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Latin American & Caribbean Studies

An Annotated Bibliography on Moderate Cuban Politics

Holly Ackerman, Ph.D., Subject Librarian for Latin America & Iberia

Bostock 231 | | 919.660.5845

The Bibliography on Moderate Cuban Politics, 1952-1965 includes 300 annotated primary and secondary resources related to events, groups and individuals that advocated the return to democratic process during the period from the coup led by Fulgencio Batista on March 10, 1952 to the close of 1965 when democratic resistance (counterrevolutionary) groups were definitively defeated.


Drawn in the broadest historical strokes, the 1952–1965 period of Cuban history can be conceptualized as a series of three separate defeats for moderate politics and democratic process. The first blow came with the end of constitutional government via Fulgencio Batista’s golpe de estado (coup d’etat) on March 10, 1952. This was followed by a second gradual defeat between 1952 - 1956 embodied in the inability of civic organizations and/or political parties to restore democratic institutions via political pacts and negotiations. The degree of corruption and malfeasance that characterized all of the major political parties produced a vacuum of moral authority and a "falling away" from politics. The political class lacked effective leaders willing to forego personal ambition in order to build and maintain a publicly supported political coalition able to obtain concessions from Batista. The failed attempts of these groups to negotiate a transition back to constitutional rule gave way in 1956 to the rise and eventual success of violent insurrection culminating in the revolution of 1959. After 1959, a third attempt was made by democratic, insurrectionary forces to displace the charismatic and increasingly arbitrary leadership of Fidel Castro. This ended in a third defeat with execution, exile or imprisonment of democratic elements by 1965.

Phase I: March 10, 1952 – End of Constitutional government
With the approach of national elections slated for June 1, 1952, it was clear that former President General Fulgencio Batista was running behind the Auténtico and Ortodoxo candidates (Carlos Hevia and Roberto Agramonte respectively) and that he would not be elected. On March 10th he staged an all but bloodless military coup, with only slight resistance from the Auténtico government of President Carlos Prío Socarrás.

Prío was the incumbent who permitted graft and corruption on the one hand and, on the other, had been unable to stop gang violence, the social problem that pollsters found to be the number one concern of Cuban citizens in 1952. His ineffectiveness, corruption and malfeasance were a severe disappointment to Cubans since Prío had been part of the revolutionary generation of 1933 that rid the country of Dictator Gerardo Machado and wrote the socially progressive Constitution of 1940.

It seemed that democracy had failed on two levels – first on a performance level by Prío and his allies but also by Batista’s reversion to impunity. Batista rose as a political figure in Cuba after a coup in 1933 but then moved toward respect for de jure forms when he held elections in 1940, organized a constitutional convention and peacefully surrendered the Presidency at the end of his term. It seemed that electoral politics was becoming the norm and the new Constitution held promise that social justice might be combined with reliable democratic process. Batista’s second coup dashed these hopes.

Secondly, democracy failed on a more organic level, when neither the political parties nor the organizations of civil society immediately fought to prevent the coup or to reverse it within the first few days. In his public presentation following the coup, Batista played on the immorality, venality and corruption of his opponents. He claimed to have "saved" the country from their continued misrule. More important, he quickly ended gang rule though he did so by incorporating some of these groups into his administration. In any case, citizens and organized parties failed to take prompt and extraordinary action.

Phase II: 1952–1956 – Failure of political and civic groups to negotiate a transition back to democracy.
Despite their common democratic orientation, the most popular political parties, the Auténticos and the Ortodoxos, had difficulty coalescing. The Ortodoxos had never held office and could be purists in judging the corruption of their Auténtico rivals. Also, the Ortodoxos began as a break away group from the Auténticos leaving hard feelings among many key individuals in both groups. At the same time, the Ortodoxos had lost their popular foundational leader, Eduardo Chibás, in August 1951 thereby suffering a decrease in their ranks as those who were faithful to Chibás rather than the party left. For the same reason there was splintering among the new aspirants to leadership. The enmity between the two groups made pacted settlement very hard – to settle with the Auténticos was to taint your reputation. Thus, the status of the major party made transition particularly difficult. An honest leader respected by all groups was needed, rather than a series of leaders each of whom sought to subjugate the others.

