THE MODERNIZATION OF SOCIAL RELATIONS ON A CUBAN SUGAR ESTATE-
THE FRANCISCO SUGAR COMPANY,
ROBERT NAIRNE LAURIAULT
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
To Delia, whose heart is like the heavens,
The struggle of the modern age has always been to give man freedom and
sever him from his bondage to the land, and for the freedom of the land,
liberating it from the monopolistic tyranny of man.
The farmer is becoming a member of the proletariat, just another laborer,
without roots in the soil, shifted from one district to another. The whole
life of the central is permeated by this provisional quality of dependence,
which is a characteristic of colonial populations whose members have lost
their stake in their country.
All our invention and progress seem to result in endowing material forces
with intellectual life, and in stultifying human life into a material force.
Over the course of a seventeen year career in graduate school,
there are necessarily many persons to thank. Hardly knowing where
to begin, I will, like a good historian, begin at the beginning.
R. Hunt Davis, Jr., in his course on southern African history
provided the spark that ignited my desire to do more than major in
history, but rather to become an historian. I would also like to thank
him for supporting me in my application for financial assistance in
the form of a Title VI Graduate Fellowship and a University of
Florida Graduate School Award.
As a master's student in African history I was privileged to
study under Ren6 Lemarchand, of the Department of Political Science,
whose erudition revealed a new world beyond my imaginings. He has
unfailingly supported my own slow crawl toward academia, and I
count him as a close friend.
Also while still a master's student I was lucky enough to be
associated, prior to his retirement, with Neill Macaulay, who helped
to imbue me with a love of things Latin, especially the worlds of
Brazil and Cuba. He too I count as a friend.
I would like to thank other faculty members of the University
of Florida, including all the members of my doctoral committee
among whom is Robert D'Amico, who acted as my mentor in those
early days. Without Bob's patient guidance I could never have come
to a mutual understanding with Professor Karl Marx.
Among other faculty members I would like to acknowledge my
dear friend Felicity Trueblood, who has given much moral and
intellectual support. Jane Landers delayed her own promising career
to be a selfless supporter, freely giving her time to me and the other
graduate students of our "generation." I thank Elois Scott and Willa
Wolcott, for providing me the opportunity to teach in the warm and
collegial environment of the University's Reading and Writing Center
for seven years.
More recently, I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Carla
Summers and Carl Van Ness of the University Archives, who have
given me the opportunity to immerse myself freely in the
agricultural history of Florida and the Caribbean, bas both a
professional archivist and a student of history. Without Carl's vast
knowledge of the Braga Brothers Collection this dissertation would
not have been possible. I am fortunate to count them both as
excellent colleagues and warm friends.
I am also indebted to these good friends who have offered
invaluable assistance in a number of other ways: Merrill Wilcox who
afforded me the opportunity to visit Cuba; Jose Ignacio Avellaneda,
who offered much help with paleographic problems and difficult
translations; Tom Sawallis, who has spent many hours unraveling the
mysteries of Macs; Richard Phillips, Rosa Mesa, and Mary Gallant of
the University of Florida's Smathers Libraries' Latin American
Collection; Susan Fernandez, who has shared with me her insights
into Cuban history; Dave Macally, who freely shares his insights into
everything; and my dear friends Bruce and Laura Chappell, who are
I am deeply appreciative of the hospitality afforded me by all
my Cuban friends on my brief visit there in 1991, especially Ruben
I wish to thank Henry Owens and Donald Sheffield, whose
labors have maintained our orange grove while I labored in a
My greatest gratitude must be reserved for surely one of the
finest human beings and most accomplished and giving scholars in
our field, Murdo Macleod, who arrived from out the desert like a
winged Cleo to make this thing possible,
and for Delia McClelland and my children who have
endured more than I wish to say.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS........................................................................... .................. ....i v
LIST OF TABLES .......................................................................................................... xi
LIST OF FIGURES.................................................................................................. xii
Cuba showing the location of the Francisco Sugar Estate and
selected cities........................................................................................... xiii
The Francisco Sugar Estate and environs..................................... ....xiv
INTRODUCTION ............................................................................................................. 1
Primary Considerations ............................................................ ................ 1
Background ........................................................................................................... 1
The Movement of Sugar Production to Eastern Cuba.....................3
The Colonato ................................................ .................................................. 4
Other Considerations ................................................................. ...........8
The Material W orld of a Twentieth-Century Sugar Estate............... 8
The natural environment.............................. .............. ......................... 8
The built environment .................................................................................9
The Frontier....................................................................................................... 10
The Great Tradition of Rebellion in the East..................................... 10
I. THE ENVIRONMENT........................................................................................ 12
The Extant Natural Environment of the Southeastern Coast of
Cuba in the Late Nineteenth Century ................................... .......... 12
The Physical Geography ................................................. ............... 12
The Climate. .................................................................................................... 15
The Vegetation. ............................................................................................. 20
The Human Environment ................................................................................ 24
The Local Economy ............................................................................................. 24
Population Characteristics ................................................ ........... 28
Land Tenure ................................................................................................... 32
Traditional Subsistence Crops and the Cuban Diet.......................3 4
Traditional Cash Crops........................................................................ 3 7
H housing. ......................................................................................................3 9
Health and Sanitation ...................................................................... 4 1
The Life of the Guajiro .......................................................................... 44
Southern Camagiiey in 1900 ....................................................................4 8
II. CUBA TRANSFORMED: 1868-1898 ................................................... 54
The Eastern Economy Before Big Sugar ............................................ 5 4
Sugar and the Ten Years War: 1868-1878........................ ........... 5 7
The A fterm ath ........................................................................................... 6 2
The Crisis of the Eighties ................................................ ................ 63
The Emergence of the Colonato ......................................... .............. 6 8
The Cuban War of Independence, 1895-1898 ................................ 73
The Occupation: Sugar Looks East, 1899-1902................................. 77
III. THE ORIGINS OF THE FRANCISCO SUGAR COMPANY ..................... 8 1
Who Were the Riondas? ..................................................... ................. 8 1
The Riondas and Cuban Sugar (1878-1896).......................... ... 84
Who Were the First Francisco Investors?...................................... 8 5
Birth of the Francisco Sugar Estate ................................................8 9
Raising Capital in New York and Philadelphia.......................... .. 96
Cuba and the World Sugar Market in 1900....................................96
Manuel Rionda Floats a New Sugar Company.............................. 99
IV. CARVING A SUGAR ESTATE OUT OF THE FOREST..........................1 3 9
Cuban Sugar Production at the Turn of the Twentieth Century.
............................................................................................................................1 3 9
The Agronomic Requirements of Sugar Cane Production in the
Cuban Environm ent............................................................................. 13 9
Environmental requirements ..................................... ............ 3 9
The culture of sugar cane ............................................................ 42
Labor and the Colonato........................................................................... 148
The Initial Development of the Francisco Estate: 1899-
1902...................................................................................................... 15 1
The Y ear 1899 .................................................................................... 15 1
The Year 1900 .................................................................................... 1 8 9
The Y ear 1901 ...................................................................................... 1 1
The Spring of 1902: Sugar Making Begins ...............................220
V. A FAILURE OF EXPECTATIONS: 1903-1909.......................................228
Production Gets Underway: 1902-1904 ........ ............... ......... 228
The Crisis in Management .................................................................... 228
The Technology of Sugar Production in early Twentieth Century
Cuba and Related Costs ....................................................................... 232
Completing the Sugar Factory .............................................................235
The First Zafras............................................................................................ 3 8
The Question of Tariffs............................................... .... 2 41
From Reciprocity Through the Second Occupation: 1904-1909...25 1
Capital Growth Continues.................................................................. 25 1
Cuban Political Developments and the Liberal Uprising...........253
The Second Occupation ............................................................................257
Parallel Developments: North American Sugar Investments, 1899-
1915......................................................................................................................2 7 9
VI. THE FRANCISCO COMES INTO ITS OWN: 1909-1917....................287
Rionda Takes Back Francisco: 1909-1916 ...........................................287
La Guerra Negra: The Rebellion of 1912................................................296
Growth and Contradiction ...........................................................................301
La Chambelona: The Revolution of 1917..............................................309
VII. WORLD WAR AND THE DANCE OF THE MILLIONS.......................3 2 8
The Rise of Sugar Demand and Prices during the World War: 1914-
19 2 0 ....................................................................................................................3 2 8
Production and Profits at Francisco..................................................33 1
The Labor Crisis ............................................................................................... 33 2
Wartime Conditions .............................. ............ 332
Postwar Conditions ...................................... ......... 3 6
The Colonos Prosper........................................ ......................................... 3 9
Price Controls in the War and Postwar Economy 1917-1920.......344
The Francisco Sugar Company at the Brink......................................345
The Acquisition of Central Elia ...................... .......................................... 45
Enlightenment in a Prosperous Time............................. ....... 48
Speculation and Collapse: 1920-1921 ................................................. 349
XI. CONCLUSIONS .............................................3 52
Freedom, Labor, and Class............................................................... 3 52
Freedom and Dignity .................................................................................35 2
The Escape to the East.........................................3 5 5
The Role of the Cuban Bourgeoisie .................................... ........... ..356
Why Sugar Went East ..................................................................................... 57
The Proletarianization of Rural Cuba ..................................................... 60
The Tabula Rasa ............................................................................................. 60
W western C uba ..................................................................................................3 6 3
The D delicate Balance........................................................................................ 0
On the Frontier of Capital's Advance .....................................................372
GLOSSARY OF AGRICULTURAL, SUGAR-MAKING, AND RELATED
TERMS, SOME PECULIAR TO THE ISLAND OF CUBA ......................... 8 0
A. PROSPECTUS OF THE FRANCISCO SUGAR COMPANY........................ 7 8
B. NARRATIVE OF NAN RISLEY .....................................................................
C. THE TRANSFER OF THE GUAYABAL LANDS TO THE FRANCISCO
SUGAR COMPANY: PREAMBLE AND RESOLUTIONS.............................
D. FRANCISCO SUGAR COMPANY COLONOS WITH AREA OF COLONIAL,
M A RCH 1917 .....................................................................................................402
RE ERENCES ...............................................................................................................4 0 4
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ................................................................................ 418
LIST OF TABLES
0.1 Production of Sugar by Area in Four Year Averages 3
from 1916 with the Average of 1912-1914
(three years)(sums in thousands of English tons).
1.1 Mensural rainfall at the batey, seasons 1910/11-
1.2 Criminal Charges Brought in Municipal Court,
Municipio of Manzanillo, Jan. 1902-April 1902.
5.1 Cuban Sugars as Percent of Total Sugars Imported
into the United States, 1825-1900. 233
5.2 Sugar Production in the Eastern Provinces, 1902-
7.1 Production and Value of Cuban Sugar, 1913-1921. 333
7.2 Population Growth by Province (Unequal Increments)
7.4 Cross Comparison of the Cost of Producing One Bag of
Sugar at Francisco vs. Three Other Rionda Centrales,
1914 and 1916. 337
8.1 Shares of Cane supply supplied by the administration
of the central, colonos del central, and colonos
independientes for selected years, by province,
expressed in percentages. 370
LIST OF FIGURES
Cuba showing the location of the Francisco Sugar Estate
and selected cities ............................................................................ xiii
The Francisco Sugar Estate and enviros.................................... xiv
h~~U (-) Q
ca o o
(a 4)Cr) 0 0
WNO 12 4
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
THE MODERNIZATION OF SOCIAL RELATIONS ON A CUBAN SUGAR ESTATE-
THE FRANCISCO SUGAR COMPANY,
Robert Nairne Lauriault
Chairman: Murdo J. Macleod
Major Department: History
Technological invention and adaptation in sugar technology was
stimulated in Cuba by European beet sugar competition to counter a
weak market resulting from this competition. The development of
larger mills and radical changes in postemancipation relations of
production, characterized by the evolution of the colono system,
fueled internal contradictions within Cuban society. This led to a
severe economic crisis, in turn triggering a political and social crisis
based on the profound social and political alienation endemic to Cuba
through most of the nineteenth century. The result was the War of
Cuban Independence. The destruction and disruption suffered by the
sugar industry postponed further adaptation of new sugar
technology and delayed the general modernization of sugar factories.
Virtually the moment the war ended, however, foreign sugar
capitalists such as Manuel Rionda began to establish new capital
stock companies that channeled North American capital into Cuba,
especially the eastern provinces. Rionda and others strove to make
up for the lost time by building a number of mills of a size and
technological sophistication beyond what Cuba, or the world, had yet
seen. The first of these was the sugar estate Francisco.
Founded in 1899 on the wild south coast of Camagiiey,
Francisco encompassed approximately 46,000 acres of undisturbed
jungle and rainforest. This study provides much detail regarding the
making of the plantation from the financial, agricultural and
manufacturing perspective. It also includes material on the natural
environment and on local society.
The thesis of this work is that those sugar capitalists who
participated in the first wave of investment in eastern Cuba
benefitted not only from cheap land and virgin soils, but also from
the opportunity to remold the relations of production. They did so by
transforming the colono system, formerly characterized by
independent farmers, into a system of proletarian labor. This
transformation presaged a national trend in association with
latifundia promoted by North American capital. The creation of a
rural proletariat had profound consequences for twentieth-century
"It is, if one will but observe it, a fine and bitter fight, this that
is being waged in Cuba to-day. No one who surveys the field can
remain non-partisan. ."
These words, from the concluding paragraph of Irene Wright's
famous descriptive work, serve well as a beginning to our study of
Cuba in her critical hour.Wright, an intelligent and sensitive
observer of the Cuban people, chose, in the end, to turn her back on
Cuba and endorse the economic imperialism that characterized the
"victorious invaders" who were her countrymen. This work is about
one of those invaders.
In the early 1880s technological invention and adaptation in
sugar technology (largely the result of experimentation in the beet
sugar industry of France and Germany) was greatly stimulated in
Cuba by European beet sugar competition. Falling prices, a direct
result of this competition, led to a severe economic crisis in Cuba,
which in turn triggered a political and social crisis based on profound
grievances and social alienation endemic to Cuba through most of the
1 Irene A. Wright, Cuba. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1910.
nineteenth century. The result was the War of Cuban Independence.
The widespread destruction and total disruption suffered by the
sugar industry postponed further adaptation of new sugar
technology and delayed the general modernization of sugar factories.
Virtually the moment the war ended, however, sugar capitalists such
as Manuel Rionda began to establish new capital stock companies
that channeled North American industrial capital into Cuba,
especially the eastern third of the island. Rionda and others strove to
make up for the time lost as a result of the war by building mills of a
size and technological sophistication beyond what Cuba, or the world,
for that matter, had yet seen. Table 0.1 below gives some indication
of the phenomenal growth of the Cuban sugar industry during the
first quarter of the century compared to other sugar-producing areas
of the world.
Table 0.1. Production of Sugar by Area in 4 Year Averages from 1916 with
the Average of 1912-1914 (3 years) (sums in thousands of English tons).
Area 1912-1914 1916-1920 1921-1925 +/-%
Louisiana and Florida 245 206.8 208.9 -18%
Puerto.Rico & Virgin Is. 355 416.3 403.9 +17%
CUBA 2.307 3.461.5 4.183.2 +81%
Dominican Republic 96 146 213.5. +123%
Haiti ---- ---- 8.6 ----
Central America 22 31 70.1 +218%
Mexico 143 63.5 144.3 +07%
British West Indies 74 187.9 164 +122%
French West Indies 72 65.1 56.7 -21%
Argentina 202 125.5 254.7 +26%
Brazil 345 334.9 649.5 +88%
Peru 222 485.7 312.6 +41%
British Guyana 92 107.1 97.1 +5%
Source: Luis V. de Abad. Azicar y Cafia de Azlcar. La Habana: Editorial Mercantil
Cubano, S.A., 1945, p.26. Selections and extrapolations from Table 4:
The Movement of Sugar Production to Eastern Cuba
Manuel Moreno Fraginals, Hugh Thomas, Ramiro Guerra y
Sanchez, Julio LeRiverend, Louis A. Perez, Jr., Rebecca Scott and other
students of Cuban history have made reference to the dramatic
movement of sugar capital from the western provinces to the two
former eastern provinces of Oriente and Camagiiey.2 As Perez points
out, most of these mills were erected with U.S. capital. Of 35 centrales
built in the two eastern provinces between 1899 and 1918, 24 were
North American.3 This study, based largely on documentary evidence
from the Braga Brothers Collection, curated in the University
Archives of the Smathers Library, University of Florida, further
examines that phenomenon, so consequential for twentieth century
Our aim here is to investigate the reasons that, within the
context of this critical historical conjuncture and that of the world
economy, this shift occurred. Our analysis is referenced to the hard
business decisions made in the founding and capitalization of the
Francisco Sugar Company and more particularly to the way the
management of that company sought to organize and reorganize the
relations of production.
2 The old province and city of Puerto Principe officially became Camagiley in 1901. In
common practice, the indigenous name had long been used for the region. As do many
contemporary sources, we will use the names interchangably through 1900 and Camagiley
thereafter. The respective adjectival forms are Principefio and Camgiieyefio.
3 Louis A. Pdrez, Jr. Lords of the Mountain: Social Banditry and Peasant Protest in Cuba.
1878-1918. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1989, p.156.
4 The Braga Brothers Collection is, to our knowledge, the largest single assemblage of
documents regarding Caribbean sugar in the world.
A principal theme of this study surrounds that institution
known as the colonato, or the colono system.5 This system emerged
around 1880 in response to several fundamental changes occurring
in the sugar industry at the time, including the total reorganization of
the relations of production during the somewhat protracted abolition
The grueling Ten Years War took a great toll among the many
small ingenios of the eastern and central provinces. In addition,
changing world market forces began to suppress sugar prices by the
mid 1880s, resulting in a drastic diminution of the number of
ingenios grinding in the old western sugar districts of Havana and
5 The term "colonalo" may refer either to the contract between the grower and the central
or to the colono system as a whole. Here the term is used in the latter sense with one or
two exceptions that are obvious in context.
6 Academics do not entirely agree as to the underlying causes of these fundamental
changes. Laird Bergad asks, "Was the crisis of the 1880s caused by structural difficulties
endemic to the sugar economy that could be resolved only by a radical transformation of
the labor and capital basis of the industry? Or was the crisis the result of abolition?"
