The First Cuban Ambassador in the United States

The diplomatic efforts of Dr. Cosme de la Torriente were essential for the return of the then Isle of Pines

By: Hugo Garcia


2015-08-25 | 19:58:24 EST
The diplomatic efforts of Dr. Cosme de la Torriente were essential for the return of the then Isle of Pines.The diplomatic efforts of Dr. Cosme de la Torriente were essential for the return of the then Isle of Pines. Photo: Cortesía de la fuenteZoom
CARDENAS, Matanzas.- An unpublished biography of Cosme de la Torriente y Peraza (Isabel Sugar Mill, Jovellanos, Matanzas, 1872 -Havana, 1956) has brought out among the numerous facets of this Cuban, his tenacity for the return to Cuba of the then still called Isla de Pinos, usurped by the United States of America.

The author, Ernesto Aramis Alvarez Blanco, researcher and curator from Cardenas talks with JR about this book, concluded after two years of hard work.

How was your interest in writing the biography of Cosme de la Torriente y Peraza born?

-It was concluded on July 20, I started writing it on September 1st last year, after the relevant research in the José Martí National Library of Cuba, the Institute of Literature and Linguistics, the Office of the Historian of the City of Havana and other institutions.

"It was a commission that relatives of Cosme living today in Venezuela and the United States, especially his granddaughter Natalia deSandoval y de la Torriente and his grandson Javier González -Mora made to my friend, patron and publisher Spaniard Alfonso Cirera Santasusana, after reading my biography of Jose Antonio Echeverria, in which I speak of Cosme and his relationship with him.

"They, and other family members in Spain and Mexico gave me a thousand digitized documents and photos, mostly from his family archive, including unpublished diaries from the war of 95 -related Cosme, who was very close to Maximo Gomez, Francisco Carrillo, Calixto Garcia, Jose Maria (Mayia) Rodriguez and other important patriots. It should be published next year; it has over 900 pages and is likely to start in two volumes, accompanied by an iconography of nearly 200 images and an active and passive bibliography of the character, a great oversight in the history of Cuba, despite that his work was important in that the Isle of Pines was returned to Cuba and in 1934 the Platt Amendment was abrogated. It was also the only Cuban who had been President and Honorary President of the League of Nations, later the United Nations."

Why was Cosme appointed as the first ambassador of Cuba in the United States?

-After the law which raised the rank of the legation of the Island in Washington* to that of Embassy was approved by the Cuban Senate in 1923, the President of the Republic, Dr. Alfredo Zayas, sent on August 30 to the Cuban Liberation Army Colonel Dr. Cosme de la Torriente and Peraza, who was on vacation in Biarritz, France, a telegram where he expressed: "Embassy Law approved. I beg agreeing to accept immediate transfer to Washington. Expecting an answer (...)."

"The message from Dr. Alfredo Zayas came into the hands of the recipient with some delay as it was not received until the evening of September 2, 1923, along with other cablegrams from Havana, including those from Dr. Carlos Manuel de Céspedes y Quesada, Secretary of State; Aurelio Alvarez, president of the Senate, and other Cuban notable political personalities asking him to accept the offer made by the President. However, he wanted to know other opinions. He was interested, above all, to know the thoughts of Enrique Jose Varona, Manuel Sanguily, Manuel Márquez Sterling, Raul de Cardenas and Major General Pedro Betancourt, president of the National Council of Veterans of Independence, his closest friends and who united them in a fruitful love for Cuba.

"Therefore, he questioned all by cable on September 41923. Incredibly, the respondents agreed because they knew he would do a work worthy of his personal background. In addition, Cuba needed the permanent presence in Washington of a figure of prestige and intelligence.

"However, on September 3, 1923, the presidency of the Fourth Assembly of the League of Nations, which was being held in Geneva, Switzerland, until the 23th of that same month and year, had fallen on him. After meditating well on his resolution, he drafted a cable to President of the Republic: "Received with great delay your cable directed to Biarritz, Cuba can always count on my services even against my personal interests. If both government and Senate cannot think of another fellow, I accept to hold as long as necessary the honourable position you offer me. Very grateful for your confidence and high distinction. I cannot leave Europe until I finish my work as President of the Assembly early October. For this reason I wish for the appointment to be deferred until then.'"

When was he officially appointed?

- October 4, in exercise of the powers conferred by Article 68 of the Constitution of the Republic and the Law of August 30, 1923, Zayas, President of the Republic, officially named Cosme de la Torriente, using his experience in the field of diplomacy, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Cuba to the Government of the United States of America, residing in Washington. This was stated by the president of the nation to the President of the Senate in a letter dated the same day.

"At the time of his appointment, the newly appointed ambassador, besides being senator for Matanzas, he was Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate, he spoke English and French fluently and presided – he was the first Cuban to do- over the League of Nations".

When was he sworn in as ambassador?

-On the October 6 the decree appointing Ambassador Cosme de la Torriente appeared in the Official Gazette of the Republic of Cuba, and he flew on November 16 from Havana to the United States, where he made a brief stopover. But he was not sworn in until the afternoon of December 4.

"In December 1923 the representative of the island travelled to the United States of America to present, on 13th, his credentials to the US government, which made him the first Ambassador of Cuba in United States.

