Reinaldo Funes Monzote has written a seminal book on the environmental history of sugar in Cuba. Written as a chronicle of the changes that the sugar plantation complex wrought upon the largest of the islands in the Antilles, the text is reminiscent of Chronicle of a Death Foretold, the 1981 novel by Gabriel García Márquez that describes an assassination that everyone knew was going to take place but became inevitable nonetheless. The demise in this case was of Cuba’s tropical rainforest.

There are no innocents in this sad story about the replacement of the island’s rain-forest by sugar cane. Yet the book is not a lamentation but a serious analysis of how competing interests maneuvered and sparred throughout the colonial period over possession and use of the forests. The Royal Navy and the sugar planters were the main protagonists interested in forests after the demographic collapse of indigenous peoples...

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