Abstract

This article explores the nature and meaning of sugarcane arson in Cuba during the first four decades of the twentieth century. In the scholarly literature as well as popular memory, the illegal burning of sugarcane has been seen as an important means by which marginalized groups, such as slaves, rebels, bandits, and striking workers, challenged the established order during times of political and social upheaval. Sugarcane arson, however, was not just a tactical measure utilized during extraordinary moments, but was intrinsic to the island's sugar economy. Despite varied efforts by government officials and plantation managers to prevent cane fires, a number of groups—including colonos (cane farmers) as well as cane cutters—regularly ignited sugar fields for their own purposes. Using sugarcane arson as an analytical lens thus provides a more nuanced picture of agrarian relations in prerevolutionary Cuba.

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NOTES

1. Carlos Franqui,
Family Portrait with Fidel: A Memoir
, trans. Alfred MacAdam (
New York
:
Random House
,
1984
),
163
. For literature on cane burning as political and social protest, see, for example, Manuel Barcia Paz,
Seeds of Insurrection: Domination and Resistance on Western Cuban Plantations, 1808–1848
(
Baton Rouge
:
Louisiana State University Press
,
2008
); Lisa Yun,
The Coolie Speaks: Chinese Indentured Laborers and African Slaves in Cuba
(
Philadelphia
:
Temple University Press
,
2008
),
150
; Louis A. Pérez Jr.,
Lords of the Mountain: Social Banditry and Political Protest in Cuba, 1878–1918
(
Pittsburgh
:
University of Pittsburgh Press
,
1989
),
30
,
43
,
55
; Olga Cabrera,
El movimiento obrero cubano en 1920
(
Havana
:
Instituto Cubano del Libro
,
1969
),
70
.
2. Most of the articles in the Louisiana Planter and Sugar Manufacturer do not have author names or titles. During the 1900s, the articles came under the general heading “Foreign Letters,” then the sub-heading “Havana,” and included only the correspondent's initials (“T. D.”) at the end of the article. By the 1910s the correspondent was not even identified by his/her initials, and the sub-heading was typically either “Havana” or “Cuba,” and in the 1920s the heading was “Foreign Sugar News,” and the sub-heading was “Cuba.”
New Orleans Louisiana Planter and Sugar Manufacturer
,
Mar.
30
,
1929
,
253
;
Apr.
6
,
1929
,
273
; Pérez,
Lords of the Mountain
,
179
.
3. Production figures are calculated from the
Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations
,
The World Sugar Economy in Figures, 1880–1959
(
Rome
:
FAO
,
1960
). On the development of the colonial Cuban sugar industry, see, Manuel Moreno Fraginals,
El ingenio: complejo economic-social cubano del azúcar
,
3
vols. (
Havana
:
Editorial de Ciencias Sociales
,
1978
). For information on colonos, see, for example, Ramiro Guerra y Sánchez,
Sugar and Society in the Caribbean: An Economic History of Cuban Agriculture
(
1927; repr., New Haven
:
Yale University Press
,
1964
); Gillian McGillivray,
Blazing Cane: Sugar Communities, Class, and State Formation in Cuba, 1868–1959
(
Durham
:
Duke University Press
,
2009
); Alan Dye,
Cuban Sugar in the Age of Mass Production: Technology and the Economics of the Sugar Central, 1899–1929
(
Stanford
:
Stanford University Press
,
1998
); Fe Iglesias García,
Del ingenio al central
(
Havana
:
Editorial de Ciencias Sociales
,
1999
). On labor migration to Cuba during the republican period, see, for example, Robert Whiney and Graciela Chailloux Laffita,
Subjects or Citizens: British Caribbean Workers in Cuba, 1900–1960
(
Gainesville
:
University Press of Florida
,
2013
); Marc McLeod,
“Undesirable Aliens: Haitian and British West Indian Immigrant Workers in Cuba, 1898 to 1940”
(
PhD diss.
,
University of Texas–Austin
,
2000
); Rolando Alvarez Estévez,
Azúcar e inmigración, 1900–1940
(
Havana
:
Editorial de Ciencias Sociales
,
1988
); Juan Pérez de la Riva,
“Cuba y la migración antillana, 1900–1931,”
in
La República neocolonial
, vol.
2
,
Anuario de Estudios Cubanos
, ed. Pérez de la Riva et al. (
Havana
:
Editorial de Ciencias Sociales
,
1979
),
3
75
.
