Tomás Estrada Palma

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Tomás Estrada Palma
Portrait of Tomas Estrada Palma.jpg
1st President of Cuba
In office
20 May 1902 28 September 1906
Vice President Luis Estévez Romero and Domingo Méndez Capote
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded by José Miguel Gómez
Personal details
Tomás Estrada Palma

c. (1832-07-06)July 6, 1832 [1]
Bayamo, Spanish Cuba
DiedNovember 4, 1908(1908-11-04) (aged 73)
Santiago de Cuba, Cuba
Nationality Cuban
Political party Cuban Revolutionary Party
Republican Party of Havana
Spouse(s) Genoveva Guardiola Arbizú
Children Jose M. Estrada-Palma Guardiola

Tomás Estrada Palma (c. July 6, 1832 – November 4, 1908) was a Cuban politician and the first President of Cuba. Initially he was the President of the Cuban Republic in Arms during the Ten Years' War and again between May 20, 1902 and September 28, 1906. His collateral career as a New York City Area Educator and writer enabled Estrada Palma to create Pro-Cuban literature aimed at gaining sympathy, assistance and publicity. He was eventually successful in garnering the attention of influential Americans. He was an early and persistent voice calling for the United States to intervene in Cuba on humanitarian grounds. He was the first President of Cuba, between May 20, 1902 and September 28, 1906. During his presidency his major accomplishments include improving Cuba's infrastructure, communication, and public health.


He is remembered in Cuba for allowing the Platt Amendment to be enacted, which ensured American political and economic dominance over Cuba.

Early life

He was born in Bayamo, Spanish Cuba, around July 6, 1832 to Dr. Andrés María Estrada y Oduardo and Madam María Candelaria Palma Tamayo. His exact birth date is not known because of a fire in Bayamo Town Hall on January 19, 1869 that destroyed his birth records. [2] An article in Bohemia magazine issued October 4, 1944 indicates that his baptism document, contained in his University of Havana file, shows of a birth date of July 6, 1832. [3] His paternal grandfather was Dr. Manuel Jose de Estrada, well-known professional in the region of Cauto, Cuba (current-day Bayamo). He was given his name "Tomas" in honor of his maternal grandfather, Don Tomas de Palma, a rich landowner. What is known about his early life is his schooling in the private school of Toribio Hernández, Havana, and his attendance in the University of Havana in which he received a philosophy degree on July 19, 1854. He was taken out of the roster in the University of Seville on January 29 in 1857 for excessive absences. He withdrew on June 29, 1857, of the same year for personal reasons. [2]

Early career

From 1857 to 1868, he returned to Bayamo and became an administrator and a local teacher. [2] He continued to teach in Honduras and Orange County, New York.

War for independence

Estrada Palma became the President of the Cuban Republic in Arms during the Ten Years' War.

Estrada Palma was captured by Spanish troops and sent into exile. While in exile, he traveled to New York City, where he worked with José Martí to gather political support for a political revolution in Cuba.

After Martí's death, Estrada Palma became the new leader of the Cuban Revolutionary Party. His role in the party was to be its chief representative. With that authorization, he was able to have diplomatic relations with other countries, including the US. [4]

After the Government in Arms was established, it sent Estrada Palma to Washington, DC, as its diplomat. He was largely successful. Estrada Palma received assistance from various individuals including an American banker who attempted to offer Spain $150 million to give up the island.

Estrada Palma was also assisted by William Randolph Hearst's newspapers to spread the cause of the Cuban Revolutionary Party by posting articles sympathetic to the Cuban revolutionaries. The newspapers assisted the revolutionaries in gaining materials, support, and popularity for the movement. [5]

In a move that showed some real statesmanship and an ability to use media, Estrada Palma got the US Congress to pass a joint resolution on April 19, 1898. The resolution disavowed the Spanish colonization of Cuba and supported the independence of the Republic of Cuba. It also highlighted that the United States had no intention of occupying or annexing the island. [2] (see Spanish–American War).

After the Spanish–American War, Estrada Palma dissolved one of the leading factions of the Cuban revolutionary armies: the Liberation Army, mostly black and rural. He gave more political power to the Assembly of Representatives, the allegedly more pragmatic white urban dwellers, neo-annexationists, and elitists. [6]

He had effectively given power a chosen few of the former revolutionaries to achieve political dominance within Cuban politics. At the same time, he would attract US assistance in Cuba to rebuild the country.

First term

After a few years of General Leonard Wood's rule in Cuba, elections were to be held on December 31, 1901. [7] There were two political parties, the Republicans, who were conservative and wanted national autonomy, headed by José Miguel Gómez, and the National Liberals, who were a popular party that wanted Cuba to go toward local autonomy, headed by Alfredo Zayas. Both supported Estrada Palma. [7] However, he did not campaign but instead remained in the United States, where he was a citizen.

Estrada Palma's opponent, General Bartolomé Masó, withdrew his candidacy in protest against favoritism by the occupational government and the manipulation of the political machine by Estrada Palma's followers. Thus, Estrada Palma was left as the only candidate. [8] On December 31, 1901, Estrada Palma was elected president.

