World Sugar History Newsletter

Number 22, June 1996

In this issue:

  1. From the Editors
  2. Reviews
  3. Recent Publications
  4. Conference Report

This version of the World Sugar History Newsletter, Number 22, June 1996, has been edited for the purpose of on-line display. The contents remain complete.


We find ourselves returning to a familiar topic. We are mailing over 200 copies of this issue of the WSHN to addresses in 35 countries. We are very grateful to those of you who have paid the subscription, and even more grateful to those who have sent an additional donation. We recognize that for many individuals and libraries in some parts of the world the subscription may be high and also there may be difficulties in obtaining foreign exchange, but for those who live in more prosperous countries, we think our subscription is modest, and we would be grateful if you would either send a cheque or ask us to delete your name from our mailing list.

We have tried to reduce expenses as much as possible. Yet producing the Newsletter does cost money and while we have secured some financial support from Victoria College and the Departments of History and Geography of the University of Toronto, we still need a cash flow from you, the readers. We accept money in any of its usual forms: Canadian and American dollars, German marks, Swiss francs, and any other convertible currency. Send us gold dust if you must or Maria Teresa thalers, but money orders or cheques on your personal accounts are more convenient. Do not worry that your bank may not be known to our bankers. The Royal Bank of Canada has kindly cashed for us without fuss cheques we have received drawn on the Bank of Mauritius and the Bank of Siam. Please help us out. Fifteen dollars covers four issues. Send us twice that amount and we will send you eight issues, as we and the WHSN are here for the long haul. Thanks.

On a different note, we are pleased to announce that back issues of the Newsletter, beginning with issue number 1, are now available on the World Wide Web. The address is Preparing back issues requires some editing so that they will be appearing gradually over the next few months. We shall be adding the up-to-date issues to the Website as we produce them, but with a delay of around six months from the mailing time of the Newsletter.

Please remember that we rely on you to provide us with information on new publications. Let us know of new books and we shall ask the publishers for review copies. The WSHN is interested no only in sugar cane, but also in sugar beet, manna, sorghum, maple, sugar palm, and other sweeteners. We would like to publish brief essays of 1500 to 2000 words. Keep the information flowing.

Our thanks to Miranda Cheng and Jane Davie, Department of Geography, University of Toronto, for their help in putting this issue of the Newsletter together.


Arthur L. Stinchcombe, Sugar Island Slavery in the Age of Enlightenment: The Political Economy of the Caribbean World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995). Pp. xvii + 361. $US45/£29.50 hardcover.

Arthur L. Stinchcombe is Professor of Sociology at Northwestern University whose previous work has largely been concerned with theoretical questions in economic sociology and social history. He comes to his present study of sugar and slavery in the Caribbean with all the advantages of an outsider and, inevitably, some of the disadvantages as well. He does not admit to having ever visited the region, and he does not seem to have sought advice from specialists. Overall the results of his excursion into the field are fruitful and I found the book immensely stimulating. Stinchcombe's success stems from the thoughtful way in which he lays out his theoretical questions and sets up his data, and from the discursive character of his narrative. He says the book is descriptive, but in fact he is always asking questions and building an explanation. The core questions originate in the essential antinomy of slavery and freedom, and the complex ways in which these apparently competing conceptions of society have been bound together in life and thought. Orlando Patterson's work provides a launching pad for Stinchcombe, but he seeks to follow through the details of a particular case rather than tackling the global pattern, and he finds that this leads him inexorably to the production function of sugar.

Readers of this Newsletter should not expect to find in the book any significant amount of new material on sugar or slavery in the Caribbean in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Stinchcombe has not entered the archives and he refers to only a handful of works published before 1900. Rather, he has depended on a thorough browsing of the shelves of a few large libraries and exploits the quite large outpouring of work on his subject produced in the last 25 years. Generally, he has been successful in identifying the most important work in the field. There are, however, a few striking exceptions. Richard Sheridan is missing, though his work would have been particularly helpful in Stinchcombe's third chapter, that is concerned with finance capital and shipping. Kamau Braithwaite is also absent; his notion of creole society is essential to the extensive discussion of slavery models in the book. The second part of the book would benefit from an awareness of Robin Blackburn's analysis of abolition and emancipation. And, perhaps slightly more esoteric, a reading of the debate between Nigel Bolland and William Green over the interpretation of post-slavery systems of labour domination would have enriched Stinchcombe's tenth chapter, particularly in terms of the role of sugar in any interpretative model.

