Tomas Estrada Palma becomes the first Cuban President (May 20, 1902) - History Key

Tomas Estrada Palma becomes the first Cuban President (May 20, 1902)

The last Spanish colony from America triggered the Cuba’s Second War of Independence in 1895, more than half a century after the foundation of independent republics from the Americas. However, the intellectual war against Spanish domination had begun earlier, before the first failed revolution. Many Cuban personalities, including Tomas Estrada Palma and Jose Marti believed that the Catholic education (which was only for the elite) suppressed the tendencies of national independence. Therefore, “Cuba Libre”, the independent and democratic nation, couldn’t have been born without the establishment of a free and universal education system.

Cuba's First War for Independence
Cuba’s First War for Independence © Image Source: Timetoast.com

Tomas Estrada Palma, the first elected president, was a true fighter for the freedom of Cubans. Despite that his actions have been demonized by the socialist regime, some Cubans are somehow familiar with him. But most of them have no idea about Palma’s crucial role for Cuba Libre.

A trusted man

Tomás Estrada y Palma, the first President of Cuba
Tomás Estrada y Palma, the first President of Cuba © Image Source: Wikipedia

Born in Bayamo, Cuba on estimated date of July 9, 1835 (recordings were burned in the Bayamo Town Hall fire), Palma renounced his bourgeois life and joined the Cuban anti-colonial movement, which is known as the “Ten Years War”. Later on he had a leadership role of the Republic in Arms and controlled free territories.

Because he was a real threat for Spain, he was captured and imprisoned in Sant Ferran Castle from Spain. In 1878 he was released and sailed in New York. With the influence of President Marco Soto from Honduras, he moved to that Central American country. He was entrusted with the administration of the mail service and the educational system. Basically, he organized a training school for teachers from Honduras.

The only candidate

Future first Cuban president Tomas Estrada de Palma on way to Havana © Future first Cuban president Tomas Estrada de Palma on way to Havana
Future first Cuban president Tomas Estrada de Palma on way to Havana © Future first Cuban president Tomas Estrada de Palma on way to Havana © Cuban Heritage Collection/Image Source: library.miami.edu

Unfortunately in 1883, the government from Honduras collapsed which made Palma to move back in New York. However, even with a new life in New York he managed to make something significant. He created the Estrada Palma Institute, a bilingual private institution. Nevertheless, Palma gave up his life from New York and returned in Cuba to be the head of the Cuban Revolutionary Party. The party was founded specifically for the liberation of Cuba and Puerto Rico, the last two Spanish colonies in the Americas.

In 1898 Cuba was devastated by war: hunger and diseases were “covering” the entire country. With the US intervention, Cuba came back to life in a couple of years. They helped building the country and called for national elections for December 31, 1901.

Estrada Palma accepted to run for presidency. His opponent, General Bartolome Maso withdrew his candidacy in a form of protest against the manipulation of the political machine by Estrada Palma’s followers. Therefore, Estrada Palma was the only candidate in December. He was elected as president on the same day, but at that time he was in Central Valley.

Tomas Estrada de Palma, first president of Cuba 1902
Tomas Estrada de Palma, first president of Cuba 1902 © Image Source: remezcla.com

He returned to Cuba in the applause of the people on May 20, 1902, the same day when he was declared as President. Even he was the only candidate, in 1905 was re-elected unopposed. But this time, violent protests occurred by the liberals suggesting that it was an electoral fraud.

Raising the Cuban flag on the Governor General's Palace at noon on May 20, 1902
Raising the Cuban flag on the Governor General’s Palace at noon on May 20, 1902 © Image Source: Wikipedia

While Cuba was a republic (1902 – 1958) the military interference was most of the times used in politics. The unofficial dynasty of the Castro family accused Estrada of turning Cuba into an American vassal state. Even more, in 1959 the fascists vandalized a monument raised in Havana in Estrada’s honour after his death in 1908. Ironically, Castro brothers are accused of turning Cuba into an Russian vassal state.

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