The 30th President of the United States, Calvin Coolidge.
Photo: Taken from Encyclopædia Britannica.
Only two US presidents in office have been in Havana.
The most recent was Barack Obama.
The other, in January 1928, now 95 years ago, was Calvin Coolidge, in order to be present at the inauguration of the Sixth Pan-American Conference, which would take place here on the 26th of that month.
He came invited by General Gerardo Machado, President of the Republic of Cuba.
He was nicknamed Call, the Quiet One, and it was even said that he sported the expression of “someone who was weaned on a pickle”.
Orestes Ferrara, who in his days as ambassador in Washington shared with him at receptions and banquets, describes him in his memoirs as someone "serious, silent and intelligent."
He adds: “he was not flattered by applause, he was not afflicted by criticism, he was not mortified by the polemicist in bad faith.
Closed in on himself, sincere in his meditations, he hoped to serve the country as an official who must avoid evils that arise and only when they arise ”.
His stay in Havana was qualified by the anecdote.
Machado is said to have invited Coolidge and his wife to an experimental poultry farm.
When the first lady approached one of the chicken coops, she watched in amazement as a rooster frantically "she stepped on" a hen.
-How often do you do that?
he asked one of the specialists.
─Dozens of times a day ─answered the aforementioned.
─Then tell the president when he passes by.
So did the subject.
Coolidge then inquired if the rooster always “stepped on” the same hen.
─No, it's a different one each time ─answered the man and the president did not delay his response:
─Tell that to my wife.
The anecdote, of course, is apocryphal.
Amity Shlaes, in her biography of Coolidge, published in 2013, affirms that she did the impossible to find elements that support her.
"I found no evidence that she was true."
Around the Platt Amendment
In order to personally extend the invitation, Machado spent three or four days in Washington.
There were dinners and receptions, and on the last day of the Cuban stay, both leaders discussed the issue of the Pan-American conference.
At Machado's request, the sugar issue was touched on and the economic crisis that was coming.
Also, it is said, Machado called for the repeal of the Platt Amendment.
The press reported, attributing it to the Cuban president, that the conversation with Coolidge dealt almost entirely with the mutual advantages of rectifying the Amendment, but Coolidge would say that this topic was not alluded to in the interview.
Ferrara was optimistic on that point.
They assured him that Coolidge would repeal the Amendment if Cuba lowered the public debt and conducted the 1929 presidential election without factional agitation, fraud, or violence.
Information that does not fit with what Coolidge said to Ferrara's wife during the dinner in Machado's honor at the White House: "If they have done well so far with the Platt Amendment, why suppress it?"
It is argued that Machado went to Washington to seek support for his policy of re-election and extension of powers, and offered as a guarantee not to speak out against the Amendment and to give, during the Conference, the most servile support to the United States when Latin American delegations raised the thesis. of non-intervention.
a unanimous answer
Havana got ready for the celebration of the Sixth Pan American Conference.
Months before, the experienced diplomat Manuel Márquez Sterling, who had become a special ambassador, visited all the countries of Latin America, requesting the presence of their governments in the conclave.
The response was unanimous: all sent their representation to the Island;
never before had such a meeting had so many participating countries.
The steps of the University were erected, the layout of Avenida de las Misiones was completed and the old Campo de Marte was transformed into the Plaza de la Fraternidad Americana;
In the roots of the ceiba that was transplanted there for the occasion, soil from all the American republics was irrigated, brought especially by the participating delegations,
and the chiefs of each one of them were given a golden key with which they would open the gate that would protect the ceiba.
The key of the Mexican delegation is preserved in the museum of the chancellery of that country.
A brilliant show kicked off the Conference at the National Theatre, and the opening session heard speeches by Machado and Coolidge.
The Conference would meet at the University.
But in those days the student body was not allowed to enter and more than 200 individuals whom the government classified as undesirable or subversive were put behind bars.
The opening day of the meeting ─26 January 1928─ was declared by the Government as a national holiday.
On one of the final days ─February 17─ Machado invited the delegates to accompany him to Isla de Pinos, in order to inaugurate the first galley of the so-called Model Prison.
The meeting concluded on the 20th.
During his days in Cuba, Calvin Coolidge stayed with his wife at the Presidential Palace, while the rest of his entourage stayed at the Sevilla Hotel.
He was very pleased at the lunch that Machado offered in his honor at his Nenita farm, on the highway that runs between Santiago de las Vegas and Managua.
He attended, in the so-called Palacio de los Gritos de Concordia and Lucena, a jai alai game.
Machado gave him a column made of metals that were part of the monument to Maine, destroyed by the cyclone of October 20, 1926.
Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Gerardo Machado with their wives.
Although the Conference agenda was loaded with insignificant matters, the issue of non-intervention made its way into it.
The United States had intervened militarily in Mexico, Santo Domingo, Haiti, Nicaragua.
In Brazil, in 1927, the meeting of jurisconsults had proclaimed that "no state can intervene in the internal affairs of another."
In Havana, the majority of the delegations did not want to oppose what was established by the jurisconsults in Brazil.
Machado, however, went too far, and Ferrara, as head of the Cuban delegation, gave the note by cynically proclaiming: "The intervention, in my country, has been a word of glory, it has been a word of honor, it has been a word of triumph, it has been a word of freedom, it has been independence…”.
The matter was definitively postponed until the Seventh Pan American Conference, to be held in Montevideo.
bars and brothels
The president's entourage, which included, among others, the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh, moved freely in Havana.
He came from a country where, since 1920, the Dry Law prevailed.
A city opened up for officials and journalists in which, according to Alejo Carpentier, the largest number of drinks were offered to the curious palate of the traveler, where a couple did not have to show their marriage certificate to stay in a hotel and could bet ─and win or lose─ any amount of money in the roulette wheels of the National Casino without attracting the attention of the authorities.
Visitors looked for the most notorious bars, and the most daring went to the cabaretuchos on Marianao beach, known by the generic name of “las fritas”.
The hour of return saddened the entourage.
They returned to the country of Prohibition.
Soon the soul returned to the body.
No one, not even reporters, would go through customs in Key West upon entering the US, which meant that anyone who wanted to could bring as much rum as they wanted.
Cuban liquor stores made a killing.
“Who approved this gigantic smuggling operation?” asked
Saturday Evening Post
journalist Beverly Smith in 1959 .
“Would it have been, unbelievably, Calvin himself, in a fit of the whimsical humor some assumed lurked behind his sour Vermont face?”