Front Matter
 Title Page
 Table of Contents
 The central and the colono
 Central San Vicente: One constituent...
 Central San Vicente during World...
 Central San Vicente during the...
 Summary and conclusions
 Biographical sketch
 Signature page

Group Title: Central-Colono relations within the Cuban sugar industry, 1914-1933: exploring the local consequences of global changes, the case of San Vicente from
Title: Central-Colono relations within the Cuban sugar industry, 1914-1933: exploring the local consequences of global changes, the case of San Vicente from WWI to the Great Depression
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00091732/00001
 Material Information
Title: Central-Colono relations within the Cuban sugar industry, 1914-1933: exploring the local consequences of global changes, the case of San Vicente from WWI to the Great Depression
Series Title: Central-Colono relations within the Cuban sugar industry, 1914-1933: exploring the local consequences of global changes, the case of San Vicente from
Physical Description: Book
Creator: Fraga, Bolivar Moyano,
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00091732
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: alephbibnum - 002327600
oclc - 39137533

Table of Contents
    Front Matter
        Front Matter
    Title Page
        Page i
        Page ii
        Page iii
    Table of Contents
        Page iv
        Page v
        Page vi
        Page vii
        Page 1
        Page 2
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
        Page 11
    The central and the colono
        Page 12
        Page 13
        Page 14
        Page 15
        Page 16
        Page 17
        Page 18
        Page 19
        Page 20
        Page 21
        Page 22
        Page 23
        Page 24
        Page 25
        Page 26
        Page 27
    Central San Vicente: One constituent in a vast sugar empire
        Page 28
        Page 29
        Page 30
        Page 31
        Page 32
        Page 33
        Page 34
        Page 35
        Page 36
        Page 37
        Page 38
        Page 39
        Page 40
        Page 41
        Page 42
        Page 43
        Page 44
        Page 45
        Page 46
        Page 47
        Page 48
        Page 49
        Page 50
        Page 51
        Page 52
        Page 53
        Page 54
        Page 55
    Central San Vicente during World War I
        Page 56
        Page 57
        Page 58
        Page 59
        Page 60
        Page 61
        Page 62
        Page 63
        Page 64
        Page 65
        Page 66
        Page 67
        Page 68
        Page 69
        Page 70
        Page 71
        Page 72
        Page 73
        Page 74
        Page 75
        Page 76
        Page 77
        Page 78
        Page 79
        Page 80
        Page 81
        Page 82
        Page 83
        Page 84
        Page 85
        Page 86
    Central San Vicente during the 1920s and 1930s
        Page 87
        Page 88
        Page 89
        Page 90
        Page 91
        Page 92
        Page 93
        Page 94
        Page 95
        Page 96
        Page 97
        Page 98
        Page 99
        Page 100
        Page 101
        Page 102
        Page 103
        Page 104
        Page 105
        Page 106
        Page 107
        Page 108
        Page 109
        Page 110
        Page 111
        Page 112
        Page 113
        Page 114
        Page 115
        Page 116
        Page 117
        Page 118
        Page 119
        Page 120
        Page 121
        Page 122
        Page 123
        Page 124
        Page 125
        Page 126
        Page 127
        Page 128
        Page 129
        Page 130
        Page 131
        Page 132
        Page 133
        Page 134
        Page 135
        Page 136
        Page 137
        Page 138
        Page 139
        Page 140
        Page 141
        Page 142
        Page 143
        Page 144
        Page 145
        Page 146
        Page 147
    Summary and conclusions
        Page 148
        Page 149
        Page 150
        Page 151
        Page 152
        Page 153
        Page 154
        Page 155
        Page 156
    Biographical sketch
        Page 157
    Signature page
        Page 158
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14.Oct.98 THESIS


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Unlimited distribution
In Accordance With AFI 35-205/AFIT Sup 1

13. ABSTRACT (Maximum 200 words]

....... .....




Standard Form 298 (Rev. 2-89) (EG)
Prescribed by ANSI Std. 239.18
Designed using Perform Pro, WHSIDIOR, Oct 94










I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to those who have helped me prepare this

thesis. To the members of my committee, Dr. David P. Geggus, Dr. Terry L. McCoy, and

Dr. Mark W. Thurner, for their help and cooperation in this endeavor. The time they

spent in reviewing my drafts, especially my advisor Dr. Geggus, and their constructive

criticism and recommendations undoubtedly improved my work.

For the opportunity to attend graduate school and obtain my master's degree, I am

very grateful to the United States Air Force and in particular to the Department of History

of the USAF Academy. I am also indebted to my Program Manager, Lt. Scott C. Naylor,

at and his assistant, Malisa L. Freeland, of the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT),

the unit responsible for funding my graduate program.

I would like to express my appreciation to Carl Van Ness of the University

Archives, who pointed me in the direction of Central San Vicente as the subject of my

thesis. He allowed me to delve freely into the Braga Brothers Collection and was always

available and willing to offer his assistance. His insight into the archives and his general

knowledge of Cuban history and the sugar industry were invaluable.

I had a great deal of support from fellow graduate student Jorge Vazquez who

contributed to this work at almost every step in the process. His expertise in Spanish as a

native speaker made up for my shortcomings in grasping some of the subtleties and

nuances of the language expressed in the correspondence and documents researched. His

critique of my work and advice are greatly appreciated as is the time he spent

proofreading my chapters and discussing my ideas.

The maps and charts included in this thesis and which are an asset to its

presentation are the result of the assistance rendered by Marcos Avellan, also a master's

candidate in Latin American studies. In addition, I thank him for reading an entire draft

of the thesis and providing valuable feedback. I also extend my gratitude to Angela

Stuesse for her contribution in proofreading my work and to the Fernindez-Casajuana

family, originally from Las Villas, Cuba, with whom I verified the meaning of terms and

expressions found in the archive. Lastly, my deepest appreciation is reserved for my

parents, whose unending support-from however far away-is a source of inspiration.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS .. .......... ....................... ii

ABSTRACT ........ ........ ......................... ........ vi

INTRODUCTION .. ............................................. 1

Source Material ................. .................... ........ 5
Literature Review. ............................................. 6


1 THE CENTRAL AND THE COLONO. ........................... 12

Development of the Colonato ...................................... 12
The Expansion of Centrales, Abolition, and the Railroad ................. 17
Colonos: A Varied Group ........................................ 24

IN A VAST SUGAR EMPIRE ........... ......................... 28

The Cuban Sugar Industry: Before and During World War I ............... 29
Inside the Cuban Sugar Industry: Central San Vicente and Manuel Rionda ... 33
The Rionda Sugar Empire .. ..................................... 37


.Central-Colono Relations ......................................... 57
International Regulation of the Sugar Industry ......................... 81

4 CENTRAL SAN VICENTE DURING THE 1920s AND 1930s ............ 87

The Dance of the Millions ................ ...................... 89
The Financial Crash and Economic Crisis ...... ..................... 95
Government Legislation in a Period of State Intervention ................. 111
The Aftermath of an Era of Economic Crises: The Revolution of 1933 ..... 124

5 DISCUSSION ................................................. 128

Sugar's Hold on Cuba ............................... ......... 128
Central-Colono Relations: The Case of Central San Vicente .............. 133

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS ................................. 148

The Cuban Sugar Industry, 1914-1934 ............................. 148
Colonos and Laborers in the Case of Central San Vicente ................. 150

REFERENCES ................. .............................. 153

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ........................................ 157

Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts



Bolivar Moyano Fraga

December 1997

Chairman: Dr. David P. Geggus
Major Department: Latin American Studies

Sugar has been a mainstay of the Cuban economy since the mid-eighteenth

century. It has tied the island nation to forces not only beyond its physical domain but

out of its control as well. As such, Cuba and its inhabitants have been dependent upon

world market conditions and other factors that have impacted the international sugar

trade. An important element in the production of sugar since the mid 1800s has been the

relationship between the central (sugar mill) and the colono (cane farmer).

The manner in which this relation has been affected by the changes in the world

price of sugar is an important manifestation of the local consequences resulting from

global changes throughout twentieth-century Cuban history. World War I and the Great

Depression were two significant world events that impacted the international sugar

market. A study of the specific experience of a mill in western Cuba regarding the

interactions between mill and cane farmer from 1914 to 1933 contributes to the

understanding of Cuban history.

This thesis relied on materials contained in the Braga Brothers Collection,

considered to be a principal source of archival information found in the United States

pertaining to the Cuban sugar industry from the late nineteenth century to the 1960s. The

collection belongs to the Department of Special Collections of the University of Florida.


Out of the agricultural and industrial
development of these amazing plants were to come
those economic interests which foreign traders would
twist and weave for centuries to form the web of our
country's history, the motives of its leaders, and, at
one and the same time, the shackles and the support
of its people. Tobacco and sugar are the two most
important figures in the history of Cuba ... Thus, a
study of the history of Cuba, both internal and
external, is fundamentally a study of the history of
sugar and tobacco as the essential bases of its

Cuban intellectual Fernando Ortiz wrote these lines in the opening of his work

entitled Cuban Counterpoint: Tobacco and Sugar. To him, these two agricultural

products symbolized and defined his island nation in almost every single aspect and

manner conceivable. Essentially, they were contrasting, but parallel elements in Cuban

history. According to Ortiz, tobacco represented national sovereignty, while sugar,

colonial status. Tobacco meant independence, while sugar signified foreign intervention

atid dependency.2 When his work was first published in 1940, sugar accounted for 75%

of Cuba's total export value. By then, it had long been the dominant industry in the

island's economy. During the 1860s, sugar represented 80% of exports; tobacco, 10%,

and coffee, 2%.3 Although Ortiz placed much importance on tobacco, Cuba relied on

SFernando Ortiz, Cuban Counterpoint: Tobacco and Sugar (Durham: Duke UP, 1995), 4-5.

2 Ibid., 7.

3 For the 1940 figure, see Susan Schroeder, Cuba: A Handbook of Historical Statistics (Boston: G.K. Hall &
Co., 1982), 414. For the 1860 statistics, see Francisco L6pez Segrera, "Cuba: Dependence, Plantation
Economy, and Social Classes," Between Slavery and Free Labor, ed. Manuel Moreno Fraginals, et al
(Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UP, 1985), 84.

sugar more than on any other product, linking the island to the global economy and

making it dependent on world market forces.

In 1914, an event outside Cuba caused changes in world market conditions that

favored sugar production on the island. The First World War destroyed much of the

European beet sugar industry thereby causing the world's supply to decrease.

Consequently, the price of sugar increased, and the island benefited as a result. Those

engaged in the production of this commodity-the owners of centrales (sugar mills); the

colonos (cane farmers); and the mill employees and laborers-profited from its sale

during the conflict. Thus, World War I represented Cuba's first sugar boom of the

twentieth century.

The island continued to prosper for a brief period after the war. However,

because the conflict had stimulated sugar production in other areas of the world, output

quickly exceeded demand.4 Consequently, prices plummeted in 1920, translating into

decreasing earnings for the Cuban sugar industry and economic recession for the island

as a whole. The recovery of European sugar contributed further to world overproduction.

Thus, Cuba faced a series of crises during the 1920s, which culminated in 1929 with the

onset of the Great Depression. Fortunes and profits made from sugar were lost; incomes

declined drastically; and mills and banks went bankrupt.

SAccording to Dr. Lippert S. Ellis, "The world production of sugar has increased quite steadily since 1852
Production increased very rapidly just prior to the World War and, though there was some decrease
during and immediately after the War, production has continued to gain since that time. ... At the same
time that this enormous growth has been taking place in the sugar crop of the world, the consumption of
sugar has been increasing steadily. The real cause of the sugar crisis which has existed for the past few years
is the fact that the increase in production has developed more rapidly than the increase in consumption." See
Lippert S. Ellis, The Tariff on Sugar (Freeport, IL: Rawleigh Foundation, 1933), 23-25.

The changes in the world market price of sugar had important implications for

central-colono relations.5 This relationship specifically revolved around the price of

cane, which, in turn, depended on the value of sugar. Since international market

conditions dictated the price of sugar, global events such as World War I and the Great

Depression affected the interactions between mill and cane farmer at the local level.

The present work examines the particular case of Central San Vicente regarding

the effects that the changes in the world price of sugar had on central-colono relations

during 1914-1933. San Vicente was a sugar mill in the western province of Matanzas

that had been in existence since the late nineteenth century (fig. 0-1). During the period

studied, the central belonged to the business interests of Manuel Rionda y Polledo, a

prominent sugar businessman. Rionda was instrumental in founding new capital stock

companies that channeled foreign capital, both U.S. and European, into Cuba after the

island's War for Indepedence (1895-1898). As such, he played a significant role in the

industrialization of production with the establishment of modern centrales.

During the first two decades of the twentieth century, Rionda built an impressive

enterprise that encompassed several companies. In terms of sugar estates, it included the

six mills which belonged to him and his extended family and the seventeen mills owned

by the Cuba Cane Sugar Corporation, which Rionda had created during the First World

War. San Vicente was the smallest of the Rionda "home plantations."

5 For the purpose of this thesis, central-colono relations are defined as the sum of interactions involved in
the production of sugar between the mill, represented by the management and ownership, and the cane
farmer. It is not meant to be confused with the Marxist concept of relations of production, which refers
strictly to the separation of labor and capital.

San Vicemte

Provinces of Cuba


The above map depicts the location of Central San Vicente and the political configuration of Cuba
during the period examined. In June 1878, following the Ten Years' War, the Spanish
government created six provinces in Cuba. This political-administrative division remained in
place until 1976, when eight additional provinces were formed. Western Cuba consisted of Pinar
del Rio, La Habana, and Matanzas. Las Villas, which was often referred to as Santa Clara, was
geographically in the center of the island. In terms of sugar production, however, the western
portion of the province was part of western Cuba, while the eastern section was located outside the
traditional sugar cane heartland. The remaining two provinces, Camagiiey and Oriente, comprised
the eastern region.

Map: Antonio Nuftez Jimenez, Asi es mi Pais: Geografia de Cuba (La Habana: Imprenta Nacional de Cuba,
1961), 2.
Information: Alfredo Mateo Domingo, Historia de la Divisi6n Politico Administrativa (1607-1976) (La
Habana: Editorial Arte y Literatura, 1977), 126-127.

Source Material

As a case examination, this thesis relies heavily on San Vicente's archives

donated to the University of Florida in 1993 as part of the Braga Brothers Collection.6

The Braga brothers were members of Manuel Rionda's extended family, and their

donation is considered to be "one of the richest archival sources on the modernization

and expansion of the Cuban sugar industry in the century preceding the rise to power of

Fidel Castro."7 It contains the records of Rionda's New York sugar brokerage firm, the

Czamikow-Rionda Company, and its Cuban subsidiaries and affiliates, which together

"were involved in every sector of the cane sugar business: cultivation, refining, storage,

transportation, financing, and brokerage."'

Offering a number of possibilities for primary source research, the Braga Brothers

Collection has been used previously for graduate work. Nevertheless, the material on

San Vicente had remained unexamined until now. The majority of this information is in

the form of correspondence-letters, memoranda, and cables. They represent the single

largest record type of the entire collection. These documents disclose the

communication between Manuel Rionda and the mill's managers, company officers,

colonos, other mill owners, brokerage firms in New York and London, and prominent

figures within the Cuban sugar industry. Besides the correspondence, San Vicente's

records also include yearly company reports, production data, accounting information,

6 The Braga Brothers Collection was first donated to the University of Florida's Department of Special
Collection in 1981. A subsequent donation, which included the material on San Vicente, was made in 1993.

7 Carl Van Ness, "Guide to the Braga Brothers Collection," U of Florida.

8 Ibid.

and reports on the mill's activities and on matters relating to machinery. As a whole, the

archive's documents narrate the experience of Central San Vicente, which is analyzed by

comparing and contrasting it with the general historiography on Cuba regarding the


Literature Review

The literature on the Cuban sugar industry during the early twentieth century

includes the works written heretofore by graduate students using the Braga Brothers

Collection. Robert Naime Lauriault chose Central Francisco, a Rionda estate located in

eastern Cuba, as the subject of his dissertation, Virgin Soil: The Modernization of Social

Relations on a Cuban Sugar Estate-The Francisco Sugar Company, 1898-1921 (1994);

Lauriault examines the mill's relations of production and argues that the sugar capitalists

in the first wave of investment in the east benefited from the opportunity to remold the

relations of production. They essentially proletarianized the colonos and created a rural


In Nature and Profit: A Cuban Sugar Plantation in the Early Twentieth Century

(1993), Mark J. Smith utilizes Central Manati, also in eastern Cuba, as the subject for his

thesis on the relationship between society and the non-human environment represented

by agricultural production. He explores the interactions that constituted the ecology of

sugar production, which included growing the cane, manufacturing the sugar, and turning

the sugar into profit. Covering the period 1910-23, Smith focuses on the experience of

Manati from its creation until the end of Cuba's first economic crisis of the 1920s. His

work investigates the historical conditions under which centrales developed, the manner

in which they secured their dominance of the Cuban landscape, and the ecological

conditions under which they operated. According to Smith, an interplay existed between

humans and nature in the Cuban sugar industry. As humans shaped the landscape

according to their needs, nature conditioned the modes of production they used. He

discusses the colonos as one aspect of production on Manati.

No Other Law But Supply And Demand: Institutional Change and the Cuban

Sugar Economy, 1917-1934 (1993) is the title of Michael Marconi Braga's thesis which

seeks to explain the reasons for the institutional changes concerning the sugar industry

that occurred during the 1920s and 1930s. Braga employs the perspective of New

Institutional Economics as his framework of analysis in his work. His fundamental)

premise is that institutions are rules that govern and constrain the interactions among

society's members. Braga applies this definition on a less macro level by studying the

manner in which laws and precepts affected the functioning of the sugar industry and the

Cuban economy. He claims that the industry, like society, is comprised of competing

interests groups. The gain of one group is at the expense of another. Colonos and

central owners are two of the groups which Braga examined. In his research of the

collection, Braga did not concentrate solely on one mill.

In their works, the three former graduate students give a historical background of

the cane farmer and make the point that struggle and conflict characterized central-

colono relations. They do not, however, present much information on or discuss the

experience of western Cuba within this context. For his part, Lauriault includes in his

conclusion a brief general discussion on the colonato in the west. Nonetheless, as case

studies of eastern mills which are based on information from the Braga Brothers

Collection, their work is valuable in making comparisons with the experience of Central

San Vicente.

