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Sugar and the Formation of Colonial Brazil  

Vera Lucia Amaral Ferlini

Sugar, besides its economic importance, created the foundations of political power in Brazil, based on the monopoly of land and the enslavement of indigenous and African people. Colonization, structured by the hegemony of the external market, created, over three centuries, a free rural population of whites, free blacks, and mestizos who survived on small plots and subsistence farms dependent on the power of the great landowners. From the centrality of the mills in the sugar world, the patriarchal character of this society, the basis and support of its political power, was forged. Sugar production was responsible for the “geography” of sugar, with territorial occupation by subsidiary activities such as subsistence farming and tobacco in the northeast, and with the expansion of sugar production towards the south in the 18th century.


Food in Contemporary Cuba  

Hanna Garth

Cuban cuisine brings together the island’s histories of colonial relations with Spain and the culinary traditions of Africans, Amerindians, Chinese laborers, and those who migrated from Haiti and Jamaica. This dynamic food draws from these traditions and the island’s tropical climate to create a rich and multidimensional cuisine. Cuba’s food system is also deeply tied to Cuban national politics and international trade. Under socialism Cuba has had a fifty-year-old food-rationing system, and the majority of Cuban foods are imported. Despite these changes, Cuban household cooks work diligently to create complete meals, and they bring together the ingredients for various special occasions throughout the year.


Sugar Cane and Agricultural Transformations in Cuba  

Reinaldo Funes Monzote

For the greater part of the 19th and 20th centuries, Cuba, the largest island in the Antilles, figured as the principal exporter of sugar cane, a product that dominated the country’s agro-industry. In this way, Cuba became illustrative of the economic, social, political, and environmental impact of basing an economy on monoculture in order to supply foreign markets. This does not mean, however, that sugar cane was the only major crop being grown in the Cuban fields, as there was no dearth of different plants destined for foreign markets, such as tobacco and coffee, or for local markets, such as yucca, plantains, corn, sweet potatoes, and rice, not to mention a long if little-known livestock tradition. However, the dominance of agro-industry almost always eclipses agricultural and economic alternatives that could become potential competitors, despite the periodic adverse circumstances that affect consumers. But, in the 1990s, the production and exportation of sugar suffered an abrupt fall, creating a vacuum that allowed diversification of land use and that prompted a search for alternative agricultural models.


Atlantic Sugar Trade in 17th-century Brazil  

Daniel Strum

During the first half of the 17th century, trade in Brazilian sugar was as a profitable enterprise, despite Maghrebi piracy and imperial rivalry between the Netherlands and the Iberian Crowns. Then, Brazil was the Western Hemisphere’s main producer of sugar, which attracted high prices in Europe. Trade profitability diminished in the second half of the century as competition from the Caribbean dropped prices in Europe while nominal prices in Brazil were fixed. Regulated shipping reduced price gaps further and increased transaction costs. Finally, French and English mercantilist policies closed their markets to Brazilian sugar, and credit grew increasingly risky in Brazil. To make this trade feasible and profitable, merchants developed of a wide range of maritime transportation strategies, risk mitigation methods, and payment and credit practices. The organization of shipping sought to make the most of the supply and demand along the route and reduce transportation costs with idle cargo space. By mixing more expensive goods along with cheaper products, merchants tried to keep many vessels sailing between those ports to increase the flow of information, to profit from arbitrage, and to spread the risk. Being a semi-luxury item, the value sugar in absolute terms afforded insurance premiums more than the products with lower value per volume traditionally traded by the Dutch. Yet the value of sugar was not as high as Asian spices or Spanish American bullion, therefore, the costs of concentrating shipping in convoys protected by well-armed vessels was burdensome to the sugar trade. Attempts to coerce sailing in convoys and establish monopolies on certain exports (and imports) to Brazil by the Dutch and the Portuguese found fierce opposition among most traders, particularly modest ones. Being quite fungible, easily priced, and widely traded, sugar roughly fit the modern concept of a commodity. As such, it was convenient means of payment and also functioned as commodity money in Brazil, where it was the main merchandise sourced in the colony. As planters grew increasingly indebted, they secured various legal hindrances to their properties’ foreclosure and compulsory acceptance of sugar as payment at officially tariffed prices unless otherwise stipulated, which increased merchants’ credit risk while reducing their gains.