4. See, for example, Pérez,
Cuba Under the Platt Amendment, 1902–1934
(
Pittsburgh
:
University of Pittsburgh Press
,
1986
); Jorge Ibarra,
Cuba: 1898–1921. Partidos políticos y clases sociales
(
Havana
:
Editorial de Ciencias Sociales
,
1992
); Robert Whitney,
State and Revolution in Cuba: Mass Mobilization and Political Change, 1920–1940
(
Chapel Hill
:
University of North Carolina Press
,
2001
); Lillian Guerra,
The Myth of José Martí: Conflicting Nationalisms in Early Twentieth-Century Cuba
(
Chapel Hill
:
University of North Carolina Press
,
2005
); McGillivray,
Blazing Cane
,
1
4
.
5.
Louisiana Planter and Sugar Manufacturer
,
Dec.
10
,
1904
,
351
;
Mar.
22
,
1913
,
185
;
“Causa seguida por el delito de incendio de cañaverales,”
exp. 5, leg. 25, Fondo Audiencia de Santiago de Cuba, Archivo Nacional de Cuba, Havana, Cuba (hereafter ASC);
“Acta,”
Conquista,
Jan.
28
,
1930
, exp. 3292, leg.
265
; “Acta,” San Manuel, Mar. 22, 1929, exp. 3288, leg. 265, Fondo Juzgado de Instrucción del Partido Judicial de Camagüey, Archivo Histórico Provincial de Camagüey, Camagüey, Cuba (hereafter JIC);
“Acta,”
Florida,
Feb.
13
,
1936
, exp. 10, leg. 3;
“Acta,”
Florida,
Feb.
24
,
1936
, exp. 10, leg. 4, Fondo Tribunal de Urgencia, Archivo Histórico Provincial de Camagüey, Camagüey, Cuba (hereafter TU); El Gráfico (Havana), Mar. 4, 1916,
8
9
; J. Comptis, Sub-Teniente Escuadrón No. 14 de la Guardia Rural, al Sr. Presidente del Ferrocarril de Cuba, San Germán, May 12, 1935, exp. 4825, leg. 89, Fondo Gobierno Municipal de Holguín Ayuntamiento Neocolonial, Archivo Histórico Provincial de Holguín, Holguín, Cuba.
6. Bonham C. Richardson,
Igniting the Caribbean's Past: Fire in British West Indian History
(
Chapel Hill
:
University of North Carolina Press
,
2004
),
109
12
;
“Causa seguida por el delito de ‘Incendio’ contra Eduardo Díaz y la Atlantic Fruit Company,”
Mar.
27
,
1923
, exp. 17, leg. 33, ASC;
Louisiana Planter and Sugar Manufacturer
,
Apr.
22
,
1899
,
246
47
. See, sample contracts in the Series 10a and 10c, RG II, Braga Brothers Collection, Special Collections, Smathers Library, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida.
“Declaración de Juan Bautista Quesada,”
San José, Florida
,
Feb.
7
,
1928
, exp. 3279, leg. 264, JIC.
7.
Louisiana Planter and Sugar Manufacturer
,
Mar.
16
,
1907
,
168
;
Apr.
20
,
1907
,
247
;
Mar.
9
,
1929
,
193
;
Mar.
30
,
1929
,
253
54
;
Jan.
27
,
1900
,
57
;
Nov.
24
,
1900
,
328
;
Mar.
30
,
1901
,
199
;
Jan.
20
,
1906
,
39
;
Feb.
23
,
1924
,
157
58
; Mar. 23, 1929,
233
34
;
Mar.
3
,
1900
,
136
;
Mar.
23
,
1929
,
233
;
Mar.
6
,
1926
,
194
;
Apr.
18
,
1908
,
248
.
8.
Louisiana Planter and Sugar Manufacturer
,
Feb.
26
,
1927
,
174
;
Feb.
27
,
1926
,
172
; Dye,
“Factor Endowments and Contract Choice: Why Were Sugar Cane Supply Contracts Different in Cuba and Hawaii, 1900–1929?”
Advances in Agricultural Economic History
1
(
2000
):
147
48
, data calculated in Table 3.
9.
“Causa seguida, por el delito de Incendio (no hay acusado),”
Holguín, Feb. 9, 1924, exp. 5, leg. 33, ASC;
Louisiana Planter and Sugar Manufacturer
,
Apr.
20
,
1929
,
314
;
Jan.
24
,
1925
,
74
;
Feb.
16
,
1929
,
133
;
Mar.
30
,
1929
,
253
;
May
11
,
1912
,
338
;
Mar.