As civic groups began to take positions, consider joint action and propose solutions, a classic dilemma of politics arose. It was not clear what would constitute a victory. How would groups know when they had won? For example, if Batista agreed to free and fair elections with constitutional guarantees at a future date and an end to repression, was that enough? Or, did Batista have to leave office before a settlement could be considered to be adequate and honorable? How could leaders counter claims of selling out or giving away the store?

The two main political parties split internally as well as with their rivals. Major figures such as Aurelio Sánchez Arango and Carlos Prío embraced violent solutions while other leaders such as Carlos Márquez Sterling and Emilio Ochoa sought peaceful settlement. Those who believed in negotiation met in Montreal in June 2, 1953 and signed a pact stating that, "(1) the Cuban crisis could be solved only by Batista Caricature restoring the 1940 Constitution; (2) the Batista regime was unable to restore political institutions to the people and bring about elections; (3) after the removal of Batista, a provisional government would restore the Electoral Code of 1943 and guarantee official neutrality in elections; (4) the signing political factions categorically rejected and condemned attacks on individuals, gangsterism, and terrorism as forms of struggle; (5) the two factions would appoint commissions to efficiently structure the efforts to carry out their objectives, reiterating that they did not form an electoral coalition" (Bonachea 1972).

After the Montreal pact, civil society embraced the task of negotiation while, simultaneously, violent solutions rose and were dashed. In 1953 Fidel Castro gained national attention though his assault on the Moncada Army barracks. With the slaughter of his men and Castro’s incarceration, violent solutions subsided. The Sociedad de Amigos de la República (SAR), a united civic front led by Cosme de la Torriente (an honest and highly respected 83 year old veteran of the War of Independence) took on the task of organizing a civic front to meet with Batista. As Prof. Marifeli Perez–Stable has noted,

"SAR aimed to mediate between government and opposition: the organization was not a political party, and the 83-year-old Don Cosme clearly had no presidential ambitions. With the impetus for an insurrection dissipated, civic resistance appeared a plausible strategy for negotiating the full guarantees needed to hold free and fair elections. Don Cosme himself put it succinctly: ‘A Batista sólo se le puede vencer poniéndole frente a toda la opinión pública de Cuba’"

Sham elections were postponed twice but finally set for November 1954. Batista ran unopposed. Nonetheless the elections restored a Congress and Batista made some "model" appointments to his cabinet as a concession, opening the way to further dialogue. At the same time he entered into negotiations with the SAR but used the meetings as a stalling device, creating committees and holding discussions that went nowhere. On March 10, 1956, the fourth anniversary of the coup, Batista felt confident enough to call the SAR "ridiculous" and to dismiss the need for dialogue. The SAR never recovered momentum after that and the insurrection was on.

Phase III: 1956-1965 - Insurrection, Revolution and Revolutionary Resistance.
Two groups, the Directorio Revolucionario (DR) and the 26th of July Movement (M-26-7) dominated the armed insurrection - the DR predominantly in the cities and the M-26-7 primarily in the countryside - but hundreds of small groups and thousands of individuals participated with much larger numbers wishing them well. On 1/1/1959 Fulgencio Batista abandoned the country without a struggle much as President Carlos Prío had done on 3/10/1952.

In the ensuing days, Fidel Castro consolidated control over the revolutionary government and captured the imagination and loyalty of the majority of Cubans. During the next year, as the revolution became increasingly radical, some participants in the insurrection began to reorganize, conspiring in groups that were variously labeled as the revolutionary resistance, counterrevolutionaries, bandits or the democratic left. Their objective was to re-ignite a popular insurrection. They operated both in the mountains and in cities. Between 1960 and 1965 these groups experienced steady attrition in their numbers as they were executed, imprisoned or forced into exile. By 1965, revolutionary vigilance made it impossible for these groups to maintain supply lines, find safe houses in the cities or maintain guerrilla focos in the countryside. By 1965 they ceased to operate inside Cuba in any significant way.

