World Sugar History Newsletter

Number 29, December 1999

In this issue:

  1. Book Reviews
  2. Recent Publications
  3. Other Sweeteners

This version of the World Sugar History Newsletter, Number 29, December 1999, has been edited for the purpose of on-line display. The contents remain complete.


César J. Ayala, American Sugar Kingdom: The Plantation Economy of the Spanish Caribbean, 1898-1934 (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1999). Pp. xii + 321. $49.95 (cloth), $19.95 (paper). ISBN 0-8078-4788-7.

Through extensive use of United States, Cuban, and Puerto Rican archives as well as published materials in English and Spanish, City University of New York sociologist César Ayala has traced the development of the "American Sugar Kingdom" in the Spanish Caribbean. His study offers a great deal of new information on Cuba and the United States, and a smaller amount on Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, but perhaps its most important contributions are conceptual and theoretical. Conceptually, Ayala demonstrates the value of comparative study within the Spanish Caribbean. On a theoretical level, the author's case studies constitute a significant challenge to three schools of thought: the Plantation School, World-Systems theory, and the Functionalist interpretation of the rise of corporations in America.

Ayala states that he writes first and foremost to "dialogue" with the Plantation School's contention that Caribbean social and economic development is characterized by continuity from colonial times to the present. In his own words: "I have attempted to locate just where the plantation economy of the Spanish Caribbean in the early twentieth century fits the model of plantation economy developed largely by social scientists from the British West Indies [e.g. Lloyd Best, George Beckford, Jay Mandle] and just where it does not. . . . I attempt to look at the historical specificity of Caribbean underdevelopment, that is, at the historical process through which underdevelopment was constructed" (p. 18).

Ayala points to change in labour regimes as the strongest argument against continuity. Whereas the Plantation School posits that labour continued to be "coerced" - a rather vague concept - Ayala demonstrates that companies and their cane farmers (colonos) all had to pay wages to their workers in early twentieth-century Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. Moreover, the author shows that labour was markedly distinct across the three islands. Eastern Cuba and the Dominican Republic employed large numbers of immigrant workers, while Western Cuba and Puerto Rico relied on domestic wage earners. The differences among labour regimes indicate Ayala's larger critique of the Plantation School: in order to create an accurate model of Caribbean development, each country must first be studied individually. American Sugar Kingdom provides just such a close examination of Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

To explain the differences among the societies, and here the author's critique of World-Systems theory comes into play, Ayala argues that we need to look at how pre-existing social and political relations mediated the forces coming from the United States "metropolis". Like Eric Wolf and Steve Stern before him, Ayala points out that the "peripheries" received metropolitan power in radically different ways. He describes how the three countries' social and economic systems varied, based on distinct land to labour ratios, transitions from slavery to free wage labour, and transitions from ingenios (agricultural-milling complexes) to centrales (industrial mills that grind cane from cane farmers). In drawing out these differences, Ayala provides a nuanced description of local and national patterns of development difficult to summarize in a review.

His case studies do, however, hint at a few larger conclusions. For example, in densely populated areas, such as the west of Cuba and the island of Puerto Rico, labour was cheaper but it was harder to consolidate land because the semi-autonomous cane farmers tended to have more political power. We also see that in the context of open land, companies used different strategies to avoid tension with the domestic labour force according to pre-existing patterns. For example, in Eastern Cuba, many large mills opted for sub-contracting Cuban labour through dependent cane farmers. They thus expanded and changed the colonato system, creating a dependent cane farmer who rented the land from the company under the condition that he would sell his cane to that company, in contrast to the landowning, semi-autonomous colonato that existed in the west and centre of the island. In the Dominican Republic, where there was a strong subsistence peasantry and very little tradition of ingenios, centrales, or colonos before U.S. sugar companies entered in the early twentieth century, the companies opted to buy large blocks of land and import their own labourers.

