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Slavery in Cuba

The National Archives of the Republic of Cuba stores more than 27 linear kilometres of
documents dating from the sixteenth century, arranged in 217 documentary collections, in
addition to the documentation corresponding to 42 scriveners' offices and 47,935 description units
provided by the work of 537 notaries' offices. Within this heritage 38 collections of the colonial
period have been located that throw invaluable light on the Negro slave-trading phenomenon.
Such collections as the Reales Ordenes y Cédulas, Intendencia General de Hacienda, Real
Consulado, Junta de Fomento and nine others, which have undergone archival processing and
whose outcome we offer in this information product, contain primary and in many cases
unpublished information on that crime against humanity, covering the origin of the various ethnic
groups of that "immigration" basically from the Atlantic coast of Africa; legislation regulating the
practice; applications for licences for legal trafficking; names of slave contractors; transfer of
Negroes and landings, among other matters, and even documents relating to the prohibition and
abolition of slavery.

Cuba was, together with Brazil, one of the most active centres of the "interloper" trade. British
reports of the colonial period contain many names of merchants who, from Havana, handled
Negro smuggling in the Caribbean and the southern United States: Julián de Zulueta; Francisco
Marty y Torrens; Francisco Durañona (a) Caña Brava; Pedro Forcade; la Casa Cuesta; Pascual
Goicochea; Simón Poey; Hernández y Co.; David Nagle; Manzanal y Co.; José Ricardo O'Farrill;
Salvador Samá and Joaquín Gómez, among others, who had the backing of reactionary, mainly
United States, groups constantly mentioned in the documents worked on. The North American
element was very prominent in slave trading around the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries since
most of the ships were US-owned and funded with US capital, commissioned by US citizens and
flying the US flag, as recorded in the documents investigated.

To give an idea of the importance of this activity in the area, it suffices to observe that, between
March 1806 and February 1807, over 30 ships entered Havana Bay with US crews and flying the
US flag, carrying goods for many traders established in the country that included more than 5,000
Negroes to be sold as slaves, as recorded in Libro 4.611 of the collection Miscelánea de Libros.

Information such as the above is also to be found in some of the remaining historical archives in
Cuban territory. It would therefore be crucially important in the future to make use of those
documentary sources, some of which are a long way from the country's capital and lacking in
technological resources, in order to achieve a fuller grasp of the phenomenon.

The implementation of this project, in which researchers and technicians from the National
Archives are taking part, will make it possible to locate and assemble all existing documentation
on the subject, to preserve it and to process it to make it accessible, by means of new
technologies, to the rest of the Cuban and international scientific community.

The information on offer in the Database was taken from the documentary collections Audiencia
de La Habana, Asuntos Políticos, Consejo de Administración de la Isla de Cuba,
Correspondencia de los Capitanes Generales, Escribanía de Regueyra, Gobierno General,
Gobierno Superior Civil, Intendencia General de Hacienda and the Real Consulado de
Agricultura, Industria y Comercio y Junta de Fomento, and from the collections Donativos y
Remisiones, Reales Órdenes y Cédulas and Miscelánea de Libros, and accompanying images that
re-create it have been supplied.

The user of the Database may come across documents unaccompanied by any image, which is
due to the state of deterioration of the documentation or to the presence of typed transcriptions of

The outcome of this research does not cover the entire information on the subject existing in the
institution because, since the work had to be completed within a year, it was not possible to
review all the material.

Cuban social and ethnic composition is the result of colonial and capitalist social economic
formation of the plantation economy. As Christopher Columbus arrived in Cuba in 1492, he met
the first inhabitants of the island, the Tainos. After creating the first village under Spanish
domination on the far eastern point of Baracoa, the Spanish rulers started the process of enslaving
the native Tainos which led to the so called "encomienda" system formally regulating the trade and
possession of natives working in the mines and plantations appropriated by the Spanish settlers.

The Spaniards decided to import African labor as slaves to replace the native Taino labor force
whose numbers had dropped significantly in the contest against the Spanish colonizers. The
Tainos had paid with their life and blood while resisting Spanish intrusion on their lands. The
first group of Subsaharan Africans were brought into Cuba in the 16th century from Sevilla,
Spain. Thereafter a huge slave - trade was set up by the Portuguese, Dutch, British and French,
deporting Africans from their homelands in Africa in order to bring them to the Caribbean and the
New Continent as an enslaved labor force.

This new immigration policy forged by the Spanish settlers on the land of the Tainos --Cuba --
opened the way for a new type of interaction between those who came in from the various regions
of Spain, such as Catalunia and Galicia, and the Africans, whose numbers were significantly
increased in the 17th, 18th, and 19th century. In an economic sense, these major ethnic groups
related themselves to the means of production during the plantation economy system as plantation
owner and slave owner of Spanish descent, owning the means of productions, and as the enslaved
labor force brought in from Africa. It is noteworthy that before the Spanish colonial rule decided
to import enslaved labor from Africa, the Spanish settlers subjected the native Taino population to
forced labor through the "encomienda' system that officially distributed and assigned the native
peoples to colonial settlers. The "encomienda" system therefore was another system of
enslavement introduced in the 16th century by Spain in the Caribbean. The encomienda system
failed as a consequence of a variety of reasons, including:

1. diseases introduced by the Europeans against which the indigenous were not resistant,

2. overexploitation, according to the Dominican friar Bartolome de las Casas, and before him
Montesinos in La Espanola.

3. the militant resistance by indigenous peoples whereby many lives were lost.

As a result of this failure, it became imperative for the exploiters of land and people to replace
this workforce by another. Growing capitalist interests in Europe could not stand any setback in
the continuity of a production process which guaranteed huge profits for the Europeans, whether
this was achieved through the buying and selling of Tainos, Mayas, or chattel from Africa. Profits
made by exploitation of gold, sugar, coffee, cotton, and indigo was far more important than the
methods used to reach these goals both on the European continent and in the colonies. So this
new situation created a playground for new production relations which went along with a strong
color division between the two major nationalities, the European (white) and the African (black).
The immediate question is how has this process of interaction and communication between these
two social categories manifested itself from the 17th to the 20 th century in Cuba