Manuel Márquez Sterling

History, Journalism, Cuba

Manuel Márquez Sterling (1872-1934). Cuban writer, journalist and diplomat. In 1934 he was President of the Republic for six hours.

He was born on August 28, 1872 in the diplomatic headquarters of the Cuban Republic in Arms in Lima, Peru, where his father was a mambi (guerrilla fighter during colonial times in Cuba) delegate; this meant that he was legally Cuban by birth. At ten he went to live with his family in Puerto Principe (now Camagüey, Cuba) where he had his first schooling. In 1899 he obtained his bachelor degree in the Institute of Second Learning in Puerto Príncipe. Due to weak health, he was sent by his parents to Mexico to recover for a year. He returned to Camagüey and afterwards in 1891 he enrolled in the Law School at the University of Havana. Back in Mexico some time later, he worked as a bank clerk and contributed to different publications.

In 1894 he met José Martí and was involved in the preparations for the War of Independence; his bad health prevented him from participating in the war. In New York he worked as Gonzalo de Quesada’s secretary, who entrusted him with the organization of José Martí’s archives. He then went to Paris and Madrid on a propaganda mission. When the war ended, he came back to Cuba and he was one of the supervisors of the Census conducted in Cuba at the time.

From a very early age he was involved in journalism. At fifteen he founded the magazine El Estudiante (The Student); a year later he began to write for El Pueblo. In 1889 he began to work in El Camagüeyano, a newspaper founded by his father. During his first stay in Mexico he published articles in El Eco del Comercio and in La Revista de Mérida. He later published other articles in La Lucha, a newspaper in Havana. During his second stay in Mexico he wrote chronicles about chess for the newspaper Diario del Hogar and he founded the magazine El Arte de Philidor (1894). Furthermore, he founded the weekly newspaper La Lucha, a revolutionary newspaper, and was a correspondent for La Discusión. In Spain he wrote for Revista Internacional de Ajedrez (Chess International Magazine). During the first military occupation of the United States in Cuba he wrote for La Verdad. In Havana he collaborated with the publications El Heraldo, El País Patria, Cuba Libre y El Fígaro (1900-1926); the last three publications selected him as “the best young Cuban Writer” in 1903.
He was one of the founders and Editor in Chief of the newspaper El Mundo. In addition, as a political correspondent he was one of the two reporters of this newspaper who accompanied the Commission of the 1901 First Convention of the Constituent that traveled to the United States to discuss with President William McKinley the imposition of the Platt Amendment in Cuba.

He founded in 1913 the newspaper Heraldo de Cuba (The Cuban Herald), which he abandoned to found La Nación three years later. In that period he participates intensely in political affairs, in the opposition to the electoral campaign to reelect President Mario García Menocal. The book Doctrina de la República (The Republic’s Doctrine) gathered some of the articles he wrote in this period.

Because of his intense and brilliant career, Márquez Sterling has been considered one of the most outstanding figures of Cuban journalism. In 1943 the Professional School of Journalism, the first of this kind in Cuba and fourth in Latin America, was named after him.

His diplomatic career went parallel to journalism. His first appointment as secretary of the Delegation of Cuba in Mexico was not effective because he was considered persona non grata by the Secretary of Foreign affairs in that country due to an article on President Porfirio Díaz he had published earlier.

He was appointed General Consul of Cuba in Buenos Aires in 1907. From this moment on he was appointed to several diplomatic positions in Latin America and the United States.

He presented his Credentials to Mexican President Francisco I. Madero, who later was imprisoned as a consequence of a coup d’état. Márquez Sterling denounced the complicity of American ambassador Henry Lane Wilson in these affairs; he eventually met him to advocate for Madero’s freedom. Nevertheless, Madero was murdered on February 22 that year in the surrounding areas of Palacio de Lucumberri, México City. Marquez Sterling accompanied Madero’s family to Cuba. He also wrote articles about the Mexican Revolution; one of the most relevant reports was the source for his book Los últimos días del presidente Madero (The Last Days of President Madero).

He was appointed in 1924 Director of the Pan American Office of the Ministry of State in Cuba. In 1929, during Gerardo Machado’s government, he accepted a position as Ambassador in Mexico, which was severely criticized by many revolutionary people at the time. In spite of this, he maintained his stance of opposition to Machado’s dictatorship.

When President Carlos Hevia was forced to surrender by Fulgencio Batista, Marquez Sterling, Secretary of State at the time accepted the Presidency from six in the morning to noon, when he transferred power to Carlos Mendieta.

Márquez Sterling’s motto was “Against foreign interference, domestic virtue” that would characterize his political position in the face of colonial ambitions of the United States towards Cuba. In an article published in La Nación on February 13, 1917 he expressed,” the highest proof of patriotism that to my mind a Cuban government can give is to prevent by its own behavior (…) that those warnings of the powerful foreigner mingle with the arbitrariness committed in the exercise of power.”

As ambassador in Washington he signed the Treaty of Commercial Reciprocity between Cuba and the United States abolishing the Platt Amendment on May 29, 1934. After signing this document, he said to his personal secretary, “I can die in peace.” He died on December 9 that same year.

The National University of Mexico conferred on him the degree Doctor Honoris Causa in 1921. He worked as Full Professor of the Institute of Foreign Service of the University of Havana; was member of the literature section of the National Academy of Arts and Letters since 1910; and became member of the History Academy since 1929.

Max Henríquez Ureña regarded him as “the first republican generation prose writers’ older brother”. He was the author of fifteen books on different topics such as chess, history and politics. Besides, he wrote the prologue for the books Pláticas agridulces (Bittersweet talk) (1906), by Sergio Cuevas Zequeira; and Episodios de la revolución cubana (Episodes of the Cuban Revolution) by Manuel de la Cruz, in its second edition in 1911.

His last book, Proceso histórico de la Enmienda Platt (Historical Process of the Platt Amendment), was finished by his nephew Carlos Márquez Sterling under the pseudonyms Tresemes, Manuel Márquez Mola, Carlos Loysel and XXX.