Part I of Stinchcombe's book is concerned with the creation of slave societies in the Caribbean and the degree of variability observed between the islands during the eighteenth century. Part II seeks to explain how slavery was abolished and how the conditions of freedom were determined. Stinchcombe is particularly careful to define his concepts with precision, and he attempts to set out the variations in a systematic fashion, most often using a tabular construction of the data even when these are not quantitative. He sees the extreme forms of slave society as those in which the slave owning class sought to keep the slaves from making decisions in all areas of life. To achieve these extreme levels of restriction, the slave owners used "representative" legislatures to limit severely the nooks and crannies in which slaves could make choices. Why this happened in some islands and not in others depended on the relative dominance of the sugar plantation as a system of production. Stinchcombe recognises that this is not in itself a new argument, but he refines it much more carefully than it has been done before and he extends it into areas of political discourse that have not generally been traced to sugar. In fact, Stinchcombe comes close to a form of "crop determinism" in which sugar controls the whole structure of life in the Caribbean territories.

Readers of this Newsletter will probably find Part I the most interesting. Here Stinchcome puts together his explanation of the emergence of slave societies and the ways in which the islands can be placed along a continuum, stretching from the most extreme slave societies to those in which most people were free. This continuum matches closely the proportion of the slave population employed on sugar plantations, and the geography of slavery follows the geography of the sugar plantations. Thus, Stinchcombe sometimes talks of "slave sugar society", the "sugar plantation core of slave society" (pages 23 and 149) rather than simply slave society. As a whole, the argument is convincing, though the statistical patterns are sometimes reluctant to match the model precisely. Further work to refine the numbers could sort out most of these difficulties, but it seems unlikely that the overall pattern would change. In Part II of the book, Stinchcombe contends that the degree of domination applied to the ex-slave populations after emancipation followed from the extent to which the islands had been slave societies. In this way the link with sugar is followed through, even though the index contains only one reference to sugar in the second half of the book. The more extreme the slave society, as in Barbados, the more likely the island was to retain a representative politics controlled by a planter class determined to maintain its domination over the life of the labour force.

Historians are naturally wary of any brand of determinism or reductionism. To trace so many consequences to the proportion of the labour force employed in sugar plantations may seem as dangerous as looking to the environment or imperial tradition for an encompassing explanation. The problem can become teleological. What determined the proportion of people in sugar and the phasing of the sugar-frontier? To some extent, we are driven back to the environment: some of the Caribbean islands were simply too dry or too steep to grow sugar. On the other hand, imperial policy had a lot to do with local political structures and labour migration. Stinchcombe is aware of all this. His analysis is important, therefore, not only because it places a clear focus on the determinative role of sugar, but also because it forces us to think about the nuances and the deeper forces, which is the most we should expect from any grand theory.

B. W. Higman
Australian National University

Samuel Martínez, Peripheral Migrants: Haitians and Dominican Republic Sugar Plantations (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1995). Pp. xix + 228. Notes, index, bibliography, maps. $35.00. Hardback. ISBN 0-87049-901-7.

Chattel slavery of the American plantation is too often taken as a model to define "slavery". Yet the number of chattel slaves today is far fewer than the millions on every continent labouring in hereditary debt peonage, children's work in commodity production, coerced sex-work, and other forms of unfree labour. Unfree labour is a major and global human rights outrage. Nevertheless, the word "slavery" for non-chattel forms of unfree labour is rarely used except for such groups as the Anti-Slavery International.

Samuel Martínez's study of Haitian contract workers on the sugar plantations of the Dominican Republic is not an overt argument in favour of classifying these migrant workers as "slaves". It is, rather, a more subtle and convincing research effort that shows unequivocally how the "decision" of Haitian men to cut cane as unfree labourers in the Dominican Republic is "not so much free choice as coerced consent" (p. 162). The coercion is not physical but economic, and the author's quotation from Léopold Senghor sums it up succinctly: "Human rights begin with breakfast" (Martínez 1996: 17).

