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Reviewed by:
  • Colonias para después de un imperio
  • Anthony P. Maingot
Colonias para después de un imperio. By Josep M. Fradera (Barcelona, Ediciones Bellaterra, 2005) 751 pp. £30.00

When Spaniards respond to complaints by saying "things could be worse," they do not say "más se perdio en América Latina," they say "Más se perdio en Cuba!" (we lost more when we lost Cuba). Although the loss of the whole Spanish colonial Empire, from Mexico to Argentina, was an indisputably great blow to Spain, the loss of its remaining territories—Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines—left the deepest wound. From all appearances, it is still open. Of the three, Cuba, invariably called "la isla siempre fiel" (the always faithful island), arguably left the deepest mark. Spain had invested most of its overseas capital there and showed by its enormous infusion of manpower that it was determined to hold onto it through rebellion, civil war, and American invasion.

The author's central purpose is to analyze how Spain attempted to handle the three remaining "overseas territories" and how and why it failed in what was an iron-clad national undertaking throughout the nineteenth century to retain them. Contrary to its previous colonial practice, Spain developed three new administrative models to govern each of the remnants of its erstwhile enormous empire. Alas, its efforts were in vain. Even as the rest of Europe was rushing to Africa to carve out new colonies, and older imperial powers such as Britain, France, and the Netherlands further tightened their exploitative hold on their extensive holdings, Spain was unable to control the forces of autonomy and secession in its much smaller areas. How to explain the disparity?

The author's answers draw from an array of sources in Spanish, English, and French. That footnotes comprise more than one-third of the book is excusable, given the complexity and scope of an analysis that seeks to describe, in interdisciplinary fashion, the interaction between Spanish theory and practice in each of the three colonies in the context of an expanding global trading system. The author is particularly good at analyzing the role of paradox, which often eludes social scientists. One paradox that bedeviled Spanish administration involved the attempt by Britain, which had abolished its slave trade in 1807 and slavery itself in 1834, to sabotage the Cuban slave plantation system, even though Britain by 1850 was the largest importer of slave-produced sugar. Not surprisingly, market forces, not moral exhortations, carried the day in slave sugar-producing Cuba.

Unfortunately for Spain and Cuba, this market success meant the [End Page 284] unraveling of the colonial system. The author minutely documents and analyzes this disintegration in the single most original part of the book. It deals with the great gap between the Liberal-driven constitutional and legal theory that characterized the possessions not as "colonies" but as integral, albeit "overseas" ("Ultramar"), parts of the mother country and the actual practice in these territories. Predictably, practice differed not one iota from what occurred in the exploitation of the colonies of other metropolitan powers. Also as in the case of these other powers, the question of the African race, whether slave or free, continuously confounded any attempt at a successful policy of colonial integration. As the author notes, "One thing was to invoke equality, and another quite distinct was to practice it" (80). Another paradox was at the root of the problem: The very persons to whom Spanish citizenship was denied, the "castas pardas" (those with any degree of African blood), were the same ones who composed the most effective members of the colonial militias. Is it any wonder that they eventually became the backbone of the armies of liberation?

Anthony P. Maingot
Florida International University


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pp. 284-285
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