In terms of labour, Ayala demonstrates that political factors are as - if not more - important than land to labour ratios. Whereas the Dominican Republic was most able to protect local landowners from U.S. investors, limiting sugar companies to the south-eastern section of the island, U.S. investment made inroads into much larger portions of semi-occupied Cuba and occupied Puerto Rico. This discussion of "metropolitan" versus "peripheral" power leads us to Ayala's third theoretical contribution regarding the United States side of the equation.

In Chapter four, the author demonstrates through a painstaking analysis of company directorships and lists of investors that the Americans who invested in the United States sugar industry overlapped and often coincided with those who invested in the sugar industries of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. He, therefore, demonstrates that the economic power emanating from the "metropolis" was similar for all three countries, but "the final emergence of vertically integrated groups of plantations and refineries depended on the power of the metropolitan state, which created the conditions for the expansion of U.S. big business through colonial military intervention and through the enforcement of a colonial division of labor imposed by the metropolitan tariff system" (p. 75). Because the level of intervention was different in each island, the level of sugar "invasion" was different. The imperial court system in Puerto Rico made the transfer of land from Puerto Ricans to Americans the easiest, and the lack of a sugar tariff for the U.S. "territory" made Puerto Rican sugar the most profitable. Cuba came next, with repeated U.S. occupations, the Platt Amendment, reciprocity treaties, and reduced tariff rates; and the Dominican Republic came last, paying the full sugar tariff, and being occupied by the U.S. for a comparatively short period, from 1916 to 1924. As Ayala writes: "Put differently, colonialism is not at all about efficiency, it is about power. International industrial organization reflects the basic reality of metropolitan state power, not abstract arguments about corporate efficiency" (p. 120).

The author proves this further by demonstrating that the initial push toward vertical integration in the sugar industry was born not of efficiency, but of a power struggle among sugar refiners in the 1890s for control of the market. Chapter two describes how West Coast sugar refiner Claus Spreckels dodged the efforts of Henry O. Havemeyer and John Searles to consolidate the sugar refining industry into a Sugar Trust based in the Eastern United States. Spreckels had set up an integrated system of sugar plantations, railroads, steamships, and refineries in Hawaii and California. This gave him the power to withstand Havemeyer's efforts to squeeze competitors out of the market or into his Trust. The price war between the Havemeyer interests and Spreckels ended in a merger on terms favourable to both, but in the meantime, Ayala argues: "The Sugar Trust learned . . . the advantages of vertical integration. The lessons learned in this price war have important consequences for the development of the sugar industry of the Caribbean. The extension of the trust's interests in the Caribbean began in the 1890s, shortly after the price war with Spreckels, and took a great leap forward into the Caribbean and the Philippines after the Spanish-American War of 1898" (p. 34).

In describing the power struggles among American lobby groups for special tariffs and reciprocity treaties, Ayala once again supports his argument that power more than efficiency set the course for the "American Sugar Kingdom".

Ayala's book should appeal to a wide audience. Sugar specialists will find that in the first half of his book, he has done much of the rather tedious footwork to uncover the networks and battles over the consolidation of sugar and tariffs in the "metropolis" during its expansion period into the Americas. Latin Americanists interested in expanding their knowledge of the Spanish Caribbean will enjoy the second half of the book, for it underscores some important differences in social structures while at the same time demonstrating fascinating links between economic collapse, revolution, and popular participation in the 1930s and afterwards. Ayala should be saluted for going beyond the standard historical model of studying a single island and its relations with the United States while at the same time avoiding the sweeping generalizations often found in sociological studies of "the Caribbean".

Gillian McGillivray
Georgetown University

John B. Rehder, Delta Sugar: Louisiana's Vanishing Plantation Landscape (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999). Pp. xv + 355. Tables, Figures, Maps, Glossary, Bibliography, Index. US$45.00 (cloth). ISBN: 0-8018-6131-4.

