Here are my takeaway lessons:
(1) As has been noted here several times, the French colony of Saint-Domingue used to be the richest colony in the world. It was the world’s leading producer of sugar. In 1791, the Haitian Revolution broke out and most of the sugar plantations were destroyed in the fighting.
In 1794, the National Assembly abolished slavery in the French Empire. In 1804, Haiti became an independent nation following the defeat of the Leclerc expedition, but slavery was restored in the other colonies of the French Caribbean: Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint Martin, and Saint Barthélemy.
(2) From 1791 until 1804, sugar production collapsed in Saint-Domingue and never recovered. Slavery was abolished. Haiti became the world’s first independent black republic. In other words, Haiti under free labor was thrown into competition with Cuba under slave labor.
(3) The abolition of slavery in Haiti caused the French planters in Saint-Domingue to shift their operations to neighboring Jamaica and Cuba. This ignited a massive sugar boom in Cuba because free labor was unable to compete with slave labor.
(4) The wave of prosperity in Cuba that followed in the wake of abolition in Haiti led to a massive wave of White immigration from Spain to Cuba in the early nineteenth century. Unlike the other Caribbean colonies, Cuba became a white settler society because of the abolition of slavery in Haiti (1794), British West Indies (1834), and the French West Indies (1848) destroyed its leading competitors (with the exception of Brazil) in the sugar industry.
(5) In Cuba, the countryside is now full of ruined and decaying sugar and coffee plantations. The same is true of Jamaica, Haiti, and Dixie. Isn’t it ironic that we are constantly told by liberal economists that free labor was superior to slave labor? Where is the proof of this?
The Caribbean used to be one of the richest regions in the world. That’s why it was full of “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Similarly, the South used to be the richer and more prosperous section before the abolition of slavery.
Everywhere freedom was tried in plantation societies the economy was prostrated.
(6) Following the Spanish-American War, the Americans introduced segregation to Cuba, which was very popular among the descendants of the Cuban planter class. Under slavery, Cuba had an anti-miscegenation law like other Southern states.
(7) Southerners in Congress blocked the annexation of Cuba on racial grounds.
(8) In 1906, an immigration law was passed that appropriated a million dollars to “whiten” Cuba. White Cubans suppressed black culture in the decades after independence. There were parallels of Jim Crow in Cuba including depictions of blacks as monkeys and apes. Black music was considered vulgar and African.
(9) Ever since the Cuban Revolution triumphed in 1959, Cuba has writhed under an anti-racist communist dictatorship. The triumph of communism on our own doorstep is why there are so many Cubans in South Florida.
(10) Cuba is proof that blacks are unable to thrive under communism.
Note: OD will be reviewing all four episodes of Henry Louis Gates’ series Black in Latin America for the Caribbean Project.