“The world will hardly look to Latin America for leadership in democracy, in organization, in business, in science, in rigid moral values. On the other hand, Latin America has something to contribute to an industrialized and mechanistic world concerning the value of the individual, the place of friendship, the use of leisure, the art of conversation, the attraction of the intellectual (life), the equality of races, the jurisdicial basis of international life, the place of suffering and contemplation, the value of the impractical, the importance of people over things and rules.”
Latin American culture exists despite the great ethnic diversity among the people. In some areas native Indians dominate, particularly in Central America and in the Andes highlands from Columbia down through Peru. In Argentina, parts of Brazil, and in Venezuela, English, German and Italian roots are significant. In Guyana there are areas dominated by East Indians. In others still, such as the West Indies, African slaves are the major component of the population. It is to this area that I shall primarily address this paper. The distribution of blacks in the West Indies correlates with the areas of early sugar plantations. They account for a significant portion of the population of the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Jamaica and Haiti. Europeans are prominent everywhere in Latin America and in Argentina, Costa Rica and Uraguay have not mixed with other groups, but elsewhere they are part of an integration that has produced people of almost every skin color.
Zimolzak and Stansfield write that most conflicts that occur in Latin America center more on class, social status and wealth.
Blacks are concentrated on the “sugar islands” and form the majority of populations. Racial mixture is prevalent in the Spanish islands where a relaxed atmosphere toward race exists. This mixture does not exist in Haiti and Jamaica because they were settled by the French and English, who did not have the same racial attitude.
In Haiti, for example, the ruling race has changed but not the style of political rule.
October 12, 1492 the connection between the Old and the New World was established, and as Crosby writes, “a bond as significant as the Bering land bridge once had been.”
The discovery of the New World thoroughly jolted the Old World Christian thought on the concept of creation. Life forms were so different in the New World that theories on multiple creation were formulated. Nevertheless, the European clung to the theory of monogeneticism. European Christian thought was brought to the New World and its validity had to be maintained. The Pope’s Grant of 1493 ... granted Spain ‘all islands and mainlands found and to be found, discovered and to be discovered’, the Requirements of 1512 that allowed the Indians to be subjugated and subsequently slaughtered, would have no meaning if all life hadn’t developed in the manner of Christian thought. Everyone had to be a descendant of Adam and Eve and therefore, subject to the Pope. And so with the book of Genesis set comfortably in place, the white settlers began their domination and subjugation of the New World.
To understand how the Indian was so easily dominated one has to know the history of the Indians. Some tens of thousands of years ago a migratory group of Indians crossed the Bering land bridge and crossed into America. Their procreation to high numbers from only a small band of people is a simple mathematical exercise. A small percentage in increase could have generated a population in the millions within a time span of approximately 10,000 years. Geologists tell us that the Bering land bridge has submerged and risen several times during the earth’s history and has submerged since this migration. Once here, the Indian was isolated. This isolation hampered the growth of their civilization and made them extremely susceptible to the diseases of the rest of mankind. Migrating through the cold of the high latitudes had a twofold effect. One, the severe climate killed off the weaker of the group and two, it strained many of the germs that could be spread among the group. They were alone for many centuries doing their thing. Then they came in contact with their apocalyptic man ... Columbus. The reason why so many Indians were conquered by so few Europeans was the spread of smallpox and other maladies to the very susceptible Indian.
The European had many other advantages but smallpox was the most debilitating. Once the Columbus phenomena had occurred, the land was open for conquest and change. The Indian became subjugated. Old World ideas were super-imposed upon the New World.
What about the invaders, the Indian’s mythological ‘White Gods’ who came to the New World to spread their religion and culture? They were called conquistadors. It was written, “the Spaniards learned to keep time in its place and the conception that life is worth living for its own sake” and that the “Spaniards sense of personal dignity that finds itself ill at ease with impersonal authority; and the rejection of rational criteria and especially the cult of progress.”
These were some of the characteristics of the Spaniards who went to live in the New World.
The conquistadors were adventuresome men greedy for gold and fame. They were restless men, enduring and resourceful. Some were aristocratic, while others were peasants; and most had a fanatical desire to subdue the infidels. They were men of urban instincts for as soon as they landed they founded cities even if it consisted of only a few huts. These conquistadors were forerunners of the caudillos, who inherited the Spaniards individualism, their pride and their passion and their contempt for death. “Sooner or later personal issues are reduced to personalities, thereby becoming comprehensible. Personalism is the general rule today, as it was during the conquest.”
The Spaniards came to conquer and dominate and, unlike the English in North America, did not come to colonize. They came to the New World without women and mixed with the native women who bore their children. This circumstance formed the basis for the relaxed Spanish attitude toward race. As Pendle writes that the Spanish were influenced by the Moslems and the intermarriage between the Spanish and the Moslems formed the basis for a relaxed Spanish attitude toward race. The Spaniards came to conquer and dominate and, unlike the English in North America, did not come to colonize. They came to the New World without women and because of this relaxed attitude were able to mix with the native women who bore their children. As for the Portuguese, the proximity of Africa tended to modify the Portuguese’s attitude toward the heavy Germanic code.