In addition to the graduate work using the Riondas' archives, there is the

comprehensive historical narrative on Manuel Rionda and the Cuba Cane Sugar

Corporation titled Lion's Tail, Head of a Mouse: Manuel Rionda and the Fortunes of

Cuba Cane by Muriel McAvoy-Weissman. Her manuscript is the story of Rionda and the

large corporation he created, which became the leading sugar producer in Cuba during

World War I. McAvoy-Weissman's work provides valuable and useful information on

the entire sugar enterprise in which Rionda played a significant role. Nevertheless, she

reveals little about Central San Vicente.

Among Cuban historians, Ram6n Guerra y Sanchez, Azicar v Poblaci6n en las

Antillas (1927), and Manuel Moreno Fraginals, El Ingenio (1964), are significant in the

study of the sugar industry and its effect on Cuban society. The chief concern of their

works is the rise of the sugar latifundia and the influx of large amounts of capital into the

eastern provinces of Cuba during the early twentieth century. They examine the impact

of these two historical phenomena on the island's social relations. Both Guerra and

Moreno discuss the negative consequences of the growth of sugar mills for Cuba's

inhabitants. When Guena's book was first published, he specifically warned against the

socio-economic changes taking place with the rise of centrales. Both historians consider

the experience of the colono within this context, depicting him essentially as a victim of

the sugar industry.

In 1928, as part of a series on U.S. imperialism, Leland Hamilton Jenks first

published Our Cuban Colony: A Study in Sugar. His work explores the history of Cuban-

American relations, concentrating on the period after Cuban independence until the late

1920s. Jenks analyzes the "sugar tie" which linked Cuba to the United States and which

had important implications for the island. Like Guerra and Moreno, Jenks also strongly

suggests that sugar production had negative consequences for the Cuban people. Within

the context of society, Louis A. Perez, Jr. discusses social responses to the rise of sugar

mills primarily in eastern Cuba in Lords of the Mountain: Social Banditry and Peasant

Protest in Cuba. 1878-1918 (1989).

As regards sugar production in western Cuba, Laird W. Bergad's Cuban Rural

Society in the Nineteenth Century: The Social and Economic History of Monoculture in

Matanzas (1990) is of particular importance to this thesis as background information oa

the condition of this province's colonos at the start of the twentieth century. Bergad cites

some of the reasons for the contrasts in the colono experience between the western and

eastern regions. Explanations include differences between the two areas in terms of land

tenure, the number and situation of cane farmers, and the degree of infrastructure

development. As a general group, there are also numerous comprehensive histories on

Cuba that include discussions on the sugar industry and U.S.-Cuban relations as regard

the sugar trade.

Most historians highlight the movement of capital to and the subsequent rise of

centrales in eastern Cuba when writing on the sugar industry during the early twentieth

century. Therefore, the discussion on central-colono relations is predominantly done

within this context. As noted by Lauriault, mill owners in this region were able to mold

the relations in the production of sugar more in line with their agenda, since the eastern

portion of the island was less developed than the western section. In contrast, the influx

of capital and the modernization of the industry in the west during World War I

encountered conditions of production that had evolved in the late nineteenth century.

The present work examines the case of central-colono relations on a western mill

during the early twentieth century. It reveals several nuances associated with sugar

production in the west between 1914 and 1933 concerning the cane farmer. These

include the variety in colono experiences and the complexity of land tenure, both of

which suggest that cane farmers as a group defy classification; the influx of capital in

western Cuba during the First World War did not impact the colono and the sugar

industry in the same manner as it did in the east; and certain central owners were able to

maintain a cooperative relationship with cane farmers both in times of prosperity and


The following chapters analyze and discuss San Vicente's experience from World

War I to the early years of the Great Depression. Chapter 1 introduces the colonato, the

institution or system involving the cane farmer in his role within the Cuban sugar

industry. It gives a historical background of and general information on the colono.

chapterr 2 provides an overview of the Cuban sugar industry from the turn of the century

to World War I and situates Central San Vicente within the Rionda sugar empire.

Chapters 3 and 4 examine the mill during the war and the post-war era. Lastly, Chapter 5

is a discussion on the case of San Vicente.

Throughout the work, the primary focus and theme center on the colonato. It had

its roots in the latter part of the nineteenth century, and although not completely free of

friction, this system remained intact during World War I. High sugar prices permitted the

continuation of this institution without major disruptions. The decline in prices after the


war, however, generated greater conflict within the colonato during the 1920s and early

1930s. This friction partly led to its transformation during the Great Depression with the

1933 Revolution in Cuba.


Ramiro Guerra y Sanchez claimed that the influx of foreign capital after Cuban

independence and the subsequent establishment of large centrales "marked the beginning

of the contest between colono and central." He added, "The last decades of the

[nineteenth] century passed without any appreciable change in the situation because the

capital resources of each continued to be fairly evenly matched. But independence

created new conditions for industry and . permitted foreign capital to weigh

overwhelmingly on the side of the factory."' The two sides in the Cuban sugar industry

were, as Guerra noted, the sugar producer and the cane farmer-the mill and the

canefields-processing and agriculture. Manuel Rionda and his associates represented

one side, the colonos the other. Yet this division of labor existed before Rionda had

entered the industry.

Development of the Colonato

Francisco Frias y Jacott, the Conde de Pozos Dulces, a mid-nineteenth century

Cuban economist and planter, promoted the idea that the sugar industry should be

SRamiro Guerra y Sanchez, Sugar and Society in the Caribbean (New Haven, Yale UP, 1964), 67.
2 The term division of labor is based on the Spanish term "separacidn de la areas" employed by Domingo
Aldama, a mid-nineteenth century Cuban planter, whom Guerra cites in Spanish in his original version titled
Azucar Y Poblaci6n en Las Antillas (La Habana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1976), 73.

arranged so that the manufacture of sugar was kept separate from agriculture. According

to the count, if the manufacturer did not have to worry about cultivation, he could focus

entirely on the processing of sugar, employing his capital in enlarging and improving the

mill's operation. Cane farming entailed an entire sphere of expenses and duties in itself:

the purchasing of land; the planting and harvesting of the crop; and its transportation to

the factory.

The Conde de Pozos Dulces was not the only Cuban economist or planter who

thought in this manner concerning the sugar industry, nor was his idea entirely new. The

practice of a small number of Cuban peasants growing cane and selling it to be ground

had existed since the 1790's.4 Thus, as Rebecca Scott writes in discussing late

nineteenth century Cuban history, "The concept of the colonia-an estate that would

grow cane to supply to a central mill-was not a new one."' Nevertheless, as the Cuban

sugar industry changed and evolved, so did the colonato.

Before the emergence of centrales in the 1880s, sugar was produced by slave

labor on relatively small plantations called ingenios. The term ingenio, according to its

definition, refers strictly to the mill which grinds the cane. Nevertheless, it was widely

used to describe the entire estate on which cane was cultivated and ground. During the

mid-nineteenth century, when Cuba was in its Golden Age, providing one quarter of the

3 Guerra, p. 64; Julio Le Riverend, Historia Economica de Cuba (La Habana: Editorial Pueblo y Educacion,
1974), Chp XXV.; Hugh Thomas, Cuba: The Pursuit of Freedom (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers),

4Thomas, 276. Thomas's original source for this information is Manuel Moreno Fraginals, El Ingenio,
Tomo I, 1760-1860 (La Habana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1978), 34.

5 Rebecca Scott, Slave Emancipation in Cuba: The Transition to Free Labor. 1860-1899 (Princeton:
Princeton UP, 1985), 208.

world's supply of sugar, there were approximately 2,000 mills on the island, ranging in

size from 10 to 200 caballerias (caballeria: measurement approximately equal to 33.16

acres). The average ingenio measured roughly 20 caballerias. The wealth generated by

the sugar trade in this period encouraged the move toward industrial production

beginning in 1860.6

Guerra explains that, as the industry advanced technologically, it was no longer

economically feasible to be a sugar planter without owning a larger amount of land or

having a considerable amount of capital. The renewal of machinery and acquisition of

new processing methods required large financial resources that were beyond the reach of

the small landowner, whose modest mill could not produce the quality grade of sugar

needed to compete in the market. Given that sugar was the dominant economic activity

in Cuba, his only alternative to make a profit, or to simply make a living, was to sell his

cane to the owner of a larger, mechanized mill. Despite the fact that mills began to

decrease in number, production continued to increase as did the number of colonos.

With mechanization, the processing capability of each mill improved, expanding its


Initially, the colono simply took his cane to be ground at the nearest mill and paid

the mill owner with part of the sugar produced from his cane, disposing the rest of it as

he so desired. The Ten Years' War (1868-1878), however, changed the conditions within

6 Fe Iglesias Garcia, "The Development of Capitalism in Cuban Sugar Production, 1860-1900," Between
Slavery and Free Labor, 55. On Cuba's Golden Age of sugar, see Thomas, 536. Several authors on Cuban
history refer to the mid-nineteenth century using that term.

7 Guerra claims that beginning in the 1840s, almost all coffee plantations were turned into sugar plantations
to take advantage of the economic prosperity presented by the industry. The labor and capital that had been
employed in coffee were transferred to the production of sugar. Land on which coffee had been grown was
used instead for cultivating cane. See Sugar and Society. Chp. 8.

the industry concerning the cane farmer." This war, an unsuccessful attempt at gaining

independence from Spain, precipitated the demise of the small landowner with the

outdated mill and his resurgence as a colono. It also deepened the division of labor with

the emergence of more formalized contractual arrangements.9 Eventually, some colonos

would be tied to a certain mill.

Although the destruction from the rebellion was largely confined to the eastern

half of the island, disruption of the sugar industry was felt throughout Cuba. According

to Susan J. FernAndez, "Increased debt, depleted treasuries and fiscal and monetary

policies and systems unresponsive to colonial requirements were the legacies of the Ten

Years War."'1 Thus, the conflict resulted in the failure of more ingenios, and the island

lost a greater share of the world market." While Cuban sugar production declined,

international output increased, pushing prices downward. Throughout the 1880s,

economic ruin became commonplace for many mill owners. Yet the irony of the

situation was that in order to survive, a mill owner needed to produce more at a lower

8 Guerra, 63.

9 Ibid.

10 Susan J. Fernmndez, Banking. Credit, and Colonial Finance in Cuba. 1878-1895. diss., U of Florida,
1987, v. Fernindez writes that the Ten Years War had been a protracted and costly rebellion.

" According to Fe Iglesias Garcia Cuba had 1,382 mills in 1860. In 1877, there were 1,190 and in 1881,
1,170. This decline was primarily due to the destruction and failure of mills in the eastern part of the island
as a consequence of the Ten Years' War. Between 1860-1877, among Cuba's six provinces, the number of
producing units actually increased in Havana and Matanzas. In the easternmost provinces of Camagiey and
Oriente, however, the number ofingenios decreased significantly. From 101 in 1860 to 3 in 1877 in
Camagiey, and from 216 to 18 in Oriente during the same time period. Between 1877 and 1881, the
quantity of mills decreased in all of Cuba's provinces, with the exception of Las Villas. See "Capitalism in
Cuban Sugar Production," 63. According to production data presented by Susan Schroeder, Cuba produced
29.7% of the world's sugar in 1868 and 15.3% in 1878. Between 1878 and 1890, the island accounted for
an average of 13.4% of the international supply of sugar. See Cuba: A Handbook. 261.

cost. This strategy required mechanization, which required capital, that in turn was not

easily accessible.12

Essentially, the owners of failed mills became colonos, and the mills to which

they took their cane became centrales, differentiating them from their predecessors, the

ingenios, and literally describing their central location within a cluster of colomas.

Those who lost not only their mills, but also their lands were able to lease land from the

central. Hence, there emerged two general types of colonos: the colono independiente

and the colono dependiente. The difference related to land tenure. Independent cane

farmers owned their land outright, while dependent colonos rented land from the mill, or

from another cane farmer, as illustrated in succeeding chapters.13

This distinction was fundamentally based on the idea that the owner of a failed

ingenio who was able to maintain his land had the capability to cultivate cane without

financial or material assistance from the mill. Hence, he was independent of the mill.

On the other hand, the owner of a failed ingenio who was not able to keep his land due to

his wrecked financial condition but remained in the sugar industry by becoming a tenant

of a mill was a dependent colono-relying on the mill to cultivate his crop and make a


12 Thomas, 273.

13 The land cultivated by a colono, whether owned or leased, was known as a colonia.

The Expansion of Centrales, Abolition, and the Railroad

According to Rebecca Scott, some plantation owners saw the colonato as a means

to rebuild from the destruction of the Ten Years' War and to remain in the sugar business

in a period of scarce capital. They could reconstruct their ingenio in the form of a

central by dividing their land among colonos or rely on existing, undamaged colonies for

cane instead of using their own resources for its cultivation. The emergence and

expansion of centrales thus stimulated the proliferation of colonies. In the Santa Ana

district of Matanzas, the agricultural census reported that, in 1881, there were eleven

sugar estates cultivating a total area of 172 caballerias. Between 1884-1885, the same

district reported twelve sugar estates, with a total area of cultivation measuring 240

caballerias, and 114 additional colonies. According to Scott, "The compilers of the

report commented on the development in a very short period of time of over one hundred

and fifty colonies devoted exclusively to the growing of cane."14

Cuba's gradual emancipation process which lasted from 1870 to 1886 gave

further impetus to the development of the colono system.'5 Abolition created a need on

the part of mill owners to find an alternative source of labor for planting, growing, and

harvesting cane. As Scott explains, the colonato was seen as the answer "to some of the

problems of the postemancipation period, precisely because it made possible the

mobilization of new sources of labor and capital. Campesinos, especially whites, who

14 Scott, 209-210.

15 Abolition in Cuba began with the enactment of the Moret Law in 1870, which freed slaves over the age of
sixty and those born after September 17, 1868. The emancipation process included a period of
apprenticeship, known as thepatronato, which was ended in 1886, signaling complete abolition of slavery.
See Francisco A. Scarano, "Labor and Society in the Nineteenth Century," The Modern Caribbean, ed.
Franklin W. Knight and Colin A. Palmer (Chapel Hill: The U of North Carolina Press, 1989) 79-81.

would not have worked alongside slaves were willing to undertake the cultivation and

cutting of cane on their own."16 U.S. sugar businessman Edwin Atkins observed that

after abolition, "country people leased small pieces of land from the estates and delivered

cane to the mills or centrals."'7

Access to cane was key to a central's profitability and success. It needed to

produce as much sugar as possible and, therefore, required as much cane as possible.

The demand for cane drove the centrales into competition with one another for land,

which had never been the case with the ingenios. Initially, the size of a central, as with

the ingenio, was limited by the high cost of hauling cane using ox-driven carts. With the

decline in the price of steel rails after 1877, however, centrales were able to significantly

expand their holdings by laying down their own rail lines to access cane lands formerly

outside their area.'8

According to Cuban historians Oscar Zanetti Lecuona and Alejandro Garcia

Alvarez, private railroads had been used in Cuba since the 1850s, though to a small

extent. That changed during the last quarter of the century. The advent of steel rails and

lightweight, narrow gauge tracks, known collectively as the ferrocarril portdtil (portable

railroad), greatly affected not only the transportation of cane, but the sugar industry as a

whole. Once fully integrated into the production of sugar, the railroad contributed further

16 Scott, 210.
17 Cited in Scott, 210. Scott's original source for the quotation is Edwin Atkins, Sixty Years in Cuba
(Cambridge, MA: Riverside Press, 1926), 39.

'8 Guerra, 65-66.

to the industrial development of the central.19 Robert Lauriault claims, "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."20 Although

centrales continued to use ox carts, they were no longer restricted in size by this

cumbersome mode of transportation. Thus, centrales extended their boundaries, rapidly

absorbing the old ingenios. Some of the former mill owners remained on the land and

concentrated on farming cane, becoming colonos. 2

According to Hugh Thomas, "The private railway boom began in the 1880s and

lasted all the first half of the 1890s."22 Jos6 Sainz of Matanzas, who owned San Vicentp

during the late 1800s, laid his track precisely during this period.23 In extending their size,

mills came into competition and conflict with another as cane land became scarce. The

central was now limited in size by a neighboring mill and the cost of laying rail. Colonos

profited from this situation, since central owners bid highly for their cane. Guerra writes

that one could determine the degree of competition in a certain area of the island by the

price of cane. In western Cuba, especially in the Matanzas sugar heartland, the colono

'9 Oscar Zanetti Lecuon and Alejandro Garcia Alvarez, Caminos Para El Azucar (La Habana: Editorial de
Ciencias Sociales, 1987), 155-157. Zanetti and Garcia claim that the private railway was the decisive
element in the process of mill centralization that made it possible for the central to organize-to
consolidate-the entire agricultural component related to the production of sugar into one economic unit,
essentially forming the plantation latifundia, typical of the sugar sector.

20 Robert Lauriault, Virin Soil: The Modernization of Social Relations on a Cuban Sugar Estate-The
Francisco Sugar Company. 1989-1921. diss., U of Florida, 1994, 5.

21 Zanetti and Garcia, 153-157.

22 Thomas, 274.
23 Braga Brothers Collection (hereafter cited as BBC), Series 2, vol. 38, Manuel Rionda to Walter Ogilvie,
August 20, 1915.

obtained a higher price for his cane than in the east. The reason for this difference had to

do primarily with the number and concentration of both centrales and public railways. 24

The first public rail line in Cuba was laid in the 1837 in the western province of

La Habana. From there, public railroads expanded throughout the west during the

nineteenth century and were an essential feature of the Cuban sugar industry."2 Public

railways played a significant role in central-colono relations, for they permitted the

independent colono to move freely within the system of competing centrales by offering

him the possibility of transporting his cane to the mill of his choice.26 Zanetti and Garcia

report that the first railroad was not constructed in eastern Cuba until the mid-1800s, and

its development there was not as extensive as in the west (fig. 1-1). As such, colonos i:

the west benefited to a larger degree from the public railroad network than their

counterparts in the east.27

24 Payment was based on the unit of the arroba, a measurement of weight equivalent to 25 pounds. In the
west, the colon obtained the price of 7 arrobas of sugar for every 100 arrobas of cane he delivered to the
mill. In the east, however, the maximum price offered was 5 V/, with 4 being the average. See Guerra, 66-
25 Zanetti and Garcia, 34-35.

