Alfredo Zayas y Alfonso

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Alfredo Zayas y Alfonso (1861 - 1934) was a Cuban lawyer, poet and political figure. He served as prosecutor, judge, mayor of Havana, Senator (1905), President of the Senate (1906), Vice-President (1908-13) and President of Cuba from May 20, 1921, to May 20, 1925.


Born in Havana into an aristocratic family with old sugar plantations, he was the son of Dr. Jose Maria de Zayas y Jimenez, a noted lawyer and educator, brother of Dr. Juan Bruno de Zayas, a medical doctor and revolutionary hero who died in the war for Cuba's independence, and of Dr. Francisco de Zayas, Cuba's long-time Minister to Paris and Brussels. As one of the leaders of the Cuban insurrection of 1895, he ceased using the noble-sounding "de" in his name and became known simply as Alfredo Zayas. Besides his successful legal practice, he was active in Cuban literary circles and was co-editor of the journal "Cuba Literaria".

During the last Cuban war for independence

Zayas was not a war leader, because upon the beginning of the 1895-1898 Cuban war of independence, he was deported to Spain, where he wrote some of his best poetry in the Carcel Modelo de Madrid,[1] subsequently published in his Obras Completas, Vol. 1, Poesia. Zayas was sometimes referred to as the "erudite civilian president", because unlike his predecessor and his successor he did not have war experience.

This lack of experience contributed to his party's loss of the 1917 Chambelona War, where the Liberals contested the re-election of Mario Garcia Menocal a hero of the Cuban War of Independence, who serving under Calixto Garcia had been wounded early in the assault on Tunas in 1897.

Political career

Upon his return to Cuba after the Spanish-Cuban-American War known in the US as Spanish-American War, he became acting mayor of Havana. He was a member of the Constitutional Convention 1901 and became its secretary. A vocal leader of the opposition against US-annexation of Cuba, he voted against the Platt Amendment and against granting naval bases to the United States in Guantanamo and Bahia Honda.

He became leader of the liberal party (left-wing) and was elected Vice-President 1908. In the contested 1916 presidential election he obtained more votes than the pro-US candidate General Mario Garcia Menocal. The United States, however, made use of its right of intervention, based on the Platt Amendment as incorporated in the US-Cuba Treaty of 1903, and ensured that Zayas could not take office. Reelected in 1920, Zayas became President in 1921. He served only one term, during which he started the process to give the vote to Cuban women (resolution in the Senate, 1921), negotiated the return of Cuban sovereignty over the Isle of Pines (Isla de la Juventud, 110.86 square kilometers) which had been occupied by the US since 1898 (Hay-Quedada Treaty of 1925), obtained a 50 Million US loan from J.P.Morgan, and for the first time allowed full freedom of expression and of the press.

Although his administration was systematically defamed by the opposition as corrupt, it actually was less corrupt that preceding and subsequent administrations, and Zayas, refrained from censoring the press or arresting critics, unlike prior and later Cuban presidents. This brought him the nickname "el Chino" (the Chinaman), because of his stoicism ("la flema de Zayas") and his "oriental patience". When he took office in 1921, the country was in bankruptcy, with debts exceeding 40 million US Dollars, and sugar prices plummeting from 22 cents to 3 cents per pound. In spite of this, he carried out a number of reforms, particularly in the field of education.

Later life

He did not run for reelection and devoted his last years to giving conferences and pursuing his manifold literary and historical interests, including the publication of his major work, the 2-volume "Lexicografia Antillana", which had seen an earlier edition in 1914, and occupying the post of President of the "Academia de la Historia" until his death. In the next election Gerardo Machado was elected, but turned dictatorial, and after the interregnum that followed when Machado was forced to step down Fulgencio Batista rose to power.


  • Alfredo Zayas, "Obras Completas", Vol.I: Poesias, Vol.2 Discursos y Conferencias, La Habana 1941-42.
    Alfredo Zayas, "Un Capitulo de la Historia de Cuba", La Habana, 1916.
    Alfredo Zayas, "Lexicografia Antillana", Bd. 1-2, La Habana, 1931-32.
    Alfredo Zayas, "La Poesia Patriotica en Cuba hasta 1868", Academia Nacional de Artes y Letras, La Habana, 1931.
    Alfredo Zayas, "El presbiterio don Jose Augustin Caballero y su vida y sus obras", La Habana, 1891.
    Alfredo Zayas, "La Evolucion Social" La Habana, 1891.
    Alfredo Zayas, "Por la Gloria de Luz y Caballero" La Habana 1909.
    Alfredo Zayas, Nestor Carbonell Cortina: "Perfil Historico del IV Presidente de Cuba Republicana Alfredo Zayas y Alfonso", San Juan, Puerto Rico 1985.
    Jose Manuel Carbonell, "Evolucion de la Cultura Cubana". La Habana, Imp. Montalvo y Cardenas, 1928, Tomo III (La Oratoria en Cuba) pp. 102–105, Tomo IV, 30f.
    Juan J. Remos, "Historia de la Literatura Cubana", Miami, Mnemosyne Publishing Co., 136f.
    Vidal Morales, "Iniciadores y Primeros Martires de la Revolucion Cubana", La Habana, La Moderna Poesia, 1931 Tomo III, pp. 113ff.
    Carlos Marquez Sterling, "Historia de Cuba", Miami, pp. 289ff.

Fernando de Zayas, "Prosa y Versos", La Habana 1909

  • Harry Frank Guggenheim, "The United States and Cuba: A Study in International Relations", New York, Arno Press, 1970, pp. 156ff.
    Francisco Lopez Leiva: "Juan Bruno Zayas, General de Brigada del Ejercito Libertador". La Habana, 1922.
    Emilio Roig de Leuchsenring, "Historia de la Enmienda Platt: Una Interpretacion de la Realidad Cubana", La Habana, 1935.
    Francisco Xavier de Santa Cruz, "Historia de Familias Cubanas", Editorial Hercules, La Habana, 1943.

See also the respective entries in the "Enciclopedia universal Espasa Calpe" and in Merriam Webster "New Biographical Dictionary".

Other references

External links

===Diccionario de la literatura Cubana=== *