The war ended in 1898. No part of Cuba had escaped its ravages. From the eastern mountains, to the central plains, across the western valleys—the scenes of desolation and devastation were everywhere the same. It had been a brutal war, one in which opposing armies seemed determined more to punish the land than to prosecute the war. For almost four years, contending forces had laid siege to the largesse of the land, preying upon the bounty of its resources, and practicing pillage of every kind as the normal method of warfare. And when it was over, in 1898, the toll of Cuban independence reached frightful proportions. The fields were blighted; the pastures, barren; and the fruit trees, bare. Agriculture was in desperate crisis in an economy predominantly agricultural. Of the 1,400,000 total acres under cultivation in 1895, only some 900,000 acres returned to production after the war. The rich sugar provinces of Havana and Matanzas were each cultivating fully less than one-half of the area in 1899 than they had the year before the war.1 Across Cuba, vast numbers of small farms, livestock ranches, tobacco vegas, and coffee fincas perished in the conflict. Everywhere the sugar estates were in ruins. Of the 70 sugar mills in Pinar del Río, only 7 survived the war. Of the 166 centrales operating in Havana Province in 1894, only 20 participated in the 1899 harvest. Of the 434 mills located in Matanzas, only 62 survived. The 332 centrales in Las Villas were reduced to 73. In all, of the 1,100 sugar mills registered in Cuba in 1894, only 207 survived the war; and not all these mills contributed to either the 1899–1900 harvest or the 1900–1901 crop.2

Tobacco fields, coffee fincas, and sugar estates not destroyed or abandoned were paralyzed by the dearth of workers and the dispersal of farmers. Roads, bridges, and railroads were in a state of serious disrepair. Commerce was at a standstill. Almost all of Cuba was in a condition comparable to that described by General Fitzhugh Lee regarding Pinar del Río at the onset of the United States military occupation in 1899.

Business of all sorts was suspended. Agricultural operations had ceased; large sugar estates with their enormous and expensive machinery were destroyed; houses burned; stock driven off for consumption by the Spanish troops or killed. There was scarcely an ox to pull a plow, had there been a plow left. Not a pig had been left in the pen, or a hen to lay an egg for the poor, destitute people who still held on to life, most of them sick, weary, and weak. Miles and miles of country uninhabited by either the human race or domestic animals were visible to the eye on every side. The great fertile island of Cuba in some places resembled an ash pile, in others the dreary desert.3

Everywhere in Cuba, property owners emerged from the war in debt, without either available capital or obtainable credit. The total urban indebtedness of some $100 million represented more than three-quarters of the declared property value of $139 million. A similar situation existed for rural real estate. The value of rural property (fincas rústicas) was set at some $185 million, on which rested a mortgage indebtedness of $107 million.4

The war had wrought havoc on both large planters and small farmers. Even before the war began, however, the planter class faced economic crisis. The lapse of reciprocal trade agreements between the United States and Spain in 1894 found Cuban sugar planters producing record crops at a time of declining markets. The promise of privileged access to United States markets in the early 1890s had stimulated the expansion of sugar production and modernization of the mills. Most of all, though, it had encouraged a new round of indebtedness as planters rushed to borrow in response to what appeared to be the unlimited prospects for prosperity offered by United States markets.5 Not atypical of these developments was one planter in Matanzas Province who borrowed $700,000 at 20 percent annual interest to replace old machinery.6 Shut out of European markets by expanded sugar beet production in France, Germany, and Austria, and facing new competition in Latin America because of increased sugar output in Argentina, Peru, and Mexico, Cuban planters had placed their hopes for prosperity on access to United States markets. In 1894, with the lapse of reciprocity, the much overextended sugar planters reached the historic one-million-ton harvest mark, only to suffer a reduced share of the only market with the capacity to absorb Cuba’s expanded production.

The end of reciprocity in 1894 was the first calamity to overtake Cuban producers. The second was the beginning of the war of liberation in 1895. The expansion of the insurrection into the rich sugar zones of the western provinces in 1896 profoundly transformed the character of the separatist struggle. Henceforth, Cuban arms were directed as much against the Cuban economy as against the Spanish army. In July 1895, army chief Máximo Gómez ordered a moratorium on all economic activity—commerce, manufacturing, ranching, but most of all, and especially, sugar production: no planting, no harvesting, no grinding, no marketing. Any estate found in violation of the ban, Gómez vowed, would be destroyed and its owner tried for treason. “All sugar plantations will be destroyed, the standing cane set fire and the factory buildings and rail roads destroyed,” the decree warned. “Any worker assisting the operation of the sugar factories will be considered an enemy of his country . . . and will be executed.”7

To ignore the insurgent injunction risked the loss of life and destruction of property; and after 1896, with insurgent army units operating fully across the breadth of the island, it was a risk not to be undertaken lightly. To suspend the production, however, also threatened catastrophe. Planters traditionally borrowed against future crops at prevailing world prices, and by the mid-1890s, the accumulated indebtedness found many planters operating with little margin for mishap. In those circumstances where planters tottered at the brink of bankruptcy from harvest to harvest, the loss of a single year’s crop portended ruin.

Spanish authorities were not insensible to the plight of the planters, but could provide the estates only limited protection. During the war, the Spanish army command detailed thousands of troops for garrison duty during the harvest. Some planters hired private guards to protect the estates. Others donated generously to separatist war coffers in the hope of buying exemption from the insurgent ban.8 In each case, the cost of the war passed directly onto planters. There were, finally, some planters who concluded that they had little to lose in defying the separatist prohibition, for the possibility of attack by Cubans was considerably less than the probability of attachments by creditors.

The insurgent moratorium affected mostly small- and medium-sized producers—in the main, Cuban landowners—that is, precisely those planters who lacked the resources either to contribute to separatist coffers or to employ private guards. The estates that survived the war intact represented the larger producers, mainly foreigners, who possessed the resources to continue production in defiance of the insurgent ban. The Edwin F. Atkins properties in Cienfuegos hired about 140 armed and mounted private guards, and continued production through the war. So did Louis Ponvert, who constructed 40 block houses on his estate “Hormiguero.” The “Constancia” estate constructed block houses and hired 800 private guards throughout the war.9


United States intervention in 1898 provided the beleagured planter class both immediate relief and timely reprieve, though not total redemption. The effects of the war had taken their toll, and in 1898, the planter class was in crisis, facing at once the loss of power, privilege, and property.10

The armed intervention saved the planters from the destruction of war, and the military occupation temporarily staved off economic collapse after hostilities ceased. As early as January 1, 1899, Governor General John R. Brooke pledged fully the resources of the military government “to build up waste [sic] plantations.”11 The pledge initially seemed destined for fulfillment. In April 1899 the military government enacted Military Order No. 46, a provision proclaiming a two-year moratorium on the collection of all debt obligations, “whether or not secured by mortgage on real property. ”12

In the months that followed, the military government promulgated a variety of decrees designed to provide landowners with immediate relief and to assist planters with long-term recovery. Export duties were abolished. Tariff rates on agricultural equipment and railroad machinery were reduced to 5 percent ad valorem. Internal trade taxes were eliminated. Municipal taxes on all properties “destroyed by war, and, in general, those which are not at present actually productive,” were suspended.13 Planters received authorization to hire private guards (policía jurada) to protect rural property.14 In 1900, the military government organized a Rural Guard to patrol the countryside. “The policy of the Military Government,” Adjutant General Hugh L. Scott proclaimed in January 1901, “is to give in every way the greatest security and protection to the planters and others engaged in reconstruction of the country. ”15

These were expedient measures, even essential ones. The moratorium on foreclosure and the suspension of taxes provided planters with a much needed respite. So, too, did the reduction of import-export duties. The measures were designed, however, primarily to forestall imminent ruin; and while planters and farmers were spared immediate collapse, they still faced dreary prospects for reconstruction without credit and even more difficult prospects for recovery without capital.