During my four years living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, I frequently took visitors to one of the area's sugarcane plantation homes. It did not matter whether they were from Minneapolis or Liverpool: for nearly everyone who came to visit, the transcendent icons of south Louisiana are the grand antebellum mansions set amid magnolias and live oaks. This generic image of the American South is reinforced continually by dozens of plantation homes, each of which outdoes the other producing glossy brochures and claiming to be Louisiana's version of Tara. The plantation tours themselves almost always confirmed the stereotypes that are products of Hollywood and Louisiana's tourism department, as one hears stories of gallant gentlemen, refined ladies, exquisite furniture, and, inevitably, the "War Between the States". What is unsettling is the drive to the plantation homes. From Baton Rouge to Oak Alley or Madewood or Nottoway the scene is more like one continuous factory than the rural setting conjured up by plantation tour guides. The 138 petrochemical plants that line the banks of the Mississippi River from the capitol to the Crescent City have transformed this stretch of the world into "Chemical Corridor" - known locally as Cancer Alley. Squeezed between oil refineries, rubber factories, and rayon plants, the pristinely white columns of the famous antebellum mansions stand as tombstones to a mythic period.

John Rehder's Delta Sugar pays homage to this "vanishing plantation landscape." In meticulous detail, Rehder provides a comprehensive overview of a landscape that has changed dramatically since the late 1960s. Rehder is astonished to learn that, in the years between his doctoral research at Louisiana State University and his reexamination of the region twenty years later, many of the plantations that he studied were in ruins and some had disappeared altogether. Between 1969 and 1989, the number of regional sugar refineries declined from 44 to 19; and the 202 working sugar plantations were reduced to 82. Tourism to the grand sugarcane plantation homes may have increased, but most of the smaller and more representative plantations had vanished. In the wake of such change, the author writes, "the time seemed right for an illustrated scholarly book on Louisiana's sugar plantations, and it had to be done before the landscape disappeared beneath the blades of bulldozers" (p. xi). Delta Sugar is thus written with a sense of loss and regret - the loss of a unique American cultural landscape, the regret that this passing away arouses in Rehder, a self-described "nostalgic professor" (p. 303).

Nostalgia is a powerful impulse, and it informs the entire book. The often brutal, dehumanized labor - either by slave or "wage" gang labor - intrinsic to the region's sugarcane plantation is largely absent from Rehder's book. Instead, the "panorama of Louis-iana's sugarcane plantation landscape [is examined] from a culturo-geographic perspective" (p. xii). To this end, the author scours the countryside for "diagnostic traits" of French and Anglo-American plantations, unearths the different phases of a plantation's "sequent occupance," and examines all kinds of dwellings for their "cultural identity." Rehder's methodology - based primarily on driving "over ten thousand miles" throughout south Louisiana - is derived from the example of his graduate school mentor, Fred Kniffen. This perspective focuses on the material traits that a given culture makes, and is less concerned with the social relations or ideology that produces such landscapes.

To his credit, Rehder updates the Kniffen approach as he sheds light on political-economic currents that have transformed the sugarcane industry since the late 1960s. His discussion of what he calls the CALA model is especially useful. An amalgam of the California agribusiness corporation and the distinctive Louisiana corporation plantation, the CALA model of land tenure exhibits several characteristics that have helped write "a prescription for landscape decline" (p. 176): immense landholdings; large capital outlays for production costs; lease agreements; centralized corporate management; and an image that large size usually means success. Combine these factors with creative financing, federal government controls over pricing, and landscape streamlining, and one finds the simultaneous destruction of the traditional sugarcane plantation landscape and unprecedented levels of production. Louisiana today produces twice as much raw sugar as it did in 1969 and more than four times more than on the eve of the Civil War. No less an industry than the petrochemical plants that surround cane fields, sugar production has never been higher. Somewhat unexpectedly, Rehder comments approvingly on the technological innovations that help make this possible. But for all his veneration for the "modern, highly efficient, high-capacity, environmentally regulated enterprises that effectively process Louisiana's sugar production" (p. 129), the author's main concern is with the landscape relics that are being removed from the countryside.