But this book is much more than an understated argument in favour of broadening our conception of "unfreedom" in the contemporary world to encompass dire poverty. It is a study of circular migration within the periphery, the kind of migration often called "rural-to-rural" because it is the movement of rural people to rural wage work elsewhere, and, for the most part, returning home again. It aims to assess the importance of circular migration for individual migrants, their kin, and their home villages.

Martínez begins with a general discussion of circular migration in the periphery and the features that distinguish it from other migration categories and make peripheral migrants more vulnerable to abuse by recruiters, employers, and the government and the police of the host country. They are the poorest of all migrants, have the fewest contacts and protective kin in the receiving country, have no job skills valued in the receiving country, and go to the worst paid and most exploitative jobs in the least desirable regions. Haitians cutting cane in the Dominican Republic fall into these categories.

Martínez carried out his research inside a Dominican batey, the dwelling compound on the plantations in which workers must live, and in a Haitian village from which migrants come and to which many return. He interviewed 94 migrants in the batey, both men and women, and 36 returned migrants in their Haitian village, eliciting detailed personal and migration histories. He sought specific material on each person's experiences and motivations rather than normative answers to questions about what people do and why, answers that all social scientists know are often different from the experiences of the informant. His research procedures and the guiding methodology are exemplary.

Chapters 1 and 2 deal with the origin of the Dominican demand for plantation labour and the mobilization of that labour in Haiti. Both are part of the patterns of migration and plantations that are intrinsic to the history, structure, economy, and culture of Caribbean societies, even while both countries are different from the small sugar islands of the Lesser Antilles as they were in their plantation primes. Dominican sugar production developed with mechanized modern production funded by foreign capital between 1875 and 1930. Haiti had chosen to become a primarily peasant economy, which, as Paul Farmer (1994) has recently described so well, struggled throughout the nineteenth century against the assaults of European and North American power. In these assaults, rather than in the nature of the peasant economy itself, are the roots of Haiti's contemporary poverty and the need for young men to migrate for wages. That these men return, and intend to return when they leave, indicates to Martínez that their village life at home is more satisfying in every respect, including economically, than a life of wage work.

Chapters 3 through 7 deal with the village, rural livelihood, the reasons the migrants leave, the impact of their migration on their home villages, and women's places in the circular migration system. Women who remain in the village, Martínez shows, carry economic and familial responsibility at least equal to the burdens of migrants in the bateys. Chapter 7 deals with the viejos, that minority of migrants who never return, and chapter 8 places the entire situation in its global context. Appendices discuss research methods, reproduce the interview schedule, and present a chartered migration history of twenty men.

Martínez's careful and extended research, his sophisticated understanding of migration and migration theory, his attention to the individual level of analysis, and his human rights sensibilities are only some of the virtues of this book. It is an important addition to the literature on sugar plantation labour in the Caribbean.

(Literature cited:
Farmer, Paul. 1994. Aids and Accusations. Berkeley: University of California Press. Martínez, Samuel. 1996. "Indifference with indignation: Anthropology, human eights, and the Haitian bracero," American Anthropologist 98: 17-25.)

Riva Berleant-Schiller
University of Connecticut

Peter Singelmann (ed.), Mexican Sugarcane Growers: Economic Restructuring and Political Options (San Diego: Center for US-Mexican Studies, 1995). Pp. 85. $12 (paperback). ISBN 1-878367-26-9.

At the midpoint of his six-year term, former Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gotari pushed through a reform of the Mexican Constitution of 1917 that was hailed as a major breakthrough in his effort to "modernize" the Mexican economy. From the end of the Mexican Revolution, Article 27 of the Constitution provided the juridical basis for the distribution of land to the landless peasantry and the creation of a system of inalienable community controlled land holdings or ejidos. With the revision of Article 27, the constitutional obligation to distribute land to peasants was ended. Lands that had been classified as inalienable communally-held property became available for sale or rent to either Mexican or foreign companies. Peasants currently holding ejido lands (ejidatarios) acquired the right to sell, rent, sharecrop, or mortgage their land parcels as collateral for loans, and they were no longer required to work their parcel themselves in order to retain control of the land or their right to live in an ejidal community. Finally, the amended version of Article 27 eliminated the legal prohibition against production associations formed between foreign private investors and ejidatarios, thus opening the ejidal sector to direct foreign investment.