United States policy provided the planter class with some relief. The reduction of tariff rates on agricultural equipment, however, was of little consolation to planters and farmers who could not, in any case, afford to purchase new machines or to repair old machinery. What planters needed most, quickly and on a vast scale, was financial assistance, immediately to renew production, and ultimately to settle decades of accumulated indebtedness. From the outset of the United States occupation, Cuban landowners turned to the military government for the level of assistance they maintained they needed.

United States officials understood clearly the problems facing Cuban planters and farmers. Testifying before a Senate committee at the end of his year as military governor in Cuba, General Brooke recounted:

The planters after a time appealed to me for some relief in regard to their indebtedness. Most of the planters were in debt. Their properties were under mortgages contracted before or during the war, which began on February 24. Not only were the buildings on the plantations destroyed, but the cane and other crops were burned. The people took refuge in the towns or left the country. They found it necessary to mortgage what they had left, largely in addition to other mortgages which may have existed prior to the war.16

Direct aid to planters, however, either in the form of credit allocations or by way of cash advances, was not part of the United States’ design for the postwar reconstruction of Cuba. “Many requests have been made by the planters and farmers to be assisted in the way of supplying cattle, farming implements, and money,” Brooke reported in October 1899. He continued:

The matter has been most carefully considered and the conclusion reached that aid could not be given in this direction. The limit has been reached in other means of assistance to the verge of encouraging or inducing pauperism, and to destroy the self-respect of the people by this system of paternalism is thought to be a most dangerous implanting of a spirit alien to a free people, and which would, in carrying it out, tend to create trouble by arousing a feeling of jealousy in those who would not receive such aid .... The real solution of this question of furnishing means to those who need this kind of aid is through the medium of banks, agricultural or others; through them and through them alone, it is believed, the means now sought from the public treasury should be obtained .... This system would not destroy or impair the self-respect of the borrower; he would not be the recipient of charity, but a self-respecting citizen working out his own financial salvation by means of his own labor and brain.17

Sufficient capital was available—much of it “lying idle”—Brooke insisted, if “capitalists [were] assured as to the future.” Recovery was imminent, Brooke proclaimed confidently in October 1899: “In fact, the era of prosperity appears to be at hand; all that is needed is to have capital satisfied as to the future conditions, and this being reasonably assured, there can be no doubt but that the fertility of the soil and the industry of the people will work out a happy solution of the problem.”18

Brooke’s optimism was premature. Good times never arrived—not, at least, for many planters and farmers. Capital remained scarce throughout the early years of the occupation, and not entirely without cause. Even as Brooke predicted the imminence of prosperity, one Treasury Department official in Cuba concluded that “it would be extremely hazardous to loan money in Cuba on any kind of collateral or property.”19 By 1898 many planters were hopelessly in debt, and at the brink of ruin. Indeed, ownership of many encumbered estates would have been long transferred had it not been for repeated prorogation of mortgage regulations between 1896 and 1898. “There are plantations in Cuba today,” customs chief Tasker H. Bliss wrote, “which, if they could make a clear profit of 25% could not come anywhere near paying the interest on their mortgage.”20 One planter recalled in 1898:

We well know what the conditions were prior to the war; the enormous debts piled up by abuse of credit and reckless expansion of the centrals; after absorbing all available in the community, they had no recourse to usurers. There are thousands of families ruined and in dire want, whose means have been swallowed up by well-known centrals. There are owners of mortgaged properties all around us who get a good living from them and have not paid a cent of interest in the past three years.21

In this sense, Military Order No. 46 in April 1899 was a much welcomed continuity with Spanish policy. Still, this remained substantially a wartime measure. With the arrival of peace, planters and farmers were anxious to revive the estates and resume production, but lacked resources. Warehouses had been demolished and machinery destroyed. Many private narrow-gage railroads used for the hauling of cane were in disrepair. So were locomotives and cane cars. Repair and machine shops had been sacked during the war, and vital spare parts had all but disappeared. In other instances, mills survived the war more or less intact, but the combined effects of destruction of cane fields and dispersal of labor precluded the resumption of production. Without cane, the factories remained idle, and without funds, the fields stood barren.22 The prospects for postwar recovery were bleak. “I know of some instances,” Edwin F. Atkins wrote in April 1901, “where some of them are paying 24 to 36 percent per annum for borrowed money, to carry them along from month to month, and at current prices nothing beyond a living is left them at the end of the crop, while the security to their creditors is constantly diminishing.”23 Not a few landowners shared the discouragement of planter Adolfo Muñoz, who in mid-1900 complained of “a feeling of doubt and disappointment” upon the realization that there was “no hope of relief ” forthcoming from the military government.24 Matanzas planter Cristobal Madán, facing some $100,000 worth of damage on his “La Rosa” estate, grew increasingly frustrated, and critical of United States policy. “On my return to ‘La Rosa’,” Madán protested to Governor General Leonard Wood in 1901, “I found that my machinery had been tampered with and pieces of machinery had been carried away, my cattle, horses, mules, in fact, everything moveable had been carried away. It was impossible for me to raise the necessary funds with which to put in working order my estate, and since 1895 I have not ground a single cane, and have had no revenue but from the little cane that grew among the weeds and which I sold to one of my neighbors, investing the proceeds in the preservation of what was left at the estate.”25

The early measures by the military government served only to postpone the inevitable reckoning. And that occasion, as planters knew only too well, would arrive in April 1901, when Military Order No. 46 was scheduled to expire. Landowners simply could not reconstruct their estates and return to prewar production levels without massive public assistance. “The mortgages represent now more than 100 percent of the wrecked properties,” Santa Clara planter Francisco Seigle complained in late 1900, “and become due next April. They will be foreclosed and the first mortgagees will grab them, leave the other mortgagees and the proprietors with utter ruin for their share.” Seigle expressed his gratitude for the prorogation decree of April 1899. “But time has run out,” he added; “our condition is worse today. These properties cannot be made productive without capital; capital does not invest in overmortgaged properties and mortgage holders refuse to come to reasonable terms.”26 This was a position with which the Cuban civil Secretary of Agriculture, Commerce, and Industry agreed. “Up to the present time,” Perfecto Lacosta complained only weeks before the expiration of Military Order No. 46, “nothing has been done toward the improvement of our agricultural situation.” In one of the strongest criticisms of United States policy by a Cuban official, Lacosta protested the lack of “pecuniary resources . . . for the work of reconstruction and the almost impossibility of obtaining same, in view of the heavy debt with which rural property is burdened, due to the lack of agricultural banks or other institutions of credit which could render immediate assistance on acceptable terms.” Lacosta called upon the occupation government “to remove the obstacles” to the establishment of credit sources and to “use every means at its command to foment and favor [agriculture’s] most rapid development.”27

On at least two separate occasions, attempts to establish local credit institutions met United States opposition. In one case, José Antonio Toscano and Celestino de la Torriente proposed establishing a Banco de Crédito y Territorial Hipotecario to facilitate loans to needy planters. The other instance involved the proposal by the civil government of Santa Clara to organize a farmers’ loan association (banco pecuario) to promote local agricultural revival. Both times the military government rejected the petitions, citing the Foraker Amendment’s prohibition against the awarding of franchises and concessions for the duration of the occupation.28

Even within the military government divergent opinions were heard. General James H. Wilson, commanding Matanzas and Las Villas, recommended the monthly disbursement of $20,000 to each province to serve as loans for small farmers, with no single loan to exceed $400. General Fitzhugh Lee in Pinar del Río similarly proposed the establishment of public agricultural banks to assist needy farmers’ return to production.29 Both proposals, designed primarily to aid small farmers, failed to win approval in either Havana or Washington.