Private Enterprise, Colonialism, and the Atlantic World  

L.H. Roper

European empires would have not existed absent private enterprise both licit and illicit. Private traders, in the first instance, sustained colonies by conveying the labor and merchandise that planters required in exchange for the exports that colonies produced. Moreover, those colonies would not have existed in the first place absent private initiatives since European states in the 16th and 17th centuries customarily lacked the administrative and fiscal resources and often the inclination to oversee such projects. Individual or corporate adventurers, though, did possess such resources and inclination; legitimate operators secured government authority for their activities pursuant to charters that drew upon medieval forms and granted extraordinary powers to their recipients. Under the terms of these documents, grantees pursued public purposes—as they would be called today—that their activities entailed in conjunction with their pursuit of profit. The results of this practice included the establishment of colonies that spanned the Atlantic basin from the Madeira Islands to Newfoundland to Brazil; the emergence of colonial leaderships who pursued their own agendas while they ingratiated themselves into trans-Atlantic political cultures; and incessant conflict over territorial and commercial agendas that involved indigenous people as well as Europeans. Other operators did not bother with legitimacy as they pursued smuggling, piracy, and colonizing ventures that also contributed profoundly to imperial expansion. The domestic and international friction generated by these activities ultimately brought increased state involvement in overseas affairs and increased state ability to direct those affairs.


Agricultural Transformations in Sugarcane and Labor in Brazil  

Thomas D. Rogers

The Portuguese took sugarcane from their Atlantic island holdings to Brazil in the first decades of the 16th century, using their model of extensive agriculture and coerced labor to turn their new colony into the world’s largest producer of sugar. From the middle of the 17th century through the 20th century, Brazil faced increasing competition from Caribbean producers. With access to abundant land and forest resources, Brazilian producers generally pursued an extensive production model that made sugarcane’s footprint a large one. Compared to competitors elsewhere, Brazilian farmers were often late in adopting innovations (such as manuring in the 18th century, steam power in the 19th, and synthetic fertilizers in the 20th). With coffee’s growth in the center-south of the country during the middle of the 19th century, sugarcane farming shifted gradually away from enslaved African labor. Labor and production methods shifted at the end of the century with slavery’s abolition and the rise of large new mills, called usinas. The model of steam-powered production, both for railroads carrying cane and for mills grinding it, and a work force largely resident on plantations persisted into the mid-20th century. Rural worker unions were legalized in the 1960s, at the same time that sugar production increased as a result of the Cuban Revolution. A large-scale sugarcane ethanol program in the 1970s also brought upheaval, and growth, to the industry.


Folk Festivals, Community Development, and the Sugar Industry Crisis in Tucumán, Argentina, 1966–1973  

Oscar Chamosa

In the late 1960s, the sugar-growing province of Tucumán, Argentina, was undergoing the deepest economic crisis of its history. In 1966, eleven large sugar mills closed by order of the national government, then ruled by military dictator Juan Carlos Onganía. The mills closure left a quarter of the province’s labor force unemployed, which, in turns, prompted a massive rural exodus and a permanent state of social unrest. Paradoxically, at the same time, the suddenly impoverished region was experiencing a boom of folk music festivals organized by small cities and rural towns, including those severely hit by the sugar industry crisis. This essay explores the context of the folk festival phenomenon, analyzing the role of town notables and local civic organizations in responding to the crisis brought about by the closure of the mills. The festivals were, in fact, part of a wider effort of local towns to develop their infrastructure and social services. By organizing festivals and fostering community development, local notables acted as a counterweight to the activism of the working class, generating spaces of consent that aided the military government’s plans to reorder the provincial economy.


Slavery and Its Economic Structures in Colonial Brazil  

Leonardo Marques

Between the arrival of Columbus and the last slave voyage to Cuba in the 1860s, over 12 million enslaved Africans were carried and sold in the Americas. Brazil received almost half of all these captives, most of them during the colonial period. An efficient slave-trading system allowed slavery to become a major force in the development of Portuguese America. The institution became pervasive throughout the colony in the three centuries comprising the colonial era, with important differences across time and space. Some of the major exports produced by African slaves in Brazil, such as sugar, tobacco, and gold, had various global impacts. They also stimulated important domestic developments, such as the creation of internal markets and the growth of cities like Salvador and Rio de Janeiro, with African slaves playing essential roles everywhere. Moreover, the history of African slavery became intertwined with the history of native Brazilians in peculiar ways.


The Labor Movement and Sugar Industry in Tucumán in the 1960s and 1970s  

Silvia Nassif

The province of Tucumán, Argentina, has been used as a test case for the fallacious “theory of the two demons” because it is both where a guerrilla movement formed in 1974 and where the country’s first clandestine detention center was established in the “escuelita” of Famaillá during “Operativo Independencia” in 1975. This “theory” reduces the conflict in the province to a confrontation in the Tucumán hills between no more than 150 combatants of the People’s Revolutionary Army (Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo, ERP) and 5,000 soldiers of the Argentine Army. This, however, largely conceals the social catastrophe suffered by Tucumán and the high levels of conflict that had already been taking place for more than a decade. Previously, in August 1966, the provincial territory had been militarized by the new dictatorial government led by Juan Carlos Onganía. On that occasion, militarization sought to guarantee the closure of sugar mills. This generated an unprecedented economic and social crisis. Between 1966 and 1968, eleven mills were closed out of a total of twenty-seven, more than 50,000 jobs were eliminated in the sugar agro-industry alone, medium and small sugarcane producers were severely affected, and more than a quarter of the total population of the province was forced to emigrate in search of new sources of work. Such were the root causes of social conflict, led mainly by the sugar working class assembled in the Tucumán Workers Federation of the Sugar Industry (Federación Obrera Tucumana de la Industria Azucarera, FOTIA), which the 1976 dictatorship was intent on reining in.