24
,
1928
,
234
;
Diario de Cuba
(Santiago de Cuba),
Mar.
13
,
1927
,
12
; G. Rivera, Cabo Escuadrón No. 41 de la Guardia Rural, al Juez Municipal de Esmeralda, Central Jaronú, Feb. 25, 1936, exp. 8, leg. 4, TU;
“Causa seguida por el delito de Incendio,”
Holguín, Aug. 19, 1918, exp. 10, leg. 28, ASC;
“La candela en los campos,”
La Política Cómica
(Havana),
Feb.
5
,
1928
,
36
.
10.
Louisiana Planter and Sugar Manufacturer
,
Jan.
21
,
1905
,
38
;
Mar.
27
,
1926
,
251
;
May
9
,
1925
,
374
;
El Gráfico
,
Mar.
4
,
1916
,
8
9
; Juez de Instrucción al Presidente de la Audiencia, Camagüey, Apr. 4, 1930, exp. 3290–91, leg. 265, JIC.
11.
Asociación de Hacendados y Colonos de Cuba
,
Consejos a los agricultores de cañas en evitación de las grandes candelas
(
Havana
:
np
,
1924
),
5
,
11
14
.
12. See, for instance,
Louisiana Planter and Sugar Manufacturer
,
Dec.
17
,
1904
,
409
410
;
Feb.
16
,
1907
,
105
;
Mar.
16
,
1929
,
213
14
;
Mar.
23
,
1901
,
186
;
Feb.
7
,
1925
,
114
;
Feb.
23
,
1929
,
153
;
Jan.
5
,
1929
,
13
;
Diario de Cuba
,
Feb.
6
,
1924
,
1
;
Mar.
12
,
1927
,
1
;
El Gráfico
,
Mar.
4
,
1916
,
8
9
.
13.
“Causa seguida, por el delito de Incendio (no hay acusado),”
Yateras
,
Feb.
8
,
1928
, exp. 4, leg. 5, ASC;
Louisiana Planter and Sugar Manufacturer
,
Dec.
10
,
1904
,
351
;
Diario de la Marina
(Havana),
Dec.
18
,
1932
,
9
;
Havana Post
,
Feb.
22
,
1914
, in Pérez,
Lords of the Mountain
,
152
;
Diario de Cuba
,
Mar.
19
,
1927
,
1
;
“Sumario No. 223,”
Feb.
9
,
1928
, exp.
3281
83
, leg. 264, JIC; Pérez,
Intervention, Revolution, and Politics in Cuba, 1913–1921
(
Pittsburgh
:
University of Pittsburgh Press
,
1979
),
94
.
14. Jenaro Flores to Juez Municipal de Florida, Magarabomba, Jan. 26, 1926;
“Comparecencia del acusado Andres Vazquez Castaño,”
Florida
,
Jan.
27
,
1926
;
“Declaración del testigo Evaristo Mendez Fernandez,”
Florida
,
Jan.
27
,
1926
;
“Declaración del testigo Jenaro Flores Diaz,”
Florida
,
Jan.
28
,
1926
;
“Informe de Juan García, Sargento de Policía,”
Céspedes
,
Jan.
28
,
1926
, exp. 3269, leg. 263, JIC.
15.
“Causa seguida, por el delito de Incendio, contra Alejandro Cisneros Bueno,”
Santiago de Cuba, May 9, 1914, exp. 13, leg. 33, ASC;
“Acta,”
Cuatro Caminos
,
Mar.
25
,
1926
;
“Declaración de Domingo Pereza Lima”
and
“Declaración de José Manuel,”
Cuatro Caminos
,
Mar.
25
,
1926
;
“Declaración del testigo Micaela Perez Iriarte,”
Cascorro
,
Mar.
26
,
1926
;
“Comparecencia de Mariano Tamayo Perez,”
Cascorro
,
Mar.
26
,
1926
; Abelardo Guerra C., Alcaide de la Cárcel, al Presidente de la Audiencia, Camagüey,
Oct.
4
,
1926
;
“Sentencia No. 450,”
Camagüey
,
Oct.
5
,
1926
, exp. 3272, leg. 263, JIC.
16.
Louisiana Planter and Sugar Manufacturer
,
July
29
,
1905
,
70
.
“Causa seguida por el delito de ‘Incendio’ contra Miguel Peña, Benito Luis, and Gonzalo Peña,”
Guantánamo
,
Jan.