To his credit, Estrada Palma did not want to have a presidency based on racial barriers. Like many other Cuban revolutionaries, he had seen the new nation as a nonracial republic in which Afro-Cubans would be equal to whites in society. [9] Before his presidency, Estrada Palma assured that he would bring 100 public service jobs to Afro-Cubans and repeal American regulations that supported segregation in Cuba. [10]

The Platt Amendment was signed on March 2, 1901. The amendment allowed the United States to interfere in the domestic policies of Cuba and to lease land for naval bases or coal stations. [2]

American troops left after the Cuban government signed a bill lowering tariffs on American products and incorporated the Platt Amendment into its constitution. Many American companies came to do business in Cuba.

On February 16, 1903, Estrada Palma signed the Cuban-American Treaty of Relations, agreeing to lease the Guantanamo Bay area to the United States in perpetuity for use as a naval base and coaling station. That was a minor victory for the Estrada Palma administration for Washington had wanted five naval bases on the island. It is a testament to his diplomatic skills that Estrada Palma was able to obtain the reduction, even with American troops stationed in the island. His policies were also responsible for improvements in education, communications, and public health, which had suffered from the devastation created by the war. [2] As an example, land prices between 1902 and 1905 went up and he built over 328 km of road in Cuba. [11] In 1905 Palma formed the “Gabinete de Combate” or the “Fighting Cabinet” as the cabinet ministers consisted of all veterans who fought during the Cuban Wars of Independence. The principle figure in the new cabinet being General Fernando Freyde de Andrade, Secretary of the Government. [12]

Second term

Estrada Palma was re-elected unopposed in the 1905 Cuban general election, with his second term officially commencing May 20, 1906. This time, there was violent opposition by the liberals. Each side claimed electoral fraud had affected the outcome. One story being that The National Labor Party used el copo, fraud to prevent minority victory in the first election. [11]

The main issue in the second election was the equal representation of the Cuban provinces. Critics of Estrada Palma such as General Faustino Guerra Puente accused him of ignoring the constitution. Still, other politicians and generals, possibly even including Guerra Puente himself, recognized Estrada Palma as the only person able to lead Cuba. [13]

The response to the opponents Alfredo Zayas was to have the force of the police and the rural guard to allow Estrada Palma to claim victory. Estrada Palma and the moderate camp appealed to the US for intervention, and in 1906, the US began the Second Occupation of Cuba and installed a provisional occupation government, which lasted from 1906 to 1909. Another pro-American government was established in Cuba under Charles Magoon. [14] Finally, on September 28, 1906, Estrada Palma, by then 71 years old, resigned along with the rest of the executive branch, leaving Cuba without a successor president. This choice of action allowed the United States to take control under the Platt Amendment. [15]

President Palma’s resignation read as follows:

To the Congress of Cuba

"[1] The course of events that has taken hold as a result of the public disorder caused by the armed revolt in the Province of Pinar del Rio; [2] the fact that a U.S. Commission of Peace, in representation of Washington, is currently in place in the Cuban capital, which has in turn caused the loss of authority of the Executive (Cuban President), while the rebels continue to roam free at arms and with a menacing attitude. [3] Wishing, on the other hand, honestly and wholeheartedly that the country return to a normal state of order and general tranquility and [4] unable to accept the conditions proposed by the aforementioned Commission, I have resolved as a patriotic act to present unto the Cuban Congress, with irrevocable character, my resignation to the post of President of the Republic. Ensuring that it will be accepted, I give thanks to the members of both chambers and I offer you the assurances of my highest consideration. Signed at the Palace of the Presidency, September 28, 1906." [16]

Personal life

Born in Bayamo, Cuba, Estrada Palma was the son of Andrés Duque de Estrada y Palma and wife and cousin María Candelaria de Palma y Tamayo. On May 15, 1881, he married Genoveva Guardiola Arbizú (1854–1926), daughter of General José Santos Guardiola, President of Honduras, Estrada Palma and his wife had six children.

Estrada Palma, an attorney, died in Santiago de Cuba at 11:45 p.m. on November 4, 1908 from pneumonia. He was temporarily residing in Calle Sagarra No. 17 [17]



Estrada Palma is known less for his accomplishments in education, revolution, and infrastructure than for being a part of the annexation agenda of and his subservience to the United States. [18]


In 1903, a statue of Estrada Palma was erected in the Avenida de los Presidentes, in Havana. His statue was pulled down by Fidel Castro's revolutionaries, reportedly because they blamed Estrada Palma for starting the trend of US interventions in Cuba. [18] The plinth, with a pair of shoes, remains.

Estrada Palma spent many years of his US exile in the town of Woodbury in Orange County, New York. Along a road that now bears his name (Estrada Road, in the hamlet of Central Valley), he ran a summer camp, which has since been abandoned. During his presidency, Estrada Palma kept an "T. Estrada Palma Fund" to buy prizes for academic achievements in Orange County. [2]

Related Research Articles

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Political offices
Preceded by
President of Cuba
Succeeded by
José Miguel Gómez