The Dutch in Brazil, 1624–1654  

Bruno Miranda

Between 1624 and 1654, the Dutch West India Company occupied part of the northeast of Brazil. A private company, in 1621 it obtained from the Republic of the United Provinces of the Netherlands a monopoly on trade and the authorization to conquer land and operate in waters on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. It was created as a weapon against the Habsburg Monarchy, contrary to whom the Republic waged a long conflict: the Eighty Years War (1568–1648). The primary objective of the Company was to undermine the foundations of the Iberian overseas economy, which was of vital importance to the Spanish empire, and open the ports of the Spanish and Portuguese colonies to the Republic’s merchant vessels. Interest in Brazil was principally related to the possibly of making profits from sugar, tobacco, and wood for dyes, products already distributed in the Republic through direct negotiations of the Dutch in Brazilian ports and indirectly through a trade route that connected Dutch cities and Portuguese ports. Incorporated in the Spanish crown as a result of the 1580 Portuguese dynastic crisis, Brazil became the target of a military assault when trade between Brazil and the Netherlands was affected by the various embargos imposed by the Habsburg Crown. The first great attack of the Company against Brazil resulted in the capture of Salvador, seat of the general government of Brazil in 1624, but their control of the city only lasted one year, resulting in a loss for the Company. After an incredible financial recuperation due to capture of the Spanish silver fleet in 1628, the Company devised a new plan. Pernambuco was the new target. A long conflict continued until January 1654, when the government of the Company of Brazil capitulated to the Portuguese.


Economy During the Colonial Period  

José Jobson Arruda

The development of the Brazilian economy during the colonial period resulted from foreign inducements exercised by Portuguese colonialists under the auspices of the Portuguese Crown. Over the course of three centuries, responsibility for Brazil’s economic destiny was gradually transferred to Luso-Brazilians, a process by which both the flow and accumulation of income became naturally internalized. This topic must necessarily be contextualized within a decades-long process of historiographical confrontation in which distinct analytical perspectives have sought to assert themselves. Some arguments are linked to the label of the old colonial system (Antigo Sistema Colonial, or ASC) and others to the old regime in the tropics (Antigo Regime nos Trópicos, or ART). While both schools recognize the primacy of slavery in determining the character of colonial society, the former emphasizes colonial identity and the exploitative status that entailed, while the latter focuses on the empire and the endogenous accumulation of wealth. Despite the friction between these hegemonic currents since the 1980s, a third analytical perspective is possible that while incorporating elements present in the two established outlooks also rejects the exceedingly long periodization and calcified three-century focus they share. This different strain of scholarship distinguishes between specific moments in colonial economic development during which external and internal accumulation fueled one or the other, serving as complementary forces responsible for the gross and per capita growth of the colonial economy, as well as granting Brazil the profile of a modern colony.


Slavery and the Pursuit of Freedom in 16th-Century Santo Domingo  

Richard Lee Turits

In the past, scholars of Latin America often assumed that Spanish colonists abandoned the Caribbean for the bullion riches of Mexico and Peru almost immediately after their conquest, while many Caribbeanists have imagined that Barbados, colonized by the British in the mid-1600s, was the “first black slave society.” Yet, in fact, more than a century earlier in the colony of Santo Domingo (then officially known as la Isla Española or simply la Española), European colonists built the first major American plantation economy and society made up mostly of enslaved people. Those held in chains on the island reached into the tens of thousands by the mid-1500s, and Santo Domingo became a pivotal crossroads in the early modern Atlantic. At first the enslaved population included thousands of people the Spanish called “Indians,” taken from other parts of the Caribbean and the Americas, and even an occasional enslaved person of European (Orthodox Christian or Muslim) descent. But after the mid-1500s slavery in Santo Domingo became isolated to people of African descent. This contrasted with the preexisting demography of slavery in southern Europe, where the enslaved were of more diverse geographic origins. Santo Domingo thus initiated a trajectory of racial and plantation slavery whose contours would shape the course of history in the Americas overall. Santo Domingo’s slave-based economy would also, though, be the first to collapse, at the end of the 16th century, partly because of sustained resistance by the enslaved—their continual escape and rebellion—that was costly for planters. The enslaved had composed most of society in the prior century. Now the majority were escaped and, to a lesser extent, freed slaves, living with substantial autonomy as independent peasants dispersed across the countryside. These themes are illuminated through an exploration of one of the earliest freedom suits in the Americas. This suit was won on appeal in Santo Domingo in 1531 through remarkable transatlantic collaboration by family members and sailors as well as through the evident power of notarized documents in the Spanish Empire.