The United States’ appropriation of state revenues, and refusal to sanction public aid, on one hand, and the United States’ control of the licensing of banking enterprises, and simultaneous rejection of new franchises, on the other, transformed a difficult situation into an impossible one. The military occupation, in effect, justified its policies on the grounds that Cuba’s future rested on creating in Cuba conditions sufficient, in Brooke’s words, to assure “capitalists ... as to the future.” The resources of the military government therefore should be applied to promote order and stability. And for the North Americans, order and stability implied a condition that inspired public confidence and encouraged private capital. Leonard Wood characterized stability wholly as a function of “business confidence.” “The people ask me what we mean by stable government in Cuba,” he wrote Secretary of War Elihu Root in January 1900. “I tell them that when money can be borrowed at a reasonable rate of interest and when capital is willing to invest in the island, a condition of stability will have been reached.”30 Some weeks later, Wood wrote to McKinley: “Business is gradually picking up, but capital is still very timid in regard to Cuban investments. When people ask me what I mean by stable government, I tell them ‘money at six percent;’ this seems to satisfy all classes.”31

For Wood, no less than for his predecessor Brooke, relief of the planters’ distress was part of larger economic considerations. His solution to the problem was to provide Cuban products guaranteed access to United States markets through preferential tariff discounts. “There has been considerable thoughtless talk in Cuba about making loans to aid agriculturists,” Wood reported. “It is not believed that any such policy is either wise or desirable.” He continued:

High rates of interest on money loaned to sugar planters have been due to the low price of sugar and the uncertainty of a profitable marketing of the crop. When the planters and the general public have confidence that the sugar crop can be marketed at a reasonable profit, the principal difficulties of the situation will disappear. For, as the sugar market, so is the condition of business confidence in Cuba. The Island is so rich that her planters can secure capital on easy terms whenever there is reasonable surety of a good market for sugar. . . . What Cuba needs is a liberal degree of reciprocity with the United States, thereby securing a market where her products can be sold at a reasonable profit.32

Preferential access to United States markets did indeed promise to stimulate revival of sugar production. For most Cuban planters, however, privileged entry into the United States offered too little too late. The ratification of the reciprocity treaty in 1903 had far-reaching consequences. It served to accelerate the transfer of land ownership, immediately by way of creating favorable trade conditions permitting Cubans to sell damaged and unproductive estates and ultimately by enhancing the investment value of Cuban land. Nor was this development entirely unforeseen and unintended. “All that reciprocity can do for the [planters],” customs chief Tasker H. Bliss predicted correctly in 1902, “will be that, by an improvement of the general conditions of the country, and by a restoration of confidence, they will be able to sell their mortgaged estates for enough, possibly, to pay their debts.” Bliss continued: “But all these estates must go into the market; they must be acquired by individuals or companies who will consolidate them, and who will work them on a modern basis. But the present owners are ruined, and will stay ruined reciprocity or no reciprocity .... Reciprocity will merely enable, at the best, a large number of planters to gracefully withdraw from business, leaving their estates in the hands of new men who will work them on modern conditions. ” He concluded: “The first consequence of reciprocity will be a complete upheaval of the sugar industry in Cuba, with the consolidation of many estates into one, with one mill doing the work that several do even now, with the consequent reduction in the cost of producing raw sugar, and with the continued administration of the business on the most modern and economical lines.”33

The portents were everywhere. Across the island, many Cuban planters ceased resisting the inevitable and sold out, often at great losses, to United States buyers. In the municipality of San José de las Lajas in Havana Province, local farms were selling for one-fifth their value. “Land is sold at $100 to $200 per caballería,” complained the major, “its real value being $1,000 for first class.”34 The acquisitions of Edwin Atkins in Cienfuegos underscored the nature of the transformation occurring in postwar Cuba. From the Manuel Blanco, Atkins purchased the complete “Caledonia” estate. The 566-acre estate of “San Francisco” was acquired from Alfredo Vilá. The “Limones” estate was augmented by the acquisition of additional property from the Vilá family.35

Almost from the outset of the military occupation, United States authorities accepted the dispossession of land and displacement of land-owners as developments that were as ineluctable as they were inevitable. “Of all those estates upon which the mills themselves were destroyed,” Wood acknowledged in mid-1901, “there is not a single case in which the mill has been reconstructed. The money secured by mortgages on those estates was loaned when the mills were standing; the destruction of the mills has left the estates worth only a fraction of the mortgage. There is no hope of this class of people getting out of the hole.”36 “During the war,” Wood wrote earlier, “many of the estates in the interior were abandoned and have become overgrown.” He continued:

Their owners are either dead or in foreign parts or living in towns, too poor to attempt any work tending to reclaim and re-establish their estates, as well as on different portions of the public domain, and have remained in undisputed possession for several years. Their removal will be attended with considerable difficulty and hardship and probably with some considerable disturbance.37

Pressure, too, from creditors was mounting as lenders demanded an end to repeated prorogations of mortgage regulations. Foreign lenders in particular, and especially United States creditors, were anxious to claim Cuban properties. English, German, and Spanish holders of mortgages, further, were prepared to appeal to their respective governments if the United States contemplated another suspension of foreclosures.38


The first toll of the final reckoning was sounded in the spring of 1901 as the expiration date of Military Order No. 46 neared. Very early the military government let be known its intention to permit the original decree to lapse. “Any further extension will be a death blow to business confidence,” Wood insisted tersely, “and would scare what little money there is in the island, out of it.”39

Word that the military government planned to permit the debt moratorium to expire precipitated protest throughout Cuba. Provincial and municipal government authorities denounced United States policy.40 Leopoldo Gancio, the Cuban civil Secretary of Finance in the military government, vigorously protested the lapse of the debt suspension decree. No class, Gancio complained, had been “chastised more by our internal discords” than the farmers. He continued:

It would be a flagrant injustice that the creditor . . . may demand the whole of his credit, as if nothing had occurred, aggregating principal and interest to dispossess the debtor, who, having been expelled from his residence, [has] seen his properties wasted, his crops destroyed, his cattle confiscated and his family decimated by famine and disease .... The land should remain in the hands of the cultivators or of the true agricultural proprietors, instead of going into the hands of speculators or of people but little versed in the management of farms. Our society having been dominated until now by the mercantile classes, that principle was forgotten and after the first war the Mortgage Law, which with some reforms is still in force, was enacted; the expropriations were made on a large scale, and in consequence thereof, a multitude of valuable estates were destroyed among judicial contentions, for creditors in great numbers of cases were content to realize what they could in cash, selling machinery, woods, buildings, and whatever else was of easy alienation until the land was left bare.41

The lapse of the April 1899 moratorium provided the occasion to enact a new decree, establishing a fixed term of four years in which to settle all indebtedness. “From the 1st of June next,” Military Order No. 139 stipulated in May 1901, “all classes of creditors remain at liberty to take action and enforce the collection of mortgage credits, on all kinds of properties.”42 “Nothing has done more to keep money out of the country and prevent reconstruction than the original stay law,” Wood wrote to justify his policy. “It would perhaps have been very hard to have had an immediate foreclosure, but it would have been very salutary.” Permitting the decree to lapse, Wood predicted confidently, promised a “gentle means of bringing the present condition ... to an end with as little harshness as possible.”43

Planters did not agree and freely predicted total ruin. Landowners across the island protested the provisions of the new law. Santiago Rousseau described himself to Wood as potential “prey” of intriguing creditors. The results of Military Order No. 139, Rousseau warned bluntly, would be “disastrous” and signaled “final ruin.”44 The Círculo de Hacendados protested directly to Washington.45 In Havana, Wood summarily dismissed planters’ opposition. “The [planter] association,” he wrote, “as at present organized and represented, is made up largely of the debtor element, the solvent planters taking no particular part in the transactions. The purpose of the debtor element is to practically repudiate their debts.”46

Military Order No. 139 was the first of a series of calamities to befall planters during the United States occupation, and its effects were not confined to large planters. Catastrophe visited small farmers, too, who no less than large landowners, had suffered from the effects of the war. The war had reduced the farms to 60,710 fincas, representing a total area of 900,000 acres, of which some 52 percent was worked by renters. The war had been especially hard on small farmers; and between 1898 and 1900, fincas were changing hands at an average of 3,700 a year.47 Much like large landowners, small farmers faced desperate postwar conditions. Also like large landowners, small farmers lacked capital with which to revive agricultural production. Here similarities ended. Small farmers lacked more than capital—they had no collateral, necessary to obtain credit. A survey in 1900 revealed that of 40,000 farms assessed, 16,000 were encumbered with mortgages totaling $132 million. The vast majority of the mortgages did not exceed $1,500, but the prospects in postwar Cuba for liquidating even these small debts were bleak.48 In the region of Holguín and Gibara, local property owners estimated that a credit grant of $100,000 distributed among 500 farmers—that is, about $200 per farmer—would suffice to stimulate recovery in the district.49

