From Revolution to Involution
Conflicting Nationalisms at the
Crossroads of Race and Class
ON MAY 20, 1902, U.S. military forces withdrew from Cuba, leaving the reins of government and nominal pledges to respect the island’s national sovereignty in the hands of President Tomás Estrada Palma and his newly appointed cabinet. After nearly thirty years abroad, Estrada Palma waited until the last minute to return to Cuba, conducting his campaign for the presidency from New York and arriving in Havana only days before his inauguration. Months earlier, Governor Leonard Wood’s administration had greatly facilitated Estrada Palma’s chances of winning by carefully crafting a system for the registration of presidential candidates in order to drive his only real rival, the anti-Plattist revolutionary nationalist general Bartolomé Masó, from the running. Given the uncontested nature of the election, voter turnout was light.1 Still, the election may well have ended the same way since Estrada Palma managed to reproduce in his campaign the very dynamic between himself and the public on which José Martí had relied to galvanize support for the War of 1895. That is, Estrada Palma’s campaigners avoided making specific promises on issues of policy for the new republic, depending instead on his affiliation with the PRC and the invocation of Martí ‘s tried and true discourse of social unity to gain supporters. Certainly, both Estrada Palma and Masó claimed to be the legitimate heirs of Martí.2 However, Estrada Palma’s absence from the actual scene of the election and the open nature of his appeal invited Cubans to interpret his plans for the nation on the best possible terms—their own.
In contrast, Masó illuminated with precision his ideological perspective and plans for the nation. In one of many public manifestos, Masó roundly condemned the U.S. intervention for having “threatened [Cubans’] existence as a civilized