The Americas 60.4 (2004) 665-666
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It is refreshing to read a scholarly work that does not assume that the Cuban Revolution was the inevitable outcome of nearly one hundred years of struggle against Spanish and United States imperialism. As the title implies, this meticulously researched monograph chronicles dozens of efforts by representatives of the traditional political parties, civic organizations, the Church, and the U.S. State Department to find a "democratic" way out of the Batista dictatorship. Throughout the book, Ibarra Guitart emphasizes how the Batista regime spurned repeated efforts at a reformist solution acceptable to the Cuban bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie. With every failure, Batista chipped away at the consensus of interests that sustained, what the author calls, the "rotting body" of the neocolonial republic that existed in Cuba between 1902 and January 1, 1959 (p. 7). The work implicitly raises the question: When did the Batista regime pass the point of no return and in the process doom the interests of the Cuban middle and upper classes?
The military coup of March 10, 1952, in which Fulgencio Batista and numerous fellow officers deposed the democratically elected government of President Carlos Prío Socarrás, serves as the backdrop for Ibarra Guitart's research. In the book's Prologue, the author recounts the failure of efforts in 1956 by the Sociedad de Amigos de la República to convince Batista to step down and hold free and fair elections. The unproductive talks marked a critical turning point for the legitimacy of the traditional political parties, a blow exacerbated by the ensuing of armed struggle in the Sierra Maestra at the end of the year. Batista divided the reformist opposition, but in the process converted many into revolutionaries.
The cause of finding a reformist solution to the island's political crisis was taken up in 1957 by civic clubs, like the Rotary and Lions, and professional organizations representing [End Page 665] lawyers, doctors, journalists and others. During the next 18 months a series of groups, such as the Comisión Interparlamentaria, attempted to strike a deal with the regime, always stumbling on the issue of Batista's immediate resignation. Once again, the dictatorship succeeded in dividing the opposition, in this case the professional classes, by rigidly maintaining the position that elections could not be held until November 1958. Batista won political battle after political battle only to insure that he would ultimately lose the war on the ground. By November 1958 those willing to negotiate with the regime were few and discredited. The abject defeat of the reformists is best reflected in the "elections" of 1958, held while constitutional guarantees were suspended and press freedoms restricted. Even a request by the political opposition for foreign observers, a condition the government initially agreed to, was ultimately rejected by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal as an affront to Cuba's sovereignty.
The book is important for scholars of Cuba and the Caribbean, and students of United States foreign policy, for a variety of reasons large and small. As already noted, it dispenses with the deterministic notion that the Cuban Revolution was inevitable, a tired concept that has plagued Cuban scholarship for decades. Just as important, the work focuses on the political structure of the Cuban republic, a subject largely ignored in the rush to write about the revolution and its aftermath. Ibarra Guitart describes the complexity of the republican-era political system and all the conflicting pressures and influences to which it was subject. Cuban scholars on the island rarely write about the period, because of its political sensitivity, which makes his contribution all the more significant. From a diplomatic history standpoint, he exposes the incompetence and incoherence of the Eisenhower Administration's Cuba policy. In a series of meetings throughout December (just weeks before Batista fled Cuba) President Eisenhower expresses puzzlement at the rapid...