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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

The death of Cuban revolutionary Antonio Guiteras at El Morrillo, May 8 1935

By Ariel Pazos Ortiz, translated from the Spanish

On May 8, 1935, Antonio Guiteras fell at El Morrillo, an old abandoned fort on the north coast of Matanzas. He who had occupied important government roles, ended his days surrounded and against impossible odds while trying to leave for Mexico to organize a revolution from there.

Guiteras was born almost 29 years before, on November 22, 1906, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States, but as a child he came to Cuba with his family. He enrolled in Pharmacy at the University of Havana in the 1923-1924 academic year, times of rebellion and restlessness in the house of higher studies. He participated in some student protests and supported the movement around the Mella strike in 1925. His name was inscribed among those who rejected the extension of Gerardo Machado's powers, because, in the name of the School of Pharmacy, from which he graduated, he signed a Manifesto of the University Student Directory against this anti-popular action.

Once he graduated from the University of Havana, he did not dissociate himself from the struggles against injustices and the structural problems of the nation: he continued the path that would lead him to be the central force behind the most advanced measures of the Government of the Hundred Days. He came from a family that, on the Cuban side, was related to the Creole independence process and on his mother's side, to the Irish independence movement, according to Cuban researcher Francisca López Civeira.

When the so-called Revolution of 1930 broke out, he was summoned to join the provisional government that succeeded for the short term of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes y Quesada. At first, he assumed the portfolios of the Interior and Public Works, to which he soon added War and Navy, decisive spheres of power. López Civeira, a great chronicler of this stage of Cuba's past, explained:

"As he had been in uprisings, he was seen as having the possibility of assuming this position, which was very complicated, because it was the military command. There had to be a purge of the Army, the Navy and the Police, whose hierarchy had been closely linked to Machado. However, there were great difficulties due to the lack of unity within the government."

Indeed, what went down in history as the Hundred Days Government was a heterogeneous administration, in which different sectors of domestic politics were represented. While Guiteras pushed for measures with the greatest social impact, Fulgencio Batista, head of the armed forces, held unauthorized talks with the U.S. embassy and moved closer and closer to oligarchic interests. In the end, Ramón Grau San Martín, the president, was utterly indecisive, not taking bold steps to the left or right.

Guiteras was aware of these contradictions. He realized that the government was moving between reform and revolution. As a consequence, the former pharmacy student tried, unsuccessfully, to replace Batista at the head of the army and create, within the armed institutions, the Marine Corps, a body that would be more akin to leftist currents, according to the "History of Cuba: The Neo-colony: Organization and Crisis from 1899 to 1940" of the Institute of History of Cuba.

The president's lack of authority meant that while Guiteras alarmed the imperialists and internal conservative groups with his progressive laws, Batista effectively hatched the conspiracy that led to a coup d'état in January 1934. After the reactionary coup and the U.S. embassy, there was no option from within for those who had a clear line of—in the words of historian López Civeira—"a policy in favor of the humble, against the domination of the U.S. monopolies and national independence."

Inclined towards the revolutionary insurrectionary line since the time of the struggle against Machado, he founded in May 1934 the group Joven Cuba, from which he organized a vast clandestine network, whose actions against the new government were redoubled in the second half of March and April 1935. In the "History of Cuba: The Neo-colony" it states that the Central Executive Committee of Joven Cuba:

"(...) agreed to establish immediately, on a farm that the organization had acquired in Mexico, a training center to which Guiteras and a group of his men were to move, and to accelerate the purchase of the weapons and military supplies necessary for an expedition from Mexico, under the command of Guiteras, to land in the East and begin the revolutionary armed struggle with the support of its urban commandos."

The most progressive man in the Government of the Hundred Days prepared to leave through the Bay of Matanzas along with several followers. They were to depart on the yacht Amalia from the area of El Morrillo. However, as a result of an infiltrator, the expedition members were surrounded by troops loyal to Batista. Guiteras and former Sandinista colonel Carlos Aponte were shot dead. The others were taken prisoner. With the fall of Guiteras, the revolutionary movement of the 1930s suffered a blow from which it could not recover.

This work was translated and shared via a License CC-BY-NC

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