We have seen that the conquest, colonization, and peripheralization of vast regions of the world by seven European nation-states from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries involved the imposition of systems of forced labor for the production of raw materials, thus establishing a world-system in which the core nations have access to cheap labor and cheap raw materials as well as markets for their surplus manufactured goods (see “The modern world-economy” 8/2/2013; “Unequal exchange” 8/5/2013; “The origin of the modern world-economy” 8/6/2013; “Modernization of the West” 8/7/2013; “Conquest, gold, and Western development” 8/8/2013; “New peripheralization, 1750-1850” 8/20/2013; “The world-economy becomes global, 1815-1914” 8/21/2013; “Cuba in historical and global context” 6/12/2014).
In the case of Cuba, the raw materials products were sugar, tobacco, coffee, gold, and cattle products. The forced labor included African slave labor, indigenous slave labor, and the Spanish colonial labor systems of the encomienda and the repartimiento.
Gold. Using indigenous slave labor, gold nuggets were extracted from riverbed sand immediately following Spanish conquest of Cuba in 1511 and 1512. Father Bartolomé de las Casas, who would become famous as Bishop of Chiapas, Mexico, and as defender of indigenous peoples, documented the brutal treatment of the indigenous slaves, who toiled in the riverbeds from dawn to dusk. The exploitation of the gold ended in 1542, with the exhaustion of the gold and the near total extermination of the indigenous population, as a result of the harsh conditions of labor, the effects of disease, and the disruption of indigenous systems of production (López Segrera 1972:35-49; Pérez 2006:18-22; Foner 1962:20-32).
Cattle products. The exportation of cattle products to Spain, or to other European nations via contraband trade, was the principal economic activity in Cuba in the period 1550 to 1700. It was ideal for the conditions of limited supplies of labor and capital that existed in Cuba during the period (López Segrera 1972:36, 60-87).
Sugar. Sugar plantations were developed utilizing imported African slaves. They were first developed in Cuba at the end of the sixteenth century, and they continued to expand, especially after 1750, in conjunction with the expansion of the capitalist world-economy (see “New peripheralization, 1750-1850” 8/20/2013; “The world-economy becomes global, 1815-1914” 8/21/2013). Sugar plantations and slavery dominated the economy and defined the Cuban political-economic system during the eighteenth and most of the nineteenth century (López Segrera 1972:87-158; Pérez 2006:32-33, 40, 48, 54-65; Barcía, García, and Torres-Cuevas:259-60).
Coffee. Like sugar, coffee production was developed using African slave labor. It was never developed on the scale of sugar, but it was a significant part of the economy of colonial Cuba. It expanded following 1750, and it received a boost in Cuba as a result of the arrival of slaveholders and their slaves from Haiti following the Haitian revolution.
Tobacco. Whereas sugar, coffee, gold, and cattle products were developed in Cuba in accordance with a classical peripheral role, tobacco production in Cuba was developed with some core-like characteristics. Tobacco production for export emerged in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, and it was produced not by forced low-waged laborers but by middle class farmers. By the first half of the eighteenth century, some tobacco growers had accumulated sufficient capital to develop tobacco manufacturing. Tobacco production and manufacturing represented a potential for the development of Cuba that was different from the peripheral role represented by sugar, coffee, and slavery. During the first half of the eighteenth century, there was a possibility that Cuba would emerge as a semi-peripheral nation, with a degree of manufacturing and economic and commercial diversity. Contributing to this possibility was the diversity of economic activities found in the city of Havana, as a consequence of its role as a major international port. But with the expansion of sugar production after 1750, the peripheral role defined by sugar and coffee became predominant, although tobacco production by middle class farmers and tobacco manufacturing continued to exist (López Segrera 1972:75-76, 90-91; Pérez 2006:33, 40).
Consistent with the general patterns of the world-system, the peripheralization of Cuba created its underdevelopment. There were high levels of poverty and low levels of manufacturing. The vast majority of people lacked access to education, adequate nutrition and housing, and health care. Relatively privileged sectors, such as tobacco farmers, tobacco manufacturers, and the urban middle class, found their interests constrained by the peripheral role and by the structures of Spanish colonialism. Only owners of sugar and coffee plantations benefitted from the peripheralization of the island, and even they were constrained by Spanish colonialism. During the nineteenth century, these dynamics gave rise to a movement of national liberation, which we will discuss in the next post.
For further discussion of the peripheralization of Cuba, see “The Cuban revolutionary project and its development in historical and global context.”
Barcía, María del Carmen, Gloria García and Eduardo Torres-Cuevas. 1994. Historia de Cuba: La Colonia: Evolución Socioeconómica y formación nacional de los orígenes hasta 1867. La Habana: Editora Política.
Foner, Philip S. 1962. A History of Cuba and its Relations with the United States, Vol. I. New York: International Publishers.
López Segrera, Francisco. 1972. Cuba: Capitalismo Dependiente y Subdesarrollo (1510-1959). La Habana: Casa de las Américas.
Pérez, Jr., Louis A. 2006. Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution, 3rd edition. New York: Oxford University Press.
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, world-system, world-economy, development, underdevelopment, colonial, neocolonial, blog Third World perspective, peripheralization