Connections and Their Consequences: Cuba, West Africa, and Spain Resisting and Adapting to Change

AHA Session 148
Conference on Latin American History 23
Friday, January 5, 2018: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Delaware Suite A (Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level)
Luis Martinez-Fernandez, University of Central Florida
Matt D. Childs, University of South Carolina

Session Abstract

This panel explores the formation and implications of ties that were created between Cuba, West African, and Spain during the nineteenth century. These connections were formed just as Great Britain was began to work to end the international slave trade. Colonial Cuban planters and traders along with partners in Spain rapidly developed a strategy to maintain their positions of wealth and power on the island. Cuban elites were dependent on slave labor and the threat Great Britain posed to their supply of workers resulted in the development of a Cuba based slave trade system. As Jorge Felipe Gonzalez shows they created new connections to traders in West Africa and built their own fleet of ships between 1790 and 1820 as the legal trade era was winding down. This fueled Cuba’s plantation boom as hundreds of new plantations were built and thousands of slaves were imported. This also meant that newly enslaved Africans were having to adapt to new conditions. As Barcia shows in his paper, war captives from Africa found themselves enslaved in Cuba. They used their knowledge and skills to mount rebellions throughout the island.

Slave trading did not end with the ban of 1820. Cuba’s newly constituted slave trading connections continued on in the subsequent decades. Van Norman argues in his paper that expansion of the illegal trade especially after 1835 had profound effects on western Cuba that anticipated Cuba’s transformation. His paper focuses on the effects these changes had on the African descended population that included dislocations and new local expression of Afro-Cuban culture. As the British increased their pressure on Cuba and Spain to abolish the trade in slaves Spanish traders sought new ways to sustain what they understood as the source of their wealth. As Chira shows in her paper they attempted to establish a new plantation economy on a new site to replace the eventual lose of the slave based system of Cuba. The new location Spain tried to develop as a “new Cuba” was the island of Fernando Po off the western coast of Africa. Her paper shows how this solution would act as a safety valve for Cuba and would eventually lead to Spanish colonialism on the mainland in the form of Equatorial Guinea. She argues that slave trading networks such as those discussed in the other papers of this panel were themselves transformed into the workings of colonialism in Africa in the late nineteenth century. 

This panel will appeal to historians of slavery, Latin America, the Atlantic world, Iberian world, and Africa

See more of: AHA Sessions