The Chamber of Commerce of New York

Politics and War > Cuba is Prosperous

No facet of the nation’s foreign policy reflected America’s altruistic goodwill so well as its dealings with the nations of the Caribbean.

“The United States is keen in trade, but ideals of independence and democracy dominate its people,” Charles Evans Hughes said in 1928, at a dinner for a Chamber of Commerce delegation in Havana. “Nothing could be happier for the United States than that all the countries in the region of the Caribbean should be strong, self-sufficient, fulfilling their destiny, settling their problems, with peace at home and the fulfillment of their obligations abroad.”

Yes, U.S. soldiers had invaded Santo Domingo in 1916. “But what did we do?” asked Hughes. “Did we endeavor to stay? On the contrary, we labored to get out.” And, as soon as conditions would permit, American forces would also withdraw from Haiti. “We are, at this moment, in Nicaragua,” he confessed, but “we shall retire as soon as it is possible.

With Cuba, the United States had been more than usually laissez-faire. Having won the island its independence from Spain, it had forsworn territorial ambitions, asking only to lease a few naval stations, including one on Guantanamo Bay. U.S. influence had helped elect Gerardo Machado as President, while American capital had encouraged production of sugar, which had glutted the market.

In 1928, several members of the Chamber of Commerce visited the country. Staying at the Plaza Hotel and dining at the Palace, they conducted fact-finding tours of the race tracks, country clubs, and casinos. “Cuba,” concluded the Chamber’s President, William DeBost, “is in a fairly prosperous condition … and the country as a whole is entering upon an era of greater prosperity, no small part of which will be tourist travel during the winter months from the United States.” If the nation lacked anything, said DeBost, who headed the Union Dime Savings Bank, it was a savings bank.

As for President Machado, DeBost admitted, the welcome he provided, had “actually made me feel ashamed of the inadequacy of what I had thought to be hospitality as we practice it in New York.”

A few months after the visiting businessmen returned home, Machado rigged the national election and proclaimed himself president for a new six-year term. Scattered disappearances and rumors of torture gathered the velocity of a Civil War. By 1933, such publications as The Nation were insisting “Machado Must Go.” American authorities saw to it that he did, organizing a series of coups that resulted – in 1935 – with the empowerment of Fulgencio Batista.

Columbia University Libraries / Rare Book & Manuscript Library / Butler Library, 6th Fl. / 535 West 114th St. / New York, NY 10027 / (212) 854-5590 /