26 The colono had to pay for the freight charges in transporting his cane via rail.
21 Zanetti and Garcia, 74.


As shown, western Cuba had a more developed rail infrastructure than the eastern region. Central
San Vicente was situated 5 miles east of the town of Jovellanos within the "United Railways
triangle," as the Riondas referred to the formation created by a line of railways running directly
north from Jovellanos to the seaport of Cardenas, southeast from Cardenas to Col6n, and west
from Col6n back to Jovellanos.

Map: Levi Marrero, Geograa de Cuba 3 ed. (La Habana: Editorial Selecta, 1957), 363 The labeling of
Jovellanos not included in the original.

The expansion of centrales and the subsequent scarcity of land in western Cuba

resulted in competition for colono cane.28 Consequently, mills faced the dilemma of

securing enough cane for each harvest at the lowest possible cost. Guerra claims that

" Lauriault, 6.

this circumstance made the central owner strongly interested in controlling the crop's

sources. To do so, required restricting the colono 's independence. Guerra writes:

This could be accomplished through one of two
means: by economic domination of the colono-
reducing his independence and making him a vassal
of the mill, bound by contract and prevented from
freely selling his product-or by purchasing lands
and administering them as cane farms or having them
sharecropped or rented by colonos dependent on the

Cane cultivated on lands administered by the mill came to be known as calia por

administraci6n, or administration cane. As Lowry Nelson explains, it was "produced

under the direct management of the mill itself."30 Wageworkers were hired to do the

actual work of growing, harvesting, and delivering the crop. To this, Scott adds thai

beginning in the 1890s, "Contracts between colonos and mills .. show the efforts of

estates to extend control over the colono and guarantee that he would sell only to a single


Contracts with cane farmers involved three different agreements: the grinding

agreement (molienda de caltas), the credit agreement (refacci6n agricola), and the land

lease (arrendamiento). The amount of cane to be cultivated and supplied to the mill

came under the grinding agreement. The refacci6n agricola entailed the mill owner's

advancing money to the colono to cover the costs of planting, cultivating, and harvesting

the cane. This cost was deducted from the payment to the colono at final settlement. In

some instances, the central did not have to advance money to the colono to cover costs.

29Guerra, 66-67.

30 Lowry Nelson, Rural Cub (Minneapolis: The U of Minnesota Press, 1950), 121.

3 Scott, 211.

Instead, town shopkeepers, who were willing to invest in the cane farmer, provided him

with the needed credit. Later, banks also loaned money to cane farmers. Lastly, the

arrendamiento specified the terms of land use and the rental fee.32

Collectively, these agreements "obliged the colono to supply cane exclusively to

the particular central at stipulated prices and conditions."" Yet not all contracts

contained all three agreements. Arrangements made between mill and farmer were made

on the basis of individual circumstances. For instance, a settlement with an independent

colono would most likely not have included a land lease agreement. On the contrary,

according to Nelson, those who rented land from the mill were "tied by a 'triple bond' to

the mill: they were dependent upon it for land to rent, for milling of the cane, and for

credit."34 In short, mill owners modified a situation regulated by the forces of supply and

demand (which in western Cuba, had benefited the colono) by tying the cane farmer to

the central through contracts.3

The development of more formalized contractual arrangements was not the only

notable change within the relationship between mill and cane farmer during the period

after 1880. Another important alteration was in the form of payment. According to

Leland Jenks, centrales switched from paying colonos for their cane with cash to

payment in kind. The amount paid was determined as a percentage of the mill's output.

The colono was given a certain quantity of sugar in exchange for a certain amount of

32 Information is based on the overall research of San Vicente's records. Also see Lauriault, 69; Scott, 210.

33 Iglesias Garcia, 72.

34 Nelson, 97.

" Lauriault, 69.

cane-either planted or delivered to the mill, depending on the terms of contract. Under

the previous method of payment, only the mill owner bore the risks involved in the sugar

market. For instance, during years of low prices, he incurred heavy losses because he

still had to pay the colono in cash despite the fact that the commodity was generating less

revenue. Under the new system, however, the colono also assumed the risks of the


Later, as financing the crop became a problem, with more and more colonos

going into debt permanently, the rapid sale of sugar became an economic necessity for

the farmer in order to pay his creditors and workers. Consequently, instead of being

given sugar in return for his cane, the colono and the mill owner settled on the promedio

as the form of payment. The promedio was the average price paid for sugar at the port

from where the mill shipped its product This sum was calculated bi-weekly and paid to

the colono for cane delivered in each period.3

Colonos: A Varied Group

The changes within the sugar industry after 1880 altered the colonato.

Essentially, it underwent modifications and became more complex. Different contractual

arrangements and methods for accessing the crop resulted from the expansion of

centrales, the advent of the private railroad, and the competition for cane. As such,

6 Leland Jenks, Our Cuban Colony: A Study in Sugar (New York: Arno Press & The New York Times,
1970), 32.

37 Ibid., 33 The promedio was basically the average warehouse price of raw sugar in Cuba.

additional differences within the colonato emerged. In the following passage, Scott notes

that by the latter part of the nineteenth century, cane farmers formed a varied group:

Colonos were, however by no means a homo-
genous group. They included former slaves who had
been granted or leased small plots of land ... small
landholders who turned to cane growing as the
expansion of railways improved access to mills,
tenants and entrepreneurs who rented land and
contracted to supply a specific mill, and former
planters for whom new investments in modern
processing machinery were not possible or prudent. .
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.38

Between the independent and dependent farmer, the difference was primarily

noted in the terms of their contracts: the latter having less advantageous terms, usually

being paid less for his cane.39 Among the general sub-group of colonos who rented

lands, an important distinction emerged. Farmers who rented lands that pertained to the

mill, whether owned or leased, were usually locked into selling their cane to that central

only. Hence, they were known as colonos del central (colonos of the mill), or colonos de

lafinca. As such, colonos de afuera (colonos from outside) referred to those who grew

cane on land not controlled by the mill.

Colonos del central were either tenant farmers or sharecroppers. Because they

did not own land-and in some cases, equipment or any materials-the central provided

them with the resources necessary for farming the cane, and it set the terms and

conditions for the cultivation and supply of the crop to the factory. Thus, their earnings

8 Scott, 212.

39 General research of the BBC reveals that this was the case. Also see Lauriault, 6.

were regulated by contract.40 According to Ramiro Guerra, some of these were

essentially mill employees without salaries. Colonos de afuera, however, could either be

renters on land belonging to a party other than the central that milled their cane, or they

could be proprietors of their own land, in which case they were independent.

In studying colonos, these distinctions become more important and noteworthy-

although shrouded in perplexity-as the nature of land tenure in the production of sugar

became more complex.41 Nevertheless, as a whole, the historiography on Cuba claims

that whether the cane farmer was a colono independiente, a colono dependiente, a colono

del central, or a colono de afuera, he was tied to the mill-bound by contracts stipulating

the amount of cane to be grown and delivered; by the debts he had incurred to cover

planting and harvesting expenses; by rental agreements; and by the use of private rail

lines to transport cane.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, the colonato was a defining

characteristic of the Cuban sugar industry, which essentially had been divided into two

spheres: manufacture and agriculture. For the central owner, this arrangement meant

being able to concentrate capital on the upkeep and improvement of his mill in order to

extract greater amounts of sugar with the finest quality possible. He could also think in

larger terms, making contracts with colonos to bring more cultivated land under his

control. Thus, expanding his access to additional cane, and he had the rail lines to reach

4 Lauriault, 377.
41 The files of San Vicente pertaining to the BBC reveal several instances in which colonos who did not own
land were not tied to, or dependent upon, the central and, therefore, were able to move relatively freely
within the industry much like cane farmers who owned land and to whom historians have strictly reserved
the term colono independiente. In some cases, independent farmers who were so heavily in debt to the mill
were essentially tied to the central in a similar fashion as colonos del central were until they paid back their

it. For the colono, it meant assuming all the risks involved in agriculture-drought, fire,

pests, floods, and disease-coupled with the acquisition of labor. According to Lauriault,

in being responsible for labor, the colono "shielded the management of the central from

that source of volatility also."42 Nonetheless, as components of the same industry,

central owners and colonos were both subject to the forces and factors that shaped the

Cuban sugar industry.

42 Lauriault, 70.


On April 4, 1914, Plicido Alonso, the manager of Central San Vicente, wrote in

his daily correspondence to Manuel Rionda, proprietor of the sugar plantation, "I observe

that the price of sugar is not increasing, and I would like you to inform me about future

prospects, since it is really disheartening that it is so low. Is there any hope?"' Five days

later, Rionda responded by stating, "He who knows the most about sugar, knows the

least," claiming that, given sugar's volatility on the world market, forecasting the

industry's course was uncertain.2 Thus, Rionda could give his plantation manager no

guarantees that the price of sugar would increase.

When Alonso wrote his letter to Rionda, the price of raw Cuban sugar, cost and

freight, in New York was 1.98 cents per pound.3 By the end of July, on the eve of World

War I, the price had climbed to 2.27 cents. In August, it sold at 4.68 cents per pound,

and in the following month, at 4.78 cents. Although the price declined towards the end

'BBC, Series 14, vol. 4, Placido Alonso to Manuel Rionda, April 4, 1914. Translated by B. Fraga.

2BBC, Series 2, vol. 34, Manuel Rionda to Placido Alonso, April 9, 1914. Translated by B. Fraga.

3Most historians and economists consider three price quotations when discussing the Cuban sugar industry:
1) the price of raw sugar in Cuban warehouses; 2) the price of raw Cuban sugar, cost and freight (c. & f), in
New York; and 3) the price of 96* centrifugal sugar, duty paid, in New York. According to Ellis, the c. & f
price, which includes the insurance paid and, therefore, is also known as c. i. f. (cost, insurance, and freight),
is the price of sugar landed at New York before the duty is paid. Theoretically, the duty-paid price varies
from the c. & f. price by the amount of the duty. The price of the 960 sugar determines the price of all other
sugars and, thus, is the most important price quotation for raw sugar on the New York market. When
discussing the "New York market" as regards the sugar trade that which is specifically meant is the Coffee
and Sugar Exchange at New York. See Ellis, 30.


of 1914 and into 1915, it increased again thereafter, reaching an average price of 4.76

cents in 1916; it continued its upward trend throughout the remaining war years.4 If

Rionda could not give the response that Alonso desired, World War I did, at least


The Cuban Sugar Industry: Before and During World War I

The First World War signaled the first boom in the Cuban sugar industry during

the twentieth century. While Europe consumed itself in the destruction of war, Cuba

prospered, benefiting from the changes within the sugar market caused by the deleterious

events on the other side of the Atlantic. The fighting that ensued when German armies

attacked their neighbors to the west decimated the beet sugar industry in that region,

turning crop land into the desolate battlefields of the western front. Inevitably, as the war

continued, sugar production across Europe, from France to Russia, was devastated, and

the international supply of beet sugar declined. In 1914, 8.3 million tons of beet sugar

had been produced, with Germany exceeding Cuba in output.5 Two years later, that

figure stood at 5.8 million, and in 1918, it was down to 4.4 million tons.6

4 Prices for raw Cuban sugar taken from Ellis, 30.

5 For the figures on European beet sugar, see Louis A. Pirez, Jr., Lords of the Mountain: Social Banditry
and Peasant Protest in Cuba. 1878-1918 (Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh Press, 1989), 154. For Germany as a
sugar producer in 1914, see Thomas, 536.
6 Perez, 154.

Competition from European Beet Sugar

European beet sugar had represented a sizable portion of the world's sugar supply

since the mid-nineteenth century. In 1860, Europe supplied 20% of the world's sugar. A

decade later, 36% of it came from European beets, and by 1878, that source accounted

for almost one half of the international supply of sugar.7 That same year had also seen

the end of the Ten Years' War in Cuba. The rebellion had failed to achieve

independence, and the island remained a Spanish colony. Cuba's loss, however, was

Europe's gain, for during the armed insurrection, Cuban sugar production declined. It

decreased from 749,000 tons in 1868, to 547,000 tons in 1871, and to 520,000 in the final

year of fighting.8 Instead of Cuba, Germany was the world's largest producer of sugar

during the war.9 Europe's hold on the world sugar market continued after 1878, as

Cuban producers suffered further setbacks despite the ending of hostilities with the Peace

of Zanj6n. By 1884, European beet sugar represented 53% of the international supply of

sugar.'" Beet sugar completely supplanted Cuban cane sugar in the European market,

and by the final decade of the nineteenth century, Europe was no longer a net importer of

sugar, but a net exporter." Moreover, to Europe's advantage, the failure of the Ten

Years' War led to a second struggle for independence, which virtually destroyed the

Cuban sugar industry.

7 Muriel McAvoy-Weisman, Lion's TaiL Head of a Mouse: Mar ,el Rionda and the Fortunes of Cuba Cane
(Concord, NH), Chp. 1, p. 10.

8 Schroeder, 261.

9 Thomas, 272.

0t Ibid.

" Perez, 5.

In 1895, the year that the Cuban War for Independence began, the island's crop

yielded 1,004,264 tons of sugar, while during the following two years, each harvest

produced no more than 225,000 tons.12 Before the conflict, Cuba had supplied 12 to 13%

of the world's sugar. In 1900, two years after the war, the newly independent nation

produced only 3.5% of the world's sugar.13 The island had 1,100 sugar mills in operation

the year before fighting began and 207 at the start of the new century.'4 Overall,

agriculture had suffered heavy losses. Of the total 1.4 million acres under cultivation

prior to the war, only 900,000 resumed production after the armed conflict.15 In the

primary sugar producing provinces of Havana and Matanzas, less than 15% of the mills

that existed in 1894 survived the war.16

Cuba paid a heavy price for independence, from which European beet sugar

producers benefited. By 1902, when Cuba became officially independent, the island was

not as prosperous had it had been in 1895. Sugar prices were down, and in distress,

Cuban planters pressed the United States for help. Cuba's neighbor to the north

answered them with the passage of the 1903 Reciprocity Treaty. In lowering the tariff on

Cuban sugar by 20%, the treaty gave it preferential treatment over all other foreign

sugars. Cuba, in turn, gave U.S. imports preferential treatment and enacted stringent

immigration laws. As a result, U.S. refiners were able to obtain sugar more cheaply-at

12 Le Riverend, 474. For Cuban production figures, also see Schroeder, 261.

3 Jenks, 128.

14 Schroeder, 257

1 Ptrez, 61.
16 Ibid.

a lower cost than refiners in any other country of the world-and Cuban producers were

able to expand their production until they satisfied the U.S. demand for sugar from

abroad. 7

When World War I broke out, the Cuban sugar industry reacted much in the same

way as its European counterpart had done during Cuba's struggles for independence. As

the world supply of sugar declined, its price increased, stimulating its production

elsewhere in the world to fill the void left by the wrecked European sugar industry. In

Cuba, production of sugar increased from 2,609,004 tons in 1914, to 4,011,831 tons in

1918, when the war ended.' On San Vicente, production rose from 74,646 bags at the

end of the 1913-14 harvest to 102,244 bags at the end of the 1917-18 harvest (the

approximate weight of a bag of sugar was 300 pounds).19

7 Jenks, 132-140. Also at the same time, according to Jenks, "the powers of Europe assembled at Brussels
to put an end to the export bounty system for their mutual advantage. The Brussels Convention, which was
to go into effect September, 1903, promised Cuba for the future a chance at markets other than those of the
United States, particularly that of Great Britain." According to figures on Cuba's trade with Europe
provided by Susan Schroeder, the Brussels Convention had little positive effect on Cuba. In fact, Cuba's
exports to Great Britain declined steadily after 1903, and did not begin a constant upward trend until 1912.
Germany supplied Britain with the majority of its sugar until the outbreak of the war. In addition, Cuba's
exports to other European nations (Spain, France, and Italy) also declined in the first years after the Brussels
Convention. The case of Italy was similar to that of Great Britain. Cuban exports experienced a steady
decrease until the war. See Cuba: A Handbook, 427.

18 Jose R Alvarez Diaz et al, A Study on Cuba (Coral Gables, FL: U of Miami Press, 1965), 234.

19 BBC, Series 10, Box 91, Subject File: San Vicente, Crop Restriction by Cuban Government. In some
instances, San Vicente produced bags weighing 325 pounds, but the norm was approximately 300 pounds.

Inside the Cuban Sugar Industry: Central San Vicente and Manuel Rionda

Central San Vicente was a middle-sized sugar mill in the western province of

Matanzas, not far from the town of Jovellanos (fig. 2-1). Sugar from the mill was taken

by public rail to the nearby port of CArdenas for export. San Vicente's location

represented the heart of the island's sugar production prior to its expansion, backed by

U.S. capital, to eastern Cuba after the war of independence (fig 2-2).20 When Placido

Alonso became the manager of Central San Vicente in 1907, Matanzas had one of the

most developed sugar industries on the island, with a well established railroad network

connecting the many estates and their canefields to factories and ports.2

Prior to becoming the administrator of the estate, Alonso was employed as a sales

agent in Havana for the Export Department of Czamikow, MacDougall & Company

(Czarikow-MacDougall), a sugar brokerage firm headquartered in New York. The

company was the U.S. affiliate of C. Czarnikow, Ltd., of London, considered to be the

world's largest sugar broker. His uncle by marriage, Manuel Rionda y Polledo, was the

director of Czarnikow-MacDougall. Hence, when Placido Alonso married Odelinda

Fanjul Rionda, daughter of Maria Rionda y Polledo and Alonso Fanjul, he also entered

into one of the largest sugar enterprises in the world. Manuel Rionda kept faithful to one

of his most valued and time-honored business practices, nepotism, in asking Alonso to

manage San Vicente which Rionda had acquired for Czarnikow, MacDougall & Co. in


20 Marrero, Geogafia de Cuba 3" ed., 210.

21 Van Ness provides biographical information in "Guide to the Braga Brothers Collection."
22 Ibid.; McAvoy-Weissman, Chp. 1, p. 2.

