By 1940 Cuba was a democracy—sort of. The Platt Amendment was long gone, a new constitution had been adopted and Batista was elected president by popular suffrage—but with the army counting the votes. For most of the next four years the contours of Cuban political life were molded by the reality and impact of World War II. Glenn Miller and the Dorseys joined the island’s musical repertoire, while Batista’s alliance with the Communists held and the radical nationalists mutated from irreconcilable enemies to loyal opposition. The violence and arbitrariness of the dictator’s early years became milder forms of official high-handedness and profligacy—and, noteworthy for an accurate understanding of later developments in Cuban political life, both the Communists and the no-longer-so-young-or-radical nationalists fully partook in the system’s corruption.
June 1, 1944, saw another election, this time an open and clean contest in which the army didn’t count the votes, and Ramón Grau San Martín was elected president over Carlos Saladrigas, the candidate fronted by Batista and the Communists. Grau had been a professor at Havana University’s medical school and had made common cause with the radical students in 1933, occupying the country’s presidency for the four months of their nationalist government and being forced out with them. To oppose Batista’s rule, Grau and his followers had organized the Partido Revolucionario Cubano, better known as the Auténtico Party, and this was the party that came to rule Cuba now. On the day power was transferred to Grau and the Auténticos, Batista went from the inaugural ceremony straight to the airport and into voluntary exile in the United States.