27
,
1930
, exp. 4, leg. 28;
“Causa seguida por el delito de ‘Incendio’ contra Eleuterio Wilson,”
Yateras
,
Feb.
6
,
1928
, exp. 5, leg. 5, ASC. Numbers calculated from Comisión Nacional de Estadística y Reformas Económicas,
Estadísticas
(
Havana
:
Secretaría de Hacienda
,
1928–1933
).
17.
Gaceta Oficial (Havana)
,
Jan.
15
,
1935
; Gobernador Provincial a todos los Alcaldes Municipales, Santiago de Cuba, Jan. 22, 1935, exp. 10, leg. 312, Fondo Gobierno Provincial, Archivo Histórico Provincial de Santiago de Cuba, Santiago de Cuba, Cuba; Grant Watson to Sir John Simon, Havana, Feb. 7, 1935, in British Documents on Foreign Affairs: Reports and Papers from the Foreign Office Confidential Print, Part II, Series D,
Latin America, 1914–1939
,
41
vols. (
Bethesda
:
University Publications of America
,
1989–1992
),
13
:
108
;
“Cuba Busy Grinding Sugar Crop,”
Facts about Sugar
30
(
Feb.
1935
):
49
50
;
“Diligencias por incendio de caña,”
Esmeralda, Florida, Feb. 13, 1936, exp. 2, leg. 4; Dámaso B. Rodríguez, Sub-Teniente Escuadrón No. 41 de la Guardia Rural, al Juez Municipal, Esmeralda, Feb. 22, 1936, exp. 7, leg. 4, TU;
Diario de Cuba
,
Feb.
16
,
1937
,
4
;
Mar.
11
,
1937
,
13
;
Mar.
12
,
1937
,
12
;
Mar.
20
,
1937
,
12
;
Mar.
31
,
1937
,
9
;
Apr.
9
,
1937
,
12
;
Apr.
10
,
1937
,
9
;
Apr.
15
,
1937
,
14
;
Apr.
29
,
1937
,
6
;
May
15
,
1937
,
9
;
May
28
,
1937
,
9
;
Apr.
17
,
1937
,
9
. Numbers calculated from the index of the Fondo Tribunal de Urgencia de Matanzas, Archivo Nacional de Cuba, Havana, Cuba.
18.
Louisiana Planter and Sugar Manufacturer
,
Dec.
10
,
1904
,
351
;
Dec.
17
,
1904
,
414
;
Dec.
6
,
1913
,
382
.
19. Cabrera,
El movimiento obrero cubano en 1920
,
70
;
Louisiana Planter and Sugar Manufacturer
,
Mar.
14
,
1925
,
214
; Barry Carr,
“Mill Occupations and Soviets: The Mobilisation of Sugar Workers in Cuba, 1917–1933,”
Journal of Latin American Studies
28
(
Feb.
1996
):
129
58
.
20.
Louisiana Planter and Sugar Manufacturer
,
Dec.
10
,
1904
,
351
;
Feb.
16
,
1907
,
105
;
Mar.
16
,
1929
,
213
;
“Acta,”
Colonia San Vicente, Florida
,
Mar.
18
,
1926
, exp. 3274, leg. 263, JIC;
Diario de Cuba
,
Mar.
19
,
1927
,
1
.
21.
“Acta por incendio de caña,”
Yeguas, Camagüey
,
Mar.
7
,
1926
;
“Declaración de Sabino Cabrera Ramirez,”
Vertientes
,
Mar.
8
,
1926
;
“Declaración de Francisco Rodríguez Estevez,”
Vertientes
,
Mar.
9
,
1926
;
“Comparecencia del acusado Julian Diaz,”
Yeguas
,
Mar.
7
,
1926
;
“Auto del Juez Sr. Felix A. Pelaez y Avila,”
Vertientes
,
Mar.
9
,
1926
, exp. 3271, leg. 263, JIC.
22.
“Acta,”
Colonia Yara, Gloria, Camagüey
,
Mar.
10
,
1927
;
“Declaración de Jesus Ramiro Baró,”
Sola
,
Mar.
11
,
1927
; L. Valido, Segundo Teniente del Escuadrón No. 41 de la Guardia Rural, al Juez Municipal, Sola, Mar. 11, 1927;
“Declaración de Luis González Rodríguez,”
Sola
,
Mar.
11
,
1927
;
“Comparecencia del acusado Jorge Sipi,”
Sola
,
Mar.
11
,
1927
;
“Comparecencia del acusado Jorge Marchante,”
Sola
,
Mar.
