Anti-commodity counterpoint: smallholder diversity and rural development on the Cuban sugar frontier

J.M. Curry Machado

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review


It is established historiographical wisdom to say that the spectacular rise of the Cuban sugar industry in the 19th and early 20th centuries brought with it a stifling of an alternative developmental path for Cuban rural society — an ‘anti-commodity’ vision of ‘little Cuba’, built not upon the plantation complex, but upon a multitude of diverse agricultural and pastoral practices, based upon a free rural population of smallholders, combined in such a way as to bring economic and social sustainability. But sugar came to dominate the island instead, bringing about the dispossession of vast swathes of the peasantry, marginalising smallholders or pushing them into the growing ranks of a rural proletariat mobilised to service the increasingly massive cane farms and sugar factories. The story would seem to be one of a great tide of sugar sweeping all before it as its frontier voraciously extended itself to swallow up all available land, and pulling all aspects of Cuban life under its influence. But while in many areas this pervasive description holds true, this is only one aspect of the story. The ‘little Cuba’ of smallholding diversity was not entirely consumed but continued to maintain a presence, albeit beneath the lengthening shadow of cane. While this was clearly the case in parts of the island to which the sugar frontier did not extend, the divide between ‘little Cuba’ and the plantation complex was not a strictly geographical one.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLocal subversions of colonial cultures: commodities and anti-commodities in global history
EditorsS. Hazareesingh, H. Maat
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages223
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Publication series

NameCambridge imperial and post-colonial studies series
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan Ltd


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