Osvaldo Dorticos, Cuba’s Last President

Vicente Morin Aguado

Fidel Castro, Osvaldo Dorticós, el Che and other leaders of the La Coubre boat sabotage in 1961. –

HAVANA TIMES — This year’s second issue of Verde Olivo (“Olive Green”) magazine, the official journal of Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces, ran an article commemorating Osvaldo Dorticos Torrado, the last president of the Republic of Cuba, the title for the nation’s highest authority used in the five constitutions Cubans ratified up to 1976, when the sixth constitution – the first openly declaring the country’s socialist system – was approved.

Dorticos, a brilliant attorney from Cuba’s province of Cienfuegos, set his signature to every law decreed by the revolutionary government for seventeen years, in adherence to the constitutional mandate of 1940, which was the highest legal authority in the country until it was abolished in 1976. No other president remained in office for as many years as he did.

He was not offered the country’s presidency solely because he was an exceptional jurist. Under Batista, he was detained on several occasions, particularly following the military uprising which took place on September 5 in his native city, where he served as the coordinator of the 26th of July clandestine movement. The honest legal expert lived in Mexico as an exile until January 1st, 1959, when Cuba’s bearded revolutionaries entered Havana triumphantly.

We know nothing of how Dortico’s conscience fared in the legal limbo Cuba fell into, and has yet to come out of, since the triumph of the revolution. During their struggle against Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship, the rebels led by Fidel Castro had demanded the reinstitution of Cuba’s Constitution of 1940, which had been trampled on by Batista’s military regime.

We should take note that, on February 7, 1959, Cuba’s first provisional president following the revolution, Manuel Urrutia Lleo, promulgated the Fundamental Law (Ley Fundamental), which reproduced the 1940 Constitution, but granted the new government extraordinary legislative faculties. The minister tasked with formulating the country’s new legislation, the man I am now writing about, would soon become Urrutia’s immediate successor.

Until 1976, Cuba was governed through decrees issued by the Council of Ministers, made up of something more than twenty people who served as the nation’s legislative body. The new socialist constitution created the positions of Chair of the Council of State and Chair of the Council of Ministers, both of which Fidel Castro, and his designated successor and brother Raul, held.

We know nothing of how Dortico’s conscience fared in the legal limbo Cuba fell into, and has yet to come out of, since the triumph of the revolution. During their struggle against Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship, the rebels led by Fidel Castro had demanded the reinstitution of Cuba’s Constitution of 1940, which had been trampled on by Batista’s military regime.

Experts on the subject tend to agree that our last constitution has evident limitations. Dorticos, a professional of such merit that he was elected Chair of the Cuban Lawyers’ Association in the 1950s (in spite of his communist leanings and involvement in anti-Batista activities), was one the people who had to deal with its shortcomings.

The document ratified by Cuban citizens in 1976 is short and worded in overly general, imprecise terms, leaving a wide margin for the kind of interpretations and improvisation typical of the revolutionary leadership. Most importantly, it fails to clearly define those laws which ought to beset the chief constitutional norms that guarantee the citizen’s inalienable rights.

After stepping down, Dorticos remained in office as one of the vice presidents of the Council of Ministers and later served as the top judicial official until June 23, 1983, when he took his own life with a firearm.

His life has become something of a black hole. There are rumors that he suffered unbearable physical pain, caused by an illness about which we do not have any precise information. He was a simple, home-loving man, very close to his wife, Maria de la Caridad Molina, who had passed away shortly before his suicide.

Turning the pages of Verde Olivo, I see a photograph of Dorticos, walking down a street, at the front and center of a demonstration, locking arms with Che Guevara and Raul Castro. There is another man, among them, whom I cannot identify. They are accompanied by Carlos Rafael Rodriguez, a brilliant mind, a minister of the revolutionary government, a communist from Cienfuegos, like Dorticos.

Surprisingly, there is no street, no park, no school, not one place that commemorates this man. The reason may just be one of those dirty secrets, those unquestionable instructions from above that continue in the shadows. The question remains: why has the last president of the Republic of Cuba been condemned to oblivion?

5 thoughts on “Osvaldo Dorticos, Cuba’s Last President

  • Doug, the Dorticos family and my mother’s were as close as two families could be through at least three generations. Osvaldo Dorticos was not involved in elective politic in any way. As a private attorney (and once Commodore of the Cienfuegos Yacht Club) he kept his Communist leanings from his youthful days hidden from those who were closest to him until his appointment to Cuba’s “Presidency” by Fidel Castro in 1959. He was what we would consider a first rate “mole”.

  • I don’t have precise documentation, but I’ve heard that Dorticos had a dispute with Raul Castro, who, of course, is now Cuba’s leader. Also, despite his Communist history, Dorticos may have had misgivings about the pace of nationalisation in Cuba. Given that the current regime in Cuba is reversing that pace in many ways, history may well have absolved Osvaldo Dorticos.

    In his testimony before the U.S. Congress, Batista’s hand-picked successor, Andres Rivero Aguero, stated that Dorticos had been the Presidential candidate of Cuba’s Communist Party (called the “Popular Socialist Party” at the time) in the 1948 election. That statement is also repeated on the Internet. But all the hard evidence I have found indicates that the PSP candidate for President of Cuba in 1948 was the party’s leader, Juan Marinello, which makes more sense. I haven’t been able to find out whether Dorticos ran for some other office on the PSP ticket in 1948, or whether he was a candidate in the 1952 election (which was never held because of Batista’s coup). I would be grateful for any information on the subject.

  • Osvaldo Dorticós was never “President” of Cuba, nor were the Castro Tyrants. Presidents are elected by the people in open and fair elections. Osvaldo was appointed his position by Fidel Castro, he was never elected. He was a puppet, not a president.

  • The ship that exploded was a munitions ship from France loaded with highly explosive weapons. It was not supposed to be docked, munition ships before the Castro Revolution were unloaded out in sea away from the dock to prevent accidents from killing so many people. The Castro Government is to blame for this reckless disaster. Had the ship been unloaded away from the dock, far less people would have been killed.

  • The photograph above is cropped. Another photo taken at about the same time shows a wider image with the following people, (from left to right):

    Fidel Castro, Osvaldo Dorticos, Che Guevera, Augusto Martinez-Sanchez, Antonio Nunez-Jimene, William Morgan, and Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo.


    Menoyo and Morgan fought against Batista in the Second National Front of Escambray, but they soon had a falling out with Fidel Castro when the revolution embraced Communism. Menoyo fled to the US where he organized an armed group which he led into Cuba in 1964. He was captured & imprisoned. Morgan was arrested while he was helping to organize a rebellion against Castro. He was executed at El Morro on March 11, 1961.

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