The horse, next to disease, was probably the single most advantage over the Indian in warfare. The animals prospered and certainly helped change the culture of the New World. The flora of the Old World did not impress the Indians as much as the fauna, but it nonetheless changed the style of living in the New World. As plantation type of crops began to flourish, black slaves were brought in from Africa. Sugar cane began to take hold in the Antilles and required a great deal of cheap labor to make it profitable. Sugar was a commodity known only to the wealthy of Europe. The demand for sugar in Europe exceeded that of any other commodity produced in the Americas. As cheap labor became more difficult to get, especially since the native Indian population was on the decline, black slaves were brought in to replace them. This phenomena changed the entire demography of the Antilles.
The source of early migrations came from Africa and not from Europe as one predisposes. The Europeans were not willing to fill the void of labor created by the declining aborigines of the New World. To fill this gap the white immigrants turned to Africa and literally stole a labor force to work as slaves in the New World. According to Crosby, almost 90 percent of the slaves brought to the New World were sent to the tropical regions. Of this amount 42 percent were brought to the Greater Antilles. The total number amounts to about 10.5 million.
After the great influx of black slaves the greatest migration then came from Europe.
Dr. Guerra’s book states, “basic to the relationship between men and land, then, is the relative availability of land for settlement and labor for employment.”
Labor must strike a balance with opportunity. Since the plantations in the Greater Antilles had no access to labor, they had to resort to slave labor. The plantation had a difficult time trying to survive early on because of the loss of population, loss of imperial interest and arbitrary mercantilist policies of the Crown. During this time of tranquillity (amidst war and plunder) Cuba took on a different and distinct identity. This is when the growth of unstratified societies began, extremely liberal slave codes and the easement of color biases. Eventually the plantation took hold and here began the establishment of great families, the spread of culture and all the other amenities that wealth brings to a very few. The plantation was built on Indian land and slave labor.
Dr. Guerra coined the word “latifundium”
which means, “the large, corporationowned land and factory sugar combine” and according to Guerra this latifundium is the basis for the severe economic conditions of the Greater Antilles today. Because the concept was not so much to colonize, but to extract from the Americas as much wealth as could be had, the Greater Antilles became a one crop economy region. Cuba was spared this disaster for close to two centuries, for the Crown considered Cuba to be an unproductive island. Conscientious administering of land grants, the abundance of land and a meager population made it possible for Cuba to develop a healthy cattle industry mixed with agriculture. Cuba had struck a good balance with the land and a productive, if not wealthy, atmosphere flourished.
Two occurrences caused the Cuban growth to come to an end in the eighteenth century; the English industrial revolution 17501760 and the French Revolution of 1789. Guerra writes that the capture of Havana by the English in 1762 for a few brief months, the easing of Spanish trade restrictions on Cuba during the reign of Charles III, increased communication between Cuba and Spain, the creation of a great free market near Cuba and the destruction of Haiti’s sugar and coffee wealth ... a consequence of the French Revolution, drew Cuba out of isolation.
While the English occupied Havana, Cuba was flooded with African slaves to promote the sugar industry. As happened already to the rest of the Antilles, Cuba was drawn slowly into the latifundium.
Oligarchy ... a government of the few for the few, was to be the fate of the Greater Antilles. Wealth from outside the country financing the latifundium for its own personal gain at the expense of the common welfare of the native.
Dr. Guerra’s succinct description of the latifundium in the Barbados is a good example of the cycle of events that occurred in the Antilles.
Barbados is an island of approximately 166 square miles and colonized in 1627. “In 1628 Barbados had 1400 inhabitants all from England. In 1636, 6000 people and in 1643, 37,000 people all from England, the highest number of inhabitants in its history.”
It had a good balance of products. The majority of the population consisted of indentured servants. When their contract expired, they were given a piece of land and became independent farmers. By the early 1640’s it became one of the most prosperous colonies. Sugar was introduced into the Barbados and by improving techniques of milling, by 1666 the wealth of Barbados had increased seventeen fold. When competition became keener profits decreased, when profits decreased other means had to be employed to keep the cost of production down and maintain a profit. Small landowners dwindled until the latifundium swallowed all the available land. Negro slaves in great numbers were brought from Africa. An unending cycle developed and fed upon itself until the entire economic structure of the West Indies was weakened.
A revolution has occurred in Cuba to hopefully change this condition, and whether it will or not is not for this paper to judge. As for the rest of the Antilles, slavery is dead but the misery of the former slaves lives on. The Greater Antilles is not the dynamic economic region it might have been. Greed and cruelty have taken their toll and poverty and misery is prevalent everywhere.