Port of Matanzas

t 'A /I

/ ,e

% A
o- ,- -~ - s

I ,I
( \ i / ,

i I

Municioalites of Matanzas


Central San Vicente was located 5 miles east of the town of Jovellanos and approximately 14
miles southeast of Cdrdenas.

Map: Marrero, Georafia de Cuba. 2" ed., 423.


The above map illustrates the primary sugar producing area of Matanzas during the 1800s.
According to San Vicente's records, this area was still extremely important in the early twentieth
century. The numerous dots represent 19th-century ingenios no longer in existence by 1957 when
the book containing the map was published. Thus, according to the map's source, by the 1950s
San Vicente ceased operating as a central. The mills denote centrales in operation at the time of
publication. Although originally not labeled, the dot under San Vicente corresponds to its
location, as determined from information contained in the mill's records. In addition, the town of
Jovellanos--also not labeled in the original-is shown.

Levi Marrero, Geografia de Cuba 3"' ed., 210.

San Vicente was one of the 434 sugar mills that existed in Matanzas prior to the

Cuban War for Independence. It had belonged to Jose Sainz, of the town of Matanzas,

who according to Manuel Rionda, "was one of the largest sugar and molasses men of the

time." Between 1891 and 1893, Sainz built a railroad line connecting his factory to the

main line owned by United Railways at a point near the town of Jovellanos. Sometime

between 1901 and 1902, the property was transferred to the Landaluce Family, who were

heirs to some of Sainz's former partners in Matanzas. Under their ownership, the

property declined, and the foreclosure of some of its mortgages closed it in 1906.

Czarnikow, MacDougall & Co., which was a minor creditor of the estate for $20,000,

secured San Vicente at its bankruptcy for $169,083.80, "a very high price," according to


It must have seemed especially high, because the property was in very poor shape.

Manuel Rionda described it as "the worst place [he] had seen in Cuba or elsewhere,"

stating further that "the machinery was in deplorable condition."24 The estate had only

two mills, which were very antiquated and ineffectively located, for cane had to be

hauled from one end of the property to other. Nevertheless, Rionda must have been a

man of vision in purchasing San Vicente given the unfavorable state in which he found it.

23 BBC, Series 2, vol. 38, Manuel Rionda to Walter Ogilvie, August 20, 1915.
24 Ibid. On information relating to currency and the monetary system in Cuba, see Henry C. Wallich,
Monetary Problems of an Export Economy: The Cuban Experience. 1914-1947 (Cambridge: Harvard UP,
1950), 32-34. According to Wallich, prior to 1914, Cuba had three types of currencies: the Spanish centen,
the French luis, and the U.S. dollar. The dollar was primarily used in government and foreign trade
transactions, while the two European currencies were employed in local trade. Wallich further claims that
"various Spanish and French silver coins were used in small retail transactions and for wage payments ."
In 1914, the Cuban government created the peso. The Monetary Law of 1914 established the dollar and the
peso as the legal circulating currencies. Between 1914 and 1931, thepeso "was almost always at par with
the dollar . It had a gold content equal to that of the dollar.

If not, he certainly had the determination and strong will that characterized so many of

the hardworking, poor Spanish immigrants who came in large numbers to Cuba from the

northern regions of Galicia and Asturias beginning in the late nineteenth century. 2

The Rionda Sugar Empire

The Beginnings: The Rionda Family

Manuel Rionda was born on October 3, 1854, in Norefta, a village in Asturias, to

Bernardo de la Rionda y Alvarez and Josefa Polledo y Mata. He was one of eight

children. His siblings included his brothers Francisco and Joaquin and his five sisters,

Maria, Isidora, Gregoria, Ramona, and Bibiana.26 "I had no boyhood," claimed Rionda.27

Born into poverty, he tended the family goats and plowed the fields with his sisters until

the age of sixteen when he was beckoned across the Atlantic.2

His brothers, who were both several years his senior, had left Spain for Cuba

when he was still a young child. Both went first to join their maternal uncle, Joaquin

Polledo, who was a merchant with connections throughout Havana and Matanzas.

Jbaquin Polledo, as other merchants in Cuba, served an important and necessary function

within the Cuban sugar industry. Because Cuba lacked a modern banking system,

merchants many times functioned as local brokers, attending to the routine tasks of the

" BBC, Series 2, vol. 38, Manuel Rionda to Walter Ogilvie, August 20, 1915; Biographical information
found in "Guide"; Perez, 11.
26 Van Ness, "Guide."

27 BBC, Series 2, vol. 70, Manuel Rionda to William S. Clarke, May 10, 1929.

28 BBC, Series 2, vol. 68, Manuel Rionda to Jose M. Clarke, October 29, 1928.

industry for plantation owners."9 They advanced money for the harvests and arranged for

warehousing, for shipping, and for credit. They provided the needed financial services

that the production of sugar required, and when sugar-the driving force of Cuba's

economy--did well, so did merchants like Polledo. Many became wealthy and obtained

their own sugar plantations.30

Francisco settled in Cuba and worked in his uncle's firm, becoming his partner in

the business that became Polledo, Rionda, & Company. He also worked on the family's

sugar plantations in Matanzas. Francisco was able to expand the family enterprise by

marrying Elena de la Torriente y HernAndez, who belonged to a family-owned sugar

empire that included plantations and the largest warehouse in Matanzas. Joaquin, on the

contrary, was sent to New York City to become skilled in the other part of the enterprise,

the buying and selling of sugar on the international market. There he formed a

partnership entitled Benjamin, Rionda, & Company with Lewis Benjamin, a

commissioned merchant.31

This was the world of sugar that Manuel Rionda encountered when he arrived in

Havana in 1870. It was a system founded on familial and business ties that stretched

throughout Cuba and beyond, encompassing an overseas network much larger than any

segment within the island's sugar industry. Sugar was Cuba's link to the world economy,

and it bound the island to forces that were not only physically beyond its domain but out

of its control as well. Rionda would rise to a position of importance and power in this

29 Fernandez, 49-51.
30 Van Ness, "Guide"; McAvoy-Weissman, Chp. 1, p. 3.

31 Van Ness, "Guide."

web of sugar, but even he was never completely independent of the forces that regulated

the world sugar market.

Manuel did not remain in Cuba long; he was soon sent to Portland, Maine. There,

under the auspices of George S. Hunt, a leading businessman of the city and manager of

the Eagle Sugar Refinery, young Manuel completed his education at the Abbott School.

Hunt was a business acquaintance of Manuel's uncle in Havana, from whom the Portland

merchant imported Cuban molasses. After finishing his formal education in Maine,

Manuel, at the age of twenty, went to New York to join his brother Joaquin in the firm of

Benjamin, Rionda, & Company. He remained in the United States until the mid-1880's,

when he departed for Cuba. Joaquin had left shortly before Manuel, and now, both

brothers joined Francisco in running the family's sugar estates on the island. The 1880's

were a difficult decade for the Rionda brothers. They lost virtually all their landholdings.

Nevertheless, they were able to purchase the Tuinucu Plantation near the town of Sancti

Spiritus, east of the sugar cane heartland. There, they built a modern raw sugar factory,

and the estate became Central Tuinucu.32

Manuel returned for good to New York in 1886, going into the sugar brokerage

business via a partnership with Juan M. Ceballos. He stayed with Ceballos until 1896.

With the co-partnership set to expire in December of that year, Rionda agreed to join

Czarikow, MacDougall & Company, the New York affiliate of the preeminent British

sugar brokerage firm, C. Czamikow, Ltd..3 He joined the company in May 1896 as a

32 Van Ness, "Guide"; McAvoy-Weissman, Chp. 1.

" BBC, Series 10, Box 5, Folder title: European Mail, C. Czarnikow, Ltd., 1911-1914, Manuel Rionda to
Lagemann, September 7, 1912.

commission agent, claiming, ". .. Czamikow made me very satisfactory terms."34 Indeed

they were satisfactory terms-perhaps more than satisfactory-for in May of that year,

fourteen months had passed since the start of the Cuban War for Independence. By then,

the conflict had produced much damage in western Cuba, causing sugar production to

decline to 225,000 tons-a quarter of the amount of the previous year. "The Cuban War

killed Cuban business," stated Rionda. In New York, the Ceballos firm met with ruin,

and in Cuba, Tuinucu was threatened by the torch of revolution. Czamikow-

MacDougall's offer could not have come at a better time.3

Central Tuinuci was in fact put to the torch by insurgents-its cane fields going

up in smoke-like so many other sugar estates throughout the island. Francisco Riondi

and his family, who were living on the property, abandoned the central before it was set

fire. Francisco feared execution by both sides in the conflict. He had been captured by

insurgents and then arrested by Spanish forces. Both parties had threatened to put him to

death if he did, or did not, harvest the cane. In the end, he left that decision to the forces

of war and escaped with his family to the United States. They left from a port on the

South coast of the island, making their way to Savannah, Georgia, and from there, to New

York, where they joined Manuel as refugees. With Francisco's death in the United States

34 Quotation taken from BBC, Series 1, Box 12, Folder title: Lewin, Jules, Manuel Rionda to Lewin,
February 16, 1897.

35 Van Ness, "Guide"; McAvoy-Weissman, Chp. 2. For quotation, see BBC, Series 1, Box 12, Folder title:
Lewin, Jules, Manuel Rionda to Lewin, February 16, 1897; On Rionda's gratefulness to C. Czarnikow,
Ltd., see BBC, Series 10, Box 5, Folder title: European Mail, C. Czarnikow, Ltd., 1911-1914, Manuel
Rionda to Lagemann, September 7, 1912.

in 1898, nine years after Joaquin had passed away, Manuel became the head of the

family's properties and businesses.36

Building a Sugar Empire

Although initially reluctant to continue in Cuba after the war, Manuel reinvested

in the Cuban sugar industry. He must have had faith that the island's rich soil and

proximity to the United States, its largest market, would secure a prosperous future for

sugar production in the long term. In the short term, however, repairing and rebuilding

Cuba was going to be a huge task, requiring capital and tireless effort. The devastated

fields had to be plowed, fertilized, and replanted and the ruined machinery replaced

along with the oxen that had been killed.3

Manuel arrived in Cuba before Francisco's coffin was embarked from New York

for the island in late January 1899. After committing the casket to the family tomb in

Matanzas, Manuel set out with his wife and two of his nephews to see what remained of

the family's lands. They found Tuinucil in disrepair, having been overtaken by weeds

and vines. Not a single living animal or a single piece of furniture was found. The mill,

however, was intact, but not in working condition. Rionda decided to revive the central

and was able to obtain the necessary funds to do so.38

36 Van Ness, "Guide"; McAvoy-Weissman, Chp. 2. Joaquin died at Tuinucu as a result of a horse riding
accident in 1889.

37 Ibid. On the prospects of Cuban sugar production after the war, Caesar Czarnikow, the head of C.
Czarnikow, Ltd., wrote Rionda in 1896, "You must be on the alert, as I foresee that Cuba once pacified will
be the great field for our action." See McAvoy-Weissman, Chp. 2, p. 18. Her original source for the
quotation is BBC, Series 1, C. Czarnikow to Manuel Rionda, May 21, 1896.

3 McAvoy-Weissman, Chp. 3.

From Tuinucu, Rionda and his nephew Bernardo Braga went further east to

inspect the lands that Francisco had purchased near the Gulf of Guacanayabo in the

province of Camagiey. They determined that the land was good for cane and chose a

site on which to build a mill. Rionda and Bernardo named the estate Francisco in honor

of the late patriarch, and in planning to build a central, the Riondas established

themselves as pioneers in the sugar industry, being among the first to expand production

to eastern Cuba. Rionda returned to New York to organize a new company for the

exploitation of Francisco, and Bernardo remained in Cuba with the task of rebuilding the

family's connections. He rode on horseback throughout Las Villas, Matanzas, and

Havana, and met with the owners of sugar mills and stores, establishing friendships and

business contacts for Czarnikow, MacDougall & Company.3

On March 1, 1899, in New Jersey, Rionda formed the Francisco Sugar Company

to develop his property in Camagiiey. George R. MacDougall, of Czarnikow,

MacDougall & Co., was elected president of the new enterprise. The principal investors

were the owners of the W. J. McCahan Sugar Refinery in Philadelphia; they would

essentially manage the business until 1909. In this manner, Czamikow-MacDougall,

with Rionda as its principal agent for matters relating to business in Cuba, became the

first U.S. firm to enter full force into the Cuban sugar industry immediately after the war.

It not only invested in property but also loaned money. Rionda claimed that his New

York firm advanced "money to the many needy Cuban planters. . when no one else

would lend money in Cuba. . 40

39 Van Ness, "Guide"; McAvoy-Weissman, Chp. 3.

4 Ibid. For quotation, see McAvoy-Weissman, Chp. 3, p. 8.

The practice of loaning money turned out to be a vehicle for the expansion of the

Rionda interests in Cuba, for when the planters failed to meet debt obligations, their mills

passed into the hands of Czarnikow, MacDougall & Co.. In this manner, between 1902

and the beginning of World War I, Rionda was able to considerably expand his

operations and holdings on the island. San Vicente and San Jose, which became Central

Washington, were two bankrupt sugar estates Rionda acquired during this time period.

In 1907, Rionda became president of the Stewart Sugar Company, a newly formed

business that succeeded the Silveira Sugar Company, which had failed in its venture in

Camaguey. C. Czarikow, Ltd. was the first to be approached for the investment of

capital in the new undertaking, to which it committed in exchange for the provision that

its first five harvests be sold through Czarnikow, MacDougall & Co.--essentially through

Manuel Rionda. By that time, Rionda must have established a reputation for himself as

an efficient and competent sugar man within Cuban, British, and American business

circles, for he was specifically requested by Sullivan & Cromwell, the distinguished Wall

Street law firm of which several partners had invested in the Stewart Sugar Company, to

head the new enterprise.4

Rionda was able to deliver for Sullivan & Cromwell. He carried the company

through its difficult initial phase of organization and its first harvest. His success became

the foundation of a lengthy and useful relationship with the renowned law firm-a

relationship characterized by subsequent business dealings.42 Rionda was building upon

41 Van Ness, "Guide"; McAvoy-Weissman, Chp. 15, p. 18.

42 Van Ness. "Guide."

the world-wide sugar network he had entered as a young man to ensure both his own

success and that of those for whom he worked. Success depended on expansion, and

expansion depended on capital. With practically no capital resources in Cuba, foreign

capital from North America poured into the island, attracted by the possibilities of


Rionda was not alone in Cuba; competition followed him closely. In 1899, within

months after the founding of the Francisco Sugar Company, the Boston Fruit Company

erected Central Boston, and Robert Hawley, Texas congressman and businessman,

incorporated the Chaparra Sugar Company after having acquired the Chaparra sugar

estate.4 Rionda pressed ahead in his endeavors. An important episode unfolded when

Caesar Czarnikow, the founding and senior partner of C. Czarikow, Ltd., passed away in

April 1909. Upon receiving the news of his employer's death, Rionda sailed to London

to meet with the remaining partners of the firm.45

Czarnikow was survived in the company by his four partners, Charles Lagemann,

Julius Charles Ganzoni, Hubert Nieburg, and Theodore Westrik. The five of them

together illustrated the international character of the sugar business, whose world-wide

network crossed nearly all borders, whether political, geographical, or cultural. In 1891,

Lagemann, a German, and Ganzoni, the son of a Swiss banker, joined Czarnikow,

43 Le Riverend, Chp. XXXI. Le Riverend discusses the financial crisis in Cuba resulting from the Ten
Years' War and the island's further debilitation during the War for Independence. The war, combined with
the lack of a modern banking system in Cuba during the colonial era, made native sources of capital virtually
non-existent. Although foreign investment in Cuba was not new prior to independence, it would become the
dominant form of capital in the new republic. Le Riverend estimates that in 1899, U.S. investments totaled
$50 million.

44 McAvoy-Weissman, Chp. 3.

45 Ibid., Chp. 5.

himself a Polish Jew and son of the Court Agent to the Prince of Schwartzburg.46 A

decade later, in 1901, Nieburg, also from Germany, and Westrik, a Belgian, became

partners in the firm.47 The four of them were now left to carry on the entire business

which meant dealing with each of its affiliates, including Czamikow, MacDougall & Co.

of New York, of which Rionda was now the chief representative.

At the time of Czamikow's death, George MacDougall, back in the United States,

was retiring from his New York company, leaving Rionda free to do as he thought best.

Rionda did not know what to expect from the four remaining partners of C. Czarnikow,

Ltd., since in all his previous trips to London, he had dealt almost exclusively with

Czarnikow. Nevertheless, he knew for sure what he needed-what he thought best.48 He

needed and desired that business continue with as much capital as possible.49

To Rionda's satisfaction, a new company was formed, the Czamikow-Rionda

Company. It was a private company formed by a contract between five men as

individuals, not as an agreement between C. Czarnikow, Ltd. and Rionda. The four

Londoners would hold $300,000 in common stock to be divided in the following manner:

$90,000 each by Lagemann and Ganzoni, and $60,000 each by Nieburg and Westrik.

Rionda would hold $200,000.50 Manuel Rionda was now President of the Czarnikow-

46 McAvoy-Weissman, Chp. 2.

47 Ibid., Chp. 5.

4 BBC, Series 10, Box 5, Folder title: European Mail, C. Czarnikow, Ltd., 1911-1914, Manuel Rionda to
Lagemann, September 7, 1912.

9 Ibid.

50 BBC, Series 10, Box 5, Folder title: European Mail, C. Czarnikow, Ltd., 1911-1914, Lagemann to
MacDougall, July 30, 1912, and Manuel Rionda to Lagemann, September 7, 1912.

Rionda Company in addition to Director of Czarikow, MacDougall & Company, Ltd. of

London and New York, and Director of the Washington Sugar Company.51 Although C.

Czarnikow, Ltd. retained financial control of the new company, Rionda now had more

leeway to go about business, and as time passed, further negotiations would reduce

British participation in Czarnikow-Rionda.52

The founding of Czamikow-Rionda was not the only change within the Rionda

sugar realm that Placido Alonso and Central San Vicente had or would experience. In

1907, the same year that Alonso was asked to manage San Vicente, Rionda had replaced

Czamikow-MacDougall's Export Department with the Cuban Trading Company.53

Incorporated in Havana in July, it was headed by Victor Zevallos and essentially became

Rionda's head office in Cuba. From there, the entire operation on the island was


For Alonso, this meant that the mill he managed, San Vicente, belonged to its

holding company, the Cuban Commercial and Industrial Company, which was

headquartered in Rionda's office in New York. Rionda and various members of his

1 BBC, Series 10, Box 5, Folder title: European Mail, C. Czarnikow, Ltd., 1915-1916, Document 1909 C.
No. 3200 from the High Court of Chancery Division. This document states that Czarnikow-MacDougall
was being liquidated.

