The Pentarchy

In September 1933 unrest in Cuba’s political picture again came to a head.  Unhappy with both a proposed reduction in pay and an order restricting their promotions, the lower echelons of the army, led by Sergeant-stenographer Fulgencio Batista, invited the Directorio to meet with them at Camp Columbia in Havana on September 4.  Batista’s contact with Directorio leaders dated back to the anti-Machado struggle when he had served as stenographer during some of the students’ trials.  By the time the students arrived at Camp Columbia, army discipline had collapsed. Sergeants were in command and had arrested numerous army officers.  After consulting with Batista and the army, the Directorio agreed to provisional President Céspedes overthrow and named five men to form a pentarchy (a five-member civilian executive commission) to head a provisional government.*  That same night Céspedes handed over the presidency to the five-member commission who formally took possession of the presidential palace.

September 4, 1933 was a turning point in Cuba’s history.  It marked the army’s entrance as an organized force into the running of government and Batista’s emergence as self-appointed chief of the armed forces and the arbiter of Cuba’s destiny for years to come.  On that date the students and the military, two armed groups accustomed to violence, united to rule Cuba.  The “marriage,” however, was short-lived.  A contest soon began between students and military for supremacy.  Very few expected the students to win.

The Pentarchy’s inability to rule the country became evident at once.  The group lacked not only the support of the various political parties and groups, but also of the United States.  The Roosevelt administration, surprised and confused by events in the island, refused to recognize the five-man government and rushed naval vessels to Cuban waters.  When one member of the Pentarchy promoted Sergeant Batista to the rank of colonel without the required approval of the other four, another member resigned, and the regime collapsed.  In a meeting with Batista and the army on September 10, 1933, the Directorio, with Batista’s consent, appointed Dr. Ramón Grau San Martín as provisional president.

*Members were Ramón Grau San Martín, Sergio Carbó, Porfirio Franca, Guillermo Portela, and José Miguel Irisarri.

*Jaime Suchlicki is Director of the Cuban Studies Institute, CSI, a non-profit research group in Coral Gables, FL. He is the author of Cuba: From Columbus to Castro & Beyond, now in its 5th edition; Mexico: From Montezuma to the Rise of the PAN, 2nd edition, and of the recently published Breve Historia de Cuba