Cuban Rural Society in the Nineteenth Century: The Social and Economic History of
Monoculture in Matanzas. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990, p. 339.
Bergad goes on to argue that the slave-based sugar economy was still viable. He admits that
the new centrales were more efficient, but goes on to say that "this does not mean that old,
slave-based ingenios could not have produced at smaller profit margins well into the
1880's had abolition not been imposed on the plantation owners." In this we believe he is
wrong. Bergad fails to take into account the razor-thin margins of profit that those sugar
manufacturers who survived were operating under, especially after 1883. Slavery did not
fade away with relatively little resistance from the planter class because the proper
historical moment had arrived, but because there were strong underlying economic forces
that mitigated in favor of a more efficient system. The fall in the price of steel, the rise in
European beet sugar production, the concomitant progress in sugar technology--all of
these factors contributed to the revolutionary change in the relations of production in
Cuban agriculture in the period 1875 to 1895. Without abolition, Cuba could never have
successfully competed in the world sugar market. Ironically, if abolition had been
delayed, there is just a chance that Cuba would have developed a diversified economy as
other areas of sugar production supplanted her international market share.
Matanzas provinces.7 In their place were erected larger mills, called
centrales, which primarily owed their existence to the steep decline
in the price of steel rails. For the first time it became economical to
construct lightweight rail lines into the surrounding cane fields, thus
obviating the need to haul cane by ox cart down mud-deep lanes to
the mill. The introduction of railroads to the cane fields represented
a major advance in the forces of production, which had profound
implications for the relations of production, for the entire political
economy and, in fact, for social relations throughout Cuba.
The centrales expanded their holdings, rapidly absorbing the
lands of the old ingenios of Matanzas, Santa Clara, and the remaining
sugar districts of western Cuba. Once limited in extent by the
distance a team of oxen could, practically speaking, haul a heavy cart
of cane, now the extent of the unit of production was limited only by
its means to buy more land and rails and to find people to do the
work--or in other words, its access to capital, credit, and labor.
All three elements were limited, however, particularly the last.
The anticipated rapid proletarianization of rural labor did not occur
after abolition, and the sugar companies quickly realized that there
were advantages to separating the agricultural component of sugar
production from the manufacturing side, thus leaving the problem of
7 In 1878, even after the destruction of the war in the East, there were 1190 ingenios on
the island. By 1891 the number had dropped to 850, and by 1899, after the destructive
war with Spain, only 207 mills remained. Julio LeRiverend, Historia Econ6mica de Cuba.
La Habana: Editorial Pueblo y Educaci6n, 1974, p. 497. In Matanzas, the most productive
province in Cuba, the number of mills fell from 517 in 1877 to 33 in 1900. F6 Iglesias
Garcia, "The Development of Capitalism in Cuban Sugar Production, 1860-1900," in
Between Slavery and Free Labor: The Spanish-Speaking Caribbean in the Nineteenth
Century. Manuel Moreno Fraginals, Frank Moy Pons, and Stanley Engerman (eds.).
Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985, p. 73.
labor, by and large, to surrounding cane farmers from whom the
centrales bought their cane. Some members of this newly emerging
sector were former owners of the abandoned ingenios. The centrales
also began to lease portions of their own lands to landless cane
farmers who grew cane on contract, just as did the landed growers,
but on less advantageous terms. Both groups were known as colonos
and their lands, owned or leased, were called colonies.8
As the expansion of the centrales progressed to the point at
which there was no more sugar land left unsold, unleased, or
uncontracted between them and the next central, competition for
cane began to increase; the price of cane was driven up and the
colonos profited. The sugar market, however, was chronically low; in
years of slightly better prices, mills used their profits to invest in
more modern machinery and thus reduce the cost of production. But
as sugar prices declined further and unfavorable tariffs obtained, the
sugar interests looked increasingly to the colono to take the losses in
order to maintain the companies' profit levels. The plight of the
colonos in the years 1893 and 1894 undoubtedly contributed to the
revolutionary spirit that finally pushed Spain off the island.
The Cuban War of Independence left the island in a state of
ruin. Twelve percent of her population and two thirds of her wealth
were lost.9 Agriculture and the colonos in particular suffered
terribly, and Major-General Leonard Wood, head of the military
occupation government refused to request aid for small farmers.
8 Similar systems already existed in Brazil and the French Caribbean.
9 Charles Harcourt Ainslie Forbes-Lindsay, Cuba and Her People Today. Boston: L.C. Page
& Company, 1911, p. 76.
Throughout the hardships and hazards of the war of independence the
insurrectos were supported by the belief that American enlistment in their
cause, upon which they counted for success, would be followed by an era of
permanent prosperity for the masses. The man who bore the brunt of the
fighting, buoyed by these high hopes, realizes now that he was exploited by
a handful of his own countrymen and deserted by his expected saviour.1 0
Like that of other sectors of Cuba's population the colonos
situation continued steadily to worsen on into the twentieth century.
As the demand for labor increased with the expansion of sugar into
areas where cane had never been grown before, as in the 1880s,
labor became a scarce commodity. The cost of labor escalated in
conjunction with a general inflation of basic consumer goods, but
colonos, especially those who leased on the eastern estates such as
Francisco, continued to be paid at the same rate for their cane. And
like labor, of which these colonos were truly a part, alternative ways
of earning a living were ever diminishing with the increasing
hegemony of export monoculture, much of it controlled by foreign
This study describes the total environment of one of the first
sugar estates to be built in eastern Cuba by North American capital.
In so doing, it highlights the role of the colonos, attempts to analyze
the economic realities of their lives, and to identify their concerns,
10 Ibid., p. 149.
11 Sidney Mintz, in his analysis of postemancipation societies in the Caribbean, describes
the "two jaws of Caribbean plantation discipline." These were the increase in the labor
supply and the reduction of alternatives to plantation employment. This analysis does not
pertain to Cuba for the period of Mintz's concern, as eastern Cuba offered much available
land for alternative ways of living, but does work well for the era of sugar expansion in
early twentieth century Cuba as latifundia increased and the lands in the East were
appropriated by capital. Caribbean Transformations. Chicago: Aldine Publishing Company,
1974, p. 215.
their loyalties, and their place within the total scheme of the
The present work brings evidence to light that indicates that
Manuel Rionda and the Francisco Sugar Company, in the vanguard of
the movement into the East after the war, desired a new
relationship between colonos and management. Indications are that
as early as 1900 Rionda was interested in transforming the colonato
from a farming system characterized by independent or quasi-
independent farmers, its old prewar form in the West, to a system in
which these farmers were nothing more than poorly paid employees
or proletarian labor. By virtue of a combination of changing economic
conditions both within and beyond the Francisco sugar estate,
effectually eroding the income and leverage of the colonos, and
Rionda's steady vision of an ideal labor system yielding maximum
profits, he succeeded in subordinating the colonos to the point at
which, for some, alienation became violent rebellion.
The Material World of a Twentieth-Century Sugar Estate
The natural environment
The felling of the West Indian forests was one of the great
environmental disasters of modern history. By the turn of the
twentieth century the only virgin stands left in Cuba were found in
limited areas in the mountains of Oriente and along certain remote
coasts on the eastern end of the island such as that of southeastern
Camagiiey. With the felling of Francisco's forest we see the beginning
of the end for what was left of Cuba's lowland tropical habitats.
Teresa Casuso poignantly recalls childhood memories of the burning
of the eastern forests:
I remember, in Oriente, the great impenetrable forests that were set aflame,
whole jungles that were fired and razed to the ground to make way for the
sugar cane. My parents were in despair for that lost wealth of beautiful,
fragrant tropical wood -- cedar and mahogany and mastic, and magnificent-
grained pomegranate -- blazing in sacrifice to the frenzy to cover the
countryside with sugar cane. In the nights the sight of that flaming horizon
affected me with a strange, fearful anxiety, and the aroma of burning wood
down from so far away was like the incense one smells inside churches.1 2
Chapter I focuses on first the natural environment surrounding
the site of the future sugar estate and completes this tableau with a
description of the human environment that Rionda and his associates
first encountered on that remote Caribbean coast. Rionda was less
insensitive to nature than to Cuban guajiros (rustics), though his
sensitivity failed to save a single tree where cane could be planted in
its place. He was, however, aware of his debt to the natural world:
The great portion of our present profits are derived more from the
bountiness of nature and the profitable business, than from any scientific
methods of ours. In other words, our abilities, economic methods, and
modern machinery have no reasons to be credited with any of the financial
success of the company in the past. We are robbing nature of her
fertility and crediting that as profits in our plant.1 3
The built environment
The bulk of this study is concerned with precisely how a large
sugar estate was developed in turn-of-the-century eastern Cuba.
Much detail is provided on the actual physical construction, the
means and methods (many of them experimental) of clearing,
12 Teresa Casuso, Cuba and Castro. trans. Elmere Grossberg. New York: Random House,
1961, p. 9. Cited in Perez, Lords of the Mountain, p.157.
13 MR to Alfred Jaretski, undated (c. March 27, 1912), BBC, Ser. 2.
planting, and constructing the mill, the railways, the wharf, etc.
Innumerable problems were encountered and overcome, cost
estimates proved to be far wrong, and the human element often
produced unexpected outcomes. Without really knowing, in detail,
how a project of this magnitude was accomplished, theory is without
This work is informed by studies of other frontiers of capital's
advance, which was the principal theme of this author's master's
thesis concerning the Zambezi Valley of Mozambique in the late
nineteenth and early twentieth century. Precisely the same source of
capital drove sugar estate development in the Quelimane District of
the Zambezi Valley and in Camagiiey Province, Cuba.14
The Great Tradition of Rebellion in the East
The rural people of eastern Cuba have long held the reputation
of a restless and independent lot, always ready to rebel against
authority whether it stemmed from Madrid, Havana, or even
Santiago (the old revolutionary town of Bayamo is not far from
Francisco). The Braga documents record a series of labor crises and
numerous incidents of rural insurgency during times of national
14 Ceasar Czarnikow of London financed both J.P. Hornung in his African operations and
Manuel Rionda in Cuba. See Chapter VIII for a discussion of the theoretical implications
arising from a comparison of these two sugar ventures.
crisis.15 Francisco's history reflects this Eastern historical tradition of
being the seedbed of revolution. The company's relations with the
colonos at the estate contributed to that tradition. The colonos, as
supervisors of work gangs during the zafra (harvest), were in a
position to influence the cane cutters also, even commanding small
armies that roamed the countryside burning the cane, an act that
always drew the attention of the authorities.16 In their participation
in this tradition of resistance, Francisco's colonos also contributed to
the later dramatic events of the twentieth century such as the
Revolution of 1933--which is often thought of as a precursor to that
15 In recent history the forests of the Sierra Madre have provided protection for the
Fidelistas, allowing them to nurture and build their support until the time ripened for
16 In the World War I period and later labor was brought from other islands on contract
and would have been less interested in participating in Cuba's periods of sociopolitical
upheaval. This factor undoubtedly made migrant labor more attractive to management.
17 Nearby Manzanillo organized one of the first Agrupaci6nes Comunistas outside of
Havana in 1921 or 1922. In 1921 a labor incident on the Cuba Railroad elicited the remark
from the president of the railroad that southeastern Cuba was "a hotbed of Bolshevism."
Hugh Thomas. Cuba: The Pursuit of Freedom, p. 576, and 551. Thomas doubts the accuracy
of the word "Bolshevism," tracing the origins of Cuba's radical left to anarchists and
former anarchists along with a few socialists.
The Extant Natural Environment of the Southeastern Coast of Cuba in
the Late Nineteenth Century
The Physical Geography
When Manuel Rionda developed the Francisco Estate, he
pioneered the first large, modern sugar plantation in a part of Cuba
that was to become a major sugar-producing region of the island. 1
What, then, were the physical features of the area Rionda chose as
the site of his new endeavor?
Cuban geographers categorize their island in regions and sub-
regions. The Francisco lay in the subregion of Southern Camagiiey,
which is described as a level plain with isolated hills toward the
interior leading to more hills as one moves north and inland. The
western boundary is imprecisely defined by "La Trocha," which can
mean ditch but can also mean simply "boundary," and the eastern
boundary is by the Rio Jobabo, which separates the area from the
Cauto Plain (some authors consider this all one). Thus, this subregion
1 The cane district of southern Camagiiey as of 1957 produced about nine percent of
Cuba's total production and exported about twelve percent from its ports. Levf Marrero y
Artiles, Geograffa de Cuba. La Habana: Editorial Selecta, 1957, p.575.
includes the Municipios of Santa Cruz del Sur, most of Florida and
part of Camagiiey and Guaimare.2
In the interior, a mesa rises slightly from west to east upon
which several heights protrude abruptly above the plain. These are
called El Grupo de Najasa and are integrated with the Sierras de
Najasa, Guanicanamar and Chorillo among others. This inland plain is
predominantly limestone of the Cretacious period, but as one moves
southward toward the Caribbean coast, one encounters a narrow zone
of Eocene rock followed by Mioscene limestone that constitutes the
coastal plain, and finally the actual litoral composed of Pleistocene
rock beneath the coastal swamps and marshes.3
These mangrove swamps and marshes extend almost
uninterrupted across the south coast of Cuba from Cabo Corriente in
Pinar del Rio to Cabo Cruz in Oriente.4 Along the south coast of
Camagiiey the coastal swamps are due to the lack of relief in the
immediate interior. Further inland, between Florida and the Rio
Jobabo, however, drainage is sufficient as a number of small rivers
traverse the region north to south. These include the Vertientes,
Santa Maria, Altamira, San Pedro or Camujiro, the Tana, and Najasa,
which was utilized during the rainy season for floating wood to the
coast at Santa Cruz del Sur, and the Francisco's Rio Sevilla. Many of
2 Levi Marrero y Artiles, Geograffa de Cuba, p. 572.
4 The only interruption is in the Trinidad area where the hills meet the sea.
these rivers flood during the rainy season and overflow onto the low,
coastal plain to be finally dispersed into the coastal swamps.5
The coastal shelf is quite wide and provides a valuable
breeding ground for fish, especially the biajaibas (Neomaenis
synagris). The seawater is clear, the color, aquamarine, and the many
cayos that form what Columbus called Los Jardines de la Reina
(Gardens of the Queen) dot the horizon. In 1900 no significant ports
were to be found along this coast except that of Santa Cruz del Sur,
which had to be constantly dredged.
Before the first pick gouged la tierra Camagaeyana Manuel
Rionda was aware that not all the land at Guayabal was suitable for
cane. It was obvious that the litoral zone would not support
agriculture, but he had observed that at about four and one-third
miles inland the land began to rise and was covered in higher
vegetation. "Doesn't it follow," Rionda asks, "that a place some
distance from the coast is better land?"6 This was probably the
Miocene limestone shelf described by Levi Morrero. Whenever
visitors and prospective investors toured the new estate, Rionda was
5 Levf Marrero y Artiles, Geograffa. p. 573. Rionda mentions the need to drain portions of
the land to prevent seasonal flooding. MR to McCahan, June 22, 1900, BBC, Ser. 2. "With a
little rain lakes are formed in various places." MR to Coma, April 21, 1900, BBC, Ser. 2.
6 MR to Juan Clark, March 28, 1899, BBC, Ser. 2. In March of 1899 Juan Clarke inspected
the property at Guayabal with two other men. They took three horses and rode over the
land, reporting that all the coast was low, swampy and useless for cane and could serve
only for pasture. This "bad land" was said to have had only a little low vegetation. About 2
miles inland the land improved, but had only a low vegetative cover; but earth brought up
in the ant hills was of another color, dark yellow and not black like that of the forest
lands; that soil would produce cane but it would have to be replanted after a few crops,
according to Clark. At four miles inland they encountered higher lands with more and
taller vegetation, which Clark declared had some chance of being more than sufficient
upon which to place a central. "But in all the land across which we walked," said Clark,
"there was none which one could say was superior sugar land which would produce cane
for 15 to 20 years without replanting." Juan Clark to MR., March 21, 1899, BBC, Ser. 1.
always insistent that they be shown the northern part of the lands
including the higher lands and ranches, La Trocha, "and around
Madre Vieja up to Yaquimos."7
The Rio Sevilla, which wound about the northeastern and then
eastern portions of the estate, was a small but navigable river for
shallow draft vessels such as barges and little tugs. It was described
by Mrs. C.P. Wallace early in the rainy season as "pretty, but very
low at this season,--the banks are steep and the trees and vines very
dense."8 At the mouth of the Rio Sevilla was what was described by
the Spanish naturalist Antonio Perpifia as a dangerous bar, which
probably limited the commercial utility of the river.9
The climate of the southeast coast of Cuba is that of the wet-
dry tropics. The distinctive feature of the Aw (K6ppen) climates is
the high average annual rainfall range between the dry months
coinciding with winter and the wet months coinciding with summer.
As a tropical climate, the temperature regimes reflect high minimum
averages with the coolest month having a temperature of 180 C. or
above. The marine influence prevents excessive heat in any part of
Cuba, coastal locations in particular: Havana, for instance, never
7 MR to Coma, January 5, 1900, BBC, Ser. 2. These places are located and described in
8 C.P. Wallace to Maud Braga, June 2, 1904, BBC, uncatalogued typescript.
9 P. Antonio Perpifia y Pebernat, El Camagiiey: Viaies Pintorescos por el Interior de Cuba
y por sus Costas con Discripciones del Pafs Barcelona: Librerfa de J.A. Bastinos, Librerfa
de Luis Niub6, 1889, p.307.
exceeds an average monthly temperature of 270C. and that in only
the one month of August.10 Daytime highs rarely surpass the 310C.
Frost and freezing temperatures are limited in Cuba to the
higher elevations of the Sierra de Trinidad in Las Villas and the
Sierra Maestre in Oriente and are unknown in coastal Camagiiey.11
"The day in the morning is beautiful and bright and stays that
way until about two o'clock when it pours -- and weeps for all
exiles." Thus Mrs. C.P. Wallace describes the rainy season at
Guayabal.12 The rains begin to build in the middle of April and
decline in mid-October. July and part of August is often a period of
slack rainfall referred to as la pequena estacion seca.13 This period is
given to droughts that can be devastating at that point in the
growing season. Such a drought occurred in 1899, its effects being
felt over much of Cuba.14 The average rainfall in Camagiiey, though
10 Antonio Nuiiez Jimdnez, Geograffa de Cuba. L6 Volumes). La Habana: Instituto Cubano
del Libro, 1972, p.125. See also Salvador Massip, and Sarah E. Ysalgud Massip.