A class of small independent farmers faced extinction. In Las Villas, census enumerator Juan Bautista Jiménez reported that few small farmers of the province owned even a single yoke of oxen with which to work the fields; animals that were available were “leased by capitalists in the cities who charge for the rent fully one-third of the tobacco and corn harvested.” Without capital sufficient to purchase implements and oxen, Bautista Jiménez predicted, “the old regime in which the proprietor was nothing more than the unpaid administrator of his finca will be perpetuated. ”50 A petition from property owners and merchants in Holguín and Gibara appealed to Wood for assistance to stimulate agricultural reconstruction in northeastern Cuba. “In the jurisdiction of Holguín and Gibara,” the petitioners wrote in early 1900, “there are more than 500 small farmers who for reasons well known lack the necessary elements to work the soil, and who with very little help in the way of animals, and implements of agriculture, could develop the riches of the community at large.”51 Eleven months later, the mayor of Gibara reported continued distress and depression. “Agriculture in this municipality,” he wrote, “is today in the same condition it was on January 1, 1900, owing to the fact that all farms were abandoned for lack of agricultural implements and of oxen and on the few small farms that any cultivation is done it is by hand, producing hardly enough to cover the primary necessities of the farmer.”52 In July 1900, Mayor Francisco Mastrafa of Mayarí complained of persistent hardships and continuing impoverishment in the municipal district. “The advance of agriculture is slow, ” Mastrafa reported, “due to the undeniable poverty of the countrymen who are entirely without indispensable factors, such as oxen, horses and farming utensils, whereby they would increase their crops.”53 “The lands of this municipality,” the mayor of Nueva Paz in Havana Province wrote, “represent a taxable income of $236,000, but all are abandoned. Even those which were not completely ruined are in an unproductive state.”54 From the mayor of Jiguaní came a similar account of distress and despair: “16,000 caballerías of this district are devoted to cattle breeding, but these are abandoned because the proprietors of same, excepting a very few, have not the necessary resources to reconstruct them. The agricultural progress is very slow, for the same cause of lack of funds to attend to cultivation.”55

The prospects for indigence and ruin increased considerably with the proclamation of Military Order No. 139. The fate of the planter class, no less than that of the small independent farmers, was sealed. Events followed quickly thereafter. In February 1902 the military government enacted Civil Order No. 34, removing existing obstacles for the establishment of new railroads and the expansion of existing ones. Investors received official sanction to acquire lands necessary for railroad construction and maintenance.56 “The Railroad law has got to be modified,” Wood had insisted to Root a month earlier, “or no pronounced development of business in this line can be expected .... I want you to feel sure that I am as much interested as anybody in protecting American interests when I can do so without directly violating the law.”57 Vast tracts of land were thus subject to expropriation in the pursuit of an enterprise owned almost entirely by foreign capital. Railroad companies during and after the occupation routinely attached property proclaimed necessary to construction.58

In March 1902 the military government promulgated Civil Order No. 62. Perhaps one of the most significant decrees issued during the occupation, it was designed for the purpose of “cleaning up the mess of titles that has entangled the properties” of communal lands (hacienda comunera).59 For the better part of the previous century, rural communities had organized around the hacienda comunera, land in which ownership was distributed in allotments determined by shares (pesos de posesión). The hacienda comunera consisted of a tract of land, jointly owned by any number of individuals. The worth of the original royal grants (mercedes) was assessed in value and subsequent ownership was represented by pesos de posesión. The title of posesión guaranteed an owner a certain portion of the estate, but not a good and clear title to any specified piece of land. Pesos de posesión were a right in the land, to some of it somewhere within the larger boundaries of the tract. Over the years, pesos de posesión underwent constant division and distribution. An estate of some 6,000 caballerías valued at $10,000 in 1800, for example, could be distributed among five heirs at $2000 a piece, any one of whom could resell all or any part of the posesión into smaller units. Over the years, ownership fell into increasingly smaller pesos de posesión. Any given tract of land could be owned in posesión of hundreds of persons, whose share may have ranged from thousands, to only a few, pesos. Tracts of land were rarely surveyed and inevitably boundaries were vague and imprecise, consisting typically of a forest, hill, stream, marsh, or other natural feature or arbitrary point agreed upon mutually. Actual land holdings varied in size, and often did not correspond to the number of pesos de posesión held. Holdings were typically designated as a finca; to facilitate recognition they were given proper names by owners.60

Throughout the late nineteenth century, haciendas comuneras remained an important form of land ownership in Cuba, especially in the eastern half of the island. In the western regions, those provinces given to large-scale sugar production, titles over land had been cleared and consolidated earlier in the nineteenth century. It was in the provinces of Las Villas, Camagüey, and particularly Oriente that the hacienda comunera flourished after the war. However vague, and however imprecise, pesos de posesión represented a legal right to the land. For a comparatively modest sum of money, farmers could obtain posesión over land and secure the attending right to work part of the finca. This was minifundista farming on a large scale and provided livelihood for generations of small farmers with minimal capital outlay. The communal land system served as the foundation of local agrarian systems. As early as 1901, a special Cuban commission formed to study the question of the hacienda comunera warned the military government of the grave consequences attending the suppression of the traditional communal landowning system.

It must be taken into consideration that any measure contrary to law which may be adopted would not favor the distribution of the soil among the cultivators thereof; on the contrary, it would be an incentive for the strong and powerful. In our territorial communities the medium and small owners, people whose succession from fathers to children and during three or four generations have been distributing their title among themselves and who occupy or possess the land which in our rural economy is only sufficient for the decorous support of a family.61

Civil Order No. 62 portended the demise of the small independent farmer. Under the terms of the decree, a plaintiff seeking to fix the precise boundaries of a tract of land obtained court sanction to undertake a survey of the lands in question. A court appointed tribunal convened to examine the pesos de posesión held by all comuneros to determine the legitimacy of each claim. Expensive judicial surveys, commissioned by the plaintiff, fixed new and detailed boundaries, which were submitted to the court. Attorneys and surveyors petitioned the court to ratify new deeds of titled ownership (domino).

It was a system that favored the large and powerful. It was especially disastrous in postwar Cuba. To already ambiguous historic conditions in land ownership and real estate titles, the war—most of which was fought the longest in the eastern provinces—contributed further confusion. Vast numbers of fincas were hopelessly tied up in uncertain ownership and unclear possession.

Nowhere did these developments advance faster and farther than in the eastern province of Oriente. In no other province were conditions as favorable to the penetration of foreign capital and consolidation of the sugar latifundia. At the end of the war, Oriente contained the largest number of independent farms with the smallest average acreage. Only 0.5 percent of the farms in Oriente comprised more than 330 acres, some 26.9 percent of the total area under cultivation. The average size of the 21,549 farms in 1899 was approximately 82 acres. Oriente claimed the highest number of individual landowners. In 1902, proprietors numbered 16,900, and almost all these were owners of pesos de posesión. Oriente also had the highest number of renters, 43,721.62

The war had wrought havoc on the communities of eastern Cuba. Rural settlements and urban centers alike found themselves in the paths of marching armies. Families were buffeted back and forth, homes were destroyed, and possessions were lost. Entire towns were razed. All across the island, but especially in the east, public records, property titles, and land deeds were lost or destroyed. Thousands of farmers and peasants lost all proof of ownership of property.63 Many real estate records, moreover, were in the custody of local registry offices, the contents of which were included in the archives that evacuating Spanish authorities returned to Spain.

The eastern province, as the region of the largest expanse of uncultivated available land, became after the war the refuge of vast numbers of dispossessed and displaced. These were the conditions that attracted thousands of impoverished and landless army veterans, mostly Cubans but also Spaniards, who, together with the surviving pacífico population victimized by the reconcentration policy, began life anew through marginal farming in the remote interior region of Oriente. Others simply settled as squatters, dispersing throughout the eastern region, there swelling the ranks of the small individual farmers.

