Tomás Estrada Palma

Tomás Estrada Palma was born in 1832, the son of Andrés Duque de Estrada y Palma and Maria Candelaria de Palma y Tamayo, and was baptized on August 6, 1832, in the parish of San Fructuoso de las Piedras Albas, Bayamo, Cuba.  He was a lawyer and, served, during the Ten Years’ War, with the rank of general.  He was, in 1869, in Guaimaro, diputado a la Cámara [delegate to the House of Representatives], in 1876, secretario de relaciones exteriores [secretary of foreign relations], and on March 3, 1876, was “designado [named] presidente de esta republica en armas”.  He was a fourth cousin of Perucho Figueredo.

         On October 19, 1877, he was captured by the Spanish and imprisoned in the Castillo del Morro in Havana, then sent to Santa Catalina in Cadiz, Spain and later, to Figueras, north of Barcelona.  He was freed following El Pacto del Zanjon, which ended the Ten Years’ War, in February 1878, and traveled, first to the US, then to Honduras where he desempeñó cargos en los departamentos de Correos e Instrucción Pública [held positions in the department of mails and public instruction].

         He returned to the US, became a US citizen, and ran a private Quaker school for Cuban boys in Central Valley in up-state New York.  He married Genoveva Guardiola y Arbizu, daughter of Santos Guardiola, president of the Republic of Honduras, and Ana de Arbizu.  They had six children, Rafael, Lucita, Jose, Tomas, Candida, and Carlos Estrada y Guardiola.

                 Soon after the outbreak of the war of 1895-1898, Estrada became head of the information bureau of the Cuban junta in New York and took over the leadership of the Revolutionary Party after the death of José Martí in May 1895.  The junta raised funds for the Cuban rebels and arranged passage of arms and ammunition to Cuba while attempting to sway official and public opinion in the US toward the rebels’ position through the popular press.  Estrada is said to have given the US newspapers: “invigorating, heroic, and sometimes truthful tales of victory and atrocity”.

         In April, 1898, the US entered the war and four months later the Spanish were defeated.  A period of US occupation lasted until 1902, when elections were held and Estrada became the first president of a free Cuba.  He served despite a “manifest incapacity to lead”  through 1905, when new elections were called.  Estrada and his party were not expected to win but following threats of violence against opposition leaders, Estrada was again elected, without opposition, on December 1, 1905.

         In August 1906, rebels appeared once again in the Cuban countryside, and Palma, invoking  the Platt Amendment, (1) asked US President Theodore Roosevelt to send American troops to prevent the rebel troops from “entering cities and burning property”.  Instead Roosevelt sent William Howard Taft, (2) the secretary for war, to negotiate a peace between Estrada’s government and the insurgents.  Estrada refused to take part in any conference until the rebels agreed to lay down their arms and Taft wrote (to his wife): “[Estrada is] a good deal of an old ass…obstinate…and difficult…and doesn’t take in the situation at all.”

                 On September 28, 1906, Estrada, still refusing to negotiate, and seeing no military aid forthcoming from the US abruptly resigned.  With no government, intervention by the US was inevitable and, the next day, 200 US marines landed near Havana.  Estrada left Havana for Matanzas on October 2, 1906.  He died on November 4, 1908.

(1) Which stipulated that “the Government of Cuba consents that the United States may exercise the right to intervene for the preservation of Cuban independence, the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty, …”

(2) Later President Taft.

Information taken from

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