Scope and purpose of the bibliography:

The eventual goal of the present bibliographic project is to compile annotated bibliographic citations including primary and secondary materials related to the events, groups and individuals that advocated return to democratic process during each of these three sub-periods. The bibliography will assist the growing number of students and researchers investigating this heretofore neglected era in Cuban history. At present there is no bibliography on the subject. Indeed, many bibliographic and reference works covering the time period entirely ignore the democratic actors and describe a world made up only of Batistianos and Fidelistas. As Cuba once again moves toward transition, it is vital to know about past efforts at transition and to analyze strategic errors and problems of political culture that made peace impossible in the past.

The bibliography will be of value for:

1. Study of Cuban political culture. The events of 1952-1965 demonstrate longstanding themes such as the role of frustrated national identity in politics; the collective effects of corruption; the tendency of Cuban political groups to center around strong personal leaders; the propensity to splinter over differences rather than to expand by tolerating factions; the presence of many small action groups working in short-lived coalitions; & the presence of generational rule. As civil society reemerges in the XXIst Century, many of these themes are rising again, making the 1952-1965 period the subject of historical curiosity.

2. Those currently trying to understand, predict and/or participate in a peaceful transition of the Cuban state as the historical leadership ages. Avoiding the mistakes of the past requires knowledge of those mistakes, their context, actors and dynamics. Primary documents are particularly important as the revolutionary government has stereotyped the opposition, denied that moderates existed and cast all critics as "mafiosos, worms, or CIA agents." Similarly, many conservative to reactionary groups in the diaspora regard moderates either as "tontos utiles" or Fidelistas. Encountering a past and present that include moderate and center left elements is both realistic and also bodes well for nonviolent transition.

3. Analysts who are studying continuities in Cuban history rather than breaks. With the exception of the writings of moderate groups, Cuban history from 1952 to the present privileges discontinuities. A literature that looks at similarities, continuities and parallels exits and is the subject of this bibliography. It will be an important base for those who seek a return to democracy in Cuba.

At this point, the majority of citations in the bibliography are related to the 1956-1965 period. It is divided into categories including reference materials, monographs, memoirs, archives, microfilm, newspapers, organizational newsletters and other ephemera. Additional categories currently being added include websites, films and journal articles. The bibliography exists both as an unpublished draft manuscript and as a searchable internet database that is being prepared and tested by the University of Miami’s Richter Library.

For reasons discussed below, the most comprehensive and widely used bibliographies on Cuba (Perez 1988, 1991, 2003; Chilcote 1986, etc) do not contain citations on this subject, therefore, the present work fills a gap. More important, it fills the gap at a time when scholars are embarking on revisionist histories of this era and when Cuba’s political leaders are elderly, making transition inevitable within the next decade. Alternative views will become increasingly important as will informed understanding regarding the history of the Cuban insurrection (1952-1959), the revolutionary triumph, the consolidation of the post-1959 regime and the opposition to that consolidation.

During the 1980s and 1990s significant numbers of moderates who had been incarcerated as political prisoners in Cuba, began to be released, to emigrate and to write testimonies and/or analyses about their political views, the actions they conducted between 1952-1959 (against Batista and often allied with Castro many as members of M-26-7) and 1959-1965 (against Castro either as sabotage groups in the cities, "alzados" in the mountains, "plantados" in prison or as political activists in exile). They also brought primary documents with them into exile. These included prison letters, organizational archives and position papers. This literature has not been widely circulated or even collected by most research libraries. Prior bibliographies on Cuba have not included these works because they focused exclusively on publications from Cuba or the bibliographies were published prior to 1989 when key actors were still stabilizing their lives in the diaspora or because the publications were simply unknown to the compilers. Similarly, in Cuba, a spate of testimonies and analyses have appeared, mostly in the 1990s, giving description of the same events, providing biographies of leading figures and history of the major campaigns organized to defeat the moderate forces.

