Arango y Parreño: Sugar and Exclusion
After the British withdrawal in 1763, Charles III abolished the commercial monopoly, fit out the Spanish ports for merchant traffic with Cuba, and contracted the import of slaves. These were a series of measures that offered the creole oligarchy the opportunity, to realize their dream of transforming Cuba into the world’s primary producer of sugar and coffee, an economic project — the best structured in our history — in which Francisco de Arango y Parreño (1765-1837), politician, lawyer and economist rose as its main figure.
His ideas concerning the promotion of the economy are essentially contained in two works: In Discourse on agriculture in Havana and ways to promote it (1792), he comprehensively analyzed the characteristics of an industrial enterprise beginning with its production, and continuing with the work force, its finance, distribution, and the markets; and in his 1794 report, How the refinery process done in Europe resulted in great detriment for Cuba (1794), he cited the mechanisms employed by the European cities for colonial domination. This was the first critique of mercantilism produced in a Spanish colony and is therefore a pioneering work of economic thought.
Haiti’s ruin and the soaring prices of sugar and coffee, caused by the revolution in neighboring island, created the conditions for Cuba to occupy its place in the international market. The main obstacle for the creole land-holders was in the slavery work force, and so they opted in a resolute way for a pure economy outside the boundaries of ethics. Thanks to his February 6, 1789 report, Arango, as Havana’s City Hall attorney, was able to bring before the Metropolitan Government the free import of slaves into the Island, first for two years and afterward for an additional six years. Fourteen Royal Cells, Orders and Decrees between 1789 and 1804, furthered the business of importing blacks which lead to the modern system of Black exploitation and the base for capitalistic growth. Sugar converted the Island in a great plantation that radically changed its geography, its economic structure and all aspects of the colonial society. In the decade of 1830, Cuba became the first global exporter of sugar, coffee, honey, rum and cooper, and was among the first in the world in wax, bee-honey and tobacco, at a time when the Black population was greater than the white.
Two consequences of Cuba’s new position were: 1.- The financial interests of the creole land-holders kept them away from the battle for independence that was taking place in the whole continent during the first quarter of the XIX Century. The war implicated their ruin as social class. They were trapped in a conflict that had no solution. They needed freedom for their ranks and slavery for the Blacks. 2.- Fear of the Blacks brought with it a major preoccupation concerning slave uprisings, bringing with it additional repressions. Facing such reality, Arango y Parreño made the slaves’ land-holders’ feelings known before the Spanish Courts, where more or less he stated: “Freedom only for his class before freedom for the slave; the Spanish before the Africans; the citizens before people of color.” These were the principles on which the Cuba of plantations, colonial, slavery and burgess were founded.
Subjected to slavery for life in the plantations, the slaves formed human associations, practically excluding women and breaking the family concept. It was a bit later, when the end of the Black trafficking was evident, that our noble statesman was able to attain the freedom to introduce slave women for reproductive purposes. In his Sugar Mill -the world’s largest of his time- during the decade of 1820 all the sugar cane was cut and lifted exclusively by Black women. The rearing of slaves was similar in image and style as that of animals, generating such horrible effects that the mothers of children chose infanticide as “acts of love” to eliminate their descendants, so that they would not have to suffer the horrors of slavery.
In order to dominate slaves’ disobedience, a series of punishments were used that generally were executed at the entrance of the hut as a wall to curb the rebelliousness spirit: The whipping, the face down, the novenary, the ladder and the bayonet were part of the repertoire. Of such infernal life conditions -more like death- the cimarron (runaway slave), the Palenque and the conspiracies emerged. Such violence manifested in all its nakedness during the slavery uprising. It is worth mentioning the insurrection led by Jose Antonio Aponte y Ulabarra, a free Black whose objective was to abolish slavery and defeat the Colonial Government. The escalated violence came to its peak in 1844 with the horrible repression known as “Conspiracion de la Escalera” (The Ladder Conspiracy). It was during the investigative processes of this conspiracy that more than four thousand Blacks and Whites were killed by shooting, 817 were incarcerated, 334 were deported and more than 300 resulted dead, not counting the many Black Cubans and Mulattoes exiled in Mexico.
The pragmatism of sugar profits constituted an intent to develop an economy based in the subordination of one-third of the Island’s population. It is in failing to remember the course of our history up to this day that the germs of the outcome are to be found. Arango spoke to the Cubans about “country”, but of a excluding country. One of Arango’s major and least mentioned contributions was to have demonstrated how pernicious and difficult the progress of any project for the advancement of a social group can be at the expense of another. It is possible to grow in the economic aspect or any other one for some time, but it is not possible to advance if a nation is built on ignoring the rights of its citizens. Cuba became the first sugar exporter in the world, but ended sunk in horror and blood, hate and racial prejudices that still exist today.
Translated by David Fernandez