Delta Sugar has much to offer both scholars interested in the history of the United States' first sugar producer, and those, like my Louisiana visitors, who want to know more about what they see en route to a plantation home tour. The book's carefully crafted structure will surely assist both audiences. The first four chapters examine the history of the plantation landscape - everything from the "big house" and slave quarters to field patterns and sugar factories are included. The following chapters build on this framework by looking closely at case studies of six individual plantations in relative states of decline. One will have to look elsewhere to learn how slavery differed on sugarcane plantations from the better-known cotton regions, how settlement patterns of agglomeration affected everyday lives of both blacks and whites, or how slaves and, later, "wage" earners on work gangs - no less than their white oppressors - imbued the sugar plantation landscapes with meaning. Nevertheless, John Rehder's important book adds much to our understanding of this much mythologized, and often misunderstood, American symbol.

Steven Hoelscher,
University of Texas at Austin


Alan Dye, "Factor endowments and contract choice: why were sugar supply contracts different in Cuba and Hawaii, 1900-1929?" Advances in Agricultural Economic History, 1 (1999).

Norma Giarracca, "Transformaciones en la estructura social agraria cañera de Tucumán y las estrategias de los actores sociales," Población y sociedad: Revista regional de estudios sociales Tucumán, 6 & 7 (1998-1999), pp. 285-316.

B. W. Higman, "The sugar revolution," Economic History Review, 52 (2000), pp. 213-236.

Sumner J. La Croix and Price Fishback, "Migration, labor market dynamics, and wage differentials in Hawaii's sugar industry, 1901-1915," Advances in Agricultural Economic History, 1 (1999).

Francisco Moscoso, "La agricultura en España en vísperas de la colonización de América," Cuadernos de Investigación Histórica, No. 3 (2000). (This is a publication of the Departamento de Historia, Centro de Investigación Históricas, Universidad de Puerto Rico, Recinto de Río Pedras. There are several pages on sugar in Spain and the Canary Islands.)

Pedro Ramos, "Os novos produtores do complexo canavieiro paulista no período 1929-1945: Ocupando terras e aproveitando as contradições da intervenção estatal," Población y sociedad: Revista regional de estudios sociales Tucumán, 6 & 7 (1998-1999), pp. 399-424.

Peter Griggs, "Sugar demand and consumption in colonial Australia, 1788-1900," pp. 74-90, in Robert Dare (ed.), Food, Power and Community. Essays in the History of Food and Drink (Adelaide: Wakefield Press, 1999). Pp. 212. A$22.95. ISBN 1-86254501-4.

Pal Ahluwalia, Bill Ashcroft, and Roger Knight (eds.), White and Deadly: Sugar and Colonialism (New York: Nova Science Publishers, 1999). Pp. 194. US$59 (cloth). ISBN 1-56052-710-1. Contents: "Sugar and the shaping of western culture" (James Walvin); "A fatal sweetness: sugar and post-colonial cultures" (Bill Ashcroft); "Discourses of discovery: transculturation and sugar plantations in Africa" (Pal Ahluwalia); "The language of colonial power: the sugar industry's 'coolies' in colonial Java" (G. Roger Knight); "Spectres of sugar" (Kate Flint); "The other leviathans: corporate investment and the construction of a sugar colony" (John D. Kelly); "Alien agriculturalists: non-European small farmers in the Australian sugar industry, 1880-1920" (Peter Griggs); "Nature versus science: the cane-beet sugar rivalry" (John Perkins and Roger Munting).

