Cuba's sugar industry expanded during the first half of the nineteenth century in the context of rising abolitionist tides in the Caribbean. By the 1830s, as the island became the largest producer for the global markets, Spanish authorities saw British abolitionism as a threat to their sovereignty. In 1844, they claimed to have identified an antislavery conspiracy in Cuba's sugar-producing heart (Matanzas), which they blamed on British abolitionists and a group of local conduits: white liberal creoles who had been clamoring for political representation within the Spanish empire, the free urban community of color, and some rural slaves. The government responded with unprecedented violence. The name given to this conspiracy, La Escalera, is derived from the torturing device used to extract testimonies. For decades, historians of Cuba debated whether accusations of a plot were founded or were a ruse deployed by Spanish...

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