These confused conditions served as powerful incentive for title transfer and land consolidation. Civil Order No. 62 all but invited real estate transactions and served as the legal basis from which to overturn the traditional forms of tenure and tenancy in eastern Cuba. Postwar impoverishment and the confusion reigning over property titles and land boundaries all but guaranteed the alienation and consolidation of communal land. Well-financed United States syndicates and land companies retained teams of attorneys, foreign and Cuban, descended on local communities to press title claims, challenged existing property deeds and boundaries, assessed new land values and taxes, and inaugurated judicial surveys.64 In 1899, R. B. Hawley organized the Cuban-American Sugar Company and established the “Chaparra” sugar mill around 70,000 acres of land in Puerto Padre on the Oriente’s north coast. In 1901, the Nipe Bay Company, a subsidiary of the United Fruit Company, acquired title to 40,000 acres of additional land in the same region. In 1901, United Fruit acquired 200,000 acres in Banes, again on the north Oriente coast, a vast tract that included scores of partially destroyed and defunct estates, at a cost of $1.00 an acre.65 Between 1900 and 1901, the Cuba Company completed construction of the Cuban Railway and acquired 50,000 acres of land for rail stations, construction sites, towns and depots, and a right-of-way 350 miles long. The Cape Cruz Compay purchased in 1901 the “Aguda Grande,” “Limonato,” and “San Celestino” estates, a total of 16,000 acres, in the region of Manzanillo. Joseph Rigney, an investment partner with United Fruit, acquired the estates “San Juan” and “San Joaquín” and the damaged ingenio “Teresa” in the region around Manzanillo.66

Interest in Cuba was not confined, however, to sugar interests. United States land speculators and real estate companies flooded into Cuba after the war, acquiring title to extensive tracts of land and ownership of countless numbers of estates. Most were similar to the Taco Bay Commercial Land Company. Incorporated in Boston, the syndicate bought vast expanses of land in Oriente. In 1904, the Taco Bay Company purchased the “Juraguá” plantation. Consisting of 20,000 acres of banana, coconut, and sugar land west of Baracoa, “Juraguá” had earlier been one of the most successful plantations in Oriente, but then had been devastated by the war. Typical of other victims of the insurrection, the owners of “Juraguá” were heavily in debt and lacked the capital resources to restore the damaged estate to production. Under the auspices of Military Order No. 62, Taco Bay announced in 1906 the acquisition of the property with the assurances to prospective buyers that all liens and mortgages existing were cleared up “by the best legal talent, Messrs. Runcia and Lamar of Havana.”67

Throughout the early years of the republic, United States land companies operated without either serious obstacles or sustained opposition. One New York company purchased 180,000 acres along the banks of the Cauto River in Oriente. Another syndicate acquired 50,000 acres on Nipe Bay for the purpose of establishing a winter resort.68 While it is impossible to identify all land companies operating in postwar Cuba, or to determine the total amount of land acquired, the data available are suggestive of both the size and scope of their activities.

  • Illinois Cuban Land Company: incorporated in Hoopeston, Illinois, and acquired Paso Estancia, a 10,000-acre tract in central Oriente.

  • Hughes Real Estate: based in Havana and owned fruit and vegetable property across Cuba.

  • Herradura Land Company: incorporated in South Dakota and acquired title to 23,000 acres in Pinar del Río.

  • Cuba Land Company: based in Rockford, Illinois, and acquired real estate in Las Villas, Matanzas, Pinar del Río, and Camagüey.

  • Carlson Investment Company: incorporated in Los Angeles, California, and acquired 150,000 acres in the region of Nuevitas Bay.

  • Cuban Fruit Growers Association: based in New York and purchased property in Cubitas.

  • Cuba Colonial Company: incorporated in Chicago and acquired 40,000 acres in Camagüey.

  • Canada Land and Fruit Company: purchased 23,000 acres of land in Las Villas and the Isle of Pines.

  • Cuban Land and Steamship Company: incorporated in New Jersey and purchased 55,000 acres in the vicinity of Nuevitas.

  • Cuban Development Company: based in Detroit and acquired the 12,500-acre Vista Alegre estate in the region of Victoria de Las Tunas in Oriente.

  • Havana Land and Mortgage Company: incorporated in New York and purchased the Saratoga estate in Santa Clara.

  • Las Tunas Realty Company: incorporated in Youngstown, Ohio, and purchased several estates around Victoria de Las Tunas in Oriente.

  • Paso Real Plantation Company: based in Chicago and secured property in Pinar del Río.

  • Cuba Land, Loan, and Title Guarantee Company: based in Chicago and acquired title to tracts of land in Camagüey and Oriente.

  • Cuban Agricultural and Development Company: incorporated in Pittsburgh and purchased over 135,000 acres of land around the region of Guantánamo.

  • Cuban Realty Company: incorporated in New Jersey and purchased 25,000 acres in western Oriente.

  • Potosí Land and Sugar Company: based in Cincinnati and acquired title to property in the region of Victoria de Las Tunas.

  • San Claudio Land Company: incorporated in New York and acquired title to property on Cabañas Bay near Havana.

  • Buena Vista Fruit Company: based in Boston and purchased 3,000 acres of citrus land in central Oriente.

  • Cuba Colonization Company: incorporated in Detroit and owned 8,000 acres of land in the vicinity of Holguín.

  • Holguín Fruit Company: based in Ontario and purchased the Pedernales estate in Oriente.

  • Development Company of Cuba: incorporated in New York and owned the Ceballos estate in Camagüey.

  • Eastern Cuba Development Company: acquired 1,000 acres near Victoria de Las Tunas.

Other real estate companies included Cuban Land and Developing Company (Cleveland), Cauto Produce Company (Norwalk, Conn.), Weeks and Company (Chicago), Santa Clara Commercial Company (Cleveland), Cuban American Land and Fruit Company (Boston), and Tropical Land Company (Detroit).

Real estate companies were not alone in acquiring land in Cuba. North American missionaries and church organizations quickly established their presence on the island. The Methodist church was among the most active. By 1907, Methodists had acquired $150,000 worth of property, including some of the finest tracts of agricultural lands in Havana, Pinar del Río, Matanzas, Santa Clara, Camagüey, Guantánamo, Holguín, and Mayarí—thirty in all. The Friends church arrived in Cuba and acquired $30,000 worth of property in Puerto Padre. The Baptists purchased land throughout Oriente and developed a total of forty-five sites, including churches, schools, and offices. The Episcopal church established missionary headquarters on property at Ensenada de Mora. By the end of the decade, Seventh Day Adventists and the Brethren church had also established their presence in eastern Cuba.69

These developments were but one aspect of a larger process. They served to announce the onset of ambitious colonization schemes, the first wave of immigration from the United States that many believed would lead to a vast North American presence on the island and culminate in developments not unlike those that had led to the annexation of Texas. In the early 1900s, thousands of United States families emigrated to Cuba to establish agricultural colonies. Real estate companies sold subdivisions from the United States.70 These farming communities responded in good measure to the advantage of tariff concessions offered to Cuban agricultural products and planned to export citrus, pineapples, and vegetables to the United States. By the early 1900s, United States colonists had established a total of thirty-five agricultural settlements throughout Cuba, mostly in the eastern third of the island.71

It was not only North Americans who emigrated to Cuba. European immigrants in the United States relocated and resettled on the island. The Swedish Land and Colonization Company of Minneapolis acquired the 6,000-acre estate of Palmarito in the Cauto Valley in 1906. A Swedish-Lutheran Colony was established in Mayarí. A colony of Finns purchased a thousand-acre tract east of Omaja. The Cuba Polish Company of Toledo established a Polish-American colony on 1,000 acres near Victoria de Las Tunas.

