World Coins

Tracing politics of 20th century Cuba

The Research Desk column from Oct. 12, 2015 issue of Coin World:

Collectors of U.S. political items are served by APIC, American Political Items Collectors, but there has traditionally been little interest in foreign political collectibles.

The dramatic warming in relations between the United States and Fidel Castro’s Cuba may bring some attention to such long-forgotten items as the 138.5-millimeter-long mechanical pencil distributed in the 1950s by Carlos A. Fernandez Campos, a fervent supporter of Cuban President Fulgencio Batista y Zaldívar (born 1901, died 1973).

Batista was born in Oriente Province to plantation workers of mixed race. He joined the army in 1921. Initially illiterate, he taught himself to read and write and became a skilled stenographer. 

The secret alliance called A.B.C. overthrew Cuba’s first dictator, Gerardo Machado, in 1933. On Sept. 4, 1933, the Revolt of the Sergeants pushed aside the army’s commissioned officers and then seized political power. Batista then ruled through four puppet presidents before taking office himself under the new liberal constitution of 1940. 

His first presidency was progressive and was supported by labor unions and the communist party. Batista left office freely in 1944 and moved to Daytona Beach Fla. Two democratic presidencies followed with epic corruption. Batista returned to run again for president in 1952 and seeing certain failure looming, called out the army for the coup of March 10, ruling despotically until overthrown by leftist revolutionary Fidel Castro in January 1959.

The Batista of 1952 was not the Batista of 1940. Corruption and repression reigned, and the American Mafia arrived to run lucrative gambling. A personality cult was directed by the colorful Fernandez Campos, who erected a two story-high billboard in Habana presenting a towering, smiling Batista with the statement ESTE ES EL HOMBRE, “This is the Man!”

Collectible today is Fernandez Campos’ mechanical pencil made by Ritepoint in St. Louis. The stem presents two Batista photos, the blue-yellow pennant of 10 de Marzo and motto ESTE ES EL HOMBRE, with CORTESIA DE/ CARLOS A. FERNANDEZ CAMPOS/ PAZ, TRABAJO Y PROGRESO/ POR LA RECUPERACION DE CUBA, “Peace, Work and Progress for the Recuperation of Cuba.”

Interest in such items, as well as Cuba’s historic coinage, is certain to increase with any removal of the decades-long embargo and the arrival of American tourists.

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