Introducci6n a la Geograffa de Cuba. La Habana: Fiallo y Hermanos, 1942. Note figures 112
and 113, pp. 186 and 188, showing precipitation in December and June.
11 Albert J. Norton, Norton's Complete Handbook of Havana and Cuba. Chicago and New
York: Rand McNally & Co., 1900., p. 205. Frost in the mountains is widely reported in the
literature and was further confirmed by personal conversations with Cuban agricultural
officials in 1991. There was even a reported frost near sea level in the Trinidad area
during the great cold wave of 1835, which produced a six degree F. reading at St.
Augustine, Florida. For agricultural purposes, however, all of Cuba may be considered a
13 Salvador Massip, and Sarah E. Ysalgud Massip. Introducci6n a la Geografia de Cuba. fig.
115, p. 193.
14 La pequefia estaci6n seca ends as lowering pressures in the Caribbean basin usher in
the season of tropical waves and disturbances. Rionda, on hearing that a "cyclone" had
struck Puerto Rico, wrote Ahern that he assumes that rain had finally come to eastern
variable, is equal to or greater than that of the island's average as a
whole. The interior receives more rain than the coast, but the coast
retains more water due to poor drainage.1 s
Table 1.1. below is a record of rainfall at the estate over an
Mens tral1 rsiinfall at the
Mo. 1910-1- 1- 1912- 1913- 1914- 1915- 1916- 1917- 1918- 1919- 1920-
S1911 1912 1913 1914 1915 1916 1917 1918 1919 1920 1921
July 6.00 5.84 8.06 12.45 2.17 7.66 6.67 1.30 5.72 10.20 21.51
Aug. 5.47 5.64 7.16 8.85 5.11 8.95 4.58 2.88 10.78 6.13 14.72
Sept. 4.95 4.47 2.46 8.80 7.09 4.86 6.23 8.08 10.31 13.56 10.92
Oct. 6.41 1.85 4.76 1.69 10.32 4.96 3.14 4.98 9.45 9.51 12.89
Nov. 1.12 1.80 5.86 1.40 1.43 4.96 3.14 .60 2.25 .40 .10
Dec. .05 .57 .11 .25 .23 .52 4.39 .30 4.27 4.41 6.79
Jan. .87 1.59 .43 .97 2.94 .35 .00 .22 2.32 2.96 8.92
Feb. .09 3.21 .14 .50 .43 .07 .10 1.70 .23 1.15 .03
Mar. .37 2.85 1.96 .35 3.02 .56 1.82 2.67 .00 3.15 7.75
Apr. 5.55 1.49 6.39 7.09 2.49 1.65 .06 4.00 .83 .55 9.27
May 7.73 11.22 4.57 6.08 4.84 11.53 4.91 9.07 10.47 20.74 41.03
June 11.66 12.57 6.94 6.86 3.52 23.72 13.72 7.82 25.93 25.02 38.61
Tot. 50.27 53.10 48.84 55.29 43.59 65.50 49.45 32.62 82.56 97.78 172.54
Source: Manager's Journal, Francisco Sugar Company, BBC, Ser. 96.
Note that the year of highest rainfall, 1915/16, received over twice
the rain of the driest year, 1917/18. The documents indicate that in
isolated earlier years the ratio between the wettest and driest years
was even greater, being on the order of one to three.
Cuba. MR to Ahern, August 26, 1899, BBC, Ser. 2. Droughts occasionally occur as a result
of a prolongation of the dry season in May and June, the most severe of which were in 1859
and 1945. Special Report of the Agricultural Attachd, United States Embassy, Havana, June
19, 1945, cited in Lowry Nelson, Rural Cuba. Minneapolis: Colwell Press, 1950, p. 54.
15 Levi Marrero y Artiles, Geograffa de Cuba. p. 573.
hatpv rpacr\nf 101n/l1-103n/91
As further corroboration, we have rainfall data collected over
an united time period for two locations within fifty miles of
Guayabal. Batey Rio Cauto is east of Guayabal in the lower Cauto
Valley of Oriente, and Batey Siboney is north of Guayabal in the
interior of east-central Camagiiey. The monthly profiles of these two
stations are quite similar, each indicating that May through October
are the months of heaviest rainfall and December through March are
The high variability of annual rainfall is not indicated by
generalized world maps designed to show this particular climatic
feature. A possible explanation is that on average such extremes
occur only rarely, but when they do occur, their deviance from the
norm seems excessive. Abnormally high totals are often associated
with slow-moving tropical storms and hurricanes, while long
droughts (undetectable by our data) may be attributable to an
16 Antonio Ndifiez Jim6nez, Geograffa de Cuba. pp. 126 (foldout) Extrapolations from
mensural rainfall bar columns indicate the following approximate figures:
Approximate Mensural Minimum. Maximum. and Average Rainfall Data from Batev Rio
Cauto and Batey Siboney. Cuba (Period of observations not indicated).
Min. Av. Max. Min. Av. Max.
January 0 20 120 0 20 100
February 0 30 75 0 30 120
March 0 40 60 0 40 140
April 0 100 350 0 100 250
May 75 200 500 25 100 475
June 90 200 500 50 200 550
July 30 150 300 60 150 300
August 40 150 275 60 200 350
September 50 175 300 30 200 350
October 40 150 250 20 150 300
November 0 50 125 0 50 175
December 0 20 75 0 20 100
Total of Av. 1185 1120
anomalous veer or regional failure of the Northeast Trades resulting
in a rain shadow effect in areas to the southwest of Oriente's sierras.
Hurricanes are not as common in the eastern part of the island
as in the western districts giving agriculture a slight advantage in the
eastern provinces in this respect.1 7
The second period of the double-maximum rainy season
usually ends in late October or early November. By December the
effects of the dry season are distinctly seen as the natural vegetation
retreats into a semidormant state, many semideciduous trees losing a
third to two thirds of their foliage.18 A resident of the Francisco
Estate, Will Ahern, wrote to Manuel Rionda on the day after
Christmas to report that the dry season had set in and the only
precipitation was in the form of occasional light showers. The
daytime temperature was a cool 700F. (210C) and the nights are
described as "very chilly."19 This type of weather was the signal for
the zafra to begin.
17 See Salvador Massip, and Sarah E. Ysalgue Massip. Introducci6n a la Geograffa de Cuba.
pp. 200-201 for a listing of destructive hurricanes that struck Cuba in the nineteenth and
early twentieth centuries. See also Antonio Ndfiez Jimdnez, Geograffa de Cuba. (Vol. 1), pp.
128-129, for a map showing hurricane paths for approximately the same period.
18 "During late March or early April, the island viewed from an airplane looks parched
and brown....Indeed, what would be the spring months in the northern latitudes exhibit in
Cuba many of the aspects of a northern autumn." Lowry Nelson, Rural Cuba, p. 53.
19 W.J. Ahern to MR, December 26, 1899, BBC, Ser. 2. If Aher was correct, the island
must have been under the influence of a strong continental high pressure system. Normal
daytime temperatures in December in Guayabal are eight to twelve degrees higher than the
70* reported by Ahern.
The southeastern coast of Cuba at the time of Francisco's
founding was a patchwork of districts of highly variable
development. Some areas had, for at least half a century, known the
exploitation of man, while others, such as the Guayabal-Rio Cauto
coast, were only then succumbing to the oxen and the axe. Thus by
1900 many of the extensive forests of the region, particularly toward
Santa Cruz del Sur and the west, had been cut, in some cases to make
way for agriculture and in others for their valuable timber alone.20
Cuba's most noted modern botanist, Hermano Le6n, classifies
vegetatively a coastal strip of southern Camagiiey between about
five and ten kilometers wide as a mangrove community.21 Here are
found the ubiquitous, pan-tropical mangroves that, with their maze
of arterial roots, trap tideborne flotsam along with riverborne debris
and silt to extend the land seaward while providing habitat for
uncounted faunal species, terrestrial and marine.
Inland from the labyrinthine mangrove-lined waterways stood
the great tropical forests. In the Guayabal region these were wet
forests (some, the itabos, being actually inundated during the rainy
season), while further to the west drier forests were encountered
along with vast, open savannas scattered with various palmate
20 The sources do not indicate that the coastal forests of Camagiiey were extensively cut
for fuel for the ingenios as was the case in western and central Cuba.
21 This is the typical mangrove community of the tropics and includes all four major
species: Rhizophora mangle, Laguncularia racemosa. Conocarpus erecta and Avicennia
nitida. Hermano Le6n, Flora de Cuba. (2 Vols.), (Vol. I.) La Habana: Cultural, S.A., 1946, p.
47 and map on endpapers.
palms, predominantly of the genus Sabal and Copernicia.22 Both the
wet and dry forests were composed of many valuable tropical timber
species. There were the bosques de jucaro, the various jticaros of the
genus Bucida being a much appreciated wood described as dark
yellow to black in the heart with excellent rot resistance and thus
often used for wharfs, fences, and railway ties; the Spanish cedar
(Cidrela spp.) used for furniture, interior trim, cabinets, and
especially cigar boxes; and, of course, mahogany (Swietenia spp.), the
most widely harvested and highly prized of tropical timbers, the
Cuban and Hispaniolan bringing the highest prices, used for
furniture, cabinets, and wherever the rich beauty of this superb
wood could be afforded.23
Another useful timber genus on the south coast was the
various Yayas (Oxandra lanceolata and other spp.), which formed
extensive colonies called yayales. Known as lancewood in English, the
genus has had many uses including tobacco poles, for which no other
wood was apparently acceptable, as well as construction materials
for rural housing.24 This highly flexible wood was also in high
demand on the international market for the manufacture of carriage
22 Perpifia y Pebernat, El Camagiev:, caption opposite p. 378.
23 On jiicaro see Juan T Roig y Mesa, Diccionario Botanico de Nombres Vulgares Cubanos.
Ministerio de Agricultura. Direcci6n de Estaciones Experimentales. Estaci6n
Experimental Agron6mica. Boletin No. 54. La Habana: Seone, FernAndez y Cfa., 1953, p.
554. On the other woods mentioned see Tom Gill, Tropical Forests of the Caribbean.
Tropical Plant Research Foundation. Baltimore: Read-Taylor Company, 1931, pp. 301-302
and Table 4, p. 318. Note that Spanish cedar is not a conifer, but a broad-leafed evergreen
(see illustration opposite p. 94).
24 Roig y Mesa, Diccionario p. 938, and Tom Gill, Tropical Forests. pp. 160-161.
shafts, fishing rods, and billiard cues.25 Other tree species of use to
man among the several hundred that grew in these forests were the
dagame (Calycophyllum), majagua (Hibiscus) and santa maria
(Calophyllum Calaba), this last nearly as valuable as mahogany.26
Sabicd (Lysiloma latisqua), also excellent for railway ties, moruro
[rojo] (Pithecellobium arboreum), dcana (spp. var.), yaba (Andira
Jamaicensis), yaiti (Gymnanthes lucida), guairaje (spp. var.), jobo
(Spondias spp.), caoba (spp. var.) and almdcigo (Bursera Simoaruba
(L.)) were all commercial species as well.27
In addition to the commercial timber species, palms were an
important source of food (for both humans and animals) fiber,
utensils and building materials. The Royal Palm (Roystonea regia)
alone furnished the material for the making of baskets, brooms, cord,
crates, scoops (cutaras) and leggings from the fronds and
inflorescenes (palmiche), water troughs, furniture, and houses
(bohtos) from the trunks, palm oil and animal feed from the fruit,
25 The yaya wood, according to Higenio Fanjul, was "very much desired in Liverpool." He
suggested that Rionda send a consignment of the wood to England via New York being
certain that a sample went to Czarnikow. MR to Higenio Fanjul, March 22, 1902, BBC, Ser.
2. By 1907 all the Yayas on Francisco lands had been cut down. MR to John Craig,
September 17, 1907, BBC, Ser. 2.
26 Ibid. (Gill), pp.160-161 and pp. 310-314.
27 Massip, and Ysalgu6 Massip. Introducci6n, p. 124. On the use of sabict and jtcaro as
railway ties, see W.J. Ahem to MR, December 26, 1899, BBC, Ser. 2. On the use of jobo, see
Manuel Moreno Fraginal's account of Jose de Arango's attempts to convince the sugar
hacendados to use this wood for sugar boxes in the early nineteenth century. The Sugar
Mill: The Socioeconomic Complex of Sugar in Cuba 1760-1860. Translated by Cedric
Belfrage. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1976, p. 76.
and soup (sopa de palmito) from within the bud.28 Other palm
species were of great utility to the settlers of the southeast coast of
Cuba, as well. The corojo palm (Acocomia armentalis), which grew
abundantly on the lands of the Cuban-American Sugar and Land
Company and on the Francisco lands also, was used to make cloth,
rope and strong thread.29 The cogollo palm heart was considered
palatable by even the eurocentric Rionda.30 Perhaps as many as ten
palm genera and dozens of species are native to the Guayabal area,
and it is likely that each was found useful to the population in some
On September 29, 1899, the rainy season having returned in
force after the unusually pronounced pequeiia estancia seca, Will
Ahern decided to ride up toward the northern end of the Francisco
Estate. It was raining and Ahern found the "roads completely hidden
from view in places on account of the thick foliage. .."31 We are
reminded of Antonio Perpifia's description of that same vast forest.
Cuando el Rio [Cauto] viene engrosado por las copiosas aguas del tiempo
lluvioso, y las tempestades derriban extensos linderos de los grandes
bosques; los arboles arrancados se agrupan en su prolongado cauce, y el
cdmulo enorme de impetuosos inmensos terrenos, y transformando la
perspective del dilatado pais. Las tempestades han causado allf grandes
revoluciones. Es aquello un laberinto de lagos y de sitios inundados,
28 This sopa de palmito has a certain cultural and historical resonance with the Cuban
people, as the Mambises, the insurgents of the Ten Years War, were driven to depend upon
this soup for sustenance on occasion. Levi Marrero y Artiles, Geografia. (Vol. 3), p. 363.
29 MR to J.F. Craig, February 5, 1902, BBC, Ser. 2. and Hermano Le6n, Flora de Cuba. I., pp.
30 Ibid. The name "cogollo," meaning "heart" in Spanish, undoubtedly referred to an
edible bud. Unfortunately, it has been impossible to cross reference this name with any
other, scientific or common.
31 WJ. Ahern to MR, September 29, 1899, BBC, Ser. 2.
envueltos entire las sombras y las grandes enramadas de aquellos bosques
mAgicos y sorprendentes.32
Today all these inland areas are classed as fertile, loamy
savannas and are, for the most part, under cane.33
The Human Environment
The Local Economy
When the Francisco Sugar Company came to Guayabal most
economic activity was localized and dependent upon the relatively
unsullied natural world, but the larger currents of highly capitalized
international activities as well as some domestic enterprise had
undoubtedly influenced the lives of the local people. The copper
mines of Oriente, the vast cattle ranches of Camagiiey, and even the
relatively small ingenios of Manzanillo and Santiago de Cuba would
have provided occasional or seasonal employment for those who
required cash. In fact, the economy seems to have been generally
monetized by our period, though much barter must have continued.
The population of the district was so small, however, as to limit the
import of economic activity by definition. Levi Marrero y Artiles
32 Perpifia y Pebernat, El Camagtiev. p. 300. Translation: When the river [Cuato] becomes
swollen with the copious waters of the rainy season, and the storms rain down upon the
banks of the great forests, the proud, uprooted trees clump up within the long channel,
and enormous piles form in these violent, immense lands, transforming the appearance of
this broad land. The storms have caused there great revolutions. Here there is a labyrinth
of lakes and flooded places, swirling in the shade of the great branches of these magical
and astonishing forests.
33 Hermano Le6n, Flora de Cuba. pp. 56-57 and map on endpapers.
states that by the beginning of the Republican era the area was
Harvesting of the precious woods of the region had been taking
place "since the earliest colonial times";35 this activity continued to
be one of the three principal industries of the coast.36 In the
immediate vicinity of Guayabal some timber harvesting had been
begun before the war by interests from Santa Cruz del Sur, but that
operation was interrupted by the hostilities.37 The major activity in
the pueblo was fishing from the rich offshore banks and cays, but
how far these fish were transported and to what market is not
known.38 Under the heading of fishing is generally included la
"pesca" de tortugas which was a primary focus of activity among the
fisherfolk of the south coast. The sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) were
34 Levf Marrero y Artiles, Geograffa, p. 574. "I understand that the property is situated
near a little town that had some inhabitants before the war but has very few just now." MR
to Hugh Kelly, June 27, 1898, BBC, Ser 2. The 1899 census recorded 3210 persons living
outside the town of Santa Cruz del Sur in the Municipio Terminal of the same name. Apart
from the town of Santa Cruz and immediate environs, this municipio included the barrios
of Buenaventura, Guaicanamar, Junco, San Pedro, Calzada, and Guayabal. Leonard Wood,
Civil Report of Major General. Military Governor of Cuba. 1900. 1901.1902. Report for
1900. .8 Vol.1 (Vol. 3) Report of the Civil Government of Puerto Principe, p. 13.
35 Ibid. (Levi Morrero).
36 "the exportation of lumber is the most important business of the district; connected
therewith is the immense majority of its inhabitants and it furnishes an easy manner of
living to all the residents, for which reason they are perhaps the most favored ones of the
Province." Leonard Wood, Civil Report. (Vol. 3), p.13.
37 MR to Salvador Fluiriach, August 2, 1899, BBC, Ser. 2. Perhaps influenced by
Fluriach's argument that the war years ought not be counted against his timbering
contract, Rionda agreed to extend it for two years in exchange for cash or stock.