By 1905, 13,000 North Americans had acquired title to land in Cuba, and their purchases had passed the $50 million mark. In Camagüey Province alone, 7,000 North Americans held land titles with an estimated purchase price of $28 million. Some seven-eighths of the land in Sancti Spíritus was owned by North Americans. United States citizens acquired title to vast tracts of land around Havana, near Cienfuegos, and all along the north coast of Camagüey and Oriente.72 “Reliable statistics or even a fair estimate of the amount of land owned by Americans,” the United States minister in Havana speculated in 1904, “are extremely difficult to obtain. Estimates range from one-third to one-fifteenth of the arable land of the island. One-thirtieth, however, seems to be the most fair and reasonable figure, but will have to be substituted, of course, by a higher figure as the purchase of land by Americans continues.”73 Two years later, one writer estimated North American ownership of land at 4.3 million acres, 15 percent of the land in Cuba.74


The combined effects of three years of armed struggle and four years of military occupation were as far-reaching as they were long-lasting. Even before the war, Cuban planters faced dislocation and distress. The war brought on disaster, transforming circumstances of adversity into conditions of calamity. The disruption of production at a time of indebtedness together with the destruction of property at a time of insolvency heralded the demise of the Cuban planter class.

Planters initially welcomed the United States’ intervention. They were in desperate need of capital to reconstruct the estates and of credit to remain solvent. The lasting significance of the intervention was that the United States, not Cuba, seized the apparatus of state, appropriated the means of policy formulation and enforcement, and controlled the collection and disbursement of public funds. The plight of the planters did not elicit undue concern from the military government. On the contrary, the United States was unsympathetic to planters’ needs, certain that they were architects of their own misfortune. By the prevailing norms of the late nineteenth-century capitalist ethic, planters were obliged to pay the price of mismanagement of their affairs—extinction. Unable to obtain access to state support, without the means to secure credit, Cubans lost increasing control over property and production.

Under the auspices of Civil Orders No. 34 and No. 62, land alienation continued through the early years of the republic. Between 1899 and 1904, the number of farms in Oriente declined from 21,550 to 10,854.75 The data available are incomplete, and perforce only suggestive. But for 1911, the evidence provides some detail of the trend of transactions and transfers of fincas rústicas in four municipios in Oriente Province:76

Fincas were consolidated into larger units, and many farmers displaced from their homes, dispossessed of their land, and driven to become wage laborers. “Fire and sword destroyed their homes,” Leopoldo Cancio lamented in April 1901, “diseases assailed their families and now many have to live as laborers, or miserably lodged, taxing the earth for their sustenance, without agricultural implements.”77

The net effects of the production practices before the war, of the destruction caused during the war, and of the policies of the occupation after the war were to facilitate land transfer, foster land concentration, and favor foreign ownership. These prepared the way for the early dominance of the foreign-owned latifundia, to the detriment of Cuban interests.78 The single outstanding feature of the Cuban political economy during the twentieth century, the sugar latifundia, acquired definitive form concomitant with (and as a consequence of) Cuba’s transition from colony to republic.


Havana declined from 238,000 acres to 105,000, while Matanzas dropped from 365,838 to 161,766. The total figures for 1895 are approximate, since no information was available for Camagüey Province. See United States War Department, Informe sobre el censo de Cuba, 1899 (Washington, D.C., 1900), p. 564 (hereinafter Informe . . . 1899).


Informe . . . 1899, pp. 551, 563–564; José P. Alvarez Díaz, et al., A Study on Cuba (Coral Gables, 1965), pp. 96–97; Julio E. LeRiverend Brusone, La Habana (biografía de una provincia) (Havana, 1960), pp. 458–459; George Bronson Rea, “The Destruction of Sugar Estates in Cuba,” Harper’s Weekly, 41 (Oct. 16, 1897), 10–34; L. V. de Abad, “The Cuban Problem,” Gunton’s Magazine, 21 (Dec. 1901), 515–525; Richard J. Hinton, “Cuban Reconstruction,” North American Review, 164 (Jan. 1899), 92–102; Franklin Matthews, “The Reconstruction of Cuba,” Harper’s Weekly, 42 (July 14, 1899), 700–701; Jorge Quintana, “Lo que costó a Cuba la guerra de 1895,” Bohemia, 52 (11 de septiembre de 1960), 4–6, 107–108.


Fitzhugh Lee, “Special Report of Brigadier General Fitzhugh Lee, Commanding Department of Province of Habana and Pinar del Río,” September 19, 1899, in John R. Brooke, Civil Report of Major-General John R. Brooke, U.S. Army, Military Governor, Island of Cuba, 1899 (Washington, D.C., 1900), p. 342. For accounts of conditions elsewhere in Cuba after the war, see Robert P. Porter, Report on the Commercial and Industrial Condition of the Island of Cuba (Washington, D.C., 1899), pp. 8–9; James H. Wilson, “Special Report of Brigadier General James H. Wilson,” September 7, 1899, in Brooke, Civil Report of Major-General John R. Brooke, U.S. Army, Military Governor, Island of Cuba, 1899, pp. 334–337; Hugh Thomas, Cuba: The Pursuit of Freedom (New York, 1971), p. 423–435; Quintana, “Lo que costó a Cuba,” pp. 4–6, 107–108.


Informe . . . 1899, pp. 44–45. See also Felipe Pazos, ‘‘La economía cubana en el siglo xix,” Revista Bimestre Cubana, 47 (enero—febrero 1941), 105–106; Abad, “The Cuban Problem,” p. 521.


See L. V. de Abad, Azúcar y caña de azúcar. Ensayo de orientación cubana (Havana, 1945), pp. 244–245.


Tasker Bliss to James H. Wilson, January 12, 1902, General Correspondence, James Harrison Wilson Papers, Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Washington, D.C. (hereinafter Wilson Papers).


Máximo Gómez, “A los señores hacendados y dueños de fincas ganaderas, ” 1 de julio de 1895, Fondo de Donativos y Remisiones, Legajo 257, Número 14, Archivo Nacional de Cuba, Havana, Cuba (hereinafter cited as ANC). See also “Manuscrito del acuerdo del Consejo de Gobierno en sesión 13 de julio de 1896 en relación a la prohibición de la zafra de 1896 a 1897,” 30 de julio de 1896, Fondo de Donativos y Remisiones, Legajo 624, Número 34, ANC; Máximo Gómez, “Circular,” 6 de noviembre de 1895, in Máximo Gómez, Algunos documentos políticos de Máximo Gómez, ed. by Amalia Rodríguez Rodríguez (Havana, 1962), p. 16; Leopoldo Horrego Estuch, Máximo Gómez, libertador y ciudadano (Havana, 1948), pp. 158–159; Benigno Souza y Rodríguez, Ensayo histórico sobre la invasión (Havana, 1948), pp, 75–76.


See José Miró Argenter, “Relación de las cantidades recaudadas en el Departamento Oriental por concepto de contribución de guerra,” 14 de noviembre de 1895, Archivo Máximo Gómez, Legajo 7, Número 213, ANC, and Severo Pina, “Memorandum,” Abril de 1896, Fondo Delegación del Partido Revolucionario Cubano en Nueva York, Caja 4, Número 1133, ANC.


Edwin F. Atkins, Sixty Years in Cuba (Cambridge, Mass., 1926), pp. 181, 190, 227; “Statement of L. F. Hughes, Assistant Manager of Ingenio Soledad,” Sept. 18, 1898, in Porter, Report on the Commercial and Industrial Condition of the Island of Cuba, p. 266; “Statement of Mr. Louis Ponvert, planter,” Sept. 20, 1898, in Porter, Report on the Commercial and. Industrial Condition of the Island of Cuba, p. 130; Franklin Matthews, The New-Born Cuba (New York, 1899), p. 351; Osgood Welsh, “Cuba As Seen From the Inside,” The Century Magazine, 56 (Aug. 1898), 590–593.