52 C. Czarnikow, Ltd. accommodated Rionda because he was absolutely essential to their sugar business.
He had basically built their operations in Cuba. See Van Ness, "Guide." Also, on Rionda's importance, see
Manuel Moreno Fraginals, "Plantations in the Caribbean: Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic in
the late Nineteenth Century," Between Slavery and Free Labor. 12. He writes, "merging with the New
York-based Cuban broker Manuel Rionda in 1909 as the Czarnikow-Rionda Company, within a few years it
[C. Czarnikow, Ltd.] had so dominated the market that it could act as sole broker for the Cuban crops of the
war years (1914-18) and for some 80 percent of both Puerto Rican and Dominican crops of the same

5 McAvoy-Weissman, Chp. 5.

family, including Alonso, were the primary stockholders in this company.54 The Cuban

Commercial and Industrial Co., in turn, was affiliated with Czamikow-Rionda, having

been previously affiliated with Czamikow-MacDougall until 1909. Czarnikow-Rionda

itself looked to C. Czamikow, Ltd. as its parent company. In addition, Alonso had to

consider the Cuban Trading Company, a subsidiary of Czamikow-Rionda, since often

times company orders came from there-from the "Havana Boys."s5

Manuel Rionda and Foreign Capital

The international sugar web was far from static. It was always changing, being

shaped by the men within the industry and taking its cues from the world sugar market

For Rionda, providing work and a livelihood for his many nephews, just as his Uncle

Joaquin had done for him, was a primary motivating factor.6 To do so, he needed to

keep abreast with the changes in the market, ensure he had the needed capital, and act

accordingly at propitious moments. One month prior to the founding of Czamikow-

Rionda, sugar market analysts of Willet & Gray stated in The Cuba Review that all

indications strongly suggested "a large increased consumption" of sugar in the United

States and elsewhere.57 Rionda's desire that the supply of capital continue unhindered

after Czamikow's death in 1909 was simply good business sense. Two years later, in

54 McAvoy-Weissman writes that essentially since the company's creation, the Riondas owned a majority of
the stock. For a list of company stockholders, see BBC, Series 10, Box 91, Folder title: Working Papers of
Manuel Rionda, List of Stockholders in San Vicente, September 23, 1932.

" Manuel Rionda often referred to Victor Zevallos and Higinio Fanjul, both of whom worked at the Cuban
Trading Company office in Havana, as the "Havana Boys." BBC.

56 McAvoy-Weissman, Chp. 8, p. 15.

7 The Cuba Review, March 1909, 30.

June 1911, Rionda wrote in a letter, "there is great demand now for sugar plantations in

Cuba."8 A sharp rise in the price of sugar on the New York market during the middle of

1911 had caused this demand.59 Responding to this increase, Rionda turned his attention

to easternmost Cuba to erect his next central.6

Until the summer of 1911, Rionda had purposely avoided expanding business

operations to that part of the island. He had referred to the area as "the wilds of Cuba,"

as recently as that spring, and had stated that he had no intentions of expanding business

that far eastward. C. Czarnikow Ltd., however, had advocated extending operations in

that direction to take advantage of "virgin soil and cheap labor."61 Rionda, nonetheless,

objected. Although he disagreed on the profitability of going east, by 1911, he

recognized that western lands were being depleted.

In a letter to lawyer and business partner Alfred Jaretski, of Sullivan & Cromwell,

Rionda expressed his preoccupation with the poor yields of his properties west of

Oriente, Cuba's easternmost province. He made his concern known that money was

being wasted and that land was being used at a faster rate than necessary to grow more

'ane to produce the same amount of sugar.62 "If present capacity ... is increased and the

" BBC, Series 2, vol. 28, Manuel Rionda to Walter E. Ogilvie, June 19, 1911.

59 In 1911, prices for 96* centrifugal sugar, duty paid in New York, rose from 3.860 cents per pound in May
to 3.928 in June, to 4.372 in July, and to 5.009 in August. See Ellis, 105.

6 Mark J. Smith, Nature and Profit: A Cubsn Suar Plantation in the Early Twentieth Century these U of
Florida, 1993, 43. Smith claims, "The strengthening of an already robust sugar market apparently convinced
Rionda to reconsider his position on an eastern plantation."
61 BBC, Series 5, Box 2, Folder title: December 1910 March 1911. London to NYC, C. Czarnikow to
Czarikow-Rionda, February 25, 1911.

62 BBC, Series 2, vol. 30, Manuel Rionda to Alfred Jaretski, March 27, 1912.

same methods are pursued, it naturally follows that the depletion of our lands will

follow," Rionda wrote.63 He added that it was perhaps time to begin an operation in

Oriente "before lands became scarce in the district and, consequently higher [in price]."64

Encouraged by the auspicious changes in the market for Cuban sugar and by the

availability of virgin soil in the east, Rionda decided that a central in Oriente would

prove profitable. As a result, Central Manati was erected on the Bay of Manati in Cuba's

easternmost province. It was incorporated in the United States as the Manati Sugar

Company on April 30, 1912.65 This mill serves as a prime example of Manuel Moreno

Fraginals's description of the process of technological innovation within the Cuban sugar

industry that began in the latter part of the 1800s and continued into the twentieth


The installing of this new machinery required an
extremely large economic investment and the
scrapping of the existing production line and even of
most of the buildings constructed under the previous
system. Consequently, the new enterprise cannot be
considered an old mill that had been modernized (as
was the case with the introduction of the first steam
engines into the sugar mills); rather, the old sugar
mill was demolished, and in its place-or
elsewhere-new buildings were erected to house the
new machinery .... The only holdovers of the old
sugar mill complex were, in general, certain
structures for social use,...."

63 Ibid.

64 Ibid.
65 McAvoy-Weissman, Chp. 6, p. 9.

66 Moreno Fraginals, "Plantations in the Caribbean," 4.

In contrast to Central Manati, San Vicente, like the other centrales of Matanzas,

represented the case of establishing a modern central on the site of an old ingenio.67 In

the same year that Manati was erected, to the credit of the 1903 Reciprocity Treaty,

"Cuban sugar had driven out all European, West Indian or other unfavoured sugar from

the U.S. market."6" Rionda had good reason to be optimistic in the spring of 1912.

Manati was begun, and in the U.S., domestic costs for sugar production were much

greater than the costs in Cuba. Therefore, Rionda reasoned that higher cost producers in

the United States would inevitably go out of business.69 To Rionda, this signaled that

Cuba would have an even larger market to the north and, hence, could confidently go on

expanding production.70

If for Rionda ensuring his family's prosperity was a driving force in doing

business, for the large investors whom he attracted to Cuba in what would be his largest

endeavor, the impetus to put forth the capital was the expectation that WWI would raise

sugar prices, generating large profits.71 By the start of the war, San Vicente was one of

five plantations that belonged directly to the Riondas. Their other four properties were

67 Marrero, Georafia de Cuba. 3" ed., 210. Writing in 1957, Marrero states, "The present centrales of the
province of Matanzas are old ingenios rebuilt and modernized,.. ." Translated by B. Fraga. In 1946,
Marrero reported that the province's 24 mills were founded between 1805 and 1902. Not one had been
erected after 1902. See Geoafia de Cuba 2" ed., 414.

4 Thomas, 536.
69 McAvoy-Weissman, Chp. 6, p. 15.

70 Ibid.. On the topic of the Reciprocity Treaty of 1903 and the price of Cuban sugar, see Thomas, 536-537.
He discusses that in the long run the treaty did not prove beneficial to Cuban producers, since the price paid
for Cuban sugar in New York essentially became the world price with the Cuban duty added to it.
Combined with over-production in Cuba, this resulted in relatively low prices in 1913-1914.

71 Carl Van Ness, conversation, University of Florida, September 9, 1997.

Tuinucu, Francisco, Washington, and Manati. In 1915, the five would become six with

the construction of Central Elia, also in Camaguey, adjacent to Francisco (fig 2-3).72



Map: Nufiez Jimenez, 2.

The family properties were later joined by several other estates as part of the

entire sugar enterprise in which Rionda played a significant role. The new business

venture was the Cuba Cane Sugar Corporation (CCSC), which Rionda incorporated on

December 31, 1915. At the time, it was the largest U.S. investment scheme in Cuban

2 The Rionda family owned the majority of the shares in each of these estates. See BBC, Series 2, vol. 34,
Manuel Rionda to Placido Alonso, April 1, 1914; BBC, Series 10, Box 91, Folder title: Working Papers of
Manuel Rionda, List of Stockholders in San Vicente, September 23, 1932. Also see McAvoy-Weissman,
Chp. 15, p. 25 and Chp. 16, p. 18. On a related topic, McAvoy-Weissman reports that Francisco, Tuinucu,
and San Vicente "contributed nearly $100,000 in yearly profits to Czarnikow-Rionda in commissions." See
Chp. 8, p. 15. Her original source is BBC, Series 4, Manuel Rionda to Lagemann, May 17, 1915.

sugar.3 It was definitely his most ambitious undertaking, surpassing Manati.74

Financially supported by the Morgan trust, the new corporation brought together the

resources of several prominent and wealthy individuals and businesses. They represented

investors whom Rionda had courted for some time and with whom he had spent several

years building commercial alliances. Three years prior to the founding of Cuba Cane, he

successfully combined Cuban investors with American capital in the Manati Sugar

Company. The foreigners included Sullivan & Cromwell, the financial house of J. & W.

Seligman, Edmund Converse, head of the Bankers Trust who also held a position on the

Executive Committee of U.S. Steel, Monsieur Hartjes of Morgan, Hartjes & Co. of Paris,

and Captain DeLamar, the largest stockholder in the International Nickel Company.

These men would reappear in the CCSC, essentially forming a syndicate.7

The new corporation invested $50,000,000 in the purchase of Cuban sugar mills.

The amount was nearly three times the capital of the Cuban-American Sugar Company,

at the time the largest U.S. company in the Cuban sugar industry. The investment money

was raised by selling securities for the amount on the stock market, 500,000 shares of 7%

cumulative preferred stock. On Wall Street, J. P. Morgan & Co. played a crucial role in

the entire organization as the share underwriters along with J. & W. Seligman as

syndicate manager. Meanwhile, in Cuba, Czarnikow-Rionda and its close associates

managed and directed the corporation's activities. The new giant was created on

3 McAvoy-Weissman, Chp. 9; Jenks, 179.

74 Van Ness, "Guide."

75 McAvoy-Weissman, Chp. 6; Van Ness, "Guide"; Jenks, 179-180.

December 31, 1915, and the day after, Rionda left for Havana to oversee the final

decisions on purchases and to begin operation of the CCSC.76

All in all, Cuba Cane bought eighteen sugar mills, acquiring them in one month.77

The purchases, totaling $45,270,000, comprised not only the sugar mills and canefields

but also "machine shops, stores, workmen's houses, offices, residences for the managers,

cane carts, oxen and about 369 miles of railway, together with 83 locomotives and 2,234

cane cars" along with all the sugar being harvested.78 In Cuba, the Cuba Trading

Company functioned as the corporation's purchasing agent, and Czamikow-Rionda

handled all the sugar from the newly acquired mills.79

The last sale closed on February 11, 1916, and about a month later, on March 15,

the last share of common stock of the CCSC was sold. That day, the Wall Street Journal


No new industry was ever introduced into Wall
Street with as solid an investment foundation under it
as that which entered last year under the name of the
Cuba Cane Sugar Corporation.
Never before in an industrial flotation were the
leading technical talent and the leading investment
talent combined upon the buying side. . The
financial men who went into this enterprise under the
leadership of Manuel Rionda were not promoters
underwriting an enterprise upon prospects for
disposing of the same investors on a rising market.
They were the absolute buyers of the properties and
put in their $50,000,000 in cold cash, of which

76 McAvoy-Weissman, Cp. 6; Jenks, 180.

77 The Cuba Cane Sugar Corporation later sold one of the eighteen mills that it initially had not intended to
purchase but had bought as part of a sale's agreement. Carl Van Ness, conversation, University of Florida,
September 9, 1997.

78 McAvoy-Weissman, Chp. 9, p. 14.

79 Jenks, 180; McAvoy-Weissman, Chp. 9.

$7,000,000 was for working capital and $43,000,000
was for the purchase of going plantations. .. .s0

The Wall Street Journal's admiration of Cuban Cane reflected the fact that giant

operations were not the norm in Cuba. In 1915, a total of 183 centrales were operating

on the island. Of these, only eight had the capacity to produce at least 300,000 bags of

sugar. The remaining 175 centrales accounted for 73% of Cuba's total sugar output, and

of these, only eleven had the capability to produce at least 200,000 bags.8' The Cuban

sugar industry still belonged to individually owned mills, not to foreign corporations.82

Yet this was changing, as Cuba Cane demonstrated in buying essentially Cuban owned

and Cuban managed estates.83

Central San Vicente was one component in Manuel Rionda's extensive empire

He essentially functioned as the mill's link to brokerage firms in New York and London,

to foreign refineries, and to the governments of Cuba and the United States. Within this

setting, San Vicente experienced two of the most consequential events in the history of

the Cuban sugar industry during the first half of the twentieth century: World War I and

the Great Depression. For Cuba, the era of economic hardship that was experienced

worldwide after 1929 actually began earlier in the decade. The war and the economic

crises of the 1920s and 1930s affected Cuba in markedly different manners. The first

event brought a time of economic prosperity, while the latter signaled an era of limited

resources and economic contraction. Each, however, impacted the sugar industry

" The Wall Street Journal March 15, 1916.

8' Figures taken from McAvoy-Weissman, Chp. 9.

8 For figures on sugar mills in Cuba based on the nationality of owners in 1915, see Schroeder, 258.

83 Jenks, 180.

through the changes it caused in the world price of sugar and thus also affected the

relationship between mill and cane farmer. Central San Vicente illustrates several of the

nuances contained in Cuban history as pertains to central-colono relations during the first

half of the twentieth century.


On the day Germany declared war on Russia, the correspondent in Cuba for The

Louisiana Planter reported, "In Havana there is ample evidence that warlike preparations

are going on in Europe as the harbor is full of fighting ships of half a dozen nationalities,

these vessels having come here within the past few days for coal and for orders from their

respective governments."' It was quite fitting that, in Havana, the day which marked the

start of the war that ushered in a sugar boom for Cuba was characterized by bustling port

activity. The ships came to Cuba primarily for sugar. While European customers

canceled their contracts for tobacco products, causing some factories on the island to

curtail output and others to close, the prospects for the sugar industry were promising.2

Higher prices were anticipated. Although World War I disrupted the transatlantic flow of

capitall and the shipment of goods, the war also produced an increase in the demand for

Cuban sugar and a subsequent increase in its price.

On Central San Vicente, the war years were a period of expansion and

procurement, with the ever present, but now more vital, purpose of obtaining cane. With

' "News Letter From Our Havana Office," The Louisiana Planter and Sugar Manufacturer. August 8, 1914,

2 The Louisiana Planter reports that five to six thousand workmen from tobacco factories were laid off on
August 1, 1914, as a result of factory closures. See "News Letter From Our Havana Office," August 8,
1914, 87.

the demand and price for Cuban sugar on the rise, no central wanted to forego the

opportunity of producing and selling large quantities of sugar. The favorable market

condition represented a chance at maximizing profits. To ensure the utmost gain, the

mill required access to even greater amounts of cane from colonos. As manager of San

Vicente during World War I, Placido Alonso would experience the impact of the war on

the estate, and he-himself- would play a role in the changes that took place there.

Central-Colono Relations

Before World War I

Alonso arrived at the plantation from Havana in 1907. He was optimistic about

the estate, describing its location as a good area that should be exploited, and he set out

to accomplish his tasks as mill manager.3 His new position within the vast Rionda sugar

empire required him to closely follow the instructions of Tio Manuel, as the sugar

magnate was affectionately known. Among his other duties, Alonso had to inform

Rionda on the mill's condition and progress through daily correspondence. Thus, the

manager kept track of his own work and the every day activities of the central over the

course of eleven years.

Alonso's work began with his first instructions-to prepare the mill for operation,

begin negotiations with the colonos, and extend the mill's railroad lines. The year before

Alonso's arrival, San Vicente had contracts with seventy colonos and had obtained a total

of four million arrobas of cane.4 The manager needed to increase that amount for the

BBC, Series 14, vol. 2, Placido Alonso to Pedro Alonso, August 18, 1907.

4 BBC, Series 14, vol. 2, Placido Alonso to Manuel Rionda, November 14, 1907.

upcoming harvest if he was going to make the mill a success. He began meeting with

colonos at the same time that he began dismantling the old machinery. Alonso described

the farmers he met as being "algofuertes," or "somewhat strong," based on the amount

of cane they claimed to have. Nevertheless, the manager felt he would have no problems

in obtaining letters of contract from them stipulating a price of 6 to 63% arrobas for every

one 100 arrobas of cane.5 The rate would vary depending on the specific terms of each

contract negotiated with each colono. For instance, the manager paid Juan Domingo

Larrea, a colono of the mill, more for his cane than the other farmers of the central

because it did not have to provide him with machinery.6

Larrea was able to obtain a better price essentially because he was less dependent

on the mill than his peers. In the case of San Vicente, Larrea's example illustrates one

aspect of the deals worked out between the central and the colono. Each employed the

negotiating tools he had to his advantage. For the colono, it was the quality and amount

of his cane; the farming resources he had; the size of his colonia; and his relative wealth.

For the central, it was, obvious and foremost, the mill, which turned the cane into profit;

its capital resources; and success in business. A successful mill that sold all its sugar at a

good price and was able to purchase new machinery and implement its use effectively

was more attractive torcolonos, since their livelihood depended on the sale of their cane.

