Abstract: Foreign Investment and the Decline of Agricultural Diversification in Early Nineteenth-Century Cuba

William Van Norman


This paper calls into question the existing historiography of agricultural development in Cuba during the nineteenth century and its story of sugar monoculture, failed colonial policies, and foreign intervention and acquisition. The work argues for a new focus that accounts for the diverse development that occurred during the early decades of the century and shows how it was rooted in elite family networks. Concurrent to the plantation boom was an ever-growing wave of immigration that reveals the presence of foreigners throughout the period. Initially, family alliances were able to create links with newcomers that allowed existing power brokers to maintain control over the island's economy. By mid-century the family networks that originally facilitated development began to break down under continued pressures and were unable to manage the explosive growth that led to a system dominated by sugar cane. As this shift occurred, outside investors gained increasing control over the frontier and ultimately over the economy of the island.