What did the Ambassador do after he took office?

-On arrival in the United States, the Cuban ambassador requested an interview with the president of that nation, having, according to him, the privilege of being perhaps "the last person you talked about international politics with President (Woodrow) Wilson shortly before his death".

"From the moment he began his work, the Cuban diplomat worked tirelessly to fulfil the main tasks to be undertaken.

"In his book entitled My mission in Washington, he wrote:" My plan of action was set in advance in the talks that I submitted to President Zayas: First, to greatly improve the poor relations with the United States, because of the trend (...) of Crowder to mix in what was none of his business and which aggravated the hostility of the politicians who were defeated in the last election and that of some newspapers that left no calm to the Government, blaming their errors on them. Secondly, manage and obtain approval by the United States Senate and ratification by the President of the Hay-Quesada Treaty**, recognizing the sovereignty of Cuba over the Isle of Pines. Thirdly, use all kinds of means for the American people to realize that it was my firmest belief, and the President and many of our people that the Platt Amendment in fact constituted a violation of the Joint Resolution of April 20, 1898, which ordered the Federal Government to make war on Spain unless it left the island, and that its people were, and by Law should be free and independent."

"A few weeks after submitting his credentials, Cosme requested an audience with the President of the United States, Calvin Coolidge, a man of extreme seriousness and few words. Earlier, the president had made a favourable group of demonstrations to maintaining the Isle of Pines in the hands of the Americans, responding to a group of women in the Senate who had a lobby and had collected thousands of signatures asking him to keep the small island in the state in which he found it, and thus reject the Hay-Quesada Treaty."

How did that interview go?

-During the interview, the Ambassador approached the matter and spoke at length with Coolidge on the rights that Cuba had on the Isle of Pines, reasoning them with him one by one. As a result, he received only a few pleasantries and the offer to study the matter, to give an answer within a short period of time. After a short period, the Ambassador returned to meet with the President, who spoke only three words: "You are right", or maybe, 'Tiene razón', which was the same as saying that he was convinced that what I propose was the right thing.

"From that moment, Torriente and colleagues were freed for a long battle to get US Senators were interested in the study of the reasons that allowed them to estimate how valid the right of Cuba to claim back the Isle of Pines as national territory and therefore lend their support to the Hay-Quesada Treaty.

"In 1925 when the success of the campaign was consolidated, these same friends of his proclaimed that it had also been a victory for Cuban-American friendship.

"Torriente knew that this triumph was the most direct route to slay the Platt Amendment. A Belgian diplomat accredited in Washington, saw it clearly, when to embrace congratulated him with these significant words: "It´s the first time I have seen the eagle feather jolted."

"Finally, on March 13, 1925 approval of the Treaty on the Isle of Pines was achieved in the Senate, by a majority vote, with two slight reservations. It was, without doubt, one of the happiest days in the life of the then Cuban Ambassador to the United States, and was also –according to the eminent Cuban historian Emilio Roig de Leuchsenring, who cooperated with him in this work as Secretary of the Cuban Society of International Law "day of glory for Cuba, at having its right to the Isle of Pines recognized and the pride that every mother feels that among their children there are those who know to love, serve and defend her with fervour, consecration, intelligence and ability with which Cosme de la Torriente does.'"

How did events continue?

-On March 23, the Cuban ambassador in Washington represented the Government of Cuba in the exchange of ratifications. Immediately he sent the Secretary of State, Carlos M. de Cespedes, the following cable:

"At 4:00 pm today I exchanged with the Secretary of State the ratifications of the Treaty on the Isle of Pines, and from that time the right of that Island as part of the territory of our republic is recognized. I congratulate the Cuban people, President Dr. Zayas, the other members of his Board of Secretaries and you, on the successful completion of negotiations that began about twenty-two years ago. "

"He also wrote to Dr. Alfredo Zayas, President of the Republic, a cable which reads as follows: "Exchanged at four in the afternoon on March 23 ratifications of the Treaty on the Isle of Pines. To you will fall the glory that no one can dispute having achieved during your administration seeing reinstated the rights of the country as a part of it, which for nearly twenty-two years nobody had obtained. I express again my profound gratitude for having been commissioned to represent here our Republic as Ambassador and to undertake the necessary negotiations for the ratification of the treaty."


* Cuba had no ambassador to the United States until 1923. It was customary to name this position just in the great powers, but this was changed throughout the twentieth century. Diplomatic relations were established through three categories of diplomatic officials: Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ministers, Resident Ministers and Charge d´Affairs with Cabinet Letters.

** This treaty was signed in Washington on March 2, 1904 by the Secretary of State of the United States, John Hay, and minister plenipotentiary of Cuba in that country, Gonzalo de Quesada. The Cuban Senate approved it the same year, but the US would not until 20 years later, on March 13, 1925, due to the obvious intent of that nation to take over the then Isle of Pines. The news was received with joy by the Cuban people and government of Alfredo Zayas genuflexed and prepared a demonstration in gratitude to the United States. A government position that the Anti-Imperialist Committee of the University, headed by Julio Antonio Mella faced.

Translated by ESTI

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