolution, and this study seeks to rediscover it. ...

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pp. xvii-xx

Most authors wait until the end of the acknowledgments to praise their families; I want to do that right up front. Without my wife, Caridad, there would be no book. In the years I have been at war with this extensive research project, she has kept me and our two children, Amanda, age ten, and Andrew, age six, afloat ...

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Chapter 1: End and Beginning

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pp. 1-13

By the middle of December 1958, Fulgencio Batista knew his days as dictator of Cuba were about to come to an abrupt end. In recent years, he had survived an attack on the Presidential Palace that left several of his personal guards dead and nearly cost him and his wife their lives. ...

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Chapter 2: Restless Adolescence

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pp. 14-22

There are many gaps in the story of the next five years of Batista’s life. Biographical accounts seldom dedicate more than a few paragraphs to the period between 1916 and April 1921, when he entered the Cuban Army.What survives are sketchy accounts of his travels throughout Oriente Province, working an odd assortment of jobs ...

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Chapter 3: Sergeant Stenographer

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pp. 23-34

Havana was a bustling metropolis of more than three hundred fifty thousand people when Fulgencio Batista arrived in the spring of 1921. By far the largest city in Cuba, about 15 percent of the island’s population lived in the capital and its suburbs.1 ...

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Chapter 4: Machadato

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pp. 35-52

The political history of Cuba in the early 1930s was written in blood. The struggle between President Gerardo Machado and his political opponents escalated into a daily war of bombings and murder. It reached its climax with the Revolution of 1933 and the toppling of two governments. ...

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Chapter 5: Sergeants’ Revolt

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pp. 53-75

The government of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes was sickly and weak from the moment it took power.1 Sumner Welles and the United States had their fingerprints all over the provisional government. On the day Céspedes was sworn in, August 13, 1933, Welles went to congratulate the new president. ...

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Chapter 6: Revolution of 1933

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pp. 76-109

Taking power was relatively easy. Keeping it would prove much more difficult. The government of the enlisted men and student leaders was surrounded by powerful enemies. U.S. Ambassador Sumner Welles was personally embarrassed by the removal of Céspedes and would do everything in his power to undermine the new government. ...

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Chapter 7: An End to Revolution

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pp. 110-135

Reports of a possible military uprising began to reach Batista in early October. Intelligence indicated that segments of the military, including some of the newly promoted officers, were disgruntled with Batista and the course events had taken since September 4. Some felt the enlisted men had made a mistake in pushing out their former commanders ...

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Chapter 8: The Mendieta Years

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pp. 136-161

It was an odd sort of dictatorship. Batista was the strongman of a weak government. And, even though he was in a position of relative strength, there were enormous checks on his personal power throughout the two-year, provisional presidency of Carlos Mendieta Montefur (January 1934–December 1935). ...

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Chapter 9: Labor Unrest

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pp. 162-185

The Mendieta-Batista government spent a good deal of its time trying to suppress and oppress the Cuban labor movement. The labor movement spent a good deal of its time trying to topple the government. At least part of the labor movement’s antagonism was based on the difficult economic conditions of Depression-era Cuba. ...

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Chapter 10: The Elections of 1936

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pp. 186-198

President Mendieta’s political career died during the general strike; all that was left was to wait for the interment. That came nine months later, in December 1935, when he resigned in a squabble over upcoming elections. During his last nine months in office, Mendieta was forced to preside over an electoral process ...

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Chapter 11: In the Shadow of Batista

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pp. 199-229

The year 1936 marks an unheralded watershed in the history of the Cuban Republic and the career of Fulgencio Batista. The period of revolutionary turmoil was at an end. The general strike of 1935 was the last gasp of revolutionary forces seeking to redefine the core of Cuban society. ...

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Chapter 12: Cuban Strongman

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pp. 230-250

The impeachment of President Gómez cleared away any remaining artifice. Fulgencio Batista was in charge of Cuba. Presidents served at his pleasure. In the hours and days after Federico Laredo Brú was sworn in as Cuba’s latest chief executive, it was unclear whether his tenure would be short or long.1 ...

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Chapter 13: Road to Democracy

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pp. 251-274

Cuban politics was not for the meek. During their careers, political figures could expect to spend considerable amounts of time in exile or jail. Grau, Menocal,Miguel Mariano Gómez, Mendieta, Sáenz—all of the major Cuban political leaders of the era experienced one or both. ...


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pp. 275-362


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pp. 363-376


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pp. 377-388

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About the Author

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Frank Argote-Freyre teaches history at Kean University as well as working as an activist in the Latino community. The flight of his family from Cuba in the late 1950s and early 1960s led him to explore the period prior to the Cuban Revolution and drew him to the subject of Batista. ...

Gallery of Illustrations

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E-ISBN-13: 9780813541006
E-ISBN-10: 081354100X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813537016

Page Count: 416
Publication Year: 2006