Peter Joerissen and Rita Wagner (eds), Süsses Rheinland. Zur Kulturgeschichte des Zuckers (Bonn: Bouvier Verlag, 1998). Pp. 120. This is a very attractive, well-illustrated history of beet sugar production in the Rhineland. There are also chapters on the manufacture of sweets (candy) and on tableware, both antique and contemporary, for use with sugar: tongs, sprinklers, spoons, chests, caddies, bowls, coffee, and tea services.

Filomeno Aguilar Jr., Clash of Spirits. The History of Power and Sugar Planter Hegemony on a Visayan Island (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1998). Pp. 313. US$49 (cloth) and $28.95 (paper). ISBN 0-8248-1992-6 and 0-8248-2082-7.

Pierre Audinet, Etat Entrepeneur en Inde et au Brésil. Economie du sucre et de l'éthanol (Paris and Montréal: L'Harmatten 1998). Pp. 308. Paperback. ISBN 2-7384-6385-1.

G. Roger Knight, Narratives of Colonialism: Sugar, Java and the Dutch (New York: Nova Science Publishers, 2000). Pp. 181. US$83. Cloth. ISBN 1-56072-814-0.

Francisco Moscoso, Agricultura y sociedad en Puerto Rico, siglos 16 al 18: Un acercamiento desde la historia (San Juan, Puerto Rico: Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña/Colegio de Agrónomos de Puerto Rico, 1999). Pp. 267. ISBN: 0-86581-509-7.

Wallbaum, Uwe, Die Rübenzuckerindustrie in Hannover. Zur Entstehung und Entwick-lungeines landwirtschaftlich gebundenen Industriezweigs von den Anfängen bis zum Beginn des Ersten Weltkriegs, Beiträge zur Wirtschafts-und Socialegeschichte, band 83, (Stuttgart: Franz Stein Verlag, 1998). Pp. 367.

The University of North Carolina Press has released a new edition of a classic originally published in 1972:
Richard S. Dunn, The Rise of the Planter Class in the English West Indies, 1624-1713 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000). Forward by Gary B. Nash. Pp. 379. Cloth and paperback, US$45.00 and US$16.95. ISBN 0-8078-1192-0 and 0-8078-4877-8.

Denise Neville (ed.), Sweet Talking. A Collection of Oral Histories from the Australian Sugar Industry (Mourilyan, Queensland: The Australian Sugar Museum, 1998). Pp. 154. A$16.00. ISBN 0-959-6395-27. This is a collection of thirty interviews with people who once worked or are still working in the Australian sugar industry. The reminiscences reach back to the early years of the 20th century. Cane cutters and cane farmers, some immigrants from Malta and Italy have their say. One of the Toft brothers recalls experiments with mechanical cane loaders and harvesters in the early 1940s. There are also comments from a chemist, mill workers, a union organizer, and women. The book is successful in giving a flavour of what life was like in the Queensland sugar industry. Sweet Talking can be ordered from the Australian Sugar Industry Museum, P.O. Box 39, Innisfail, Queensland, Australia, 4860. Fax: 07 - 4063 2044. E-mail: An order form can be obtained from the Museum's web site:

The Australian Sugar Industry Museum also publishes Sugar Heritage News, a quarterly news-letter dedicated "to the promotion and preservation of Australia's sugar heritage". The four well-illustrated pages of each issue contain announcements and brief articles about Australian sugar history. For more information and subscriptions use the addresses above.


Eva Crane, The World History of Beekeeping and Honey Hunting (London: Duckworth, 1999). Pp. 720. 85 (cloth). A major contribution.

Susan Carol Hauser, Sugartime: The Hidden Pleasures of Making Maple Syrup with a Primer for the Novice Sugarer (Toronto: Key Porter Books, 1998). Pp. 143. CDN$17.95 (cloth). ISBN 1-55013-950-9.

There is a brief note on sorghum syrup with a list of three suppliers in the United States in The Art of Eating, 53 (Spring 2000), pp. 24-26.

The World Sugar History Newsletter is compiled by Jock Galloway and Peter Blanchard. Correspondence 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: