This volume covers the very important phase of Cuban socioeconomic transformation from the time of the capture of Havana by the English in 1762 to the beginning of the Ten Years War in 1868. Those familiar with the previous 11 volumes will find the style unchanged. Leví Marrero weaves his narrative around copious extracts of documents gleaned from archives in Spain and Cuba, as well as from an impressive array of secondary material. Altogether, the package is handsomely illustrated, with lengthy footnotes. And, as in the previous volumes, the text requires patience and can be occasionally confusing.
In the three long chapters, the author meticulously details the complex worlds of commerce, capital, and policy evolution not only at the central level in the metropolis hut also at the local level in the colony. While some of the same observations are presently made by various studies dealing with the period, Marrero offers greater detail. Here he confirms the intense struggle between the official commercial monopolists, the Real Compañía de Comercio de la Habana, seeking to maintain its hold on Cuban trade, and the important citizens of the island constantly complaining of the inadequacy of supplies and the disadvantages of their trade; the extensive nature of contraband; the symbiotic relationship between commercial expansion and the agricultural revolution which took place in Cuba after the 1760s; the pivotal role of Jamaica in Cuban trade during this period; and the ways in which the Spanish crown gradually established free trade on Cuba between 1765 and 1818.
Marrero discovers or restates some important points. One is that the interests of Spanish and Cuban merchants tended to coincide, whether they were opposing the merchants of Veracruz, Mexico (p. 63) or a local aristocrat such as the Conde de Mopox y Jaruco whose personal influence with Godoy at Court had gained a flour monopoly (p. 229). Another point is that, at least until 1860, merchants and planters—as well as aristocrats and commoners—freely engaged in trade and commerce. Newly arrived, impoverished Spanish immigrants or foreigners like Robert Smith of Baltimore engaged in all forms of trade with the same enthusiasm as long-established families in the island, whose wealth had allowed them to set up landed trusts and purchase titles of nobility.
Yet another notable observation concerns the role of the entire Afro-Cuban population in the spate of financial institutions founded in Cuba in the 1840s and 1850s. Among the 2,272 depositors in the Banco de Cuba in 1860 were 204 free persons of color and 216 slaves. Slaves and free persons of color comprised 22.0 percent of the initial depositors in the Caja de Ahorros de la Habana in 1841. In the case of the Caja, Marrero indicates that slaves used these deposits to make the first payments on their self-purchase, or coartación.
Finally, Marrero laments that the vast economic expansion did not result in basic structural changes in the island, although he does not elaborate on precisely what could have been achieved in this regard. He does document, however, that between 1823 and 1866, the Cubans contributed more than 82 million pesos to the Spanish treasury, the amounts varying from a little less than 6 percent to a little more than 37 percent of total public receipts in Spain. In this way, the metropolis came to be highly dependent on economic development in the colony. While the focus in this volume is on economic and policy matters, as usual the author integrates social and political commentary, making the work a rewarding experience for specialists or nonspecialists alike. There is no other work quite like this dealing with Cuba.