World Sugar History Newsletter

Number 40, September 2010

In this issue:

  1. Reviews
  2. Recent Publications


Patricia Juarez-Dappe, When Sugar Ruled: Economy and Society in Northwestern Argentina, Tucumán, 1876-1916 (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2010). 233 pp. $32. ISBN 978-0-89680-274-2.

This book by Patricia Juarez-Dappe is a revised version of her doctoral thesis that covers a period when a society of the Argentine northwest, the tucumana, experienced significant changes as a result of the establishment of the modern sugar industry. As the abundant bibliography on the region has shown, the Tucumán case stands out amongst its Latin American counterparts because of the extensive changes that occurred in the decade of the 1870s in response to technological and transportation innovations without concomitant alterations in the structure of landholding and in land-use patterns. In other words, the changes did not lead to or deepen latifundismo. In Tucumán what one sees is a division of the agricultural and industrial productive activities: the large ingenios, which were processing the cane, were being supplied by the output sold by thousands of small and medium producers who comprised a socially and economically heterogeneous group.

The book comprises five chapters that are clearly differentiated by their content. The first very successfully brings together the earlier developments of a province noted for the significant variety of its productive activities, extending from agriculture (corn, alfalfa, cereals, and also sugar) to livestock and to an important commercial sector. In addition she describes the appearance of two elements that particularly favoured the changes that the sugar industry experienced: the arrival of the railway (in 1876) and the initiation of a national protectionist policy.

The second chapter is devoted to the sugar industry. Professor Juarez-Dappe presents an overview of its development from its beginnings in the colonial period and then forward in time to emphasize the changes that occurred in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Those changes involved the incorporation of new technology that permitted not only an increase in production in a very significant way, but also adaptations to fit the tastes of the principal consuming market located in the littoral provinces of Argentina. The laying of the railway helped to permit the importation of machinery into Tucumán as well as the cheap and large-scale movement of produce to market. She devotes, with good reason, a great deal of attention to this period, as the network of railway lines not only linked Tucumán with the principal markets of Rosario and Buenos Aires, but also with Córdoba and subsequently the rest of the northwest. Also important to this process was the laying of the internal routes in the province that permitted the movement of the crop to the principal railway stations.

The third chapter focuses on the cane producers. This group was very heterogeneous in terms of origin, size of operations, forms of access to and holding of land, social status, and conditions of life. In their relationship with the ingenios, it was the large-scale cane producers who possessed the better resources to negotiate the conditions of sale. The author shows how in this period contracts began to be signed between those sectors (sugar cane growers and mills) that helped expand the capitalist relations in the countryside of Tucumán. The contracts assured a market for the planters’ cane but at the expense of delegating some of the control of the productive processes.

The growth of the industry required an expanding labour force, which is the central theme of the fourth chapter. Here she analyzes equally the role of those workers who went to the sugar plantations and those who migrated to the mills. Particularly notable among the former were the large contingents of permanent workers who were required for the harvest and the day-to-day operations.

Finally, the conclusions show the changes experienced in a province where the productive activity that had been greatly diversified towards the middle of the nineteenth century was redirected to another scenario in which sugar ruled. It is a survey of a local process that was part of a much wider continental discussion.

The focus of the book, the sugar industry, has been the subject of numerous studies, and with good reason since it (together with the wine industry of Mendoza) was one of the most important non-pampean regional industries that aimed at the internal Argentine market. As a result, the regional and local bibliographical resources are quite extensive. An important part of that bibliography (which in many cases has enjoyed only a relatively limited circulation) has been incorporated into this book, primarily the pioneering works on the subject. In recent years new generations of historians and geographers have been pressing forward in their examinations, incorporating both existing questions and new subjects, developments that are missing in the present book. Nevertheless, When Sugar Ruled should be seen as a comprehensive synthesis of this complex and important process of change. Furthermore, it has the virtue of incorporating a series of historical photographs reproduced from the collection of the Archivo General de la Nación of Argentina, that until now have not been in the general reach of the public.

Raquel Gil Montero
Instituto Superior de Estudios Sociales
CONICET – Universidad Nacional de Tucumán

Gillian McGillivray, Blazing Cane: Sugar Communities, Class, and State Formation in Cuba, 1868-1959 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2009). 416 pp. $89.96 h.c. ISBN 978-0-8223-4524-4. $24.95 p.b. ISBN 078-08223-4542-8.