In general, the more sugar a central could sell, the more cane it purchased. In turn, the

greater amount of cane it bought, the better the colono fared. Furthermore, Larrea's

example illustrates the complexity of classifying cane farmers. He grew cane on land

5 BBC, Series 14, vol. 2, Placido Alonso to Manuel Rionda, June 28, 1907.

6 BBC, Series 14, vol. 2, Placido Alonso to Manuel Rionda, November 14, 1907.

that he rented from San Vicente. Thus, he was a colono of the central-and was listed as

such in mill records. Therefore, according to the widely accepted claim that is made

about farmers of the mill, he should not have been able to negotiate a higher price for his

cane. Nevertheless, he did.

Competition Among Mills

For Placido Alonso, working in the cane heartland of Cuba, his dealings with

colonos were also a function of the plentiful number of centrales in the area and the

relatively large number of independent colonos. Cane farmers used the competitive

environment to their advantage as best they could to obtain higher cane prices. They

knew that they had some degree of control, or bargaining power, as the producers of a

product that was in much demand.

During the first month of his first grinding at San Vicente, Alonso quickly

discovered the meaning of being in a competitive environment. Colonos could not be

counted on, and he must "tie them down," he claimed to Rionda.7 Some with whom he

iad made agreements had decided-even at the moment that grinding was underway-to

take their cane elsewhere. A better price was awaiting them at another central.

Better prices were also awaiting colonos for the next harvest. Within two months

of complaining about their unreliability, Alonso had to start negotiating anew with the

cane farmers. He noted that there was much competition among the sugar mills and thus

could not even consider offering less than 6 arrobas, as Tio Manuel desired. Three other

7 BBC, Series 14, vol. 2, Placido Alonso to Manuel Rionda, February 2, 1908. Translated by B. Fraga

mills in the area, including Nueva Luisa, San Vicente's primary rival, were offering

colonos from 634 arrobas to 7 arrobas. Alonso would rely on his established business

relationships and negotiate contracts quickly so that the colonos and their cane would not

go elsewhere. To do this, it was imperative that he have money readily available so that

he could offer cash advances to the cane farmers. Alonso requested between $15,000

and $20,000 from Rionda, claiming that this amount, properly distributed at the right

time, would secure much cane for San Vicente. "At the right time" meant when the

colonos were without cane-that is, with nothing to sell-and, thereby, in a relatively

difficult financial situation.9

Alonso realized that with the central's capital resources, which in general were

superior to those of any colono, agreements with cane farmers were best arranged when

they were low on money. Therefore, he had to wait until they were no longer in a

positive financial situation, but instead were needy for cash, to lock in the good deals.'0

Alonso considered "locking the colono in," or "trancarlo," along with "amarrar," "tying

up," as part of the special politics of dealing with colonos." For their part, the colonos

often employed a wait-and-see approach when negotiating with the mill, observing and

judging their neighbor's outcome from an agreement made with the central.'2 These

particular maneuvers that characterized the cane buying business also included the

8 BBC, Series 14, vol. 2, Plicido Alonso to Manuel Rionda, April 16, 1908.

9 Ibid., May 1, 1908.

10 Ibid., July 12, 1910.

" Ibid., May 12, 1908 and May 1, 1910. Translated by B. Fraga

1 Ibid., July 28, 1907.

colonos'cane reports, in which Alonso believed cane farmers exaggerated the amount of

cane they actually had in order to work out a better deal.13

In some instances, the colonos played centrales against one another, knowing that

each mill kept a close watch on the other. The Riondas' purchase of San Vicente

worried many of the other centrales in the area, fearing that with the new capital that

Rionda represented, San Vicente would expand and drive the other mills out of the

industry. Rionda instructed Alonso to spread the word that they did "not want to become

a colossus."'4 Rionda hoped that this would placate the centrales' fears of one another.

San Vicente's rivals did in fact have reason to worry, as Rionda had also expressed to his

manager the desire that their mill have all the cane in the district." Naturally, Rionda

and Alonso did not inform their rivals of their plans. Instead, the colonos did. They

informed rival mills on the business deals that their corrivals were offering and


In seeking the greatest amount of cane, San Vicente needed to attract the big

colonos of the area. Again, Central Nueva Luisa was San Vicente's primary rival. That

central was offering the highest prices for cane and, in so doing, was attracting many

farmers. If before Alonso could not even consider offering less than 6 arrobas, in the

summer of 1908, he had no choice but to pay 61V arrobas, especially to those colonos

'3 BBC, Series 14, vol. 2, Plkcido Alonso to Manuel Rionda, January 7, 1908.

14 BBC, Series 2, vol. 23, Manuel Rionda to Ptacido Alonso, July 29, 1908. Translated by B. Fraga

'5 San Vicente's competition was in the form of five centrales: Nueva Luisa, Cuba, Union, Progreso, and
16 BBC, Series 2, vol. 23, Manuel Rionda to Placido Alonso, July 29, 1908.

who were declining offers from San Vicente to take advantage of contracts with Nueva

Luisa. 17

Nueva Luisa was frustrating San Vicente's efforts to make contracts with the

main cane growers of the area, and Rionda was made aware of this situation. He

instructed Alonso to bid higher for the cane belonging to a colono by the last name of

Vergara, who would remain one the most sought after colonos in the area for several

years.18 Other independent cane farmers, besides Vergara, also had much leverage in

their negotiations with mills in the area. Alonso had to accept a contract with Pedro

Arenal on the latter's terms, claiming that he had no choice "but to accept the conditions

of he [Arenal] who can impose them, or be left without those canes, as would have been

the case had the contract not been made."19

San Vicente was not alone in its competition with Nueva Luisa. A mutual

distrust, or perception of a business threat, existed between Central Aire and Nueva

Luisa.20 If San Vicente was worried about losing colonos to its primary rival, Aire was in

particular danger of being crowded out from the industry as a result of Nueva Luisa's

efforts in obtaining cane.21 Rionda felt that Alonso had to prevent this from happening.

He reasoned that in the long run it was better for the colonos and for San Vicente that all

mills remain. If Nueva Luisa succeeded in locking a sizable number of colonos in

'7 BBC, Series 2, vol. 23, Manuel Rionda to Placido Alonso, Jul 4, 1908.

'1 BBC, Series 2, vol. 23, Manuel Rionda to Placido Alonso, August 4, 1908.

19 BBC, Series 14, vol. 2, Placido Alonso to Manuel Rionda, October 11, 1908. Translated by B. Fraga
20 BBC, Series 2, vol. 23, Manuel Rionda to Plicido Alonso, July 29, 1908.

21 Ibid., August 4, 1908.

contracts, thus forcing Aire out of the industry, Nueva Luisa would be able to push cane

prices down.22 Although lower prices benefited San Vicente, they were no good if it did

not have access to the crop, which would be the case if Nueva Luisa succeeded in having

a virtual monopoly on the cane of the district.

Rionda instructed Alonso to persuade the colonos not to sell to Nueva Luisa and

to explain to them that it was not in their best interest to do so because they would then

be tied to that central. Basically, they would be at the mercy of Nueva Luisa if they sold

their product almost exclusively to that central. Rionda also told Alonso to spread the

word that Aire's production capacity was not that high-essentially that it was not a

threat. In the end, according to Rionda, if any central should be viewed as a threat, it

should be Nueva Luisa. He suggested that Alonso make Nueva Luisa out to be the

common enemy of San Vicente and the colonos.3

Central San Vicente was also worried about Nueva Luisa's plan to build a

railroad line in its direction to access more cane. If built, the proposed rail line would cut

off San Vicente from the majority of its cane.24 Alonso attempted to block Nueva Luisa

in its project on two fronts: in Cuba and in London. As expected, he wrote Rionda to

inform him of the "trouble" that Nueva Luisa was causing. In addition, he wrote a

formal letter to the Cuban Commercial and Industrial Company, San Vicente's holding

company headquartered in Rionda's office building in New York. He petitioned them to

request that C. Czarikow, Ltd., in London, take action to thwart Nueva Luisa's plan. In

22 BBC, Series 2, vol. 23, Manuel Rionda to Placido Alonso, August 4, 1908.

23 BBC, Series 2, vol. 23, Manuel Rionda to Placido Alonso, August 4, 1908.

24 BBC, Series 14, vol. 2.Plicido Alonso to Manuel Rionda, July 14, 1908.

Cuba, he negotiated with Lorenzo de Ibarra, an independent colono, to persuade him not

to allow the proposed rail line to pass through his property. Nueva Luisa's rail project

benefited Ibarra in two ways. On the one hand, if it were constructed, his property would

appreciate in value, and on the other hand, it gave him greater leverage in negotiating

with San Vicente.'2 Ibarra made use of this opportunity and submitted a proposition to


Of the two general types of cane farmers, independent colonos were in a position

to move freely within the colonato and thus were able to take advantage of the

competition among mills. Nevertheless, colonos who did not own their land outright also

benefited, although to a lesser extent. Within this group, arrendatarios (renters) also

enjoyed relatively unhindered movement. The term arrendatario usually referred to the

farmer who paid his rent in cash and was not confined to selling his cane exclusively to

one central. As regards colonos de lafinca, more than once within a two year period,

Alonso paid them more than the price they had agreed to in the contract.27 Alonso

claimed that giving them a higher price had a positive effect on both the dependent and

independent colonos.2 In effect, it was a good public relations tactic and, therefore,

good for business. Rionda agreed and actually encouraged Alonso to ensure that the

2 BBC, Series 14, vol. 2.Placido Alonso to Manuel Rionda, July 10, 1908; Ibid., July 19, 1908; Ibid., July
23, 1908; BBC, Series 2, vol. 23, Placido Alonso to the Cuban Commercial and Industrial Co., July 1908,
26 BBC, Series 14, vol. 2, Placido Alonso to Manuel Rionda, October 6, 1908.

27 Ibid., June 29, 1910; Ibid., July 31, 1912. In 1910 and 1912, Alonso paid San Vicente's colonos del
central a of an arroba more for their cane. The base price in 1910, for their cane was 5 %, while in
1912, it was 6 V2.

28 BBC, Series 14, vol. 2, June 29, 1910.

colonos were content and satisfied." He advised his mill manager to go out into the

countryside and become more aquatinted with the land and with the colonos, highlighting

the importance of building a rapport with them and even becoming popular among

them.3" Competition among centrales necessitated this.

In their efforts to please colonos, Alonso and Rionda often made concessions to

them, waiving certain costs from time to time at the mill's expense. For example, in

signing a contract with Roberto Bannatyne, a colono de afuera, Alonso agreed that San

Vicente would pay the 5,000 in Spanish gold he owed to a warehouse in the port of

Matanzas. Alonso assured Rionda that he would keep a close watch on Bannatyne and

that he would have a lawyer in Havana look over the contract, claiming "the law always

protected those who were tied too tightly, setting them free in the end."31

In another instance, with two colonos del central, San Vicente paid the cost that

traditionally and according to the contract was borne by the cane farmer. In his response

to Alonso's complaint on the matter, Rionda wrote, "I would not, for the sake of a few

thousand dollars, have them grumbling and going on about how we treat them

29 BBC, Series 2, vol. 34, Manuel Rionda to Placido Alonso, November 28, 1913. Rionda reveals his
concern on several occasions that San Vicente maintain good relations with colonos.

30 BBC, Series 2, vol. 22, Manuel Rionda to Placido Alonso, April 10, 1908.
31 In justifying the contract, Alonso claimed that Bannatyne was a hard worker who was planting new fields
and needed some help, which San Vicente should offer thereby ensuring that he grew an abundant amount of
cane. See BBC, Series 1, Box 1, Folder title: Alonso, Plcido 1914-1915, Placido Alonso to Manuel
Rionda, June 22, 1914. Translated by B. Fraga. In reference to Spanish gold, the use of the term "oro
espaiof' is found throughout the archive. On Spanish gold, see Wallich and Thomas Lismore, Las Monedas
de Cuba (1860-1953) (La Habana: Editorial LEX, 1955). In their respective works, Wallich and Lismore do
not specifically mention Spanish gold among the three different types of currencies circulating in Cuba prior
to 1914. Both, however, report that various Spanish and French silver coins were used. In a list of values
for the different currencies in 1914, Lismore includes "Spanish twenty-five peseta gold pieces" as one of the
currencies. It was equivalent to 5.34 Spanish silver dollars then. See Las Monedas de Cuba. 63.

unfairly."32 Both Alonso and Rionda sought other ways in which to also gain the

cooperation of colonos, such as acquiring more land with the idea of giving it to colonos

they knew well in order to both satisfy them and have more cane for San Vicente.33

Competition among mills for cane characterized the relationship between mill

and farmer in Matanzas before World War I and would continue to do so throughout the

war. This feature was associated with landownership. Rivalry for land had preceded and

led to the rivalry for cane. As such, land tenure represented another dimension in colono-

central relations.

Land Tenure

Despite the seeming inability to obtain cane at prices he desired due to

competition, Alonso was successful in developing Central San Vicente as a prosperous

mill. San Vicente increased its sugar production by 37% between its first and fourth

harvests.34 This expansion in output was a result of its improved grinding efficiency and

ability to access more cane. Within his first year as manager, Alonso increased the

number of colonos who supplied cane to San Vicente from seventy to over a hundred.35

Thus, as one might expect, the quantity of cane ground by the central also increased.36 In

32 BBC, Series 2, vol. 33,Manuel Rionda to Placido Alonso, November 14, 1913. The two colonos in
question are Juan Larrea and Manuel Rubio.

33 BBC, Series 14, vol. 3, Plicido Alonso to Manuel Rionda, September 21, 1911.

34 BBC, Series 14, vol. 3, Placido Alonso to Manuel Rionda, May 1, 1910.

35 Ibid., November 14, 1907.

6 Ibid., May 1, 1910.

securing additional cane, the central inevitably entered into a complex web of relations

with colonos characterized by a convoluted landholding situation.

San Vicente was not unique in this regard. By the early twentieth century, land

tenure had become an intricate matter throughout the western provinces of Cuba.37 The

reasons, however, are rooted in the previous century. As before discussed, the presence

of many individual landholdings with their mill, or ingenio, characterized this region

prior to the Ten Years' War. The centrales and colonies of the early twentieth century

emerged from these ingenios as a result of the reorganization of the sugar industry

following the conflict.

The greater concentration of both centrales and independent colonos in the west

as compared to the east, gave rise to the complicated nature of land tenure that San

Vicente experienced.3 Initially, centrales were limited in size by the ox cart, then, after

the advent of cheaper rails, by a neighboring central or colonia. Consequently, as

centrales began to expand in size, they came into competition with one another for cane

land. Once this resource became scarce, rivalry among the sugar mills centered on

obtaining cane from the colonos. Because of this competition, some farmers-those with

greater resources-were able to profit considerably, and they too acquired land.

According to Laird Bergad, in about 1890, in Matanzas, "more than 60 percent of

all colonos worked tracts of land less than five caballerias in extension, but controlled a

mere 8.9 percent of the 14,004 caballerias in the hands of colonos." On the contrary,

7.9% of the cane farmers owned over forty caballerias, which "accounted for 52.7

37 Lauriault, 366.

3 Ibid.

percent of all colono land".39 Although Bergad is unclear on whether or not he is

discussing only landowning colonos, it is obvious from his report that within the

classification of colonos, there existed much disparity by the end of the nineteenth

century. The diversity among cane farmers continued into the twentieth century, so that

when Placido Alonso began negotiating with colonos as mill manager the dissimilarities

in their respective circumstances became apparent in the terms of agreement.

Under Alonso's management, San Vicente obtained its cane from different

arrangements with colonos. Some of the farmers were strictly either independent colonos

or dependent colonos, while others had both their own properties and rented additional

land from San Vicente, and still others farmed land that San Vicente, itself, rented. In

some instances, the land the central leased actually belonged to colonos. Furthermore,

some colonos rented property to fellow cane farmers.40 The First World War and the

drive it spurred to obtain more cane land and extend rail lines accentuated the existing

complexity of land tenure in western Cuba. Before the war, during Alonso's first years at

the mill, Central San Vicente owned approximately 101 caballerias of land. Of these, 65

caballerias belonged to San Vicente proper. The remaining amount was listed as part of

the finca Gratitud. In addition, the mill controlled 59 caballerias in the form of the

fincas Sandoval and Toscano. 4

39 Laird Bergad. Cuban Rural Society in the 19 Century: The Social and Economic History of
Monoculture in Matanzas (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1990), 278.

40 Records from Series 14 and 10 of the BBC reveal that this was the case.

41 Information taken from BBC, Series 14, vol. 4.

The case of Gratitud specifically illustrates the intricate nature and relative

fluidity that characterized land tenure in Matanzas. Measuring thirty-six caballerias,

Gratitud belonged directly to San Vicente prior to World War I. By 1915, however, after

a sequence of negotiations, San Vicente lost ownership of the finca and became its

tenant. During the summer of 1911, as sugar prices rose on the New York stock market,

Alonso was busy in planning the extension of the mill's railroad lines. In order to access

a certain group of colonies, a new line would have to be laid, in which case the tracks

would have to pass through thefinca Rolando belonging to Jos6 Lezama and Juan Larrea.

The two had acquired that property by inheritance. Lezama was the owner of five

plantations in Matanzas, and Larrea was a colono who farmed land belonging to Sag

Vicente.2 In addition to Rolando, Lezama owned Carambola, a property he had bought

in 1910, for $35,000.43

At the time of purchase, Carambola was being leased to Alfredo Fernandez, the

owner of nearby Central Soledad.44 Fernmndez's lease would expire at the end of one

more year, and although he wanted to continue renting Carambola, Lezama actually

desired that San Vicente lease thefinca. Alonso claimed that the property was not worth

renting. He had made his opinion clear to Rionda previously when he wrote that

Carambola was overvalued at the price of $35,000.45 Nevertheless, for the sake of the

42 In her work, McAvoy-Weissman writes that Lezama owned four plantations in Matanzas. See Chp. 11, p.
12. Alonso makes reference to another mill that Lezama owned. See BBC, Series 14, vol. 6, Placido
Alonso to Manuel Rionda, June 19, 1917.

43 BBC, Series 14, vol. 4, Placido Alonso to Manuel Rionda, July 2, 1911 and October 1, 1910.

" Alonso wrote that Fernandez still had two years left in his contract when Lezama purchased Carambola in
the fall of 1910. See ibid., October 1, 1910.