38 The Cuban fishing industry had had a rather torpid history throughout the nineteenth
century, what with problems of transport and preservation, lack of capital, vacillating or
weak markets, arguments over fishing rights, etc. Julio LeRiverend, Historia Econ6mica de
Cuba, La Habana: Editorial Pueblo y Educaci6n, 1974, pp. 374-76.
taken not only for meat, but also for their shells, which were sent to
the larger cities, Havana in particular, for the manufacture of
Some tobacco may have been grown inland, as Perpifia
mentions a tobacco wharf on the Rio Sevilla.40 He also notes that
"cargoes of precious wood, a certain quantity of guano (palm
thatching) and pelts" were shipped out from the estuary of the Rio
Jobabo.41 Cattle were so predominant in the open savannas of the
interior that the ranching life largely defined the culture of the
Camagiieyeno, but lack of pastures (potreros) limited cattle
production toward the southeastern coast of Camagiiey. Honey was at
various periods a significant source of income in the coastal area
The local commerce in foodstuffs and other items required in
everyday life was centered around the bodegas, which were, as
Forbes-Lindsay states, common to the country crossroads and small
At every cross-roads in Cuba and on every corner in the country towns
there is the bodega. It is always a grocery, often a general store. Nine times
in ten the proprietor is a Spaniard. His place may be a dingy, dilapidated
shack. His stock may consist of little more than a barrel of the inevitable
bacolao,--salt cod --a few strings of onions, and a dozen bottles of
39 Ibid., p.376.
40 Perpifia y Pebernat, El Camagiiev, p. 307.
41 Ibid. p. 305. It is difficult to explain the trade in guano, unless it was taken to urban
residents in the larger towns along the coast as roofing material, which begs other
questions having to do with access to the land, property relations, etc.
42 Levf Marrero y Artiles, Geografia de Cuba, D.._ci., p.574. At least in the nineteenth
century this was probably wild honey gathering.
aguardiente. But it is safe to wager that he is making money at a handsome
rate of interest on his little investment.4 3
Perpifia offers an interesting and somewhat surprising
description of the typical inventory of a bodega Camagieyana. In so
doing, he describes an establishment similar to what historians of the
U.S. South have termed a "crossroads store," but which, in addition to
the usual staples, offers various luxury items for the better off. The
bodega, he says, has on hand a complete stock of fresh meat and
jerked beef; it contains many hands of plantains, mountains of sweet
potatoes, yucas, and yams, sacks filled with rice and beans, boxes of
biscuits, cans of sardines from Nantes, jars of preserves of various
types, sugarcane brandy, fine wines and exquisite liqueurs. In short,
he states that these large stores had everything one would want to
sustain life, plus various products appropriate to the tastes of
Even at the time of Perpifia's writing (the late 1880s) more
sophisticated influences were beginning to make themselves felt, at
least in the larger towns. With the dawning of the year 1899 the
relative isolation of even the Guayabal region was broken forever:
Manuel Rionda had settled upon his plan to bring North American
capital to the southern Camagiiey.
43 Charles Forbes-Lindsay, Cuba. pp. 113-114.
44 Perpifia y Pebernat, El Camagifey. p. 87.
Demographic data for Guayabal and the surrounding area for
the period are scarce.45 According to the 1899 census the region had
only two to six persons per square mile and thus tended to be
ignored by census takers and record keepers in general.46 The census
does indicate, however, the frontier character of the Guayabal
district. For example, the percentage of males in the area is
something over 50 percent, whereas females were in the majority in
most of Puerto Principe.47 Furthermore, the proportion of married
persons to the total population was lower (12-15 percent) than in the
rest of the province.48
The skewed age pyramid of Cuba after the war is a frequently
cited source of evidence documenting the effects of the war upon the
45 Data for Puerto Prfncipe province are unlikely to have been applicable to the south
coast as conditions there were entirely different in most respects. Fortunately, the 1899
census maps do distinguish the coastal area (Municipio of Santa Cruz del Sur) from the
interior in most cases. U.S. War Department. Report on the Census of Cuba. 1899.
Washington: Government Printing Office, 1900, passim.
46 Ibid., map opposite p.74. The province of Puerto Principe averaged only six persons per
square mile in rural areas, by far the lowest of all of Cuba's provinces. The next lowest
was Santiago de Cuba (Oriente) with 21.7.
47 A number of other rural areas of Cuba, however, had a male population of over 55
percent, an indication perhaps of the degree to which the civilian population in general
suffered during the war, or as the census narrative suggests, this imbalance may reflect
the immigration to the cities of women seeking refuge from the horrors of war in the
countryside. Ibid., map opposite p. 80, and p.83. It must also be pointed out that from the
first European colonization, Cuba has had a preponderance of males in the population.
This was due to male immigration, both forced and voluntary. Quoting from the 1907
census, "All the census have revealed a majority of men in the population." Cited in H.G.
De Lisser, In Jamaica and Cuba. Kingston: The Gleaner Company Ltd., 1910, p. 49.
48 U.S. War Department. Census of Cuba. see map opposite p.118.
Cuban population.49 Yet, of all six of Cuba's provinces, Camagiiey
suffered the least despite the fact that it was the scene of many
campaigns and enjoyed a proud history of rebellion since the Ten
Years War, having produced such nationalists as Ignacio Agramonte,
Gertrudis G6mez de Avellaneda, and Gaspar Betancourt Cisneros.50
As to race and national origin, the south coast of Camagiiey had
a population in which between 50 and 75 percent of the total were
considered "native white," which was the same ratio as that of the
remainder of the eastern part of the province, but was below that of
the western part where the percentage of native whites was over 75
percent, the highest in all Cuba.51 Although Camagiiey had a very low
percentage of foreign born, the coastal district had a relatively high
49 see P6rez, Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution, pp.190-91; Hugh Thomas, Cuba: The
Pursuit of Freedom. New York: Harper & Row, 1971, pp. 423-24, and Levf Marrero y
Artiles, Geograffa. p.151.
50 U.S. War Department. Census of Cuba. p. 91. Outside of the city of Havana, among the
provinces, Puerto Principe had the lowest percent by which the number of children under
five fell below that between five and ten years of age. See also Mary Cruz del Pino,
Camagtiey (Biografia de una provincia), Academia de la Historia de Cuba. La Habana: Mufiiz
Hno. y Cfa., 1955, p.187. In addition, government reports indicate that of the ten ingenios
existing in the Province in 1899, only one was destroyed and six were actually grinding.
Military Government of Cuba. Department of Agriculture, Commerce, and Industry. Report
of the Work Accomplished by This Department.During the Fiscal Year Which Commenced
on the 1st of July. 1899. and ended on the 30th of June. 1900. Havana: 1900, p. 291.Yet we
cannot ignore the destruction of the economic mainstay of the province, the cattle
industry, which the same government report states was completely obliterated (p.14). This
destruction is corroborated by Pdrez's quote by a journalist traveling in Camagiiey at the
end of the struggle: "I saw neither a house, nor a cow, calf, sheep or goat, and only two
chickens," cited in Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution. p. 189.
The story was quite different during the Ten Years War, however, as Camagiiey was
much affected by that struggle. In 1899 the province had the smallest ratio of adults 20-
35 years old, which the census suggests "may possibly be an echo of a lowered birth rate
during the Ten Years War which was confined for the most part to the eastern
provinces" (p. 91).
51 Ibid., p.96
number in the five to ten percent range.52 The municipio which
included Guayabal had a black/mulatto population ("colored") of
between 25 and 50 percent, and given the above data on other
population characteristics, one may assume that that percentage was
toward the lower end of the range, say around one-third, but still
significantly higher than the interior of the province where the
percentage of blacks and mulattos was under one quarter.53
References to the not distant towns of Manzanillo and Santa
Cruz del Sur shed some light on the population characteristics.
Judicial reports reveal a surprisingly high literacy rate. Out of 91
persons arrested for various crimes in Manzanillo, of which only four
are listed as property holders, sixty-five or 71% were listed as
literate.54 This figure is in sharp contrast to the 33 percent literacy
rate indicated in the 1899 census for Santiago de Cuba, the 30
percent rate in the town of Santa Cruz del Sur, and even to the 40 to
50 percent literacy rate for the municipio surrounding Guayabal.55
52 Ibid, see map opposite p. 98. For the percentages of Chinese and white foreign born in
the various provinces see the charts in the above-cited 1899 census opposite p. 82 and the
map opposite p.98. The census also reports selected occupations by place of birth. In
Camagiiey approximately ten percent of the laborers were of Spanish birth and over a third
of the merchants (p.503).
53 Ibid. see map opposite p.100.
54 Military Governor of Cuba, 1899-1902. (Leonard Wood) Civil Reports. Vol.. Y. Report of
Major William Crawford Gorgas, Chief Sanitary Officer of the City of Havana. (July 1,
1899-June 30, 1900), p.325. Any figures regarding literacy rates must be questioned, as
rural police would often clasify as literate all who could sign their names on the charge
55 U.S. War Department. Census of Cuba. 1899. p. 111. If we calculate the literacy of the
entire voting age population as opposed to Cuban citizens only, the figure rises to around
40 percent.(derived from the table on p. 110). For the literacy rate of the municipio of
Santa Cruz del Sur see the map opposite p. 152. The literacy rate of the city of Santa Cruz
del Sur was derived from the table on p. 359.
Crime records in Manzanillo, a city of 14,000 persons, for the
period January 1902 through April 1902 reveal a fairly low rate of
crimes against property, but some other rather unusual misdeeds
appear in the record.56
Table 1.2. Criminal Charges Brought
Manzanillo, Jan. 1902-April 1902.a
Crime Number o
Discharge of Firearms 2
Incendiary Fires 2
Criminal Attempts 1
Facts Denounced by 1
Source: U.S. War Department.
in Municipal Court, Municipio of
Report on the Census of Cuba, 1899, op. cit., p.111.
Crime in Santa Cruz del Sur for the same period was, according
to the record, minimal, only nine cases having been recorded: three
for public scandal and six more undescribed.57 Santa Cruz had only
about 1,000 residents in the late 1880s and something over 2000 in
56 Ibid. It is difficult to know what to make of the most commonly repeated crime, that of
abduction. In commenting on the general state of unrest in the province of Santa Clara in
September of 1900, the Supervisor of Police of Havana stated that several kidnapping had
occurred there "for the purpose of demanding ransom." Perez, Lords of the Mountain. p.
58 Perpifia y Pebernat, p. 321. The 1899 Census reported 2098. Wood, Civil Report. 3,.p.
In Guayabal there was no judiciary and apparently only one
case from there was brought before the magistrate in the judicial
seat of Puerto Principe in 1902. Nevertheless William J. Thompson,
an employee of the Francisco Sugar Company, wrote Rionda that he
wished to have sent him a revolver as there had been a murder in
Land tenure statistics from the 1899 census appear only on a
provincial basis which, as stated, is of limited application to the
coastal district. Nevertheless, it may be helpful to summarize the
salient features of the table pertaining to tenure of farms in order to
give an idea of the average size of holdings in the province. Of a total
of 2,382 farmers, 1,586 or two-thirds farmed under one quarter
caballerfa (about 8.3 acres). Of these 477 owned their land and 791
rented, the remainder having some other arrangement. In addition
457 farmed one-quarter to one-half a caballeria (about 8.3 to 16.6
acres), owners and renters being more equally divided. Only 187
farmed one-half to three quarters of a caballerta (16.6 to about 25
acres), 40 three-quarters to one caballerfa (25 to 33.3 acres, 102 one
to three caballerfas (33.3 to 100 acres), eight three to five caballertas
(100 to 166.5 acres), two five to ten caballerfas (166.5 to 333.3
acres) and five over ten caballertas. In all the higher categories
renters remained numerous, generally from one-third to one-half the
59 MR to W.J. Thompson, March 3, 1902, BBC, Ser. 2.
number.60 In Matanzas we would be tempted to translate "renter" as
"colono," but in Camagiey in 1899 cane was not yet an established
crop, ranching predominating, thus renters probably represented
various relationships with the owner and would have used the land
in different ways.
In the Guayabal district, as in all of Cuba, the land had been
divided up into hatos and corrales, and land boundaries were often
ill-defined. In eastern Cuba a form of joint tenancy developed early
on called the hacienda comunera. Rural folk lived on these common
lands for generation after generation, often with no legal proof of
ownership but enjoyed a recognition that the lands belonged to them.
Another claim to lands in eastern Cuba was based on pesos de
posesi6n. According to this system, money was deposited with the
authorities in amounts which correlated with the extent of the land.
The peso de posesi6n was not, however, a standard measure across
the island, and its use led to much confusion over land titles as in the
case of Francisco.
The Hato Viejo which comprised about one half of the Cuban-
American Sugar and Land Company property which later became the
property of the Francisco Sugar Company, was at one time a hacienda
comunera and also was secured by pesos de posesion.61 In addition
to the murky legal status of the property, it is likely that years of
absentee ownership had resulted in a number of squatters
60 U.S. War Department. Census of Cuba. Table XLV. p.556.
61 Hato Viejo lands were a part of a Hacienda Comunera at least as far back as 1764. In
1890 a lien existed on the property for 3500 pesos de posesi6n which supposedly indicted
that the property consisted of 1000 caballerfas. MR to John Craig, September 5, 1906 and
July 15, 1907. BBC, Ser. 10. See also note no. 4, Chapter II.
establishing homesteads for themselves upon this remote tract. This
study reveals something of the tension which was manifested
between the Francisco management and the residents of Guayabal,
thus corroborating Irene Wright's declaration that the Cuban is a
"tenant and squatter in his own country."62
Traditional Subsistence Crops and the Cuban Diet
A utilitarian might expect an island's poor to attempt to satisfy
their daily dietary requirements as best they could by eating
whatever foods they could grow themselves, supplemented by the
purchase of those needed foods which they could not grow. This was
not entirely the case in Cuba. It is true that, much of what the guajiro
ate was locally grown, however there were other foods which he
could have grown but did not, or which he grew but sold rather than
ate--foods which would have given him necessary nutrients not
available elsewhere in his diet.
Nelson reported that 31.2% of the diet of rural Cubans was
composed of pldtanos.63 These included the pldtano verde, eaten as
fried chips, and the pldtano maduro, sliced longitudinally and deep
fried in oil.64 In addition to the nearly one-third part starchy
62 Irene A. Wright, Cuba. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1910, p.165.
63 In this discussion of Cuban rural conditions much of the statistical material is based
on that of the University of Minnesota sociologist Lowry Nelson in his classic study, Rural
Cuba, Minneapolis: Colwell Press, 1950, pp. 202-05.
64 "All classes of Cubans eat quantities of plantain. The vegetable is rarely absent from
the table, where it appears in all manner of forms, -- dried and fried, baked and boiled."
Forbes-Lindsay, Cuba. p. 223. Forbes-Lindsay also mentions the high consumption of
bananas, the "Manzano" being the domestic favorite.
pldtanos, there must be included other vegetable carbohydrates
common to the rural diet such as boniatos and malangas (sweet
potatoes), yuca, hiame (yams) and papas (Irish potatoes).65 Among
grains the rural Cubans also favored the starchy foods, preferring
rice to all others, it being more widely consumed than corn and
wheat combined.66 Corn meal, however, was also heavily consumed.
Thus the total percentage of starchy foods in the rural Cuban diet
must have been well over half and possibly two-thirds of the total
Rural Cubans ate a great many beans, even though by mid-
century, a good percentage were imported from Mexico, Chile, and
the United States. For the rural proletariat working on the great
sugar estates, beans imported from the U.S. were an important part
of their diet. When Manuel Rionda ordered provisions for the
company tienda, in response to what he was told sold best he
ordered beans, rice, potatoes, onions, coffee, jerked beef, lard and
Jerked beef, long the staple of slaves, was still consumed by
the workers at Francisco. Imported from the U.S. it may have
originated there or in Argentina, Canada or other beef producing
nations. Among most Cubans, however, pork was the preferred meat
65 Francisco's manager, Francisco Coma, planted a garden at Guayabal in which he grew
corn, sweet potatoes, plantains, yuca and other vegetables. MR to Coma, June 8, 1901, BBC,
66 Nelson's survey reported a per capital rice consumption of over 200 pounds. Rice was
imported from the Orient. Rural Cuba. p. 208.
67 MR to W.J. Ahern and H. Pollock, August 11, 1900, BBC, Ser. 2.
when they could obtain it. In fact, the annual per capital consumption
of pork in rural Cuba by World War II was 86 pounds. A
contemporary observer states that "aside from an occasional iguana,
or jutea [jutfa], pork is the only meat he [the rural Cuban] eats." and
that pork was a frequent and favorite dish with all classes.68 Chicken
was another great favorite, arroz con pollo being "about the most
universally favored dish," but the annual per capital consumption of
chicken was only 20 pounds in 1946 and would have likely been far
less during the occupation due to the destruction of the flocks
following the war.69 We can say with certainty that the consumption
of all meats was severely limited in the first few years of the
century, but given the penchant for meats in the rural Cuban diet, as
soon as meats became available again at a reasonable cost it is
certain, as Forbes-Lindsay verifies, that pork, beef, and chicken were
served at least during the more important holidays of church and
What the rural Cubans did not eat was green and yellow leafy
vegetables. Nelson reported that, "Lettuce and other salad greens,
cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, radishes, parsnips, spinach, and the like
are almost unknown."71 Possibly the lack of these foods was partially
compensated for by the abundance and variety of fruits. These
68 Forbes-Lindsay, Cuba. pp. 99-100.
69 Nelson, Rural Cuba. p. 210.
70 Forbes-Lindsay, Cuba, pp. 99-100. This author also mentions that fish and frogs were
often eaten in rural Cuba.
71 Nelson, Rural Cuba. p. 208.
would have included the guayabana,fruta bomba (papaya), oranges,
lemons, limes, perhaps a few grapefruit, mangoes and pineapple.72
Many other fruits would doubtless have been common such as
guavas, mamey, soursop, star apple, avocados, pineapples, and
countless others common to the tropics. In some areas, particularly
along certain coasts, the coconut would have played a significant role
as it does wherever the coconut palm is found in numbers.
Finally we must mention the large consumption of coffee and
sugar. Per capital coffee consumption was, by the World War II era,
20 to 41 pounds. Early figures on sugar intake are not available, but
there can be no doubt that it was extremely high. Cubans have long
used great quantities of raw sugar in their coffee and other drinks
and many rural families, it has been reported, eat large quantities of
sugar cane during the dead season when they have no money to buy
Traditional Cash Crops
Before cane came to monopolize the land and labor of the
coastal district of southern Camagiiey, those guajiros of the region
who were not full-time fishermen grew small acreages of various
crops which they could market for their limited cash requirements.
These likely included sweet potatoes, yams, bananas, cabbage, corn
72 The town of Guayabal was named for the groves of Guayabana trees in the surrounding
area. Perpifia y Pebernat, El Camagney. p. 314.
