Batista at Work
Batista grinned broadly, flashed two rows of fine teeth, and announced:
"Well, here I am back again." This was on March 10, just a few hours after
he had ousted President Carlos Prío
Socarras in a 77 minute, almost bloodless coup, and taken over the government of Cuba for the second time in his picturesque career
Batista, onetime army sergeant and stenographer, had led a sergeant's revolt in 1933 to seize power in the turbulent days after the overthrow of Dictator Gerardo Machado. For seven years he had made and unmade Presidents from behind the scenes; then in 1940 he was elected President himself. When his term ended he permitted a free election, in which his candidate, to his great surprise was defeated.
Shortly after the inauguration of his successor, Ramón Grau San Martín in l944, Batista left Cuba for tire United States. "I just felt safer there," he said. He divorced his wife, Elisa, and married Marta Fernández in 1945; they have two children born in the States.
Batista lived luxuriously in the Waldorf in New York City and his home in Daytona Beach, Fla., but he kept his finger in Cuban politics. He was elected to the Senate in absentia in 1948, returned to Cuba and organized the Unitarian Action Party. It nominated him for the Presidency in the election scheduled for June 1. Now, by-passing the election, he had come back by force.
At 51, Batista is a little plumper than he was; otherwise he doesn't show his age. He is of solid build, muscular, and, in his own words "fit as a fiddle." Last week he was working fifteen to eighteen hours a day, tightening his grip on the government. He had cleaned house in the army and police, putting his own men in the top posts. He had named a new Cabinet and called off the election. Organized labor had challenged him by calling a general strike, but it had collapsed. The country, was completely quiet and business as usual was resumed.
The ousted Prío expressed confidence that Cuba would "not remain long with a military boot on its neck." On March 13 he flew to Mexico. As long as Batista had the army with him, there was little chance of a successful counterrevolt.
Cuban officers and soldiers idolize him because of all he did for them when he was in power. He built and improved army posts, gave the troops smart uniforms, excellent food, hospitals, and pensions; made them, in fact, a privileged class. One of his first acts after taking over last week was to increase army pay. It is said that that young officers offered to seize power and deliver it to Batista three times during the past two administrations. Twice he refused.
The third time he accepted, apparently because he was convinced he couldn't be elected President in the June 1 election. Political observers gave Carlos Hevia, the administration candidate, the advantage, and thought Roberto Agramonte, candidate of the opposition Orthodox Party was next strongest. They saw little chance for Batista.
The general public was thoroughly disgusted with the disorganization of the government, the prevalence of graft, and the unchecked gang warfare which cost some 30 lives during Prío's regime. The public was also angry over the arrogance of labor, which has been inconveniencing everyone by calling strikes that stop transportation and close stores and restaurants. Business and industry were fed up with Prío's seizures of private companies to enforce labor demands.
Prío was also having trouble within his own Auténtico Party, some of whose members charged that he was giving the best jobs to his relatives and forgetting his friends. All these factors combined to make this the opportune time for Batista to strike.
The public does not seem to be enthusiastic about the new regime but it has adopted an attitude of watchful waiting and hoping that Batista will suppress gangsterism and correct other abuses. It is too early to say what his policy toward labor will be but he will probably it more in line than Prío did.
Batista goes out of his way to that "we want to be very close to the United States." Washington will probably be willing. Except for the violent overthrow of Prío, everything Batista has done since he came to power has the tacit approval of the State Department. He did not jail or shoot his opponents, and the press is apparently free to criticize. He seems also to satisfy the technical requirements for recognition. But this may not come immediately. Coups are sometimes contagious in Latin America, and the State Department does not want to encourage dissidents in other countries.
Batista's accession is bad news for the assorted exiles and plotters against Caribbean dictatorships who have been making Havana their headquarters with the the benevolent tolerance of Prío. Some of the most prominent of them have already left the island. Former Presidents Rómulo Gallegos and Rómulo Betancourt of Venezuela, for example, took off immediately after the coup for Mexico and Costa Rica respectively. The first governments to recognize Batista were Venezuela, ruled by a military junta, and the strongarm regimes of the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. Batista is expected to maintain the friendliest relations with these countries, whose quarrel with Prío kept the Caribbean constantly stirred up.
In general, Cubans don't expect much change. Looking at Batista's past record, they expect order will be maintained with an iron hand; graft will continue, although perhaps on a more scale; business and industry can look look forward toome lessenig of labor's aggressiveness. There will doubtless be a long period of provisional government before elections are held. However, as long as the price of sugar is high, the Cubans won't care too much.