This ambitious book aims to rewrite twentieth-century Cuban history from two perspectives. From a methodological point of view, Gillian McGillivray intends to insert Cuba into the broad narratives and categories of Latin American history. Moving closer to the ground, she presents the colono, or cane farmer, as an important interlocutor in the formation of the Cuban state as it moved through war to (attenuated) independence and through several forms of social organization including clientelism, populism, and mass mobilizations. The unifying and recurrent theme of burning sugar cane fields points to both continuity and change, as the strategy was used over and over in moments of political conflict, instigated by a variety of actors for many different reasons. Blazing Cane is an important and compelling contribution to Cuban, Caribbean, and Latin American history.

Drawing from extensive sources, including the rich Braga Brothers collection held at the University of Florida and a wealth of material from Cuba’s provincial archives in Las Tunas, Santiago, Sancti Spiritus, and Holguín, has allowed her to create a narrative grounded in the everyday interactions among all the actors on a sugarmill including colonos, mill workers, owners, and cane cutters. At the same time, these detailed accounts are always embedded in the context of Cuban political and social life. For example, McGillivray has the evidence to argue that the early 1930s proved a very harsh economic environment for sugar workers and colonos and that their reaction in the form of strikes and work stoppages contributed to the breakdown of Machado’s regime in 1933. But she can tell this story with a great deal of precision and detail. The economic crisis, for example, exacerbated inequalities, so that while workers’ wages were cut by as much as 80 percent and funding for schools and health clinics was eliminated, administrators and owners continued to indulge in the conspicuous consumption of yachts and Rolls Royces. The way these snapshots of daily life in the sugarmill connect to her narratives of national politics is one of the book’s greatest strengths.

As the book progresses, McGillivray consistently pulls her analysis towards a comparison with political processes taking place throughout the Americas. She argues that Cuba followed a path in which patronage was replaced by populist compacts similar to those in the United States and Chile. These eventually broke down and in the wake of the Cold War, governments in some countries became much more repressive and dictatorial, as in the case of Argentina, the Dominican Republic, and Guatemala, among others. While challenging Cuban exceptionalism seems a worthy endeavour, one wonders at the same time how the revolution of 1959 might fit into this framework. In short, there may be room for a more nuanced interpretation in which some aspects of political culture are shared with other Latin American countries, but others take on their own specificity. Some explanations may lie in the crucial period between 1952 and 1958, during Batista’s final years of rule. Yet, as McGillivray rightly points out, the sources for this period are difficult to come by.

Central to all of these processes, argues McGillivray, were the colonos who served as mediators among the sugar and mill workers, the state, and corporate owners of plantations. Cane farmers, whose holdings ranged from small and modest to sizable, and whose class status was always complicated by race, region, and political allegiance, performed a variety of roles in the protean Cuban state. Rather than simply reacting to circumstances, colonos and sugar workers participated actively in Cuban state formation. This is not a surprising argument but it needs to be stated in the Cuban context, which, for all its focus on sugar, lacked until now such a comprehensive account from this perspective.

The analysis integrates women and gender into these tales of negotiation, conflict, and state-building. Most of her account hinges on a comparison between two sugarmills, Chaparra, a large operation built and run by General Mario García Menocal, (who had fought in the wars of independence and would serve as president of Cuba from 1913 to 1921), and Tuinucú, a smaller mill owned and run by the Spaniard Manuel Rionda. Since it was smaller, Tuinucú was run as a combination social experiment and aesthetic/capitalist endeavour in the early decades of the twentieth century. McGillivray argues convincingly that women took up the task of easing social relations and cementing a clientelist relationship among owners and workers. They engaged in many charitable gestures, organized women’s clubs that included women across social classes, and gained reputations as kind benefactresses. A sugarmill like Tuinucú served as a kind of “model community” in which housing and recreation were at standards higher than in other parts of the country, and workers were content if relatively controlled. In all this, women played key roles. This is an important reframing of the notion of patronage, which has traditionally paid attention to male activities, such as voting and taking up arms. The gendered analysis throughout offers tantalizing bits that one wishes were more extensively elaborated. But that may be too much to ask of an already packed book. McGillivray has raised a significant issue that will hopefully prompt other historians to take up the challenge of gendering Cuban history.

This detailed and well-written account will prove useful to anyone interested in the textured politics of sugar in twentieth-century Cuba. In addition, and importantly, it contributes a great deal to discussions of the middle class and state formation not just in Cuba, but throughout Latin America.