73 Ibid., p. 209.
and yuca.74 After the War, the economy in shambles, many rural
Camagiieyenos turned to market gardening, but a surplus drove the
price down so low that "many have to be left in the fields, the price
not covering the cost of their transportation to town."75 If the grower
owned his land he might have established perennial crops such as
coffee, cacao, coconuts, tropical fruits or citrus, as was common in
nearby Oriente, but the mediocre soil drainage in many parts of the
Guayabal district would have mitigated against some of these
potentially more lucrative crops.76
In 1899 there were 163 farms in the municipio of Santa Cruz
del Sur cultivating a total of 52.34 caballerias (about 1800 acres)77.
The principal crop grown among these larger farmers was rice, of
which there were 2000 hectares in the Santa Cruz del Sur area.
Pineapples and plantains were also grown and even managed to hold
74 U.S. War Department. Census of Cuba. See the table on p. 548 listing lesser crops and
the race and tenure of growers. See also de Lisser, In Jamaica and Cuba. p. 54. Rebecca
Scott, who studied the emancipated black population, states that in Camagiiey "perhaps 6
percent of the province's colored agriculturalists were renters and owners of land. They
grew little sugar, concentrating on bananas, sweet potatoes, and corn [and owned] pigs
and chickens [as opposed to cattle]." Rebecca Scott, Slave Emancipation in Cuba: the
Transition to Free Labor. 1860-1899, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985, p. 260.
Since the coastal district had the highest percent of black persons, perhaps Professor
Scott's interpolation of the 1899 census is more applicable to the Guayabal area than other
parts of Camagiiey.
75 Military Government of Cuba. Department of Agriculture, Commerce, and Industry.
Reprt, p. 14.
76 Rebecca Scott discusses the small-holders of Oriente, their access to the land and the
resulting diminution of the plantation labor force in eastern Cuba. Scott, Slave
Emancipation in Cuba, pp. 256-259.
77 U.S. War Department. Census of Cuba. Table XLIV., p. 554. These farms also
encompassed 4101.23 caballerfas of timber of which two-thirds was classified as "large
out against cane, remaining important regional crops.78 Cotton may
also have been grown on a small scale.79
Housing standards in rural Cuba reflected the polarized class
structure so prevalent in the campo. The dwellings of the
underclasses were primitive by North American standards, and those
of the elite, while not perhaps having all the latest in plumbing and
gas fixtures, were nevertheless solidly constructed, often elegant, and
commodious. As there were as yet no elite residents in Guayabal, we
will focus on the home of the guajiro, the small thatched house
known as the bohto.
The bohfo was constructed almost entirely of materials taken
from Cuba's most representative tree, the Royal Palm (Roystonea
regia). Famous for its beauty and utility; the Royal Palm is endemic
throughout Cuba.80 From its trunk are cut slabs used for siding (tabla
de palma), or the leaf sheaths (yagua) used for the same purpose.
The roof was thatched either with the fronds of the Royal or
preferably with those of the Cana Palm (Sabal florida).81 The latter
78 Levf Marrero, Cuba: Economfa v Sociedad. II-XII. p. 575. The pifia morada was sold for
export, but the sweeter and more flavorful pifia blanca was grown for local consumption.
Forbes-Lindsay, Cuba. pp. 224-25.
79 Ibid. (Forbes-Lindsay), p. 223.
80 Nelson, Rural Cuba. pp. 202-03. The botannical information is taken from Le6n, Flora
de Cuba. pp. 236-69.
81 The Royal Palm is an pinnate leaf palm and is not as suitable for roofing as the palmate
leafed palms. Nelson spells this palm "caha" as in cane, but Le6n refers to cana (p. 248).
Le6n is correct.
may not extend as far east as Guayabal, but other palmate species in
southern Camagiiey could easily have substituted including
Copernicia and Cocothrinax. This thatching material was known as
guano and may have been yet another palm material used as
siding.82 Where tabla de palmas was not used, other native woods
provided lumber for siding. By 1946 the use of yaguas ranked third,
but it was likely predominant in the early years of the century.
The floor of the bohio was usually the ground itself..83 The
framework was of poles fastened together by strips of palm fiber.
Not always, but frequently, there were interior partitions, usually at
least one. The kitchen was a small room separated from the house by
a few feet and connected by a thatch-covered walkway. There were
windows cut out of the siding and wooden shutters served to keep
out the driving rain and perhaps the swarms of mosquitoes that
abounded at night or on any cloudy day during the rainy season.84
In Nelson's survey, his team judged houses as good, medium
and bad. The town of Florida is the closest of the eleven survey sites
to Guayabal, it being a sugar town in Camagiey dominated by a large
U.S. sugar company. In Florida, 28.6% of the houses were judged
82 "I saw a burro hauling guano (palm fronds) used for building the sides of native's
houses." Wallace Risley to Maud Braga, BBC, uncat. MS. Manuel Rionda instructed his
estate manager, Francisco Coma, to build a house in the tronchos ". not expensive, but
made out of guano, where we could stay, for you might make a log cabin. "MR to Coma,
May 24, 1900, BBC, Ser. 2. This guano was, at least at one time, splashed with mud for
additional protection, though it must have dissolved rather quickly in the rainy season: ".
.. cuyas reducidas casas son de embarrado y guano." Perpifia y Pebernat, El Camagiley. p.
83 Nelson reports that in near-by Bayamo as late as 1946 65% of all houses surveyed had
dirt floors. Rural Cuba. p. 203.
84 Wallace Risley to Maud Braga, BBC, uncat. MS.
"good," 23.8% as "medium," and 47.6% as "bad." 85 Interestingly, he
also reported that in general, people declared themselves content
with their housing. The outstanding exception was in Alto Songo, a
Black town in Oriente where conditions were worse than in any other
town surveyed. There, the people were almost unanimous in their
dissatisfaction. In contrast, in the near-by town of Bayamo only three
of 31 persons expressed discontent at the condition of their homes.
Health and Sanitation
Health care and sanitation in Cuba in general at the conclusion
of the war was, to say the least, deplorable. Disease was rampant
throughout the island. P.M. Beal writing to Edwin Atkins about
conditions in Cienfuegos in July of 1896 states that
No sanitary measures have been adopted. Smallpox extends to all parts of
the city where there are tenements. The rags used for the sick are thrown
into the streets where they are carried up and down by the wind and by
curs who delight in playing with such trash. Smallpox and pernicious
fevers are very fatal, particularly to children. I am informed that a large
trench has been dug in the cemetery where the dead are thrown in during
the night. Yellow fever is very epidemic and of an alarming type 86
In January, 1899 the situation had shown little improvement. In the
interior town of Ojo de Agua the alcalde was begging for provisions
from the government to help the poor and sick.87
85 Nelson, Rural Cuba, p. 205.
86 Edwin F. Atkins, Sixty Years in Cuba. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Riverside Press,
1926, p. 242.
87 Ibid., p. 296. For a discussion of disease and mortality rates in Cuba after the War see
Pdrez, Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution. pp. 190-91.
Disease was of two main classes: first, the virulent epidemics
such as yellow fever, smallpox, and other tropical fevers, and second,
sickness caused by unsanitary conditions or unhealthful conditions in
general as, for example, the result of inadequate shelter. In the latter
category one could mention dysentery, fatal dehydration in
association with diarrhea, typhoid fever, pneumonia, and
Unhealthful conditions were often more severe in the cities
where contagion and exposure to bad water and filth was more
prevalent, but in the rural areas where the poor lived in dirt floor
huts through the long rainy season, "consumption" remained
prevalent at least as late as 1910.88
Rural sanitation was perhaps best where it was non-existent,
which was the case in about half the dwellings in Cuba. "It is said
that in rural Spain the inhabitants commonly have no closets or
outhouses, but resort to the fields, and the same is apparently true of
Cuba," states the 1899 census.89 Where facilities did exist, they
consisted of a pozo or in rare cases an inodoro.90
88 de Lisser, In Jamaica and Cuba. p. 55.
89 U.S. War Department. Census of Cuba. p. 177.
90 The census takers were at a loss as to how to translate these terms. They provide the
following note: "The "inodoro" includes every receptacle for excreta in which an effort is
made to destroy or decrease the foul odors arising therefrom, usually by the addition of
such substances as lime, dry clay, or ashes. The pozo includes all other forms of closet."
The note goes on to explain that the flush toilet is "very unusual in Havana and unknown
elsewhere in Cuba." Ibid., pp. 177-178. It is interesting to note that Nelson, a half century
later, found that in the town of Florida, Camagiiey, of 64 households, two had indoor
toilets, four had sanitary latrines (inodoros?), 30 had unsanitary latrines (pozos?), and 27
had no toilet facilities whatsoever. Rural Cuba. p. 207.
Improved health care was one of the chief contributions of the
U.S. occupation forces. Much of this work was concentrated in
Havana, but the provinces were not entirely neglected. In 1900
Manzanillo had a hospital with eleven employees and 40 patients.91
Virtually from the beginning of Manuel Rionda's association
with the south coast of Camagiiey, there were reports of fevers.
Menocal, the estate manager, was sick from week to week and the
bookkeeper, Aquino, immediately became feverish upon his arrival
at Guayabal.92 Francisco Coma, the estate manager in 1900, suffered
from a low-grade fever, and his children suffered rather severely
also.93 The following year sickness at Guayabal had grown to
epidemic proportions. John Craig reported that during his visit during
the rainy season of 1901 dozens of North Americans were sick and
"hundreds of natives. "94 Rionda had greatly feared an outbreak of
infectious disease on the estate and repeated reports of illness and
fevers persuaded him to finally call in a doctor from Havana to stay
at Francisco for a six month period (July-December) when the
incidence of disease was greatest. "Heavy rains around Guayabal
have caused a good deal of sickness." Rionda wrote McCahan, which,
91 Cuba. Military Governor, 1899-1902. (Leonard Wood). Civil Report. Vol.. Informe del
Major E. St. J. Greble. Superintendent del Departamento de Beneficencia. Departamento de
Cuba, p. 196 (foldout).
92 MR to J.F. Craig, January 19, 1900, BBC, Ser. 2.
93 MR to Coma, March 28, 1900, BBC, Ser. 2.
94 John Craig to MR, October 4, 1900, BBC, Ser. 10.
he fretted, could cause the labor to leave. "It is a very important
matter that the workers are well cared for."95
The Life of the Guajiro
In Cuba the term guajiro was that country's form of the more
generic campesino.96 The term has often been translated as
"peasant," but because the guajiro often owned no land or other
property and was frequently transient, it would be best to avoid the
term "peasant" with its weight of controversial academic baggage.97
In fact, the guajiro was increasingly a member of a rural proletariat,
particularly after the War and the resulting domination of the island
by North American capital, one example of which this study
The contemporary literature is rife with descriptions of the
guajiro and his way of life. In general these accounts range from the
patronizing to the insulting, but two observers of the day stand out
95 MR to Coma, July 30, 1900, BBC, Ser. 2. Rionda's nephew, Higinio Fanjul, became
feverish while working at Francisco. MR to McCahan, July 30, 1900, BBC, Ser. 2.
96 This section is offered as a short sketch and nothing more. A book would be required to
do justice to the subject.
97 Authors who have dealt specifically with the question of the peasantry in the
Caribbean include Sidney W. Mintz, "Reflections on Caribbean Peasantries,", Nieuwe
West-Indisch Gids/New West Indian Guide no.57 (1983): pp.1-17 (for a short exposition
on Cuban rural labor see his forward to Fernando Ortiz's classic work, Cuban
Counterpoint: Tobacco and Sugar. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1947, pp. xxxiv xxxviii);
Franklin W. Knight, The Caribbean: The Genesis of a Fragmented Nationalism. New York:
Oxford University Press, 1978; Alan H. Adamson, Sugar Without Slaves: The Political
Economy of British Guiana. 1838-1904. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972, and Brian
H. Pollitt, "Agrarian Reform and the 'Agricultural Proletariat' in Cuba, 1958-1966: Some
Notes," University of Glasgow, Institute of Latin American Studies, Occasional Paper no.
for the relative objectivity of their writings about the Cuban rural
proletariat. Irene Wright and Charles Forbes-Lindsay offer cogent
and ultimately sympathetic descriptions of the guajiros
Of the guajiros Wright says they live
in bohlos of the poorer type where the rain drives in and makes mud
upon the floor in which dogs and chickens wallow unregarded, along,
sometimes, with the pig. There is no sewing machine here, and when the
head of this household travels, he jogs along on a mud-stained mare with
burrs in her unbraided tail. He wears a plain colored shirt,
undisguised, unornamented, and unwashed. His wife walks abroad in two
garments only, a waist and a skirt, and her feet are bare inside frayed
he may burn charcoal, or cut tobacco poles, or do, as far as I can make
out, nothing at all. If he has a plantain tree and a patch of malanga or yuca
in his neighborhood, he passes for thrifty. No matter what his
circumstances, however, he and his wife welcome a visitor into the house,
and to the only chairs or boxes it contains. He calls for coffee, and she
serves it; if they fail to offer it, the caller may rest assured there is
absolutely nothing whatsoever to eat beneath that roof."98
Forbes-Lindsay's description substantially agrees with the
picture painted by Wright.
he is more often than not a squatter in a little corner of that no-man's-
land which seems to be so extensive in the central and eastern portions of
the island. In comparatively few instances he has title to a few acres, lives
in a passably comfortable cabana, possesses a yoke of oxen, a good horse,
half a dozen pigs, and plenty of poultry. Much more often he lives in a
ramshackle bohio, the one apartment of which affords indifferent shelter to
a large family and is fairly shared by a lean hog and a few scrawny
chickens. There is nothing deserving the name of furniture in the house,
and the the clothing of the family is of the scantiest.99
Forbes-Lindsay adds that the guajiro owns a nag and loves to ride.
In apparent contrast (through North American eyes) to the
downtrodden character of the guajiro, is another characteristic of this
98 Irene Wright, p. 127.
99 Forbes-Lindsay, p. 98.
class of Cuban which is mentioned by a number of observers. This is
his pride, dignity, and refusal to be subservient to his 'betters.'
The Cubans are the most democratic of people. The ragged peasant
maintains a dignified attitude toward all men, which conveys the
impression of a nicely balanced respect for himself and for his fellow. His
landlord, or his employer, meets him upon his own ground and the
relations between them are frequently characterized by friendly
familiarity. The revolutionary period, with its levelling processes and its
common interests, tended to make this condition more pronounced.100
At times the guajiro's self-esteem inflated to an exaggerated
pride. Nan Risley comments that
The Native Cuban, as I have seen him, is a mild looking person, who
reminds me of Bret Harte's famous Chinee, whose smile was "child like and
bland". The Cuban also has "ways that are dark and tricks that are vain".
He too has the "Spanish quickness in quarrel when his "honor" is touched.
His weapons are the Machete and cane knife, both sharpened to a razor
edge, and he uses either with most remarkable skill, frequently doing
bloody execution, for their duels are not for empty show, though they will
fight at the slightest provocation.1 01
The language spoken by the guajiros was described by Forbes-
Lindsay as a patois "which is a mixture of Spanish and negro dialect,
picked up from the blacks, with whom their intercourse has always
100 Ibid., p. 96-97. Forbes-Lindsay later adds, "Cuba is one of the most democratic
countries in the world. Nowhere else does the least considered member of a community
aspire to social equality with its most exalted personage. The language, with its
conventional phrases of courtesy shared by all classes, the familiar family life of
proprietor and servant, master and apprentice, a certain simplicity and universality of
manners inherited from pioneer days, and a gentleness of temperament that may be both
racial and climatic, which shrinks from giving offence by assuming superiority of rank
with others, have all contributed to render class assumptions externally less obvious in
Cuba than in other countries where equal differences of race, culture, and fortune
101 Nan Risley Journal, BBC, uncat. MS. This characteristic as also mentioned by de
Lisser: "As for the Cuban labourer, although admitted to be good-humoured and imitative
and willing, he is very apt to take offence, and very quick to resent a real or imagined
insult. Speak harshly to him, and you may find yourself suddenly attacked; and when he is
armed with his machete he is no mean antagonist. He may even do worse. He may set your
cane-fields on fire. The knowledge that this is possible keeps many a "boss" to a perfect
courtesy; nor does the latter resent being called by his Christian or his surname by
labourers. For they do not mean to be discourteous. They merely feel that they are quite
the equal of the man who is placed in charge of them." In Jamaica and Cuba. p. 48.
been more or less close, and with whom they live on the best of
The women, according to the same author, did all the work
except look after the cattle. They did, he says, get frequent holidays
as the husband takes the whole family to religious festivals and
other fiestas. Women were not allowed to attend cock fights,
however, but gathered instead at the local fonda to gossip over a
glass of tamarind water.103
Though likely given to exaggeration, North American and
European observers rarely failed to comment on the prevalence of
gambling among all classes of Cubans, but among the poorer classes
most particularly. Infinite are the betting arenas of men, but in Cuba
it was the cock fight which clearly predominated as a cultural
artifact. Atkins even claims, albeit probably with that flippancy that
the privileged classes reserve for the affairs of the common people,
that the rebellion of 1906 was largely spurred on by the unpopular
prohibition against the lottery and cock fighting.104
Nan Risley too describes the gambling activities which took
place among the plantation laborers at Guayabal during her
residence there between 1903 and 1905:
Their gambling is about the only excitement left them since the war is over
and they often keep it up all through a night losing all their possessions,
horses, machetes, cane knives, everything but the rags on their backs, so
102 Forbes-Lindsay, Cuba. p. 99.
103 Ibid., pp. 100-01.
104 Atkins, Sixty Years in Cuba. p. 338. ". and many of the insurgents near Havana
carried fighting cocks in their saddles." This supposed facet of the insurrection is not
mentioned by any other authors with whose works we are familiar.
that next morning they must come borrow a knife to go to work again. The
explanations of how the other was lost being very amusing, sometimes, and
of course not too curiously inquired into by the planter. This instinct for
gambling is, of course, a heritage of the Latin races, and except for making
them tired the next day, seems a harmless diversion.