The data available concerning the damage to estates are incomplete but suggestive. One important source—claims filed by naturalized North American planters—provides some indication of the magnitude of the destruction. These included Arturo Averhoff: $35,000 on the “Esmeralda” estate in Havana; Pedro Casanova: $40,000 on the “Casanova” and “San Miguel” estates in Havana; Franciso J. Cazares: $5,800 on “La Angelita” estate in Santa Clara; José Manuel Delgado: $179,000 on the “Dolores” plantation; Bruno Díaz: $210,000 on various tobacco vegas in Pinar del Río; Francisco Duque: $72,000 on several tobacco vegas in Havana province; D. García Durio: $200,000 on several sugar estates in Matanzas; Alberto V. de Goicuría: $130,000 on “La Horizonte” plantation in Santa Clara; José González: $160,000 on several tobacco vegas in Pinar del Río; J. M. Jiménez: $19,000 on sugar property in Santa Clara; Juan J. Jova: $40,000 on “Central Marina” in Santa Clara; Antonio A. Martínez: $35,000 on the “San Antonio” estate in Havana; Federico P. Montes: $125,000 on the “Las Vegas” estate in Havana; Luis Felipe Morejón y Márquez: $15,000 on the “Santa Teresa” sugar estate in Havana; Joaquín Pérez Cruz: $70,000 on sugar estates in Santa Clara; Manuel A. Recio Morales: $250,000 on “Moralitos” estate in Havana; José Rafael de los Reyes y García: $729,000 on sugar estates and cattle ranches in Santa Clara; Juan Rosell: $29,300 on tobacco vegas in Pinar del Río; Andrés L. Terry: $335,000 on the “Central Cayajabo” in Havana; Manuel de la Torres: $37,000 on sugar property in Matanzas; José Ignacio Toscano: $15,000 on the “Amistad” and “San León” estates in Pinar del Río; Manuel de la Vega: $72,000 on property damage in Havana; José Antonio Yznaga: $156,000 on “La Gloria,” “Hoyo de la Paloma,” “Quemadito,” and “La Cueva” estates in Camagüey. See the Despatches from United States Consuls in Havana between 1783 and 1906, General Records of the Department of State, Record Group 59, National Archives, Washington, D.C. See years between 1895 and 1898 (hereinafter cited as Despatches/Havana).


Brooke, Civil Report of Major-General John R. Brooke, U.S. Army, Military Governor, Island of Cuba, 1899, p. 7.


Military Order No. 46, Apr. 24, 1899, in ibid., p. 40.


Ibid., p. 30.


Military Order No. 83, June 19, 1899, in ibid., p. 54.


Hugh L. Scott to Acting Civil Governor, Matanzas, Jan. 4, 1901, File 68, Records of the Military Government of Cuba, Record Group 140, National Archives, Washington, D.C. (hereinafter cited as MGC/RG 140).


United States Congress, Senate, Committee on Relations with Cuba, Hearings Before the Committee on Relations with Cuba: Statement of Major General John R. Brooke, (Washington, D. C., 1900), p. 6. Copy located in John R. Brooke Papers, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


John R. Brooke to Adjutant General, Oct. 1, 1899, in Brooke, Civil Report of Major-General John R. Brooke, U.S. Army, Military Governor, Island of Cuba, 1899, p. 13.


Ibid., pp. 13, 14.


Robert P. Porter to Lyman Gage, Nov. 15, 1898, in Porter, Report on the Commercial and Industrial Condition of the Island of Cuba, p. 9.


Tasker H. Bliss to James H. Wilson, Jan. 12, 1902, General Correspondence, Wilson Papers.


In Atkins, Sixty Years in Cuba, p. 287.


See “Statement of Pedro Rodríguez of Caibarién,” Sept. 20, 1898, in Porter, Report on the Commercial and Industrial Condition of the Island of Cuba, pp. 193–194.


Edwin F. Atkins to Leonard Wood, Apr. 11, 1901/109, MGC/RG 140.


Adolfo Muñoz to Robert P. Porter, Apr. 4, 1900, William McKinley Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. See also Manuel Arroyo to Robert P. Porter, Sept. 28, 1898, in Porter, Report on the Commercial and Industrial Condition of the Island of Cuba, p. 245.


Cristobal Madán to Leonard Wood, May 22, 1901, File 1901/109, MGC/RG 140.


Francisco Seigle to Elihu Root, Oct. 3, 1900, File 1900/3589, MGC/RG 140.


Perfecto Lacosta, “Report of the Department of Agriculture, Commerce, and Industry,” Mar. 15, 1901, United States War Department, Annual Reports of the War Department for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1900 (Washington, D.C., 1900), I, part 11, section 4, p. 9. Lacosta himself may have had compelling personal motives to advocate public assistance to landowners. As owner of several estates and ranches, Lacosta had earlier filed a claim of war damages totaling some $653,000. See Perfecto Lacosta to Ramon O. Williams, Jan. 26, 1896, Despatches/Havana.


Lacosta, “Report of the Department of Agriculture, Commerce, and Industry,” p. 6.


David F. Healy, The United States in Cuba, 1898–1902 (Madison, 1963), p. 93.


Leonard Wood to Elihu Root, Jan. 13, 1900, Leonard Wood Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (hereinafter Wood Papers). See also Leonard Wood, “The Need for Reciprocity with Cuba,” The Independent, 52 (Dec. 12, 1901), 2928.


Leonard Wood to William McKinley, Elihu Root Papers, Special Correspondence, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.


Leonard Wood, “Report of Brigadier General Leonard Wood,” July 5, 1902, United States War Department, Civil Report of Brigadier General Leonard Wood, Military Governor of Cuba, for the period from January 1 to May 20, 1902, 6 vols. (Washington, D.C., 1902), I, 13.


Tasker H. Bliss to James H. Wilson, Jan. 12, 1902, General Correspondence, Wilson Papers.


In Brooke, Civil Report of Major-General John R. Brooke, U.S. Army, Military Governor, Island of Cuba, 1899, p. 149.


Atkins, Sixty Years in Cuba, p. 299.


Leonard Wood to Elihu Root, May 18, 1901, Wood Papers.


Leonard Wood to Adjutant General, October 31, 1899, File 1899/2594, MGC/RG 140. For a detailed discussion of the general economic policy of the military government during the occupation, see Philip S. Foner, The Spanish-Cuban-American War and the Birth of American Imperialism, 2 vols. (New York, 1972), II, 466–483.


Edwin F. Atkins to Leonard Wood, Apr. 11, 1901, File 1901/109, MGC/RG 140.


Leonard Wood to Elihu Root, May 18, 1901, Wood Papers.


See, for example, Francisco Argüelles, President, Ayuntamiento of Cárdenas, to Leonard Wood, Apr. 19, 1901, File 1901/109, MGC/RG 140.


Leopoldo Cancio to Leonard Wood, Apr. 10, 1901, File 1901/109, MGC/RG 140. There was also considerable Cuban opposition within the Commission of Mortgage Credits. See “Minutes of the Meeting Which Took Place Friday, May 17, 1901,” File 1901/109, MGC/RG 140.


Military Order No. 139, May 27, 1901, File 1901/109, MGC/RG 140.


Leonard Wood to Elihu Root, May 30, 1901, Wood Papers.


Santiago Rousseau to Leonard Wood, May 29, 1901, File 1901/109, MGC/RG 140.


Círculo de Hacendados to Elihu Root, May 27, 1901, File 1901/109, MGC/RG 140.


Leonard Wood to Elihu Root, May 30, 1901, Wood papers.


Informe . . . 1899, p. 554; Alberto Arredondo, Cuba: Tierra indefensa (Havana, 1945), p-156.


Leopoldo Gancio to Leonard Wood, Apr. 10, 1901, File 1901/109, MGC/RG 140.


Comerciantes y Proprietarios, “Petition to Leonard Wood,” Jan. 25, 1900, File 1900/1124, MGC/RG 140.


Informe . . . 1899, p. 668.


Comerciantes y Proprietarios, “Petition to Leonard Wood,” Jan. 25, 1900, File 1900/1124, MGC/RG 140.


Manuel Hidalgo, “Informe,” Nov. 15, 1900, File 1900/3589, MGC/RG 140.


Francisco Mastrafa, “Informe,” July 18, 1900, File 1900/3589, MGC/RG 140.


In Brooke, Civil Report of Major-General John R. Brooke, U.S. Army, Military Governor, Island of Cuba, 1899, p. 150.


