Front Door to Cuba

The Intervention of 1906

An excerpt from
The Cuban Situation and Our Treaty Relations
By Philip G. Wright
Brookings Institute, 1931
(pg. 31-33)

The first intervention was brought about in connection with a presidential election. The first president, Tomás Estrada Palma, during his term of office had shown himself a man of scrupulous integrity. He entered the presidency a poor man and left it a poor man. He restrained subordinates and his handling of the public funds was a model of economy and honesty. Yet in an evil hour he permitted himself to be persuaded by his followers that his re-election was so essential to the security of the Republic that even the most high-handed methods would be justified to attain it. This is the more unfortunate as it is generally conceded that had he not resorted to such methods he would have been peaceably elected. As it was, he dismissed his cabinet, and appointed in their places violent partisans known as the “fighting cabinet.” His followers resorted to fraud and intimidation Public servants of the opposing party, even school teachers, were dismissed. Partisans were appointed to controlling positions in the local governments. Registration lists were padded; out of 32,313 names 150,000 were fraudulent. The opposition declined to take part in the farce. They preferred to appeal to the sword. Palma was accordingly declared elected and began his second term on May 20, 1906.

However, if one is to succeed by strong-arm methods one must have a strong arm. Among Palma’s praiseworthy economies had been economy in the military establishment. A revolution led by José Miguel Gómez, the “Liberal” candidate for president, broke out in August and soon showed every prospect of success. Palma thereupon appealed to the United States to intervene under the terms of the Permanent Treaty.

This, President Roosevelt was extremely reluctant to do. Instead, he attempted to effect an amicable adjustment between the contending factions and to this end sent the secretary of War, William Howard Taft, and the Assistant-Secretary of State, Robert Bacon. Their coming undoubtedly prevented bloodshed and the destruction of property but at no time offered any promise of brining about an adjustment. Palma stood on his dignity and refused to entertain any proposition which involved compromise with the “rebels” while they were under arms. He preferred intervention and finally he made intervention inevitable. On September 28, he tendered to the Cuban Congress the resignations of himself and the members of his cabinet. The Vice-President also resigned. Cuba was now without a government and Roosevelt was forced to act.

A provisional government was established at first with Taft, and later with Charles Edward Magoon, as governor. As far as possible the provisional government was conducted along the lines provided by the Cuban constitution. The Cuban flag was hoisted over the government buildings, all the executive departments and the provincial and municipal governments continued to be administered as under the Cuban Republic, and Cuban law continued to be administered in the courts. The purpose of the United States was to restore Cuba to the Cubans as soon as possible.

The Magoon administration closed on January 28, 1909. A peaceable election had been held, and the successful candidate, José Miguel Gómez, took office. It is not pertinent to this discussion to enter into the merits or demerits of the Magoon administration. It did accomplish the purpose laid down in the Permanent Treaty as warranting intervention—it protected life and property on the Island.

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Related:
Introduction to the Struggle for Independence
The Teller Amendment | Race in Cuba | After the War of Independence

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