Forbes-Lindsay concludes his remarks on the guajiro with a
somewhat impassioned speech which is distinctively insightful into
the condition of the rural Cuban in the years following the War. In
speaking of taxes and high consumer prices as a result of high duties
Is it any wonder that the peasant groans under the load? It is true that he
works intermittently and loafs unnecessarily, but that is no good reason
why his last dollar should be squeezed out of him, and, if he earned more,
he would probably invite heavier taxation. He has no encouragement to
exert himself beyond the needs of the present hour. He is probably
occupying land that he may be required to vacate tomorrow. He can find no
better market for his produce than the precarious one of the adjacent
village. Enterprise is an invitation to the spoilers of capital and the petty
officials of his locality. If you would ask his candid opinion, it would be
that conditions are no better than they were under Spain, and perhaps not
quite as good. You may attempt to relieve his depression by a reminder of
his splendid independence. He will not understand what you are talking
about, although he is far from being a dullard. He fought in the wars of
independence because he was assured that success would mean a full
stomach and perchance the ownership of a scrap of land. It resulted in
neither and, unless restrained by skepticism, he would fight again, under
any banner, for the same promise. Independence per se is of no more value
to him than a coconut husk. He can not eat it and it will not buy calico for
Southern Camagiiey in 1900
The province of Camagiiey had a proud, staid, and white elitist
reputation. It was a land of cattle barons and vaqueros, highly
traditional, and conservative. The city of Camagiiey was described as
a colonial ruin in which at times an almost ghostly silence reigned.106
105 Forbes-Lindsay, Cuba. p. 151.
106 de Lisser, In Jamaica and Cuba. p. 50-53.
But the coastal districts of Santa Cruz del Sur and Guayabal were
different. These areas had a frontier quality; the forest was still
standing; there appeared to be opportunities in the making for those
with a little capital, and perhaps work for those without. The people
were not so white nor so native. Like many coastal zones, this land
had more in common with neighboring coastal areas such as
Manzanillo than with the governing interior. When Perpifia visited
Guayabal in the late 1880s he described it as
a quiet and pleasant village [pueblo] inhabited by traders of few
pretensions and humble fisherfolk [humildes pescadores]. The houses are
all of guano, which view a lovely, sandy beach that lies to the north of the
wharf. The harbor is of a good depth, large, calm and frequented by
coasting vessels which confirm its notable exports.107
"I was told," he says, "that Guayabal at the time of our visit, had
some 150 inhabitants, two general stores and a hostelry for twenty
men [hombres]."'08 Twenty years later it was described as
"containing about sixty common Cuban country houses and four
hundred inhabitants. .. ."109
As to the neighboring coastal area to the west he stated that "A
great part of these lands were covered by forests abundant in
commercial timber; however they suffered the great harvests of
various periods and were used for military construction in Havana
and elsewhere." According to Perpifia, two hundred haciendas de
crianza and as well as ingenios and fincas de labor were to be found
107 Perpifia y Peberat, El CamagiUey. p. 314.
109 Taken from the Resolution and Preamble of the incorporation papers of the Francisco
Sugar Company, Board of Directors Meeting, February 14, 1900, BBC, Ser. 90, Minute Book
in the Santa Cruz area; wax and honey were collected, and farmers
produced cotton, coffee and cacao, but all these industries were
described as in decline. The fishing industry alone was prospering
from rich fishing grounds in the cayos110
Perpifia's account would seem to indicate that the small scale
and diminishing local economy of the Santa Cruz area to the west,
was in a state of transition between the era of small farms and sugar
mills, which were failing in the crisis-ridden national economy, and
the era of foreign capital and great sugar centrales. But no real
industry of any sort had as yet come to Guayabal.
The area was little different in 1899, a decade later when
Alfred Pesant, a sugar machinery executive, visited Guayabal and
stayed in the Carmita, possibly the hostelry described by Perpifia,
where Pesant spent several very uncomfortable nights at great
But then, only one year later the picture was changing. The
dawn of the new century ushered in a new era for all Cuba and
radical changes in the economy of the southern coast of Camagiiey,
particularly Guayabal. Van Home's railway had reached the
110 Ibid. p. 321. The government report of 1900 indicates that there were 160 haciendas y
potreros de crianza and that incredibly, every one was listed as having been destroyed. Of
these, 52 had been reconstructed by 1899. The same report lists only nine-tenths of one
percent, or 8.5 caballerfas of the land as being under cultivation with 16 percent in
pasture and 83 percent in forests which latter occupied a total of 7,297 caballerfas.
Military Government of Cuba. Department of Agriculture, Commerce, and Industry. Reprt.,
p. 19. There were no sugar exports from Santa Cruz del Sur in the year 1899. Wood, Civil
Report Report for 1900. (Vol. 5), Report of Major E.F. Ladd. Treasurer of the Island of
Cuba. foldout table no. 24.
111 Salvador Fluriach to MR, March 15, 1899, BBC, Ser 1. Rionda was outraged that they
had had to put up with poor accommodations, saying they should have stayed aboard one of
the two fishing schooners in the harbor.
somnambulent city of Camagiey, resulting in a rush for land along
the right of way. New mills were planned upon the broad potreros,
and where the soil was suitable, plows broke up the pastures for the
great caiaverales.112 "Everything is on the boom in this part of Cuba,
roads are being improved and engineers are going to start work soon
on a road from Puerto Principe [Camagiiey] to this coast." reported
Rionda's protege, Will Ahern.113
Judicial records of that year are indicative of the shifts in the
economies and populations of the region. For example, the Judge of
the Court of First Instance of Puerto Principe, Manuel Miyares,
recommended in his annual report that a new division of territory of
Municipal Courts be made, one for the North American citrus growing
colony of Colonia Gloria and the other for Guayabal. He speaks of "the
lack of means of communication in this province. ," and "The
numerous population of both places and the large area of the
districts of Minas and Santa Cruz del Sur, to which these wards
respectively belong, making the creation of the Municipal Courts of
Gloria and Guayabal almost indispensable."114
The judge complained of other difficulties which speak to the
general air of transition and expansion. Though they were supposed
to be paid, the judges were not receiving anything for their services,
112 Salvador Fluriach to MR, April, 17, 1899, BBC, Ser. 1
113 W.J. Ahern to MR, September 29, 1899, BBC, Ser. 2.
114 Military Governor of Cuba, 1899-1902. (Leonard Wood). Civil Reports. (Vol. IV.)
Informe del Major E. StJ. Greble. Superintendent del Departamento de Beneficencia.
Departamento de Cuba, p. 244.
and thus the benches were being manned by volunteers.115 Court-
ordered autopsies were being conducted in the open air "before the
public" and without proper instruments.116 Court interpreters could
not be obtained because of "abominable means of land
communication and inadequate water communication," thus the
judge recommended that the railroad, which owned the telegraph
lines, string a line to a point convenient for the use of the legal
Despite the influx of capital and growth in the local economy,
little, after all, was done to improve the transportation in the region,
and other aspects of local society seem to stagnate also. Nan Risley,
writing in 1903 states that
There are no roads worthy the name, no english [sic.] speaking neighbors,
no society. Life is, in fact, a duplicate of that on a large ranch on our
western prairies, where, as far as the sight can reach, one sees only fields
of wheat or corn. In Cuba the cane fills in the picture 1 8
As late as the 1920s the historian Charles E. Chapman,
dismissively described the Cuban countryside which he casually
observed on his rail journey through the provinces of Camagiiey and
Oriente: "From Camagiey to Santiago there is nothing deserving the
name of city. Most places are sad, neglected villages, reeking with
115 Ibid. pp. 263-64.
116 Ibid. p. 290.
117 Ibid. pp. 291-93. Court records indicate that a fair percentage of those accused of
petty crimes were foreigners, particularly North Americans, thus the need for
118 Risley Journal, BBC, uncat. MS.
mud or dust, inhabited mainly by negroes, whose homes are 'shacks,'
thatch-roofed or covered with corrugated iron."119
The process is a familiar one to students of the expansion of
capital into those areas of the earth previously remote from its
influence. Railroads are built, roads are improved, and the lives of
the people are irrevocably altered, but every mile of rail and road,
every penny spent on wages or capital improvements, is solely for
the benefit of foreign or metropolitan capital. If transportation is
improved, it is for the purpose of moving product to market. If the
lines are run in such a way as to also provide local transportation, so
much the better, but it is so purely by happenstance. If the local
standard of living is raised (by eurocentric standards) well and good,
but the price is often high, both in terms of destruction of indigenous
culture and of the natural world. Such was the case in Guayabal, for
the place described by Antonio Perpifia and ten years later by
Rionda and the first outside visitors to that coast, was to remain but
a few years more. Perpifia describes Francisco's Rio Sevilla:
Unas veces se nos ofrecian amenas praderas, en cuyo fondo se destacaban
altivos palmares; otras, vefamos extrafios y gigantescos arboles cubiertos
de bejucos, de cuyos colgantes junquillos destacAbanse las flores de color
cambiante. Aquf encontramos un grandiose bosque de Arboles arrogantes,
cuyos troncos erguidos y corpulentos eran otras tantas columns que
formaban el sostdn de una inmensa b6veda de verdor y de follaje; mas alli
extensas sabanas, en cuyo fondo brillaban las tranquilas aguas de un lago
rodeado de pintados toros y briosos caballos. 20
119 Charles Edward Chapman, A History of the Cuban Republic: a Study in Hispanic
American Politics. New York: Octagon Books, 1969, p. 18.
120 Perpifia y Pebernat, El Camagiley, pp. 307-08. Translation: Sometimes we were offered
pleasant meadows, in which tall palms accented the background; other times our view was
of gigantic, exotic trees covered with vines, from which were hanging jonquill-like flowers
of changing colors. Here we encountered a great forest of arrogant trees, their trunks
swollen and corpulent, there other columns forming the support for an immense canopy of
verdure and foliage; and beyond more open savannas which sparkled with the tranquil
waters of a surrounding lake accented by bulls and spirited horses.
CUBA TRANSFORMED: 1868-1898
The Eastern Economy Before Big Sugar
Camagiiey, says Moreno Fraginals, "is one of Cuban history's
unknown quantities."1 On the basis of literary evidence from the
early seventeenth century as well as large, elaborate church
structures constructed during the eighteenth century, Moreno claims
that the savannas of Camagiiey produced an affluent society
unrecognized and unappreciated by modern historians. This economy
was founded primarily on the illegal export of oxen and jerked beef
to the sugar islands of the Antilles. Some cane was grown locally,
also. The province was unique in Cuba, he asserts, in that Puerto
Principe was the only "important area totally dominated by Creole
capital, without the smallest intrusion by Spanish merchants."2
Moreno's point is that of all parts of Cuba, Camagiiey was the one
most likely to produce a genuine national bourgeoisie. As a cattle-
raising society it was less dependent on slavery than the dense cane-
growing regions dominated by creole hacendados, who were in turn
dependent upon the capital of Spanish-owned commission houses.
Moreno finds in the Principefio Ignacio Zarragoitia y Jauregui's report
1 The Sugar Mill: The Socioecomomic Complex of Sugar in Cuba 1760-1860. Translated by
Cedric Belfrage. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1976, pp. 68-69.
2 Ibid.. p. 69.
to the Real Consulado of 1805 the "first full-throated cry of
nationalism" in which Zarragoitia calls on Cubans to form one family
in which "the assets and liabilities should be distributed, without
distinction or privilege."3 Thus we can trace a distinctly
Camagiieyeno spirit of rebellion from Zarragoitia through Gaspar
Betancourt Cisneros to Salvador Betancourt Cisneros to Ignacio
Agramonte, all, according to Moreno, on account of the "non-sugar
mentality" of the province."4
Though the "sugar mentality" failed to dominate in mid
nineteenth- century Camagiiey, or anywhere east of Sagua la Grande
for that matter, there were, nevertheless, sugar mills in Camagiiey
and Oriente, particularly in the latter. In 1860 the Betancourt family
owned nine mills in Oriente and Camagiiey 5 Six of these mills were
still powered by oxen. Far from Havana, without good roads or
railways to connect these mills to the few developed harbors, there
were only small advances to be had from the commission merchants
of Havana or Matanzas, and these at extremely high rates of
3 Ibid., pp. 69-70.
4 Gaspar Betancourt Cisneros (1803-1866) known by his pen name, El Lugareflo. as a
Betancourt was a prominent member of Principefio society and a leading annexationist;
Salvador Betancourt Cisneros, Marqu6s de Santa Lucfa (1828-1914) of the same family,
relinquished his title during the Ten Years War and nominally succeeded Jos6 Marti after
the letters death as leader of the rebel republic; in later years he continued to serve the
Republican government. He owned, until 1860, the Hato Viejo and all the land upon which
the Francisco Sugar Company was established. "Su nombre siempre sera pronunciado con
dulce y profunda emoci6n por las generaciones cubanas que busquen en el pasado ejemplo
y estimado." Cuba en la Mano: Enciclopedia Popular Ilustrada. La Habana: Ucar, Garcfa y
Cfa., 1940;.Ignacio Agramonte (1820-1873) was a cattle rancher who became the province's
outstanding hero and martyr of the Ten Years War.
5 Thomas. Cuba: The Pursuit of Freedom. p. 241.
interest.6 There was no capital for high-priced slaves nor for
expensive, mechanical improvements that could make these mills
competitive with those of the western provinces. In fact, in 1860, the
284 ingenios of Oriente (which at that time included Camagiiey)
produced a mere nine percent of the Island's sugar. About two-thirds
of these mills were still powered by oxen as compared to one-fifth in
the western provinces, and of the total of 942 steam-powered mills
in Cuba, only 118 were in the east. In addition, average yields of the
eastern mills were far below that of the west: 164 tons in the east
compared to 438 tons in the west.7
Not only were the eastern mills technologically inferior to those
in the west, they also averaged far fewer slaves. Pinar del Rio
averaged 174 slaves per ingenio; Havana: 149, and Matanzas 159,
whereas Santiago de Cuba averaged 59 and Puerto Principe only 47.8
Underlying these vivid contrasts between the eastern and
western mills was simply the disparity in size between the ingenios
of the West and those of the East, both in terms of land under
cultivation and capitalization. The average number of caballerfas
under cultivation per ingenio in the province of Santiago de Cuba in
6 In 1863 over 95 percent of all Cuban sugar properties were mortgaged for a total debt
equaling about two-thirds of the total investment in the sugar industry. Manuel Moreno
Fraginals. "Plantations in the Caribbean: Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic
in the Late Nineteenth Century" in Manuel Moreno Fraginals, Frank Moya Pons, and
Stanley Engerman,(eds.) Between Slavery and Free Labor: The Spanish-Speaking Caribbean
in the Nineteenth Century. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985, pp.15-16.
7 lbid.("Plantations in the Caribbean").
8 Cuba, Centro de Estadistica, Noticias estadisticas. "Registro general de fincas rtisticas,"
and "Distribuci6n." cited in Scott, Slave Emancipation in Cuba. Tables 4 and 5, p. 22.
1860 was 5.5 and in Puerto Principe only 4.1.9 In fact, in the same
year, in all of Camagiiey there were only 414 caballerfas under cane
producing 15,434 metric tons of sugar, or less than six percent of the
production of the leading cane producing province of Matanzas.10
Only in terms of production per unit area did Camagiiey excel,
producing 37.3 metric tons per caballerfa as opposed to 27.5 in
Matanzas and 15.4 in the tierras se cansadas of Havana province.11
As a direct result of the relative insignificance of the sugar
economy in the east, it was the creole hacendado class of not only
sugar but also coffee and cattle that first incited rebellion against
Spain in Cuba, after the reform movements of the 1840s and 1850s
failed to create a viable economic environment for their struggling
cafetales, potreros and ingenios.12
Sugar and the Ten Years War: 1868-1878
The historical forces behind El Grito de Yara, Cuba's first,
celebrated cry of independence which launched the Ten Years War
on October 10, 1868, have been much researched and well
expounded.13 At the most general level of analysis, Spain, laboring
9 Ibid. This figure is against 15.2 as an average for Cuba as a whole with Matanzas at 21.9.
10 Calculated from Scott, Slave Emancipation in Cuba. Tables 4 and 5, p. 22.
11 Ibid. Tierras se cansadas" is "tired land." This high production per caballerta
indicates that most of the sugar grown in Camagiiey in 1860 was grown on newly-cleared
forest lands or on new savanna soils.
12 Coffee farms, small ranches, and sugar mills.
13 In addition to the better general histories cited elsewhere in this study, Julio
LeRiverend provides an excellent chapter on the Ten Years War in his Historia Econ6mica
de Cuba. La Habana: Editorial Pueblo y Educaci6n, 1974.
under her own severe economic and political difficulties, was
unwilling and perhaps unable to provide her remaining colonies with
the marketing and credit structures necessary for their prosperity,
nor would she allow them the degree of economic self-determination
required to create truly viable economies of their own. The effects of
inequitable and capricious taxation on both the internal wealth of the
island and on Cuba's international trade fell heavily on the creole
land owners, and many of those least able to withstand the
obstructions of colonial policy were concentrated in the east.
In addition to purely colonial considerations, the sugar
economy of the Island was approaching a series of severe crises
symptomatic of the inherent contradictions of slavery in an industry
dependent on metropolitan world markets. The industry was rapidly
bifurcating to create a relatively stagnant agricultural sector and a
technologically advancing manufacturing sector, thus compounding
its own internal contradictions.14 Slavery, whether due to a zeitgeist
resulting from abolition in the British West Indies and then the
United States, or to other causes, was becoming less and less viable.
Julio Le Riverend, in describing the period 1840 to 1868, states that
it was characterized by ". the progressive inefficiency of the slaves
14 We disagree here with Rebecca Scott's counterarguments to the thesis of Moreno
Fraginals, Franklin Knight and others in which she rejects the idea that internal
contradictions within the industry based on the incompatability between slavery and
technology were the basis for abolition. See Slave Emancipation in Cuba. p. 5, n.4 and p.
26. A full analysis of this argument is not possible here. We can say, however, that both
for reasons of maximum fixed capital investment and for reasons having to do with modern
bourgeoise mentality slavery was incompatible with the capitalist mode of production in
its emerging twentieth-century form.
and the difficulty, furthermore, of supplementing them with other
slaves or with free labor."15
The creole hacendados of the west, entangled in dying slavery
on the one hand and ensnared in a web of indebtedness to
Peninsular merchant-bankers on the other, replayed a Gone-with-
the-Wind-like scenario, rattling through the streets of Havana Vieja
in their fine volantes enroute to lavish balls, while their accountants
negotiated one last promissory note. In a vain attempt to hold to
slavery and a rapidly eclipsing way of life, this class of creole
hacendados failed to lend crucial support in the first great struggle
against colonial rule.