Alejandra Bronfman
University of British Columbia

Eric J. Graham, Burns and the Sugar Plantocracy of Ayrshire (Ayr: Ayrshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, Ayrshire Monographs 36, 2009). 124pp. Photos, portraits, maps, index. ?6 paperback. ISBN 978-0-9542253-8-4.

This is rather a strange volume which has little to do with poetry and a lot to do with Scottish access to English colonies in the Caribbean during the eighteenth century. The Burns of the title is Robert Burns, the poet, born in Ayrshire, whose dislike of some of the Ayrshire commercial elite and preference for the less-well-off found expression in his verses. Desperate for money, he seriously contemplated moving to Jamaica to work as a bookkeeper on a sugar plantation but was persuaded not to go. The bulk of the monograph records the success of three Ayrshire families who took the risk of sending sons to Jamaica and St. Kitts where they would work first as bookkeepers, moving upscale if all went well to plantation management, with a few eventually becoming owners. The risks were considerable: disease, warfare, shipwreck, poor markets. Success came through promotion, wise investment of savings, and, more rarely, from the quickest way to wealth of all: marriage to the widow of a wealthy planter. Money was sent back to Ayrshire to be invested in farmland and, with increasing success, in large houses. The rise in wealth and status made possible the marriage of daughters into the aristocracy.

The monograph contributes little to our knowledge of the eighteenth-century Caribbean sugar industry, but Graham has provided a case study of Scottish commercial enterprise before the options brought by the industrial revolution. These Ayrshire families had no qualms about employing slaves. Indeed Richard Oswald, the leading member of one of the three families, owned a slaving station on the coast of Sierra Leone, an assembly point for slaves destined for the Americas. (He also invested, unwisely as it proved, in an attempt to extend the sugar industry into Florida. See Lucy B. Shane, Sweet Cane. The Architecture of the Sugar Works of East Florida (Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2010), 52-66.) The families remained interested in their plantations until the abolition of slavery and the arrival of competition from sugar beet reduced profits. Then they put the plantations up for sale.

There is a good number of illustrations including reproductions of eighteenth-century maps of Jamaica and St. Kitts, as well as diagrams of plantations, maps of land owned by the three families in Ayrshire, and many reproductions of portraits of family members.

J. H. Galloway
University of Toronto


Humberto García Muñiz, Sugar and Power in the Caribbean (Kingston, Jamaica: Ian Randle Publishers, 2010).

John Paul Rathbone, The Sugar King of Havana: The Rise and Fall of Julio Lobo, Cuba’s Last Tycoon (New York: Penguin, 2010). 304 pp. $27.95. ISBN 978-1-10145-860-0.

Thomas D. Rogers, The Deepest Wounds: A Labor and Environmental History of Sugar in Northeast Brazil (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010). 320 pp. $65 h.c. ISBN 978-0-8078-3433-6. $25.95 p.b. ISBN 978-0-8078-7167-6.

José Antonio Sánchez Román, La dulce crisis: estado, empresarios, y industria azucarera en Tucumán, Argentina (1853-1914) (Seville: Diputación de Sevilla; Universidad de Sevilla; Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Escuela de Esutios Hispano-Americanos, 2005). 383 pp.

Antonio Santamaría García & Consuelo Naranjo Orovio (eds.), Más allá del azúcar: política, diversificación, y practices económicas en Cuba 1878-1930 (Madrid: Ediciones Doce Calles, 2009). 314 pp. €30 p.b.

Lucy B. Shane, Sweet Cane. The Architecture of the Sugar Works of East Florida (Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2010). 192 pp. $45.00 h.c. ISBN 978-0-8173-1696-9. $22.50 p.b. ISBN 978-0-8173-5592-0. $18.00 eBook. ISBN 978-0-8173-8287-2.

Verene A. Shepherd, Livestock, Sugar and Slavery: Contested Terrain in Colonial Jamaica (Kingston, Jamaica: Ian Randle Publishers, 2009). 320 pp. $44.95 h.c. ISBN 978-976-637-403-7. $24.95 p.b. ISBN 978-976-637-256-9.

A rapadura e o fusca: Cana, cultura, sociedade (Salvador de Bahia: Goethe-Institut, 2009.) ISBN 978-85-62874-00-0. For more on this and a much broader project involving sugar, see

The World Sugar History Newsletter is compiled by Jock Galloway and Peter Blanchard. Correspondence should be sent to Peter Blanchard, Victoria College, University of Toronto, 73 Queen’s Park Crescent, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5S 1K7, or by e-mail to: or