When the amendment of Article 27 became law in January 1992, Salinas and his supporters celebrated what they regarded as a radically transformative application of neoliberal principles to the Mexican agricultural economy. However, although the intention was economic reform, the changes brought about by the revision of Article 27 also had dramatic political implications insofar as peasant land recipients had been tied into a system of political support for the one party-dominant regime precisely through the state's capacity to distribute land and the resources to work it productively. Once the policy of state intervention in rural Mexico was suppressed in the interest of stimulating a free market economy, the status of the peasantry as a firm pillar of the regime would inevitably change. Moreover, the reform had clear social consequences since the Mexican state had, historically, intervened heavily to control prices, not only to support small producers, but also to guarantee the accessibility of basic foods for the urban population.

Under the circumstances, the implications of the revision in agrarian law are social and political as well as economic, and all three areas require careful and systematic analysis. Fortunately, in July 1992, shortly after the new legislation came into effect, the Center for US-Mexican Studies at the University of California, San Diego launched a multidisciplinary research project designed to explore the transformations in the Mexican countryside prompted by the application of neoliberal policies to Mexican agriculture. The present volume is the seventh in the series that has emerged from the project and it communicates the findings of six experts who have focused on the cultivation and marketing of sugar.

Edited by Peter Singelmann, this excellent collection explores the impact of neoliberalism on all aspects of cane growers' lives. In Singelmann's introduction, the author emphasizes the fact that once neoliberalism sets "productivity in a competitive market as the overarching objective shaping social policies and other political decisions," cane growers find themselves "suddenly assigned the responsibility of managing the cultivation of their fields without the political patronage and economic guarantees to which they have become accustomed" (p. 6). At this point cane growers' unions are forced to shift from their principal role as organizations carrying out political mediation and distributing patronage to a new role as promoter of independent economic initiative and risk-taking. Singelmann believes that the most important question today is not simply whether the cane growers can successfully transform themselves from exceedingly marginal, state-aid dependent, small-scale growers into successful independent entrepreneurs, as the ideal neoliberal model would have it. The issue, rather, is how they might accomplish this transformation in the absence of either the material resources necessary to capitalize their risk filled ventures or the world view that would guide them in the individualistic striving that the model assumes and requires.

Following Singelmann's introduction, the editor joins co-author Gerardo Otero to provide a history of the relationship between cane growers and mill owners on the one hand, and the patronage-providing corporativist state on the other. They trace the history of agrarian reform in sugar growing regions and the economic restructuring of the sugar industry in the 1980s when President Miguel de la Madrid responded to the demands of the International Monetary Fund by privatizing the sugar industry. In transition from "unproductive" campesino cultivation to agricultural entrepreneurship, the likelihood that the revision of Article 27 will open new economic space for land buyers, renters, or investors in ejido communities, and the possibility that the change in the law may accentuate and hasten the differentiation between large- and small-scale landholders.

In her contribution to this collection, Donna L. Chollett focuses on the history of cane growers' resistance to exploitation by private mill owners, the role of the state in the sugar industry, and the restructuring of the industry in the 1980s when the then president, Miguel de la Madrid, sold all 49 state-owned sugar mills to private capital, mostly soft drink manufacturers. "Contrary to neoliberal expectations," Chollett's assessment of these policies is highly critical. She finds that "private capitalists have failed to invest in the modernization of the sugar mills [and] production has declined." What is more, the "indiscriminate opening of the border to cheap sugar imports has created market distortions and government price controls on sugar contribute to increasing bankruptcy among both cane growers and mill owners" (p. 23).