It was to be the old planter class of the east of coffee growers,
cattlemen and some sugar growers, who were to lead the first serious
revolt against Spain in a vain attempt to save themselves from
economic forces which transcended the immediate and ephemeral
colonial policies of the Spanish government.
One such hacendado was Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, owner of
the sugar estate La Demajagua located near the town of Yara and the
coastal town of Manzanillo. In the hope of uniting dissident groups
throughout the Island behind his revolutionary struggle, Cespedes all
but proclaimed the revolution in a stirring speech at the finca San
15 LeRiverend, Historia Econdmica de Cuba. p. 453.
Miguel on August 1st.16 In October he issued the famous grito and
the east rose in open rebellion.17
The lengthy war of attrition ravaged the eastern provinces, and
many sugar estates and other properties were destroyed. The war
had two beneficial effects on the sugar industry: the destruction of
the most antiquated and least productive mills on the Island and a
short-term elevation of sugar prices. This rise in prices in conjunction
with good harvests allowed many of the surviving producers (mostly
in the western provinces) to pay off a good part of their mortgages,
thus granting them a temporary reprieve from ruin.18
The war, according to Moreno, also helped to solve another of
sugar's looming problems: that of labor.19 While emancipation was
yet to have a serious effect on the labor supply, other than to drive
up the price of slaves, it was clear to all prescient observers that
slavery's days were numbered. The defeat of the South in the U.S.
Civil War followed by the triumph of Spain's liberal revolution in
1868 created favorable conditions for gradual emancipation. With
the passage of the Moret Law in the same year the Spanish Cortes
instituted the incremental abolition of slavery in Cuba. 20 With the
16 Historia de Cuba. Direcci6n Politica de las F.A.R. n.d., n.p.p.
17 Thomas Cuba, p.243. La Demajagua was one of the minority steam-powered mill in the
east. It was a small mill, however, with only 100 acres under cultivation in 1860. Thomas
points out that the family of Pedro Figueredo, a leader of the Junta Revolucionaria of
Bayamo, also owned a steam-driven mill near Bayamo.(p. 242).
18 Moreno Fraginals, "Plantations in the Caribbean," p. 16
19 Ibid., p. 17.
20 As early as 1847 Chinese contract labor had begun to enter the cane fields in response
to labor shortages. The Chinese continued to immigrate (voluntarily or otherwise) by the
Ten Years War came the quintos, conscripts from Spain, who were
sometimes given the choice of serving in a military capacity or
working in cane fields, a practice considered highly illegal in Spain.
Mostly from the Canary Islands, Asturias, and Galicia, these men
became proficient cane cutters, and by the 1880's provided an
efficient flow of immigrant labor during the zafra and thus helped to
ease the transition to free labor.21
In other ways as well the war benefited sugar and served to
lay the groundwork for the future expansion and modernization of
the industry. The Banco Colonial and Banco Espailol de la Isla de
Cuba, both controlled by Spanish merchants along with some
representatives of the Creole oligarchy, had been charged with
financing the war which "turned out to be an enormously profitable
deal."22 The war also benefited shipping, and railways, and many
such legitimate businesses profited from shady deals. All of this
economic stimulation produced liquid capital to finance the critical
modernization of the mills and the construction of new centrales.
A sign of the times was the founding of the Asociaci6n de
Hacendados de la Isla de Cuba. Established at the conclusion of the
war to guide the activities of cane producers, the Association
promoted worker migration, agricultural and industrial training
schools, sponsored research, set up direct communications with the
New York and London sugar exchanges, published a trade journal,
thousands, not reaching peak numbers until the early 1870's. Scott, Slave Emancipation in
Cuba, p. 90. In 1877, however, 70 percent of sugar production was still based on slave
21 Moreno Fraginals, "Plantations in the Caribbean," p. 17.
22 Ibid. pp. 17-18.
and formed a powerful lobby to defend the interests of the
industry's owners.23 In short, it was another step toward the
rationalization of the Cuban sugar industry.
"The old planters were slow to adapt themselves to changing economic
conditions, but new blood and new capital were found; new processes and
new machinery were introduced to offset the loss of slave labor;
manufacturing and agricultural departments were gradually separated, and
country people leased small pieces of land from the estates and delivered
cane to the mills or centrals."24
Thus Edwin Atkins describes the transition to free labor, new
technologies, the bifurcation of the industry into the two distinct
sectors, the emergence of the colonato, and the destruction of the old
In the east the Ten Years War had swept away the various
forms of traditional agrarian social relations and destroyed those
inefficient ingenios, which because of their location or inability to
raise capital, were unable to avail themselves of the new
technologies which were transforming the industry in the western
provinces.25 To paraphrase Julio Le Riverend, the war constituted
one more event which combined with existing economic forces
24 Edwin F. Atkins, Sixty Years in Cuba. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Riverside Press,
1926, p. 39.
25 An exception was the area around Manzanillo where old ingenios founded before the
Ten Years War were able to recover from total destruction to become significant mills by
1890. LeRiverend mentions Dos Amigos (1884), Isabel (1886), and Niquero (1884).
Historia Econ6mica. p. 470.
propelled Cuba toward a total restructuring of the colonial
Nowhere in Cuba was the transformation more complete, more
thorough than in Camagiiey. Until 1868 the province of Puerto
Principe had been characterized by the seemingly eternal, archaic
forms of appropriation and agrarian exploitation.27 The old province
was compared to Virginia for its hierarchical society enshrouded in
the traditions of a quasi-mythical past and entrenched in
intransigent racism. The Ten Years War utterly destroyed the
material base of this effete culture.
According to Torres Lasqueti, the colonial chronicler of the
province, and Jos6 Ram6n Betancourt, the provincial representative
in the Spanish Cortes in the 1880's, there were a total of 100 ingenios
in the province in 1868 of which only one survived the war. Nor did
the region's famous cattle haciendas escape destruction. Of the 2,853
cattle ranches which existed before the war, only one potrero
remained in 1878.28
The Crisis of the Eighties
Louis P6rez comments wryly that "Planters fortunate enough to
survive the war succumbed to peace."29 There is little exaggeration
26 LeRiverend, Historia Econ6mica, p. 454.
27 Ibid., p. 255.
28 Ibid. Oriente did little better. Of Bayamo's 24 mills and Manzanillo's 18, none survived
the war. Louis A. Pdrez, Jr., Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution. New York: Oxford
University Press, 1988., p. 127.
29 Ibid., p. 129.
in this statement. Thomas, LeRiverend, Moreno, Ortiz, and others
document the beginning of the end for the old planter class
throughout Cuba with the treaty of Zanj6n in 1878. As P6rez puts it
"The war released forces that continued to alter the character of
Cuban society long after the insurgent armies had abandoned the
After Zanj6n property relations and modes of production
entered an era of transition. Social formations, commercial linkages,
and political alliances were all subject to change. Those planters who
had failed to modernize for whatever reason were among the earliest
casualties of the economic crisis that was to bring the entire Cuban
sugar industry to its knees. It was not until 1921 that the outlook for
sugar was again to appear so bleak.
Survivors of the war faced up to 30 percent interest rates
which severely hampered critical efforts to modernize the mills.31 In
addition, the decline in Cuban production opened up a vacuum in the
world market that was quickly filled by foreign producers. Sugar
production in the United States increased with the introduction of
new varieties and especially with the expansion of the sugar beet
industry in the northern plains. After 1876 cane sugar from Hawaii's
rapidly expanding industry entered the U.S. duty free. World
production was further augmented by increased exports from other
30 Ibid., p. 126.
31 Thomas. Cuba. p. 271.
parts of Latin America, especially Argentina, Peru, Mexico and the
But it was in Europe that the situation altered most
dramatically. By the 1880s France, Austria, and Germany were
principal sources of the world's sugar.33 In 1850 beet sugar
comprised 15% of the market, but by the early eighties beet sugar
surpassed cane sugar in world production.34 In the late 1860s Cuba
supplied about 30 percent of the world's sugar but by the late
eighties her share had fallen to 11 percent.
With beet sugar supplying all Europe's needs, only the U.S.
market had the capacity to absorb the Cuban production. But with
increasing exports from cane sugar producers around the world plus
the revolution in beet production, prices began a steady decline
throughout 1884 from an average of 11 cents per pound of raw
sugar to 8 cents. It was becoming increasingly evident that to meet
the increasing competition on the world sugar market, in a period of
sharply falling prices in the midst of changing market standards,
required a complete transformation in the industry.35 Higher local
taxes, and rampant inflation, added to the planter's burdens and
sugar estates failed, land changed hands, and mills closed by the
32 Jack H. Galloway.The Sugar Cane Industry: An historical geography from its origins to
1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Cambridge Series (#12),1989, Fig.7.2, p.
33 Leland H. Jenks. Our Cuban Colony. A Study in Sugar. New York: Vanguard Press, 1928,
34 Galloway, The Sugar Cane Industry, fig. 6.1, p. 132.
35 Jenks, Our Cuban Colony. p. 26. In addition, planters were having to cope with the
major adjustments attendant to the transition from slave to free labor.
dozens. The U.S. consul reported in 1884 that "Out of the twelve or
thirteen hundred planters on the island, not a dozen are said to be
By the mid 1880s all Cuba was in depression. Many major
banks and trading companies failed, which caused the loss of
additional moneys held in planters' accounts. By 1885 sugar prices
had fallen to the point at which they did not equal the cost of
production, and credit was virtually non-existent. Where mills
continued to operate, the workers were often paid in depreciated
scrip, and with the closing of the cigar factories, and the exacerbating
effects of abolition, unemployment drove thousands to emigrate,
particularly to Florida.
The only bright spot in the picture for some planters was the
dramatic expansion of the Island's rail system. The sharp decline in
the price of steel and steel rails as a result of the more efficient
Bessemer process not only greatly reduced the cost of transporting
both cane and bagged sugar, but also gave the producers the freedom
to ship from ports other than Havana. These subpuertos freed the
producers from the machinations of the Havana commission
merchants, who charged exorbitant fees for allowing the sugar to
pass through their warehouses, and across their wharves to the
waiting ships.37 Of course only those few planters who had managed
to remain solvent could afford to build the private narrow- gauge
railroads on their estates and to buy the rolling stock used to haul
36 Pdrez, Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution, pp. 130-31.
37 Thomas. Cuba. p. 273.
the cane to the mill, not to mention extending rail lines to the nearest
port. Those fortunate enough to have a public line pass through or
near their properties were in the best position to take full advantage
of this new factor in the equation of sugar profits. For the majority,
however, the rail lines only served to further effect the transfer of
wealth from the smaller planters of the old oligarchical families to
the new owners of the great centrales. The latter were content to
make the sugar and sell or lease off land to colonos who would bear
the many risks of weather, labor, and even to some extent the
market, thus buffering the sugar producers from the hazards of
In the short term, the Cuban economy had been dealt a
staggering blow by the destruction wrought in eastern and central
Cuba during the Ten Years War; the Island lost two-thirds of her
total wealth between 1862 and 1882, and the depredations brought
on by the changes in the world market had yet to begin.38 By the late
eighties and early nineties, however, we see the beginning of a
mature consolidation of the new Cuban economy of the centrales, but
now fueled principally by foreign capital working in conjunction with
colonos. Moreno Fraginals states that, "It is no exaggeration to say
that as regards sugar in the Caribbean, in the nineties everything
was completely different from what existed in the sixties."39 And as
38 Boletfn Comercial. April 10, 1890 cited in Perez, Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution,
p. 134. In the long term, however, the effects of the Ten Years War and even the sugar
crisis that followed, were cruel but perhaps inevitable and even efficacious as the old
anachronistic forms were destroyed, clearing the way for new social relations and new
39 Moreno Fraginals, "Plantations in the Caribbean,", p. 3.
Moreno knows so well, nowhere in the Carribean was this more true
than in Cuba.
The Emergence of the Colonato
The abolition of slavery and the establishment of the centrales
(with the consequent reduction of the number of Cuban mills from
1190 in 1877 to 207 twenty-two years later) brought about new
forms of relations of production in Cuban sugar. The name of a new
system of production, the colonato, came to serve as a general rubric
for various kinds of arrangements involving persons of widely
differing economic circumstances and class backgrounds. 40 As
Rebecca Scott points out,
The term "colono" does not imply a specific class status or a particular
relationship to the means of production. Colonos ranged from persons who
were in effect working piece-rate on land owned by vast estates to investors
who owned land and employed large numbers of workers.4 1
Colonos ranged from ex-slaves to owners of former ingenios who
were reduced to feeding a central. Most, however, were "new men,
immigrants from Spain or from other small farms."42
Well established by 1887, this system of decentralized
management of sugar estates was initially developed in response to
the chronic lack of capital which had plagued mill owners since the
40 Alan Dale Dye. Tropical Technology and Mass Production: The Expansion of Cuban
Sugarmills. 1899-1929. Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI Dissertation Services, 1991, p. 3, and
Jose R. Alvarez Dfaz,_et a., Cuban Economic Research Project. A Study on Cuba. University
of Miami Publications in Business and Economics, No. 8. Coral Gables: University of Miami
Press, 1965. p. 97.
41 Scott, Slave Emancipation in Cuba, p. 212.
42 Thomas, Cuba. p. 277.
late sixties.43 It also helped to solve the labor shortage after the end
of the patronato in 1886, and "facilitated the bringing of new areas
under cultivation."44 In the case of the new centrales such as
Francisco, the colono system was used as a means to attract cane
growers to the remote, thinly populated districts of eastern Cuba.
The colono might either lease or own the land, and the size of a
colonia varied from a few acres to over 3000 acres. The typical
colono in western Cuba was said to have had "ten or fifteen besanas
(furrows)."45 The colono entered into a contract with the central to
plant cane on a given number of caballerias of land and to deliver
the product to the mill. This contract was itself called the colonato
and incorporated within it were up to three separate agreements:
The grinding agreement (molienda de cahias), the credit agreement
(refaccion agricola), and the land lease (arrendamiento). Thus, in
accord with the credit agreement, the mill owner made advances to
the colono to cover the costs of planting, cultivating and harvesting
the cane, which costs were deducted at final settlement. The colono
bore the brunt of the agricultural risks including disease, pests,
drought, flood, fire, and wind, but perhaps even more importantly, as
43 By divorcing himself from the agricultural component of sugar production, the mill
owner could concentrate all his capital on the manufacturing side. see Ramiro Guerra y
Sanchez. Sugar and Society in the Caribbean: An Economic History of Cuban Agriculture.
New Haven: Yale University Press, 1964, p. 64. It can be added that this was the value-
added phase of the process and thus was obviously more attractive to capital than the
production of a raw commodity.
By 1887 approximately 35-40 percent of Cuba's crop was produced under the
colono system. Jenks, Our Cuban Colony. p. 33.
44 Ibid., (Jenks), p. 31.
45 Hugh Thomas quotes the slave Montejo in Cuba. p. 277.
the party responsible for hiring labor, shielded the management of
the central from that source of volatility also.
F6 Igesias, in her study of the colonato in Cuban sugar
production, claims that in its initial stages, the colono system favored
the small planters because of competition between the centrales. The
price of cane varied across Cuba depending on "the supply, the
demand of the centrales, and transportation facilities."46 She found,
however, that the owners began "to put a brake on the free play of
supply and demand by means of contracts of colonato and
moneylending, which the small planters, in the absence of
alternatives, were obliged to accept." "These contracts," she says,
"obliged the colono to supply cane exclusively to the particular
central at stipulated prices and conditions."47
As the colono system matured within the context of changing
social relations in pre and post-war Cuba, two types of contractural
arrangements emerged, dividing the colonos into two distinct
categories: the colonos de central and the colonos independientes.
The former leased their land from the central (or possibly from a
46 F6.Iglesias Garcfa, "The Development of Capitalism in Cuban Sugar Production, 1860-
1900," in Between Slavery and Free Labor eds. Manuel Moreno Fraginals, et.jal., p. 72. This
competition between centrals would have been limited to the older sugar districts in the
west, for in the east, with the exception of one or two localities, the centrals were too
remote from one another to occasion this practice. Professor Iglesias does not indicate
when, in her opinion, this competition between centrals ceased, but if it continued up
until the war, central management might have considered this another factor against the of
milling sugar in western Cuba, or to put it another way, one more reason to move east. See
Chapters VII and VIII for further discussion of this central issue.
47 "To protect itself from losses due to oscillations in sugar prices, the central
occasionally committed itself to pay only for a specified weight of sugar -- not in cash but
for the sale price the sugar attained on the market -- excluding the commission." Iglesias
Garcfa, "The Development of Capitalism" in Between Slavery and Free Labor. eds.,Moreno
Fraginals. et at., p. 72.
third party), and secured an agreement from the central to advance a
given amount of money for the expenses of the coming crop, based
on either tasks or on caballerias planted to cane, as was the case at
Francisco. This group was entirely dependent upon and chained to
the central in an unequal relationship. The independientes, on the
other hand, owned their own land and were often free to seek credit
at better terms elsewhere, thus their relationship to the central was
more or less limited to the grinding contract. The independientes
were often men of means and were sometimes absentee owners.
Those colonos who did not own their own land became tied to
the central by a triple bond: ground rent, the milling of the cane, and
credit.48 It was the latter that gave the most trouble. Most colonos
were in a chronic state of debt. They were forced to sell their sugar
as quickly as it was made to pay off labor and creditors, chief among
whom was the central. Usually the mill settled with the colonos on
the basis of the promedio, or average market value of sugar in
Havana for that fortnightly period. 49
According to Jenks, in western Cuba the colonos were sitieros,
or small countrymen, and plantation managers were considered in
the category of colonos also.50.In the east, because the resident
population was low, and at first most peasant families had access to
48 Lowry Nelson, Rural Cuba. Minneapolis: Colwell Press, 1950, p. 97.
49 Jenks, Our Cuban Colony. p. 33. Jenks states that the promedio was based on the
fortnightly average at the port through which the sugar was shipped. This may have been
so later in the century, but for the period of this study, either Havana prices, or by World
War I an average of Havana, CArdenas and Cienfuegos prices provided the basis of returns
to the colonos.
