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A Short History of
Corrupt Presidents of Cuba

[TIME, 26 January 1959, page 48. NOTE: this is an excerpt from a larger article]

Page 48

"President of 1,000 Murders."  Martí had predicted that "rascals will struggle to infest politics."  After the administration of First President Tomás Estrada Palma (1902-06), who died in poverty, Cuba never knew an honest President.

No. 2 retired to a $250,000 mansion;
No. 3 parlayed $1,000,000 into $30 million to $40 million;
No. 4 was known as "the peseta stealer."
No. 5, Gerardo ("The Butcher") Machado (1925-33), coupled graft with terror, rode in a $30,000 armored car, had some of his victims fed to the sharks.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt dispatched suave Diplomat Summer Welles to smooth the way for the unseating of the "President of a thousand murders."  Welles began a subtle campaign against Machado inside the army itself, and one afternoon Battalion No. 1 of the Cabaña Fortress trained its guns on the yellow-domed palace, whereupon Machado cried: "All right, my boys, I'm through," and flew off to Nassau.  A delirious crowd looted the palace, lynched 18 Machado henchmen and terrorists.

After 1933, Cuba had seven Presidents in seven years, dependent always on the kingmaker, Fulgencio Batista, an orderly-room sergeant who filled the vacuum after Machado. Said he: "I think it would be criminal to take advantage of the power I have achieved; I can never become President."  In 1940 he became President.  After four years Batista allowed his hand-picked successor to be defeated in Cuba's first honest election and retired to Daytona Beach to enjoy his graft.  The administrations of Ramon Grau San Martin (1944-48) and Carlos Prío Socarrás (1948-52) respected civil liberties but not the treasury.  Prío amassed millions by the time he fled Batista's coup.

Despite the looting, Cuba kept growing. Machado's graft-ridden, 700-mile cross-island highway became the avenue for thriving commerce; Batista's bribe of high wages to workers widened the consumer class, gave Cuba a living standard not far short of booming Puerto Rico's. Today Cuba is 75% literate, boasts some of the most advanced social and labor legislation in the hemisphere.

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