Revisiting Cuba’s First Republic
Steven Palmer, José Antonio Piqueras,
and Amparo Sánchez Cobos
On May 20, 1902, the Republic of Cuba was proclaimed in an act
transmitting sovereignty from the U.S. occupation authorities to the
Cuban people’s elected representatives. A new state was born in the
family of American nations. The republic came after three wars of
independence in the space of thirty years that had served to express
the Cuban will to self- government and erode Spanish colonial do-
minion, though they had not been sufficient to provide liberty to the
island directly. The intervention of the United States in the conflict in
1898 had precipitated the defeat of Spain and reserved for the United
States a special role in determining the future of the “Pearl of the
Antilles.” Despite the subordination to a new empire implicit in this
relationship, the new state of Cuba enjoyed a democratic constitu-
tion that had been written by an elected constituent assembly a year
earlier. It could build, moreover, on a series of measures adopted by
the U.S. occupation government between 1899 and 1902 intended to
address the main problems of reconstruction, even if these had also
been designed to constrain and channel the country’s political ori-
entation. Cubans had been able to elect new municipal governments
in June 1901, and they had gone to the polls on New Year’s Eve that
same year to choose congressmen, governors, and provincial coun-
cilors as well as the electors who would vote for president, vice presi-
dent, and senators. On February 24, after the only other candidate for
the country’s highest office withdrew from the race, Tomás Estrada
Palma was acclaimed president of Cuba. The outcome was popular
and legitimate: Estrada Palma had been president of the Republic in
Previous Page Next Page