50 Ibid., p. 32.
the land (many therefore refusing to submit to the wages and
working conditions imported by the new sugar corporations from the
west), colonos, along with hoe hands, had to be attracted to the new
cane lands from the west.51 The initial difficulty of attracting colonos
plus the unfavorable labor situation may have influenced some of
the corporate sugar producers locating in the east to devote at least a
part of their operations to administrative cane (company cane), as
did Manuel Rionda at Francisco. Under this more direct system
management had additional leverage over labor in these remote
areas beyond the scrutiny of the general population, though it
sacrificed the advantage of having colonos to act as buffers against
labor unrest.52 As will be seen in the case of Francisco, its very
remoteness later worked to bring the opposite effect, namely an
administrative policy in favor of greater colonization as defense
against the politically inspired rebellions and/or social banditry
common to eastern Cuba--but these colonos were, by virtue of
company ownership of the lands, at least in theory, manageable.
51 At first, the peasants in eastern Cuba, particularly Oriente, enjoyed some security in
the pesos de posesi6n. (or pesos de tierras), rights which were sometimes associated with
the haciendas comuneras. These were mercedes owned communally by the hiers of the
original grantee who for lack of surveyors, and other reasons, maintained the merced as
one unit. But with the expansion of big capital latifundia beginning at the time of this
study, a new group of landless farm people was created as the old haciendas were broken
up and divided between the corporation lands. Nelson, Rural Cuba. pp. 87-88. See also
P6rez's discussion of the alienation of the land from the peasantry of Oriente (Chapter 7,
"Fairwell to Hope") in Lords of the Mountain.
52 Most, if not all, eastern-based centrals provided housing, a company store, and
sometimes a mess hall for workers, as this study reveals. All of these represented
extensions of company control into the lives of the workers and provided additional tools
for the manipulation of labor by management. For a discussion of these and other means by
which the centrales extended their control over the lives of the workers see Moreno
Fraginals, "Plantations in the Caribbean," pp. 6-7.
The Cuban War of Independence, 1895-1898
The sugar crisis of the eighties was a major factor in the
conditioning of the Island for its final drive for freedom from colonial
rule, but it was not the only factor. After the peace of Zanj6n 250,000
immigrants entered Cuba before the turn of the century.53 The vast
majority were from Spain, particularly Galicia and Asturias. Many of
these people were poor and lacking in formal education, but they did
not come devoid of skills nor, in many instances, of family
connections. In fact, the historic domination of commerce and
banking by the Peninsulares intensified in these last years of colonial
rule. In the expanding sectors such as manufacturing and
transportation they dominated, as well. The practice of sobrinismo
(uncles employing nephews) was widespread, and the immigrants
gained a reputation for uncomplaining hard work and tenacity.
Spaniards were often hired over natives, which had the effect of
alienating Cubans from their own country. In the last third of the
nineteenth century, 100,000 Cubans emigrated to find work in other
lands.54 Many of these also plotted revolution.
A great number of those doing the hiring were either not
Cubans themselves, or were Cubans who worked for foreign-owned
companies. As the planter class declined along with many of the old
commission houses whose businesses had depended upon the
entrenched family networks, foreign, especially U.S. firms, filled the
vacuum. Names such as Atkins, Perkins & Walsh, Freeman and
53 Ibid. p.135.
54 Ibid p. 136.
Stewart came to dominate sugar processing and trade and controlled
a great part of the agricultural sector, as well. By 1895 only 20% of
the mills remained in the hands of the old planter elite, and even
they were becoming inextricably bound to the new North American
capitalists as they acquired paper in and took seats as directors of
North American companies. In addition, many firms with Hispanic
names were in fact owned by Spaniards who had immigrated to the
United States to live off trade with their relatives residing in Cuba.
Manuel Rionda was typical of many of his countrymen in this
In the late 1880s and early nineties the Cuban economy was
rapidly becoming more and more dependent upon the United
States.55 By the late eighties approximately 94 percent of Cuban
sugar was exported to the U.S. Given sugar's dominant position in the
Cuban economy, plus the many non-sugar investments North
Americans held in Cuba, it is no exaggeration to say that the entire
market orientation of the Island's economy had turned toward the
U.S. Thus Cuba became a country in political vassalage to Spain but
economically dependent on the United States. This Janus-like
condition on the one hand fueled the struggle of nearly all Cuban
classes and interests to at least loosen if not break the ties with
Spain, but on the other, drew Cuba like a magnet, first into the grip
55 The more highly rationalized and monopolistic character of the U.S. sugar refining
industry from the late eighties on contributed to the increase in the volume of trade. In
1888 H.O. Havermeyer combined nineteen refineries which in 1890 became the American
Sugar Refining Company known for many years as the Sugar Trust. These refineries were
now turning out a standard product, white granulated sugar, at a lower price. The fixed
capital investment in U.S. refineries had more than doubled in a decade. Jenks, Our Cuban
of the United States government and its occupying forces and
ultimately the control of North American commercial and
As the remains of the Creole planter class allied itself as best it
could with North American capital, the Cuban petit bourgeoisie
became the core of nationalist resistance. Many members of that
class had taken refuge abroad, especially in New York, Tampa, and
Key West. Jose Marti, their chief spokesman, made a very nearly
radical analysis of the situation in his sharp criticism of those in Cuba
who represented the annexationist cause.
"They are happy to exist under a Spanish or Yankee master who keeps them
and gives them important exalted positions as a reward for acting as
procurers. They despise the mighty masses--the mestizos, skilful, vital;
the blacks and whites, intelligent and creative."56
He spoke of the same group as "the pretentious and ineffectual
oligarchy" who attempted to use the United States to their own
ends.57 As early as 1882 Marti had written the mulatto insurgent
hero of the Ten Years War, Antonio Maceo, that "the solution to the
Cuban problem is not a political but a social one."58 Such views put
the revolutionary core, the "Cuba Libre" faction, on a collision course
with the conservative, North American capitalists class with its
ominously deepening control over all Cuba.
In 1891 a treaty was signed between Spain and the United
States which gave Cuban products certain customs benefits in
56 Christopher Abel, and Nissa Torrents. Jose Martf: Revolutionary Democrat. Durham:
Duke University Press, 1986, p.105.
58 Pdrez, Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution, p. 145.
exchange for special tariff concessions to U.S. exports to Cuba. The
Foster-Cdnovas agreement had a major impact on Cuban sugar
production: from 632,000 tons in 1891, Cuba's production rose to the
one million ton mark for the first time in 1894. Overall Cuban trade
with the U.S. grew from $54 million in 1890 to $79 million in 1893
which exceeded Cuban exports to the mother country by a factor of
twelve. By 1894 approximately 90 percent of all Cuban exports were
bound for the United States.
This prosperity was short-lived, however, as Foster-Canovas
expired in 1894 and all tariff concessions were rescinded. Sugar
production immediately dropped precipitously, falling to less than
225,000 tons in 1896. Meanwhile, the cost of new machinery and
parts increased and the world price of sugar fell to below two cents a
pound. "A very much overextended planter class had reached the
historic one-million ton mark in 1894, only to lose access to the only
market with the capacity to absorb the expanded production."59
The war itself brought far more general destruction to the
sugar industry than the previous conflict. The Ten Years War had
been limited almost entirely to that part of Cuba from Cienfuegos
east and relatively little damage was done outside the provinces of
Camagiiey and Oriente. In the War of Independence no sugar district
escaped; everywhere fields were torched, for no crop is more
flammable than dry, sucrose-laden cane, and where mills were left
unguarded, they were frequently burned also. The destruction of the
centrales with their expensive, complex apparati represented far
59 Ibid., p. 194.
greater losses than had the wrecking of the relatively simple, old
ingenios during the earlier war.
Camagiey once again faced ruinous destruction to its
agricultural base. A journalist traveling through the province
reported that he ". saw neither a house, nor a cow, calf, sheep or
goat, and only two chickens."60 Overall, the area under cultivation
throughout the country fell by 36 percent.
"The state was separated from the dominant social class. Without favorable
state policy in any number of forms, including extended moratorium on
debt collection, tax exemptions, cash subsidies, and long-term low-interest
loans, the Cuban planter class moved ineluctably toward extinction."61
Conditions were, as a consequence, bad for the guajiros as well. Many
had lost their homes, livestock, and implements and tools. Half of the
remaining 900,000 acres under cultivation were worked by
The Occupation: Sugar Looks East, 1899-1902
North American investments in Cuba had been relatively
limited through the period of the Ten Years War. As outlined above,
the changing conditions after the war opened up opportunities for
U.S. sugar interests to insert themselves into the Island's distorted
economy. Among the first of these was Edwin Atkins of Boston, who
through his financing of the Torriente Brothers of Cienfuegos, who in
turn had made advances to the failing Sarria family, thus acquired
60 Ibid., p. 189.
61 Perez, Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution. p. 194.
62 Ibid., p. 194.
the famous Soledad estate comprised of 12,000 acres and including
23 miles of private railway lines. Later Atkins added two estates
from the declining Sanchez family and several more large holdings
from the tottering Iznaga family. 63 E. Atkins and Company was
accompanied by the U.S. bankers Eaton Stafford & Company followed
by Manuel Rionda's friend Hugh Kelly and his partner Franklin
Farrell, who built the Central Santa Teresa near Manzanillo, the first
of the eastern mills to be built by North American capital. The Rionda
family was next with the purchase of Tuinucu near Sancti Spiritus in
central Cuba in 1893.
Far more North American investment would have occurred
during this period had conditions been more favorable. The period
1868 through 1880 was one of chronic warfare in Cuba: first the long
Ten Years War, followed by the Guerra Chiquita. But it did not end
there, for social banditry was rampant, particularly in the eastern
provinces throughout the hard times of the eighties. Cuba had gained
a poor reputation in the financial centers of Europe, Britain, and the
Northeastern U.S., and there was a general expectation that at some
point the other shoe would drop. The investors were correct, of
course; the Revolution erupted in 1895 and for three years property
of all kinds was subject to destruction. At the end of the war, which
happily for U.S. interests had been concluded by U.S. forces, for the
foreign capitalists it was as if the bright, tropical sun had finally
emerged from behind the clouds after thirty tempestuous years.
Cuba was at long last open for the taking.
63 Thomas, Cuba. p. 275.
Within months after the cessation of hostilities North
Americans were buying up vast tracts of Cuban soil for the
production of cane. In 1899 the Cuban-American Sugar Co. acquired
the 7000 acre consolidated Tinguaro estate in Matanzas and the
Merceditas estate on Cabafias Bay in Pinar del Rio. In the same year
the Cuban-American founded the giant Chaparra mill with
approximately 70,000 acres on the north coast of Oriente. The
American Sugar Company purchased a number of war-damaged
estates in Matanzas, United Fruit bought 200,000 acres near Banes,
also on the northern Oriente coast, and another 40,000 acres at
nearby Puerto Padre on Nipe Bay. Constancia in Las Villas passed
under North American control, and the Cape Cruz Company was
founded with 16,000 acres near Manzanillo. Three other mills in the
Manzanillo district, San Juan, San Joaquin, and Teresa, were
purchased by Joseph Rigney, a United Fruit partner.64
As this first great wave of North American investment washed
over the Island, Manuel Rionda looked east to found the Francisco
Sugar Company at Guayabal on the wild and remote southeast coast
of Camagiiey. These were the lands known as the Hato Viejo. Alonso
de Ojeda passed through in 1510, the Arawaks died out soon after,
and for nearly four centuries the solitary coast had belonged to the
flamingos, the caimans, and gentle manatees. But human, not natural
64 Perez, Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution. p. 195. Despite these massive purchases,
as Jenks points out, U.S. capital did not buy out the Cuban sugar industry. "In 1905 when
a pre-war scale of output had been attained, there were 29 mills owned by American
citizens producing 21 percent of the sugar." But he adds, in reference to the Cuban mill
owners, "It will not be urged that they stood in need of much Americanizing. They formed
part of the group of persons in the United States and Cuba to whom the American tariff on
raw sugar was a serious inconvenience." Our Cuban Colony. pp. 131-32.
history was to be the program for the twentieth century, and the few
scattered bohios were to be replaced by company housing, the
meadows of Los Ranchos by a giant conglomeration of steaming,
screaming machinery, and the forest by cane as far as the eye could
THE ORIGINS OF THE FRANCISCO SUGAR COMPANY
". .. to jump in and lose no time."
Who Were the Riondas
The Rionda y Polledo family1 was of Asturian origins, having
immigrated to the Americas in the 1860's and 70's.2 Don Bernardo de
la Rionda and Dofia Josefa Polledo y Mata had twelve children
including the three sons who immigrated. The three boys were later
followed abroad by at least four of the sisters.
The Rionda y Polledos were a prosperous farming family.
Perhaps we could call them Big Peasants after Redfield's schema.3
1 Sources for this summary of the Rionda family background include the personal
reminiscences of Bernardo Braga Rionda (uncatalogued typscript, Braga Brothers
Collection), and the introductory material in Carl L.Van Ness."A Complete Guide to the
Records in the Braga Brothers Collection," Department of Special Collections, George A.
Smathers Libraries, University of Florida, Gainesville.
2 In reference to the poor provinces of north and northwest Spain, especially Asturias and
Galicia, Raymond Carr states that the "Export of superflous man-power from the poorer
inland farms was an established tradition by the eighteenth century." This immigration,
fictionally portrayed by both Clarin in Adios Cordera and in several of the novels of
Palacio Valdez, was both to other parts of Spain and to America. Raymond Carr, Spain:
1808-1975. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982, pp. 10-11.
3 Redfield's pioneering study of the peasantry posits an elite sub-class within peasant
society, the "Big Peasants" or those who have achieved a certain degree of domination over
their fellow peasants, having acquired more or better land or control over some value-
added process, etc. Peasant Society and Culture. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press,
1960. Carr states that there were few peasant proprietors in Asturias, "perhaps six
percent." Ibid., p. 8.
They owned apple orchards and cider mills, one daughter, Bibiana,
mother of Bernardo Braga Rionda, having four mills of her own as
well as an interest in five or six tenant farms around the town of
Norefia. The cider mills produced mostly champagne cider and the
farms specialized in pork products which were shipped as far away
as South America.4
Bernardo mentions that his father, being a very strong man,
was one of four to carry El Cristo Rey through the streets of Norefia
on El Dia de los Santos. In the Fall his mother gave a feast for the
poor, featuring, of course, fermented cider. After the fiesta she
distributed beans, potatoes, hams, and other foods to the guests, all
of whom brought large baskets in which to receive this largesse.
When his mother died (Bernardo was only eight), she was dressed in
the clothes of Ecce Homo, from the local parish church.
Despite their prosperity, Bernardo, like his many siblings and
cousins, was expected to work hard in his youth for whatever money
he got. He recalls his first job selling burros' milk to convalescent
Cubans who had come to Spain to take the cures. After his mother's
death his schooling was discontinued until his arrival in the United
The first three Riondas to come to the Americas were the
brothers Francisco (Pancho), Joaquin, and Manuel. Francisco, (1844-
1898) the eldest, lived in Cuba for most of his life. As did many
young Spanish 6migr6s, he first went to work for his established
4 Cider was an integral part of Asturian culture, so much so that Asturian immigrants to
Cuba continued to demand their cider which was supplied to them by North Americans,
the Spanish product being too dear. Ibid. (Carr), p. 306.
uncle Joaquin Polledo in the firm of Polledo, Rionda y Cia.5 He also
worked on the Central China, Polledo's well-known sugar estate in
Matanzas Province. The second brother, Joaquin (1850-1889),
settled in New York City where, in 1873, he formed a partnership
with Lewis Benjamin, a commission agent dealing chiefly in Cuban
sugars, grains, and lard, to be called Benjamin, Rionda and Company.
Benjamin died three years later, but the trading house continued for
a short while longer with the participation of sons of both families.
In 1878 Polledo, Rionda y Cfa. failed, leaving a debt of over
$400,000 which brought down the house of Benjamin, Rionda and
Company, as well. The Riondas, however, were able to acquire the
Central China as a part of the settlement. Eventually that Central was
purchased by the New York Sugar Manufacturing Company owned in
part by Hugh Kelly, who later was to become Manuel's friend.
Manuel Rionda y Polledo (1854-1943) was born in Norefia and
came to the United States at the age of sixteen, completing his
education at Farmington (or the Little Blue School as he fondly called
it) in Maine. After four years of prepatory schooling he was ready to
go to New York to join his brother at Benjamin, Rionda and Company.
He remained in New York, experiencing in early career the trauma of
a failed company. He first set foot on Cuban soil in the early 1880s,
joining his two older brothers there at the Central China. Joaquin's
death in 1889 may have unsettled the family's affairs in Cuba for we
find Manuel back in New York a short time thereafter, leaving
Francisco to handle the family's interests on the Island. In New York
5 The term for this very common practice was sobrinismo.
Manuel, now in his late thirties, went to work for C.M. Ceballos &
Company. In 1896, at age forty-two, he joined Czarnikow, MacDougall
and Company, the New York offices of C. Czarnikow, Ltd. of London,
one of the world's largest sugar brokers. With Czarnikow, Rionda
eventually was to make his fortune.
The Riondas and Cuban Sugar (1878-1896)
After the Pact of Zanj6n in 1878 the life of the planter changed;
the Cuban sugar industry sunk slowly into an abysmal crisis.6 By the
mid 1880s all Cuba was in a depression as major banks and
mercantile houses failed losing what few resources the planters had
left. Sugar prices sank below the cost of production and credit
became virtually non-existent.7 Yet after the sale of Central China the
Riondas bought more property, this time in Santa Clara Province
(now Las Villas) near the city of Sancti Spiritu. There they erected a
modern Central which they christened Tuinucu. In 1891 the new
estate was incorporated as the Central Tuinucu Sugar Cane
Manufacturing Company under the laws of New Jersey.8 Manuel
would henceforth travel to Tuinucu each winter to oversee the
commencement of the zafra.
6 "Out of the twelve or thirteen hundred planters on the island, not a dozen are said to be
solvent," said the US consul in 1884, quoted in Louis A. Pdrez, Cuba: Between Reform and
Revolution, New York: Oxford University Press, 1988, pp. 130-31.
7 For an excellent study of the late colonial Cuban banking system see Susan J. Fernandez,
Banking. Credit. and Colonial Finance in Cuba. 1878-1895. Ann Arbor, Michigan, U.M.I.
8 The name was later shortened to The Tuinucu Sugar Company. The telegraph code was