11
,
1927
;
“Auto del Juez Sr. Armando Labrada Canto,”
Camagüey
,
Mar.
12
,
1927
;
“Declaración de Esteban Leiseca Sánchez,”
Sola
,
Mar.
17
,
1927
;
“Declaración de Felipe Olmo Munilla,”
Sola
,
Mar.
23
,
1927
, exp. 3277, leg. 264, JIC;
“Acta por incendio de caña,”
Colonia Cienfuegos, Morón
,
Feb.
26
,
1936
, exp. 18, leg. 4, TU;
Louisiana Planter and Sugar Manufacturer
,
Mar.
4
,
1905
,
137
.
23.
Louisiana Planter and Sugar Manufacturer
,
Mar.
28
,
1903
,
199
;
Mar.
16
,
1912
,
178
;
May
10
,
1913
,
296
.
24.
La Voz del Pueblo
(Guantánamo),
Mar.
9
,
1933
,
1
;
“Acta,”
Piedrecitas, Florida
,
Feb.
7
,
1928
;
“Comparecencia del acusado Cesareo Rodríguez Labrador,”
Florida
,
Feb.
8
,
1928
;
“Providencia del Juez Dr. Luaces y Sebrango,”
Florida
,
Feb.
8
,
1928
, exp. 3280, leg. 264;
“Acta,”
Colonia San José, Florida
, Feb. 7, 1928;
“Declaración de Juan Bautista Quesada,”
San José
,
Feb.
7
,
1928
;
“Declaración del testigo José Fuentes del Risco,”
Florida
,
Feb.
10
,
1928
;
“Auto del Juez Sr. Gilberto Díaz Barreiro,”
Camagüey
,
Feb.
11
,
1928
, exp. 3279, leg. 264, JIC.
25.
“Diligencias por incendio de caña intencional,”
Colonia Santa Gertrudis, Central Vertientes
,
Feb.
19
,
1931
;
“Declaración del testigo Ramón Fix,”
Santa Gertrudis
,
Feb.
20
,
1931
;
“Comparecencia de Victor Manuel Mola Vega,”
Vertientes
,
Feb.
20
,
1931
;
“Auto del Juez Sr. Alonso Camellada Leon,”
Vertientes
,
Feb.
20
,
1931
; F. Hernández,
Primer Teniente del Escuadrón No. 32 de la Guardia Rural, al Juez Municipal de San Jerónimo
,
Vertientes
,
Feb.
21
,
1931
, exp. 3295, leg. 265, JIC.
26.
Louisiana Planter and Sugar Manufacturer
,
Jan.
20
,
1912
,
48
;
Jan.
22
,
1927
,
74
;
Diario de Cuba
,
Feb.
21
,
1918
,
7
.
27.
Diario de Cuba
,
Mar.
22
,
1927
,
1
;
Mar.
19
,
1927
,
1
;
Mar.
20
,
1927
,
1
;
Apr.
1
,
1927
,
11
.
28.
“Diligencias por incendio de caña intencional,”
Colonia San Antonio
,
Vertientes, Camagüey
,
Feb.
27
,
1931
, exp. 3296, leg. 265, JIC; McGillivray,
Blazing Cane
,
3
; Carr,
“Mill Occupations and Soviets,”
129
58
; Whitney,
State and Revolution in Cuba
,
101
21
; Mirta Rosell, ed.,
Luchas obreras contra Machado
(
Havana
:
Editorial de Ciencias Sociales
,
1973
); José Tabares del Real,
La revolución del 30: Sus dos últimos años
(
Havana
:
Editorial de Ciencias Sociales
,
1973
).
29. McGillivray,
Blazing Cane
,
11
; Carr,
“‘Omnipotent and Omnipresent’? Labor Shortages, Worker Mobility, and Employer Control in the Cuban Sugar Industry, 1910–1934,”
in
Identity and Struggle at the Margins of the Nation-State: The Laboring Peoples of Central America and the Hispanic Caribbean
, ed. Aviva Chomsky and Aldo Lauria-Santiago (
Durham
:
Duke University Press
,
1998
),
260
91
. For literature on other countries, see, for example, Clive Moore,
“The Counterculture of Survival: Melanesians in the Mackay District of Queensland, 1865–1906,”
in
Plantation Workers: Resistance and Accommodation
, ed. Brij V. Lal et al. (
Honolulu
:
University of Hawaii Press
,
1993
),
86
; Richardson,
Igniting the Caribbean's Past
,
116
25
.