President Luis Alvarez of the República de San Martín was fond of saying that he ruled with an iron fist in a velvet glove. Indeed, after his rise to power in 1926 he did his very best to make his country at once foreboding to his opponents and welcoming to his friends.

He legalized gambling, began highly profitable liquor and drug production (bound for the Prohibition-era USA, of course), and generally invited people with deep pockets and many vices to pay him a visit to empty the former and indulge the latter. At the height of his power, Sanmartínese vacations were behind only excursions to Havana among the wealthy and connected.

Perhaps, had Fulgencio Batista paid more attention to President Alvarez’s fate, he might not have suffered a similar one. The end of Prohibition, coupled with the Great Depression, seriously undermined his authoritarian government by cutting off its largesse. By 1932, he was clinging to power in the face of an army revolt and an unexpected defeat in what was normally a sham election by a socialist candidate. By 1933, he was dead and a People’s Junta was in power with promises of a socialist revolution and aid from the Soviet Union.

Perhaps the most lasting legacy that President Luis Alvarez left was that his former cronies were the ones who led the resistance to the People’s Junta, which collapsed in 1941 when Soviet aid was cut off. All the authoritarian and right-wing dictators who would follow, from the short-lived Raul Gonzaga to Alberto Exposito, had suckled at Alvarez’s proverbial teat.

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