From Economic Development of Latin America, 1970
Translated by Suzette Macedo
Singularity of the traditional Cuban economy
Cuba displays a number of peculiarities worth analysing separately in an overall study of the Latin American framework. Along with Puerto Rico, the island remained under Spanish rule until the beginning of this century, the colonial period having lasted almost a century longer in this area than in the rest of Latin America. When the Cuban people’s struggle to win their independence created impediments to US trade, the United States government used the conflict as a pretext for taking over the remnants of Spain’s former Empire in the Americas and Asia. Consequently, the Cuban National State started its independent life under the occupation of United States forces. This occupation has not yet entirely come to an end—the United States government still has a base on Cuban territory—and up to 1934 it could have been extended to the whole island at any time, ‘in the interests of the Cuban people’ as adjudged by the President of the United States, in accordance with the provisions of the famous ‘Platt Amendment’. The delay of almost a century in starting the process of building a nation-state, and the particular circumstances attending its emergence under the tutelage of a powerful neighbour, make the Cuban process unique in the Latin American context. However, Cuba’s singularity lies even deeper and its roots are to be found in the economic evolution of the island within the framework of the Antillean region.
The Spaniards first used the Caribbean islands as defence bases for their lines of communication with the mainland colonies. The indigenous populations, living at a rudimentary cultural level, were practically wiped out and extensive stock farming was established on the larger islands to supply the metropolitan fleets. From the seventeenth century, the smaller islands were occupied by the French and the English, who wanted to secure a foothold for an assault on the mainland. With a view to eventual penetration of the Spanish Empire, they encouraged white colonization of the islands they had occupied, founding settlements of small planters who combined the growing of subsistence crops with the production of tobacco and indigo for the European market. These settlements, which had been of political value to the metropolitan countries because they could provide colonial militias1 to be mobilized against the rich Spanish Empire, underwent profound changes during the latter part of the seventeenth century when the cultivation of sugar-cane was introduced into the islands by the Dutch settlers who had been driven out of the Brazilian Northeast. In fact, Dutch interests were responsible for developing sugar production in the Antilles. They financed sugar mills and the importation of slaves, provided technical assistance and guaranteed markets.