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Cuba at Mid Century

An excerpt from the introduction to: "SLAVES, SUGAR, & COLONIAL SOCIETY: TRAVEL ACCOUNTS OF CUBA, 1801-1899,"
by Louis A. Pérez, Jr.

Cuba at mid century had crossed a threshold into dynamic capitalist development. It had made vital linkages to world markets and employed modern production technologies and transportation facilities, but it was forced to function within antiquated colonial structures, many with origins in the previous century. Cuban producers operated within a restrictive trade system and retrogressive tax structures, producing with limited access to markets and expanding with meager capital resources. Spain could not supply the goods, the shipping, or the markets demanded by Cuban producers but persisted nonetheless in obtruding itself between Cuba and world markets. Spain was becoming increasingly superfluous to the expanding Cuban economy n every way but one; It regulated the terms of the exchange. Colonialism was becoming an obstacle to Cuban development, and increasingly this was a point of contention between Cubans and Spaniards.

These issues found expression in colonial political discourse. The Cuban demand for political participation increased in direct proportion to the expansion of Cuban control of the economy, and inevitably the clash of rival economic interests exacerbated political tensions between the colony and the metropolis. Cubans demanded greater control over resources and over commerce-control, in short, over all those areas of vital importance to their interests. As producers of commercial export crops, Cubans sought direct access to foreign markets and cheap prices for foreign imports. They resented peninsular control of overseas trade, they resisted Spanish taxes on foreign commerce, and-increasingly and most of all-they resented Spanish monopolization of political office and exclusive control over policy formulation. Creole property owners demanded not only economic policies to protect and promote their own interests, to arrange their own taxes, and to regulate their own economic growth. They demanded freedom to expand, to develop resources according to their needs on their terms, and to earn more by producing more and exporting more. They needed, above all, access to political power to protect their economic interests.

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