45 BBC, Series 14, vol. 4, Placido Alonso to Manuel Rionda, October 1, 1910.

proposed rail line, leasing Carambola would probably be worthwhile. Alonso felt he

could work a deal with Lezama that would be to San Vicente's advantage, yet that which

actually transpired was an arrangement in Lezama's favor.46

Lezama and Larrea negotiated jointly as co-inheritors with San Vicente. In his

letter to Rionda on the their proposition, Alonso initially rejected it. Yet, he made it

clear that he did not care to "fight" the two on the matter and that he would carry out the

decision that Rionda gave.47 In the contract between the two parties, the mill agreed to

lease Carambola from Lezama for the same amount that it agreed to rent him Gratitud,

which Larrea farmed by contract with San Vicente. Essentially, the two estates, San

Vicente and Rolando, tradedfincas, and for the sake of legality, wrote the exchange as a

property lease agreement. In addition, the contract stipulated that San Vicente had to pay

Lezama $1,000 annually for the passage of its railroad line through Rolando.48 Finally,

the central would have to also purchase Rolando's cane at seven arrobas-a high price

for cane. Nonetheless, since San Vicente desired to hold on to Gratitud, the central

actually ended up renting it back from Lezama through another deal.49 In later discussing

Rolando, Alonso would claim that Lezama purposely acquired that property with the

premeditated idea to do San Vicente the greatest harm possible.,5

6 BBC, Series 14, vol. 4, Placido Alonso to Manuel Rionda, July 2, 1911.

47 Ibid. Translated by B. Fraga

4 Contract found in BBC, Series 14, vol. 4, p. 40.

49 BBC, Series 14, vol. 5, Plicido Alonso to Manuel Rionda, October 14, 1915.

50 BBC, Series 14, vol. 5, Placido Alonso to Manuel Rionda, 14 October 1915. Later documents reveal that
Lorenzo Ibarra, a colono, was the proprietor of Gratitud and Aguas Nuevas during the 1920s. San Vicente
paid him for leasing the twofincas.

Despite the loss of direct ownership over Gratitud, San Vicente would own a total

of 125 caballerias by 1916-17. The mill had begun to acquire additional land after the

start of the war. The central itself continued to measure 65 caballerias. To the central's

domain, Alonso added the fincas Toscano, with its 32 caballerias, and Gay, measuring

28 caballerias. In addition, the mill rented 107 caballerias and was negotiating the

acquisition of another finca, Herrera, comprising 64 caballerias. The land San Vicente

now rented was in the form of four separate properties, or fincas, Gratitud, Aguas

Nuevas, Sandoval, and Panchita.51 As a result of the acquisitions made during the war,

San Vicente owned and controlled more land than before 1914.52

San Vicente obtained the majority of its cane from land that it owned and rented.

However, in the four-year period before the war, the percentage of cane supplied to the

mill from lands outside its control increased dramatically. In 1911, 18.71% of its cane

came from farmers other than colonos del central. That figure increased to 39.78% in

1913 and to 42.6% in 1914, just before the war. At the same time, San Vicente's

production capacity increased, which stimulated a rise in the mill's demand for cane.

Unable to obtain sufficient amounts of cane from lands it controlled, San Vicente relied

more and more on colonos de afuera. Some of these owned the lands they farmed, while

some rented their properties from other cane farmers or from a party other than the mill.

51 BBC, Series 14, vol. 5, Plicido Alonso to Manuel Rionda, Jun 18, 1916 and Jun 10, 1917.

52 According to the 1922 Annual Report, San Vicente owned 65 cabs. between 1911-12 1914-15, which
corresponds to the loss of Gratitud in 1911. That figure increased to 97 cabs. In 1915-16 and to 125 cabs.
In 1916-17. Original figures given in acres. See BBC, Series 10, Box 91, Folder title: Compafiia San
Vicente, working papers of Manuel Rionda.

San Vicente's increasing dependence on colonos de afuera for its cane testifies to the

competitive environment about which the mill manager constantly wrote in his reports.53

World War I: High Prices and Expansion

The direct impact of the war on the Cuban sugar industry was the increase in the

commodity's price. From this effect, stemmed almost all the other outcomes produced in

Cuba during the conflict. The higher price of sugar enriched both central owners and

colonos. "Colonos became almost as rich as mill owners," claims Hugh Thomas, adding,

"Many successfully cleared their debts to the mills-though as often running into greater

obligations through receiving advances to plant a larger crop next year.""5 The Cuban

sugar industry's income rose from $163,400,000 in 1914, to $347,100,000 in 1918. In

the five years previous to the war, the average had been $109,980,00-less than one third

of both the 1917 and 1918 figures.55

The higher price of sugar also enriched the Cuban state. Although the

government's expenditures had been increasing, the treasury accumulated $8,000,000 in

surplus during 1916-1917." In addition, the increased price and the promise of greater

profits lured new foreign capital investments, such as the Cuba Cane Sugar Corporation,

" Percentages calculated from figures given by Placido Alonso in his letterbooks, BBC, Series 14. As
regards administration farming, the only mention found in San Vicente's records pertains tofinca Herrera.
In his letter describing the property at the time of its acquisition by the Riondas, Alonso wrote that of the
one million arrobas of cane it had, between 400,000 to 450,000 arrobar were "por administracion." See
BBC, Series 14, vol. 5, Plicido Alonso to Manuel Rionda, May 25, 1917.

54 Thomas, 540.

" Figures taken from Schroeder, 259.
'6 Jenks, 184.

to the island, especially to the eastern portion. By 1918, Cuba Cane was the largest sugar

enterprise in the world.7 Although it did not establish any new centrales, the

corporation was involved in the reconstruction and upgrade of existing mills. Thirty-nine

mills had been rebuilt, newly erected, or were being installed throughout the island by

1918. In the first year of the war three new centrales were founded in eastern Cuba. A

year later, twelve new mills were added in that region. Between 1907 and 1919, a total

of twenty-one new mills were constructed in Oriente.58

At San Vicente, in the west, during approximately the same time period, over

$700,000 had been spent, and over a hundred caballerias had been cleared. Eighty

percent of its cane grew on land that was not in cultivation prior to 1906. The mill's

production capacity was increased to 125,000 bags and it had access to over 12,000,000

arrobas of cane.59 World War I brought no major changes to central-colono relations on

San Vicente. Competition for cane continued, and the intricate nature of land tenure

remained in intact. The war, however, intensified these factors distinctive to sugar

production in western Cuba.

On August 4, 1914, Rionda wrote to Regino Truffin, a business partner, that while

it was true that the war was increasing the price of sugar, it was also interrupting

financial operations. Nevertheless, if the war continued, it was only natural to expect

higher prices for the upcoming harvest.60 Rionda's primary worry regarding the sugar

57 Thomas, 538.

5 Ibid., 538-539.

'9 BBC, Series 2, vol. 38, Manuel Rionda to Walter Ogilvie, August 20, 1915.

60 BBC, Series 2, vol. 35, Manuel Rionda to Regino Truffin, August 4, 1914.

industry at the outbreak of the war was the question of financing the Cuban crop. To

Victor Zevallos in charge of the Cuban Trading Company in Havana, Rionda wrote, "I

am afraid if the European war should spread, it will result in the curtailment of credits."6

Cuba needed S30,000,000 from Europe to finance its upcoming harvest, and it seemed as

if the island would be left alone to cover that amount.62 Nevertheless, while preaching

caution to his "boys" in Cuba, Rionda also made plans and gave instructions to expand.

After all, prices were high, and as long as they refrained from reckless speculation, the

Riondas and their associates could do well in the current situation.63

Rionda instructed Zevallos to buy more rails for San Vicente if the central

required them. San Vicente did in fact require additional rails. The year the war started

the central built a railroad line northward to access cane that had previously been

arriving to the mill in ox carts. It was too expensive for colonos to cultivate in that area

without an efficient method to transport their cane. In 1915, the Riondas discovered that

San Vicente needed to extend its railroad to the town of Contreras to connect with the

main line belonging to United Railways in order to increase its output. Doing so, would

give the mill access to new lands that had begun cultivating cane.6 The mill expanded

61 BBC, Series 2, vol. 35, Manuel Rionda to Victor Zevallos, July 30, 1914.

62 BBC, Series 2, vol. 35, Manuel Rionda to Victor Zevallos, August 3, 1914.
63 On Rionda's business conservatism, see ibid., August 5, 1914. Credit did arrive from Europe to cover the
upcoming harvest the end of August 1914. See McAvoy-Weissman, Chp. 8, p. 4.

64 BBC, Series 2, vol. 38, Manuel Rionda to Walter Ogilvie, August 20, 1915.

its railroad lines from 6.21 miles in 1913-14 to 11.5 miles in 1914-15, 16.76 in 1916-17,

and 17.4 in 1917-18.65

The conflict was having a positive impact on San Vicente. The mill did

especially well during the harvest of 1914-15. During the war, it had attained its largest

profit ($319,176.36) and had produced its greatest quantity of bags (97,584) at the end of

the 1915 crop.66 Rionda praised Alonso for a job well done despite competition from

rival centrales Nueva Luisa and Olimpo.67 "Now everyone wonders at [its] success,"

remarked Tio Manuel about San Vicente to his nephew Jose Rionda.68 In spite of

Alonso's accomplishment, Rionda wanted him to continue expanding northward where

there was less competition, which during the war was also largely in the sale of land.69

Several properties were now being sought and offered for sale and rent. Alonso was kept

occupied with determining which ones to acquire.70

San Vicente decided to buy thefinca Gay, which it had been renting, after Alonso

became aware that a third party wished to purchase the property. Alonso felt that after

having invested in developing the property, they could not afford to lose it to someone

65 BBC, Series 10, Box 91, Folder title: Compaflia San Vicente, working papers of Manuel Rionda, Annual
Report for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1922.

67 BBC, Series 2, vol. 38, Manuel Rionda to Placido Alonso, August 20, 1915.

68 BBC, Series 2, vol. 38, Manuel Rionda to Jose Rionda, July 26, 1915.

69 BBC, Series 2, vol. 40, Manuel Rionda to Placido Alonso, May 29,1916.

70 Alonso, like Rionda's other nephews, was also engaged in the establishment of the Cuba Cane Sugar
Corporation. He was instructed to search for properties that the CCSC could also purchase. For his work,
he was rewarded with 75 shares in the new corporation. See BBC, Series 14, vol. 6, Plicido Alonso to
Manuel Rionda, July 6, 1916 and August 3, 1916.

else, especially now that Cuban sugar was in high demand.71 He turned down the

acquisition of San Juan de Peraza because he felt its price was too high.72 Whether or not

Alonso entered in negotiations for a property, he kept a close watch on the buying and

selling of properties in the area to determine the degree of competition they could


A high price did not keep San Vicente from acquiring thefinca Herrera. In 1917,

San Vicente decided to take an eight-year lease on Herrera for $35,000 with an annual

interest of seven percent. Six years before, however, Alonso had terminated negotiations

for that property because he felt its owners were asking too much in wanting between

$16,000 and $17,000 for the property. Measuring sixty-four caballerias, the property had

approximately one million arrobas of cane, of which between 400,000 and 450,000 were

farmed through administration. The rest was grown by "colonos pequefios" (lesser

colonos). The year before the contract was signed, San Vicente had obtained about

100,000 arrobas from this group of cane farmers. In the lease, the colonos on Herrera

were offered an eight-year contract for cane at a price of 6% arrobas under the same

conditions that applied to the colonos of San Vicente (colonos de lafinca).74 Before the

contract was signed, Alonso was aware that many of the lesser colonos were going to

71 BBC, Series 14, vol. 6, Placido Alonso to Manuel Rionda, July 27, 1916.

72 Ibid.

73 Ibid.

74 BBC, Series 14, vol. 5, Placido Alonso to Manuel Rionda, May 25, 1917.


take their cane elsewhere; however, he was certain that others would come attracted by

the prospects of doing business with San Vicente.75

To attract and keep colonos, Alonso and Rionda continued their efforts at

pleasing them. For instance, in advancing money to the colonos on Herrera for the dead

season, San Vicente did not charge them interest.76 The competitive environment within

the sugar industry in western Cuba continued throughout the conflict, and for the most

part, several independent cane farmers were able to use the situation to their benefit. The

experience of Central Washington, one of the two Rionda estates in the province of Las

Villas, also serves as an example illustrating colono success in negotiating higher prices

during WWI.7

Rionda blamed the poor performance of Central Washington at the end of the

1914-15 harvest on the high price it paid colonos. A lesser reason was the poverty of the

soil, as his nephew Jose Rionda, administrator of the estate, claimed.78 For example,

Pedro Alvarez, described as an important colono of the area, was able to obtain a higher

price for his cane than the Riondas had desired. His colonial was important to the mill's

production. Referring to this specific case in a letter to Jos6, Tio Manuel expressed his

particular dislike for situations in which colonos were in an advantageous position vis-a-

75 BBC, Series 14, vol. 5, Placido Alonso to Manuel Rionda, June 10, 1917. The only mention of
administration cane in San Vicente's records is found in the case of Herrera.

76 BBC, Series 14, vol. 5, Placido Alonso to Manuel Rionda, May 25, 1917.

" Central Washington was located in the western part of Las Villas.

78 BBC, Series 2, vol. 38, Manuel Rionda to Jos6 Rionda, July 26, 1915.

vis the central.79 Yet, that was an inherent feature of the industry in the western sugar

producing areas.

In the summer of 1917, Alonso stated that all of San Vicente's cane farmers were

being treated well and was certain that they did not have any complaints. According to

him, they were helped with their needs in every way possible. The manager claimed that

no other mill in the area looked after its colonos as well as San Vicente, and for the most

part, the cane farmers were thankful." Rionda was pleased that Alonso attended to the

colonos, and stated that the only thing he expected from the upcoming harvest of 1917

was that they be satisfied.81

Labor Shortage and the Increase in Wages

The harvest of 1917 was Cuba's first harvest since declaring war on Germany.

Cuba did so on April 7, 1917, a day after the United States had announced it was entering

the conflict as an Allied nation. Thus, as Leland Jenks writes, "Cuba became the first

nation to follow the lead of the United States in entering the war which had engulfed

'Europe for nearly three years... sugar and geography had made Cuba a participant in the

World War.'"8 Beginning in 1917, Cuba experienced the other effects of the war to a

more noticeable degree. According to John Dumoulin, "The war, as a global conflict,

interrupted the flow of international commerce, [creating] shortages that did not exist

9 BBC, Series 2, vol. 36, Manuel Rionda to Jose Rionda, May 11, 1915.

s8 BBC, Series 14, vol. 5, Plicido Alonso to Manuel Rionda, June 10, 1917.

81 BBC, Series 14, vol. 5, Manuel Rionda to Plicido Alonso, June 6, 1917 and June 15, 1917.

SJenks, 194.

before,... it could not avoid creating an inflationary tendency, perturbing the mercantile

mechanisms that regulated the economy."83 Just as the price of sugar increased, the cost

of production did also.

For colonos throughout the island, that meant continuous and larger debts. After

the harvest of 1915, all of San Vicente's colonos had cleared their debts with the mill.

Yet, as noted earlier by Hugh Thomas, farmers "often [ran] into greater obligations

through receiving advances to plant a large crop next year."8 In 1917, some of the more

prominent colonos with whom San Vicente had contracts were in debt-all due to having

made "ampliaciones" (enlargements).85 Lorenzo de Ibarra wrote directly to Rionda to

request that he not be charged the amount he owed in interest; Rionda conceded.8

Manuel Rubio was in debt for $30,000 for the purchase of Sandoval. "Even the Larreas

do not have any money left over .. and, in those conditions, we do not have to fear

them." 87 It seems as if the colonos' being in debt was a paradox for San Vicente, for

while it kept them tied to the mill, the debt represented money that the central did not


" John Dumoulin, Azicar v Lucha de Clases 1917 (La Habana: Editorial de Ciencias Socialesm 1980), 7.
Translated by B. Fraga; The inflationary tendencies produced by the war actually began to be felt in Cuba as
early as the autumn of 1914. According to The Cuba Review, food prices in Matanzas were steadily rising
by October of that year. Meanwhile, laborers, mill employees, and cane farmers were being "paid the same
old price." October 1914, 12.

84 Thomas, 538.

85 BBC, Series 14, vol. 5, Plicido Alonso to Manuel Rionda, June 11, 1917.

86 BBC, Series 14, vol. 5, Placido Alonso to Manuel Rionda, June 22, 1917 and July 9, 1917; BBC, Series
2, vol. 42, Manuel Rionda to Plicido Alonso, June 22, 1917 and July 2, 1917.

87 BBC, Series 14, vol. 5, Placido Alonso to Manuel Rionda, June 11, 1917. Translated by B. Fraga.

The shortage of labor was the primary reason that the cost of production had

increased. The demand for Cuban sugar that had led to the proliferation of centrales also

stimulated an increase in the demand for laborers. Subsequently, wages increased, and

the colono now had to pay workers more. "While it is true that the cost of production has

increased very much, that increase is more in the share of the colono than that of the

factories," wrote Rionda.88 According to the sugar magnate, "He [the colono] has to

pay much higher wages for cutting, lifting, and carting all the cane and also for

weeding."89 Furthermore, labor was unreliable. Securing labor was one of the

difficulties with which the cane farmer had to contend. Many times, he had to go to

Havana to find and hire the necessary fieldhands. The cane farmer would engage about

twenty or thirty men and pay them a certain amount in advance. Many would leave after

only a brief stay at the colonial, and the colono essentially lost the money he had spent on


Rionda's solution to the labor shortage was the importation of Haitian, Jamaican,

Chinese, and European laborers. He claimed, "If the Cuban government made the effort

to import 200/300,000 Chinese, the labor problem would be resolved; or, if it passed laws

as in West Virginia requiring all males between 16 and 60 to work at least 36 hours per

week."91 Although Alonso does not give any information on the use of foreign laborers

88 BBC, Series 2, vol. 42, Manuel Rionda to Victor Zevallos, May 22, 1917.

89 Ibid.

9 BBC, Series 2, vol. 42, Manuel Rionda to Victor Zevallos, May 23, 1917.

9' Ibid.

on San Vicente, he nonetheless agreed with Rionda, claiming they essentially would be a

cane cutting machine that would not break down easily.92

Having smuggled laborers into Cuba in 1916, by June 1917, Rionda was counting

on the fact that the United States and Cuba were now at war to resolve the labor

shortage.93 Although Cuban President Menocal was in favor of importing Chinese

workers, Rionda was aware that Cuba had to first obtain the consent of the U.S.

government, claiming, "it would be better to put the matter up to the U.S. and say we

cannot produce sugar in Cuba unless we have coal, tonnage, and labor."94 Shortly

thereafter, Cuba passed a law allowing non-white immigration, and Rionda imported his

Chinese laborers.95

International Regulation of the Sugar Industry

On each of the "five home plantations" belonging to the Riondas, the cost of

production had increased considerably.9 Assessing that cost was necessary not only for

their own records but also for the International Sugar Commission. On May 22, 1917,

Rionda made it known that he was aware that a commission would be formed in New

York to regulate the buying and selling of Cuban sugar. Although he believed that it

would initially confine itself to handling only the purchasing of sugar for Great Britain,

9 BBC, Series 14, vol. 5, Pltcido Alonso to Manuel Rionda, June 10, 1917.

93 BBC, Series 2, vol. 42, Manuel Rionda to Jose Rionda, October 16, 1916; BBC, Series 2, vol. 41, Manuel
Rionda to Victor Zevallos, June 1, 1917.