In her chapter, Kathy Powell provides a case study of what she calls "destatization" in the sugar industry and the impact of privatization on the organization of sugar production. Powell focuses on Los Reyes, Michoacán, a long-established regional centre of the sugar agroindustry, where land distributions in the 1920s and 1930s converted sharecroppers, renters, and sugar cane workers into ejidatarios. While Powell notes the same process of deterioration of social conditions for smallholding agriculturalists here as everywhere that the neoliberal polices have been implemented in rural Mexico, it is striking that, along with increasing disparity between the poor and the better-off direct cultivators, she also finds that the solidarity that was once part of the cane growers' ejido communities has, in some respects, been reinforced by these changes in their political, economic, and social circumstances. Somewhat surprisingly, she notes that cane growers in Los Reyes, unlike ejidatarios in other zones of Michoacán, "have not rented out their parcels and engaged in seasonal US migration in order to make ends meet."

Cristina Nuñez Madrazo's study also analyzes the effect of the privatization of the sugar agroindustry on the social organization of Mexican sugarcane production. In this chapter Nuñez Madrazi focuses on five sugar mills in the state of Veracruz, the major area of cane production in Mexico which accounts for 40 percent of the total in the Republic. With these case studies the author highlights the variety of strategies employed by cane growers to respond to the modernization project of the de la Madrid and the Salinas regimes. Nuñez Madrazo finds that although the basic objective of the government project is to stimulate private investment in the rural sector, the reality is that "it is unlikely that minifundist sugarcane growers will be able to take advantage of this option" (p. 61). Growers with less productive, rain-fed plots located at a greater distance from the sugar mill increasingly choose to grow basic foodstuffs - corn and beans - on their parcels, while the majority "have tended to adapt passively to the new circumstances." Moreover, she thinks it probable "that in the not-too-distant future, many of these cane growers will join the ranks of the excluded, opting to cultivate basic foodstuffs or rent out their plots" (p. 61).

In the volume's final chapter, Cornelia Butler Flora and Gerardo Otero examine the effect of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) on the Mexican and US sugar industries. Here the authors compare the role of the two states in the sugar industry and the effect of the imposition of supra-national structures on industrial organization and labour relations. Their survey includes the implications of policy on the provision of the raw material, the transformation of the raw material into raw and refined sugar, and the marketing of sugar. They also highlight the impact of policy on the social conditions of growers and agricultural and industrial workers, the effect of NAFTA on regional inequality and development, and the influence of the treaty on industrial concentration.

Overall, this collection of rigorous and scholarly work on the sugar industry in Mexico provides a wealth of useful insights into the outcomes of neoliberal restructuring in Third World agroindustry. It also points out that, notwithstanding the economists' fancy language and the projections of modernization and positive transformation, the neoliberal project has proven almost impossible to implement in the Mexican countryside. It is not simply a failure in terms of the capacity of this model to raise rural income. Such a disappointing outcome - sadly - was not difficult to predict well before NAFTA came into effect. Rather, neoliberalism has been a failure in terms of its own goal of reducing the role of the state. As the authors in this collection clearly demonstrate in the case of cane growers, as in other sectors of the rural economy, the Mexican state has constrained market forces by continuing to set prices below the level required for profitability and in response to political considerations about the place of these products (particularly the ever-mollifying sugar) in the diet of Mexican consumers, the great majority of whom are poor and undernourished.

Judith Adler Hellman
York University, Toronto


Alejandro García Alvarez has sent us the following list of publications relating to the Cuban sugar industry:

Antonio Santamaría García, "La industria azucarera y la economía cubana durante los años veinte y treinta." Doctoral thesis. (Madrid: Universidad Complutense de Madrid, 1995). A study of the crisis in Cuba's export sector in the twentieth century and its impact on the local society and economy.

Fé Iglesias García, La concentración azucarera en Cuba 1880-1900 (Havana: Instituto de Historia de Cuba, 1995). An examination of the particularities of this process with examples from the island's principal sugar zones.

Alejandro García Alvarez, "Una saga azucarera entre dos siglos," in Asturias y Cuba en torno al 98, edited by Jorge Uría (Barcelona: Editorial Labor S.A., 1994). A study of the Cuban activities of the Spanish-United States businessman, Manuel Riona Polledo, probably the most important figure in the Cuban industry in the twentieth century.

* * *
Barry Carr, "Mill occupations and soviets: the mobilisation of sugar workers in Cuba, 1917-1933," Journal of Latin American Studies, 28:1 (1996), pp. 129-158.

