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The Americas 57.2 (2000) 301-302



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Cuban Sugar in the Age of Mass Production: Technology and the Economics of the Sugar Central, 1899-1929. By Alan Dye. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998. Pp. xiii, 343. Illustrations. Notes. Index. $55.00 cloth.

Virtually any monograph on this topic in this time period would be required reading for Cubanists, but Alan Dye's sophisticated analysis deserves a much wider audience. Indeed, all Latin Americanists--not to mention that newer breed of "Atlantic world" historians--will learn much from his rigorous application of the tools of the "new economic history" to the Cuban experience during a period of landmark and lasting change at the beginning of the twentieth century. While non-economic historians may be put off by the models, equations, and statistical apparatus of Chapters 4 through 7, it is well worth the effort to read at least the clear introductions and compelling conclusions to these core chapters. Grounded in rich data culled from Cuban government publications and from the Braga Brothers business archives at the University of Florida, these four chapters apply and extend the insights of Chandler, David, Lewis, Rosenberg, and others to link the diffusion of mass production technologies in early republican Cuba to global movements in business organization, namely, the rise of managerial capitalism. In these separate, but interrelated chapters, Dye weaves together a skillful explanation of the modernization of the Cuban sugar industry that exhaustively examines coordination and scale economies, central mill expansion and costs of adjustment, holdup and regional diversity, and a fixed-effects analysis of impediments to expansion.

The remaining chapters (1, 2, 3, 8 and 9) provide a far less technical narrative that demonstrates that Dye is one economic historian who knows not only his economics but also his Cuban history. In fact, Chapter 2, "A Long-Term View of the Sugar Economy in Cuba," is a synthetic tour de force, which further applies economic reasoning to the conventional historiography. Standard historical works by Bergad, Guerra y Sánchez, Klein, Knight, Moreno Fraginals, Maluquer de Motes, Pérez, Scott, Zanetti, and others are mined for useful empirical evidence that is interpreted to the fullest to underscore Cuba's relatively smooth transition from a slave to wage-labor economy at the end of the nineteenth century. In Dye's view, the bumpier road lay ahead, in the three decades following the War for Independence. Yet, what drove Cuba's next sugar revolution, during the years of the early republic, was not politics or imperialism, but rather the economics of the central. The huge infusion of U.S. capital was necessary, but not predatory; moreover, Dye asserts, this dramatic transition put Cuban sugar in line with some of the most progressive industries of the time. [End Page 301]

It is truly difficult to do justice to the scope, complexity and overlapping nature of Dye's arguments in a short review. Unlike Ramiro Guerra y Sánchez, who downplays the efficiency issue, Dye insists that continuous-processing technologies introduced economies of scale. These, indeed, became the driving force of change at the turn of the century, which resulted in a huge growth in the capacities of mills. Milling and cultivation were tightly integrated by means of internal organization and contractual arrangements. Larger mills broke with tradition to enlist outside cane growers (colonos), many of them tenant farmers rather than landowners, to cultivate cane under contract; by 1929, they supplied over 80 percent of the industry's raw material. But the western provinces of Havana, Matanzas and Santa Clara, bastions of the old plantation system, adapted relatively gradually. The center of gravity of the sugar industry shifted farther and farther eastward, to Camagüey and Oriente, as the largest mills on the island were erected on previously uncultivated lands. The "intractable bargaining problem" (p. 18) associated with the more independent western growers therefore was solved by moving east. Dye is dismissive of previous explanations that "resort to a vague notion of monopoly power" (p. 22). In his...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6247
Print ISSN
0003-1615
Pages
pp. 301-302
Launched on MUSE
2000-10-01
Open Access
No
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