94 BBC, Series 2, vol. 42, Manuel Rionda to Victor Zevallos, June 14, 1917.

95 BBC, Series 2, vol. 43, Ibid., August 2, 1917.

96 BBC, Series 14, vol. 42, Manuel Rionda to Victor Zevallos, May 26, 1917.

Rionda was mindful that the commission might extend itself to buying sugar for the

United States. "Much against my wish," as Rionda claimed, competition would be


"There is absolutely no doubt that the United States government is going to have

some control over prices of foodstuffs. ... The President will appoint Mr. Hoover as

Food Administrator," Rionda stated. Given the likelihood that the price of sugar would

be fixed, Rionda would try to get on the commission. He felt that someone with his

extensive knowledge of the cost of production-aware of the differences between

western and eastern Cuba-was needed on the commission to "look after Cuban

interests." The increase in production cost would have to be demonstrated in company

books, for already F. J. Sheridan, of the Department of Commerce's Bureau of Foreign

and Domestic Commerce, was traveling throughout Cuba collecting data on production

costs of sugar.98

On August 31, 1917, Herbert Hoover, who was appointed as Food Administrator

on May 10, wrote the British Food Controller, Lord Rhondda, about establishing a joint

five-man commission in New York to set the price for raw sugar and apportion the

Cuban crop." Great Britain had been regulating its purchases of sugar and had been

handling the purchases of sugar for the Allied nations of Europe since the outbreak of the

war through the Royal Commission.100 Britain bought raw sugar directly from Cuba, and

91 BBC, Series 2, vol. 42, Manuel Rionda to Victor Zevallos, May 22, 1917.

98 Ibid.

" McAvoy-Weissman, Chp. 11, p. 8.
'10 Thomas, 537.

when the United States entered the war, Hoover desired put a stop to the competition that

existed between U.S. refiners and their fellow allies in the purchase of sugar.101

Hoover wanted to keep the price of sugar down; it had been skyrocketing

throughout the summer months. On June 1, 1917, it was 5.89 cents per pound. A month

later, sugar sold for 6.52 cents per pound and for 7.02 on August 1. By the end of the

week, on August 7, the price had risen to 7.52 cents per pound.102 To essentially control

the price of sugar, Hoover appointed Earl Babst, William A. Jamison, and Mr. Rolph

from the United States to the International Sugar Committee (ISC). Great Britain sent Sir

Joseph White-Todd and John Ramsey Drake. Only refiners were represented on the

committee-no sugar producers or sugar brokers.

For its part, Cuba formed its own committee, the Cuban Committee. On

September 12, 1917, President Menocal appointed Jose M. Tarafa, Jose I. Lezama, and

Carlos Miguel Cespedes to a committee to negotiate with the ISC. They proposed a price

of 4.75 cents per pound free on board (f. o. b.), which they considered fair.'03 Fair to the

Cuban producer was defined as the cost of production plus a reasonable profit. The

Cuban Committee was not successful.14 Rionda took advantage of this failure to get

himself assigned to the committee by having prominent sugar men in Cuba lobby

101 BBC, Series 14, vol. 42, Manuel Rionda to Victor Zevallos, June 21, 1917. According to Jenks, Hoover
felt that "Great Britain and the Allies had to be dealt with, too. For they were bidding for Cuban sugar
against the United States." See Our Cuban Colony. 198.
102 Joshua Bernhardt, Government Control of the Suear Industry in the United States: An Account of the
Work of the United States Food Administration and the United States Eualization Board. Inc. (New York:
The Macmillan Co., 1920), 8. The prices listed by Bernhardt are for raw sugar, duty paid in New York.
103 Dumoulin, 46 On price definitions, see Ellis, 23-25. The free on board (f o. b.) price was the price of
sugar before the cost of freight was added to it-essentially, the price before the sugar left a Cuban port.
104 Dumoulin, 46.

Menocal for his appointment on the basis that he could better negotiate with Hoover. 10

Consequently, Menocal established a new committee composed of C6spedes, Rionda,

and R.B. Hawley-the Cuban ambassador to the United States and the two largest

producers of Cuban sugar. Menocal insisted that they advocate a price of 4.75 cents f. o.

b.. Nevertheless, the ISC set the price at 4.60 f. o. b.. Rionda and Hawley agreed, but

most of the Cuban producers did not. Colonos were also not satisfied with the price. 06

Rionda felt that the fixed price would ensure a substantial profit to at least all the

efficient producers. Furthermore, he felt it was best to deal with the ISC, as the United

States would not allow Cuba to sell refined sugar to Spain or to South America because

then U.S. refiners would lose part of their foreign trade.'07 Essentially, Cuba had n6

choice. Nevertheless, Cuba did not agree to the price, and no sugar was sold. The year

came to a close and the sugar that had been milled in November remained in Cuba. In

response, the United States kept its shipments of coal and flour bound for Cuba in U.S.

ports.'08 "It will be necessary . to call attention of Mr. Hoover and all the other

government authorities concerned to the fact that without coal, Cuba cannot make a

crop," Rionda claimed on January 18.'09 Late in January 1918, Hawley and Rionda

signed contracts and the sugar trade resumed its activity at a price of 4.60 cents a pound.

10o McAvoy-Weisman, Chp. 11, p. 18.

06 Dumoulin, 53.
107 BBC, Series 2, vol. 43, Manuel Rionda to Victor Zevallos, December 17, 1917.

108 Jenks, 198-199.

'09 BBC, Series 2, vol. 44, Manuel Rionda to Victor Zevallos, January 18, 1918.

As Jenks writes, "Thus the United States, made use of an economic sanction to bring a

dependent ally to agree to a price for the principal crop of her citizens.""10

On the effect of the fixed price of sugar on the colono, Rionda wrote:

While the present profits in Cuba are not to be
despised, I must confess that our cost of production
has also increased materially, especially in the cost
of the cane to the cane farmer and I do not see a
great deal of enthusiasm on the part of the farmer to
increase his production. A great many are selling
their colonies because being in actual possession of a
fortune which they never expected to attain, they do
not want to jeopardize it by planting cane with labor
so high that it makes the cost of planting double what
it was in former times, and then run the risk that
when it comes to cutting the cane two years hence,
the farmer may have to sell the sugar at a sacrifice. "'

Rionda's passage reveals that during the latter part of the war the colonato had

functioned as the centrales intended. As the cost of production increased, the colono was

expected to bear the brunt of it. The records researched pertaining to San Vicente did

not disclose information on the colonos' condition regarding labor. Nevertheless, it is

reported that after having cleared their debts in 1915, colonos at San Vicente-at least

the more prominent ones-went into debt in 1917. Furthermore, as cited previously,

Rionda acknowledged that the increase in labor wages was "more in the share of the

colono" than of the mill.112

11 Jenks, 199-200.

I" BBC, Series 10, Box 6, Manuel Rionda to Julius Ganzoni, March 14, 1918. On the topic of the
regulation of sugar prices, see Thomas, 539. He writes, "The agreed fixed price was high in relation to the
pre-1914 average, but prices, especially of imports, were also high, and the handling of the crop caused
difficulties with the settlement of what was due to colonos."

"2 BBC, Series 2, vol. 42, Manuel Rionda to Victor Zevallos, May 22, 1917.

After the Great War, prices shot upward as soon as the price fixing mechanisms

employed during the conflict were removed. During the brief period 1919-20, Cuba

reveled in "The Dance of the Millions"-millions were made as the price of sugar

reached 22.5 cents. Conversely, when the sugar market settled after the frenzy of

deregulation and Cuban sugar was no longer in such high demand as during the war

years, Cuba experienced its first in a series of economic recessions in the post-war era.

As central-colono relations were affected by the increase in sugar prices during WWI, so

too would they be affected by a world market characterized by low sugar prices. "Don't

let us be tempted by the enormous profits the colonos make now, for the lean years are

bound to come," foreshadowed Rionda before the war's end."3

"3 BBC, Series 2, vol. 42, Manuel Rionda to Leandro Rionda, May 15, 1917.


World War I ended with an armistice on November 11, 1918, but the regulation

of sugar continued for a brief period thereafter. In that summer, the United States had

established the Sugar Equalization Board, Inc., "for the purpose in part of equalizing the

distribution and selling price of sugar, and ... to purchase domestic or foreign raw sugar

in such quantities, at such prices... as it may deem advisable, and to resell said sugar in

its discretion at, below or above cost... ."' In short, the corporation was the sole agency

with the authority to buy the entire Cuban crop outright and to make allocations to the

Allies.' Almost three weeks prior to the cessation of hostilities, the Equalization Board

had finalized the purchase of the Cuban crop for the 1918-19 harvest at the price of 5.88

cents per pound.3 According to Leland Jenks, the United States made a profit of

$42,000,000 from that transaction.4

SAgreement as to Cuban Sugars 1918-1919 Crop. Between United States Sugar Eaualization Board
(Incorporated) and A Commission of the Republic of Cuba and Agents of Cuban Producers printed in
Czarnikow-Rionda, Co., The Cuba Sugar Croo. 1918-1919: Negotiations Regarding Sale. Etc. (New York
Czarnikow-Rionda, Co., 1920), 33.

2 BBC. Series 10, Box 6, Folder title: European Mail, Ganzoni to Manuel Rionda, September 17, 1918.
Jenks, 201.

3 Agreement as to Cuban Sugars. 35; Jenks, 215.

SJenks. 203 According to Jenks, Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States, was the principal
shareholder of the Sugar Equalization Board. Inc., and Herbert Hoover was chairman of the board of
directors Also see BBC, Series 2, vol. 45, Manuel Rionda to Victor Zevallos, September 20, 1918. In his
letter. Rionda wrote that the United States Treasury would be the sole owner of stock in the Equalization

In January 1919. the Equalization Board deregulated the refining and

manufacturing of sugar in the United States and permitted Cuba to sell "directly to Spain.

France. Canada, and other countries, to keep open marketing relations."' Full

deregulation of tb" ugar trade came in autumn when the agency instructed U.S. refiners

to buy raw sugar at whatever prices they could obtain. Ironically, Cuban sugar producers,

who had initially opposed price controls, were against the lifting of fixed rates, for they

had come to appreciate the stability that regulation afforded them by ensuring profits."

They offered to sell the entire 1920 crop at 6.5 cents per pound, but the Wilson

administration was too absorbed in the post-war projects for the reconstruction of Europe

and the establishment of the League of Nations to fully consider the Cubans' proposal.7

While both U.S. refiners and Cuban producers awaited a decision from President

Wilson, news spread in Cuba that the Equalization Board was reselling Cuban sugar at a

price higher than the one at which Cubans were required to sell. Cuban producers

retaliated by withholding some of their sugar from delivery to the United States.

Consequently, U.S. refiners, fearing potential shortages, urged the Equalization Board to

S'force the Cubans to deliver their raw sugar. The corporation decided to free itself from

the dilemma in which it found itself and terminated its control of the international

5 For quotation, see Jenks, 215. The Food Administration had the set the price of refined sugar on the New
York Exchange at 9 cents per pound. See Jenks, 201-202.

6 Republic of Cuba, Statement Issued to the Planters. Colonos and Merchants of Cuba (Havana: The Sugar
Finance Committee, 1921), 1.

SJenks. 216

supply of sugar. As a result, refiners quickly began bidding for sugar, and prices soared

like never before.8

The Dance of the Millions

The refiners' frenzy in buying sugar pushed the pnce steadily and rapidly upward.

Between the fall of 1919 and May of 1920, it rose from 6.5 to 22.5 cents a pound. In

Cuba, this dramatic increase triggered "the dance of the millions."'0 Excessive

speculation marked the period 1919-20, as central owners, colonos, bankers, and just

about anyone eager to make a substantial profit engaged in the expansion of sugar

production." Unfortunately, this interval of exorbitant profit-making was short-lived, fr

the price of sugar began tumbling downward after mid-May-not even a year after it had

begun spiraling upward.'2 Nevertheless, the mania that reigned in the Cuban sugar

industry during the brief period of "the dance of the millions" was widespread and far-


While U.S. refineries had triggered the inordinate expansion of sugar production

,'in Cuba, banks on the island, both domestic and foreign, fueled it by providing the

necessary credit. They financed the improvements and additions to sugar mills made by

central owners and the cultivation of more land by colonos. They too were caught up in

8 Jenks, 217-218.

' [bid.. 218.
o1 A Havana journalist coined the term "The dance of the millions" to describe the period of excessive
speculation during the 1919-20 harvest. See Jenks, 206.

" Republic of Cuba, Statement Issued. 2.

J Jenks, 219

the excitement of the moment and encouraged speculation. According to Jenks. banks in

Cuba were not very cautious in their lending practices during 'the dance of the millions.

Cuban farmers, who had borrowed of one bank all
that they needed to harvest their crop, were begged
by rival managers to borrow more. They might build
a bigger house with the money, buy a car, send their
families abroad! Cuban. American. Spanish, British-
all were the same. This was the prevailing spirit of
the banking business carried on in Cuba. Wall Street
beamed upon it. .. It was a cloudburst of bank
credit which struck Cuba. 3

In effect, bankers advanced money to almost anyone willing to use it. They did

so primarily in the form of loans against mortgages on sugar properties or loans secured

upon sugar in warehouses and crops in the field. With credit and extremely high prices,

Cuba entered another phase in the sugar boom originally caused by World War I. In

1919 and 1920, due to their rapid increase, sugar prices substantially surpassed the cost

of production which had risen due to the inflationary tendencies during the war.

"Colonos benefited proportionately with the advancing price of sugar," writes Jenks,

further claiming,

It was an unambitious [colono] who did not incur
fresh indebtedness upon advances made to enable to
him plant a larger acreage of cane. Large colonos
were rich. . There were millionaire colonos in
Cuba. Some of them purchased mills from
European or North American owners, or went into
partnership to do so. Small colonos knew a degree
of unwonted comfort. . The more well-to-do
erected palatial homes in the Vedado and sent their
families upon summer tours to Europe and the
United States.1

14 Ibid. 222

" Jenks. 213

Rionda had wntten before the war's end that the unwontedd comfort" which was

occasioned by the relatively high prices during the conflict had stimulated colons

unaccustomed to such fortunes to sell their properties. The sale of colonias, although not

onl by cane farmers, continued during "the dance of the millions." So profitable had the

sugar industry become that many throughout Cuba became eager to supply cane to the

sugar mills." Lino Diaz, a colono who sold his cane to San Vicente, wrote directly to

Manuel Rionda in 1919, requesting the acquisition of Colonia Aguas Nuevas for his son

and Colonia Gratitud for his brother-in-law.16 Approximately during the same time,

Rionda received another solicitation for a colonial, and he instructed Placido Alonso to

handle the matter. The solicitor, W. H. Ramsay, was hired as second administrator in

one of the mills owned by the Cuba Cane Sugar Corporation, and his brother was placed

in charge ofa colonia in thefinca Las Alegrias.'7 Motivated by the profits being made in

real estate during the height of "the dance of the millions," the owner in proxy of the

finca Herrera decided to place the property on the market. San Vicente, which rented

Herrera at the time, declined the offer to purchase it, leaving the door open for Tomas

belgado, a cane farmer, to buy the property instead. 8

J1 lenks, 181.

16 BBC, Series 2, vol. 47, Manuel Rionda to Placido Alonso, September 6, 1919.

" BBC. Series 2, vol. 47. Manuel Rionda to Placido Alonso, October 17,1919; BBC, Series 2, vol. 48,
Manuel Rionda to Placido Alonso, November 19. 1919

1' BBC. Series 2. vol. 48, Manuel Rionda to Placido Alonso. May 10, 1920. Herrera was being sold by
Alberto Santurtun. As the agent for the Santurtin family inheritance, he was owner in proxy of thefinca.
Manuel Rionda instructed Placido Alonso to decline its purchase since they were in the process of trying to
sell San Vicente.

Colonias were not the only properties being sought after or offered for sale.

Sugar mills were also changing hands. Fifty centrales, or roughly one quarter of the

sugar factories in Cuba, were transferred from one owner to another at the height of the

sugar boom in 1920.1 The sale and purchase of mills was induced by the push toward

integration within the industry. If the proliferation of centrales had been the

distinguishing characteristic of the Cuban sugar industry during the war years, then

integration was the primary feature during "the dance of the millions." According to

Hugh Thomas, "companies involved in one stage of sugar production sought to gain

control of the remaining stages."20

Refiners and food processors in the United States were especially concerned

about securing control of the other steps in the entire process of the manufacture of sugar.

As Michael Marconi Braga explains, their success depended on the competitiveness of

the price of their final product in the market. If their price was too high, owing to the

increased cost of raw materials, they risked losing customers and seeing their sales and

profit margins drop. Therefore, they were specifically susceptible to the dramatic rise in

sugar prices, which they themselves had induced, and to the accessibility of its supply. If

they failed to obtain the amount of raw sugar they needed, they faced the possibility of

losing clients to their competitors within the industry.21

'9 Jenks. 219.

20 Thomas, 541.

: Michael Marconi Braga No Other Law But Supply And Demand: Institutional Change and the Cuban
Sugar Economy, these U of Texas, 1993, 15.

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