Engineer, soldier, man of affairs, third President of the Republic of Cuba.
Like many of his compatriots of recent times President Menocal has spent much of his life away from his own country. His boyhood was passed largely in Mexico and his youth in the United States where he was educated
Menocal was born in Hanábana, Province of Matanzas, on the seventeenth of December, 1866, the son of Don Gabriel G. Menocal, an experienced and skillful sugar planter who, when his son Mario was about two years old, had to flee from Cuba in consequence of his revolutionary activities. He went first to the United States and thence to Mexico where he settled down as a sugar planter at San Juan Bautista, State of Tabasco. Here the future President of Cuba spent his boyhood, but when he was thirteen he was sent to school in the United States, first at the Institute of Chappaqua, New York, and later at the Maryland College of Agriculture whence he passed in 1884 to Cornell University where he was graduated in the Engineering School in 1888.
On finishing his University course Menocal returned to Latin-America but not yet to Cuba. He first associated himself with his uncle Aniceto Menocal on the commission for the study and construction of the Nicaragua canal route, a task which occupied the greater part of three years. Then in I89I he returned to his native land, which as yet he hardly knew. He was employed for a time as Engineer for a French Company owning salt works and banana plantations on the Island of Cayo Romano and later entered upon railway construction work, having been employed to carry the survey and location of the proposed railway line from Camaguey to Santa Cruz del Sur.
Here he soon found himself in the thick of revolutionary activities and when in 1895 the War of Independence broke out he joined the forces under General Máximo Gómez, continuing to serve in the field until the final victory following the intervention of the United States in 1898.
As a soldier Menocal exhibited talent for military affairs, and definite aptitude for strategy. He served under three famous chieftains, Generals Máximo Gómez, Mayía Rodriguez, and Calixto García, all of whom recognized his ability, and he won distinction in the battles of Yerba de Guinea, La Piedra, La Aguada, and also in the capture of the Fort Loma de Hierro.
In the capture of this fort he was mentioned as performing "gallant feats of valor " and given the rank of Colonel. Soon afterwards he took a very active part in the siege and capture of the town of Guáimaro in Camagüey for which he was made Brigadier General, but it was the battle of Victoria de las Tunas that marked the climax of his martial career. Here his engineering training stood him in good to organize the Lighthouse Service, a post which he held for a short tirre, but gave up to undertake an engineering commission of considerable importance and extent, namely, constructing for the Cuban American Sugar Company the factory at Chaparra, then said to be the largest sugar factory in the world. This task General Menocal fulfilled with credit and distinction.
Meantime the growth of his reputation had brought him within the field of politics. In 1908 he was nominated for the Presidency by the Conservative party but failed of election; in I9I2 he was again a candidate and was elected President of the Republic on the ticket of the same party. President Menocal's first term was characterized by a constructive policy including the following practical proposals:
(1) Administrative and financial reforms.
(2) Strengthening the relations with the United States.
(3) Strict regulation of the Public Treasury, liquidation and adjustment of all outstanding indebtedness, and reorganization of taxation, in order to equalize, as far as possible, its incidence.
(4) Support of agriculture and development of immigration.
(5) Reorganization of the Army and Navy, in order to obtain efficiency.
Again in I9I6 he received the nomination and was declared reelected, but after a contest so close and so much disputed that the unsuccessful party fomented an armed uprising which for a time threatened to overturn the government and was only subdued after bloodshed and some destruction of property. During General Menocal's presidency the European War presented many problems of the utmost difficulty, some of which were solved and the quality of President Menocal's statesmanship shown, when, following the example of the United States, Cuba espoused the cause of the Allies and declared a state of war with Germany within twenty-four hours after the United States had done so.
In 1918 President Menocal was elected
an Honorary Associate of the Hispanic Society of America.