Interest in banditry in Cuba continues unabated, and indeed this interest may well have reached a splendid historiographical denouement with this two-volume study. This is an extraordinary achievement in breadth and detail, in narrative and analysis, in research and writing. Based on an extensive working of archival records in Spain and Cuba, the press of the period, and the vast secondary literature, these volumes clearly establish themselves as the definitive study on the subject.
That study spans the period 1800 to 1933, during which the very proposition of banditry underwent repeated transformations. If there is a weakness in the work, it is in the early chapters; the authors appear uneasy with, if not uninterested in, the years between 1800 and 1878. The treatment is episodic, not without importance but fragmentary. The authors seem unable to move the narrative along. The study of banditry during the Ten Years’ War (1868-78) presents its own unique methodological and historiographical problems; these are kept more at a distance than engaged, acknowledged but not analyzed. It is curious that the authors chose to employ this periodization scheme, for these issues could have been adequately treated in the introduction. As it stands, the years 1800 to 1878, more than half the period included in the study, are treated in less than 75 pages, out of a total of more than 700 pages of text.
What follows, however, is simply magnificent work. The balance of the book presents a detailed discussion of the forms and sources of banditry in three distinct periods: the interwar years (1878-95), the war of independence and the U.S. intervention (1895-1902), and the early republic (1902-33). Attention is given to the lore of the most notable bandits—“El Rey del Campo,” Manuel García; José “Matagás” Alvarez Arteaga; and José Inocencio “Gallo” Sosas, among others—but not at the cost of the social and economic circumstances under which banditry emerged, developed, and expanded. To their credit, the authors carry their account through the end of the Machadato; their analysis of the economic dislocation and depression of the 1880s and the links with the anti-Spanish campaign establishes a framework for discussing the depression of the late 1920s and early 1930s and the anti-Machado struggle. The role of banditry is noteworthy in both instances.
This study is therefore obligatory reading for students and scholars of banditry and Cuba. It also raises an intriguing question. The study of banditry in Cuba these past two decades has been almost exclusively the work of historians outside Cuba. It is not entirely clear why this subject, which has produced two monographs from the United States, one from France, and now this two-volume work from Spain, has not yet struck a responsive chord among historians in Cuba.