Moveover, until recently, the very existence of revolutionary resistance groups and events related to them had been denied by the Cuban government, making it politically incorrect to write about the groups or their history. This was true for Cuban scholars for whom it was impossible to treat these subjects impartially but also for foreign scholars who wished to obtain access to facilities and data in Cuba. Since 1990, however, Cuban scholars such as Jorge Ibarra Guitart, Jesus Arboleya , H. Lopez Blanch and others have produced some of the best informed and most engaging works on the 1952-1965 period and the roots of contemporary moderate groups in exile.

Furthermore, two major crises, the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Missile Crisis, occupied scholars who were considering opposition to and defense of the revolution, giving independent internal resistance within Cuba scant attention. The preoccupation with Cuban-U.S. relations has also occupied a lot of scholarly space and bibliographic attention. For all these reasons, the moderate political forces have been neglected.

Finally, some of the moderate organizations and their leaders have continued to be politically involved both in Cuba and in the diaspora. As a transition takes place, scholars will seek information about the origins of this contemporary moderate sector.

Likely materials were selected from a systematic review of electronic and paper reference works on Cuba including , Chilcote, de Varona , Esquinazi-Mayo, Gropp , Lent, Perez, Stubbs. A similar review was made of major databases including WorldCat, PAIS, Worldwide Political Abstracts, Sociological Abstracts, HAPI, The Latin American Handbook and Historical Abstracts. Materials were also identified by review of three special collections with extensive Cuban materials (Florida International University, The University of Miami and The Library Of Congress) and by viewing microfilmed collections of ephemera. Additional citations were pointed out by past participants in politically moderate Cuban parties and action groups of the era. Additionally, suggestions were elicited from currently active political activists both on the island and in the diaspora and from scholars and librarians.

A major criterion for inclusion was that each item selected should be accessible in the United States. Many documents from this era are still in private hands outside of Cuba and/or exist in Cuba with restricted access. Many of the books cited are held at only one or two institutions and may be in special collections with lending restrictions. Others exist in microfilm collections that are not indexed. Much of the literature on this subject is ephemeral, consisting of participants’ first hand accounts of armed resistance, prison resistance, political conspiracies and recruitment to activism. There are also printed idearios, position papers, newspaper articles, and broadsides as well as biographies of leaders and critiques of strategy and tactics. These materials were published only in small numbers..

Excluded from the bibliography is any material specific to the Playa Giron/Bay of Pigs invasion, Brigade 2506 and the Cuban Missile Crisis. These are topics with extensive material, readily available and with bibliographies already compiled. (See for example: ).

A second criterion is that the materials had to explain or critique some part of the moderate position. It is difficult to specify how we know a "moderate" view when we see it. Basically, action groups with an avowed Social Democratic or Christian Democratic philosophy are included as are political parties and civic groups that favored Democratic rather than Socialist or Communist forms. The question of who or what is moderate is further complicated because many revolutionary activists who had not only worked with Castro during the insurrection but also accepted significant positions in the post-1959 Castro government eventually defected, expressing moderate views. Many people defected, with more or less fanfare, and then adopted moderate positions in exile or in prison. I include their works and note the trajectory of their political allegiances within the annotations of their moderate publications.

Value and limitations of the bibliography:

The main value of the bibliography is that it presents documents from the era, written concurrent with events and contains many primary documents. Significantly it also presents evidence of a significant voice that formed part of the politics of the era.

The primary limit of the materials is that although oral history and personal social networks are vital to Cuban politics, they are often more anecdotal than analytic. To be more accurate, the authors frequently evaluate the character of individuals involved rather than the logic and outcome of their rhetoric and action. Men of action are important in Cuban politics and leaders are judged by whether they are out front or behind the lines. Who took action counts in building a constituency and the materials of the era proceed from this belief.

Since the bibliography is a work in progress the author seeks comments, criticisms and suggestions for additional entries. She can be contacted at