José Rodríguez, “Informe,” Nov. 22, 1900, File 1900/3589, MGC/RG 140.


Civil Order No. 34, Feb. 7, 1902, in Cuba, Military Governor, Civil Orders and Proclamations of the Department of Cuba, 1899–1902, 2 vols. (Havana, n.d.), II, n.p.


Leonard Wood to Elihu Root, Jan. 4, 1902, Wood Papers.


In one contested instance, the Cuba Company seized some 25,000 square meters of land from the finca “El Escorial” in Holguín. The Cuba Company successfully defended its action by invoking Military Order No. 34. See “Rollo de apelación de los autos sobre expropiación forzosa de una faja de terreno de la Finca ‘El Escorial’, para la construcción de la línea férrea de The Cuba Company,” 16 de enero de 1903, Fondo Audiencia de Santiago de Cuba, Legajo 8, Número 8, ANC. See also “Rollo de recurso de apelación establecido por Ricardo H. Beathie y otros, en el expediente de expropiación forzosa promovido por The Cuban Eastern Railroad Company de una faja de la ‘Estancia MacKinly’,” 8 de septiembre de 1906, Fondo Audiencia de Santiago de Cuba, Legajo 17, Número 10, ANC.


Gaceta de La Habana, 5 de marzo de 1902, pp. 867–878, File 1902/284, MGC/RG 140.


See Leopoldo Cancio, “Haciendas comuneras,” Cuba y América, 6 (enero 1902), 227–236; Rogelio de Armas y Herrera, Estudio sobre deslindes (Baracoa, 1913); Ramiro Guerra y Sánchez, Sugar and Society in the Caribbean (New Haven, 1964), pp. 37–43.


Leopoldo Cancio, Rafael Cruz Pérez, and Octavio Giberga to Leonard Wood, Dec. 20, 1901, File 1901/4167, MGC/RG 140.


Informe . . . 1899, pp. 554–566; Victor S. Clark, “Labor Conditions in Cuba,” Bulletin of the Department of Labor, 41 (July 1902), 688.


See “Rollo del recurso de apelación establecido por Fornelio Sierra en el juicio de deslinde de la Hacienda ‘Dajao’ y ‘Limones,’ contra el Síndico de la comunidad,” 11 de noviembre de 1908, Fondo Audiencia de Santiago de Cuba, Legajo 29, Número 24, ANC.


See “Rollo del recurso de apelación establecido por la Empresa The Cuban Company, Jaime Almirall Poc y Pablo Ruego Marlote, en los autos de calificación y reporto del juicio de deslinde de la Hacienda ‘Tacajo,’” 28 de octubre de 1910, Fondo Audiencia de Santiago de Cuba, Legajo 9, Número 14, ANC and “Rollo del recurso de apelación establecido por United Fruit Company en las diligencias sobre gastos y costas en el deslinde de la Hacienda ‘Mulas,’” 10 de mayo de 1907, Fondo Audiencia de Santiago de Cuba, Legajo 7, Número 7, ANC. For an excellent account of the expansion of United Fruit in Oriente by virtue of Civil Order No. 62, see Alejandro García and Oscar Zanelli et al., United Fruit Company: Un caso del dominio imperialista en Cuba (Havana, 1974), pp. 53–79.


Leland H. Jenks, Our Cuban Colony (New York, 1928), p. 130; Thomas, Cuba: The Pursuit of Freedom, p. 467; García and Zanetti et al., United Fruit Company, pp. 56–66.


Zona Fiscal de Manzanillo, “Relación de las fincas que han adquirido en compra los no residentes en la isla de Cuba desde la fecha de la ocupación americana,” Mar. 25, 1901, File LMC 1902/31, MGC/RG 140.


See “Synopsis of Reports by Different Land Companies Respecting their Properties in Cuba,” The Cuba Review, 5 (Dec. 1906), 78.


See The Cuba Bulletin, 1 (July 1903), 3; and The Cuba Bulletin, 2 (Jan. 1904), 10.


The Cuba Review, 5 (May 1907), 20; The Cuba Review, 6 (July 1908), 12–13; The Cuba Review, 8 (May 1910), 25.


Irene A. Wright, Cuba (New York, 1910), pp. 410–463; Jenks, Our Cuban Colony, pp. 140–150.


These included in Pinar del Río: Ocean Beach, Paso Real, Palacios, Herradura, Candelaria, San Cristóbal, Bahía Honda; in Matanzas: Matanzas, Ceiba Mocha, Itabo; in Santa Clara: Manacas, Sancti Spíritus; in Camagüey: Camagüey, Placetas, Florida, La Gloria, La Atalaya, Garden City, Boston, Palm City, Columbia-on-the-Bay; in Oriente: Bartle, Las Tunas, Omaja, Cacocum, Holguín, Pedernales, Sabanaso, Guanmo, Mir, Paso Estancia, Bayate, Ensenada de Mora. For discussions of several North American agricultural colonies, see Basil Hone, “Buena Vista,” The Cuba Magazine, 4 (July 1913), 490–491; Carrie E. Pierson, “Omaja,” The Cuba Magazine, 4 (July 1913), 485–489; and Jaime Sarusky, "Los fantasmas de Omaja,” Bohemia, 63 (8 de octubre de 1971), pp. 18–25. For a detailed account of La Gloria colony in Camagüey Province, see James M. Adams, Pioneering in Cuba (Concord, N.H., 1901). An example of the promotional literature is found in Development Company of Cuba, Ceballos: The Garden Sport of Cuba (New York, n.d.) An additional 300 North American residents owned one-half of the Isle of Pines, with the number of Cuban landowners estimated at 20. See S. H. Percy et al., “A Memorial of American Citizens of the United States Residing on the Isle of Pines,” Nov. 17, 1902, File LMC 1902/275, MGC/ RG 140.


Frank G. Carpenter, “Cuba in 1905,” The Cuba Review, 3 (Nov. 1905), 11; Jenks, Our Cuban Colony, pp. 143–144.


Herbert Squires to John Hay, Sept. 17, 1904, Despatches from U.S. Ministers to Cuba, 1902–1906, General Records of the Department of State, Record Group 59, National Archives, Washington, D.C.


Atherton Brownell, “The Commercial Annexation of Cuba,” Appleton's Magazine, 8 (Oct. 1906), 411.


Robert B. Hoernel, “Sugar and Social Change in Oriente, Cuba, 1898–1946,” Journal of Latin American Studies, 8 (Nov. 1976), 230. See also Antero Regalado, Las luchas campesinas en Cuba (Havana, 1979), pp. 55–63.


“Expediente relativo a los estados que dispone el Artículo 310 de la Ley Hipotecaria y que elevan los Registradores de la Propiedad en abril de cada año y que han de ser elevados a la sección de los Registros y del Notario, según dispone el Artículo 310 de dicha ley,” 1911, Fondo Audiencia de Santiago de Cuba, Legajo 3, número 17, ANC.


Leopoldo Cancio to Leonard Wood, Apr. 10, 1901, File 1901/109, MGC/RG 140.


Years later, the Foreign Policy Association, studying the effects of Civil Order No. 62, concluded that the policy of the military government had established “the foundation for modern corporate development, and the present latifundia system which would not have been possible had the old system of land tenure remained in effect.” See Foreign Policy Association, Problems of the New Cuba (New York, 1935), p. 52. See also Robert B. Batchelder, “The Evolution of Cuban Land Tenure and its Relation to Certain Agro-Economic Problems,” The Southwestern Social Science Quarterly, 33 (Dec. 1952), 238– 246, and Francisco Pérez de la Riva, Origen y régimen de la propiedad territorial en Cuba (Havana, 1946), pp. 24–148.

Author notes


The author wishes to acknowledge with gratitude research assistance in the form of a summer stipend from the National Endowment for the Humanities and a grant from the Joint Committee on Latin American Studies of the Social Science Research Council and the American Council of Learned Societies with funds provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Mellon Foundation, and the Ford Foundation. A debt of gratitude is owed also to the Cuban Academy of Sciences and the staff and personnel at the Archivo Nacional in Havana and National Archives in Washington, D.C.