Rebecca Scott, "Relaciones de clase e ideología raciales: acción rural colectiva en Louisiana y Cuba, 1865-1912," Historia Social, No. 22 (1995), pp. 127-150. Part of a special issue on "Raza y Racismo". Order from the Fundación Instituto de Historia Social, Centro UNED de Valencia, Casa de la Misericordia, 34, 46014 Valencia, Spain.

J. Daniels and C. Daniels, "Sugarcane in prehistory," Archaeology in Oceania, 28 (1993), pp. 1-7.

Christian Daniels, "Agro-industries: Sugarcane technology," in Christian Daniels and Nicholas K. Menzies, Agro-Industries and Forestry, vol. 6, part 3, of Joseph Needham's Science and Civilization in China (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996). We expect to publish a review of this work in our next issue.

Alberto Vieria and Francisco Clode, A Rota do Açúcar na Madeira/The Sugar Route in Madeira (Funchal: Associaçao dos Refinadores de Açúcar Portugueses, 1996). Bilingual and well illustrated. For a copy, write the Centro de Estudos de História do Atlântico, Rua dos Ferreiros, 165-9000, Funchal, Portugal. Fax: 229635/230341.

Erik Zeimert, with the collaboration of J.F. Géraud, La Réunion, usines sucrières (La Réunion: Océan Édition and Ministère de la Culture, Inventaire Général, Direction Régionale des Affaires Cultureles de La Réunion). ISBN 2-907064-26-6. 20FFrs. An inventory of the sugar mills of La Réunion. Obtainable from M Philippe Conquier or Nathalie Doré, ADIG, Drac des Nantes, 1, Rue S. Baudry, 4400 Nantes, France. E-mail:

Adela Fábregas García, Motril y el Azúcar. Comerciantes Italianos y Judíos en el Reino de Granada (Motril: Asukaría Mediterránea, 1996). The address of the publisher is Asukaría Mediterránea, Ctra. del Puerto, Ed. Miami, 4(, El Varadero de Motril, Granada, Spain. Tel/Fax (58) 60 45 24. We expect to publish a review of this book in our next issue.

Catherine C. LeGrand, "Informal resistance on a Dominican sugar plantation during the Trujillo dictatorship," Hispanic American Historical Review, 75:4 (1995), pp. 555-596.

Luis Arnaldo González, Sugar Cane Growers and The Vargas State: The Changing Fortunes of the Sugar Industry in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1930-1945 (Chicago: American Bar Foundation, 1996), Working paper #9507. To order, send a cheque for US$3, payable to the American Bar Foundation, to the Working Paper Coordinator, the American Bar Foundation, 4th Floor, 750 North Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Ill. 60611, USA.

Guy M. Robinson, "Deregulation and destructuring of the Australian cane sugar industry," Australian Geographical Studies, 33:2 (1995), pp. 212-227.


"Escravos com e sem Açúcar," Seminário Internacional, Funchal, Madeira, Portugal, June 17-21, 1996.

Dr. Alberto Vieria, of the Centro de Estudos de História do Atlântica, Funchal, organized the conference in commemoration of Madeira's role in the sugar industry. Members of the public, students, and faculty of the University of Madeira attended the sessions which were held in a beautifully restored building on the historic Praça Colombo in central Funchal.

The following gave papers: Philip Curtin (Johns Hopkins), Vera Lucia Ferlin (São Paulo), Alfonso Franco Silva (Cadiz), Jock Galloway (Toronto), Gerry Hagelberg (sugar industry consultant, Canterbury, UK), Herbert Klein (Columbia), Franklin Knight (Johns Hopkins), Manuel Lobo Carreira (Las Palmas), William Philips (Minnesota), Stuart Schwartz (Yale), Genaro Rodriguez Morel (Seville), Verene Shepherd (U. of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica), Alberto Vieira (Funchal).

The Institute of Atlantic History is to publish the proceedings, and we shall give details as soon as they are available.

The World Sugar History Newsletter is complied by Jock Galloway and Peter Blanchard. Correspondence and subscriptions should be sent to Jock Galloway or Peter Blanchard, Victoria College, University of Toronto, 73 Queen's Park Crescent, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M5S 1K7. E-mail: or Back issues of the Newsletter can be found at our Website at