Sunday, 4 December 2016

Pacto Navío: The Impact of Migration on the Development of the Cuban Rum Trade

by Anistatia R. Miller 

Recent studies indicate that a strong desire for goods from the homeland by migrants can increase exports by as much as one percent in any region that experiences a migrant influx of at least 10 percent in a given period. However, this rule cannot be applied to all historical periods or to all trade situations. There was unwritten bond that supported export in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries from the Caribbean colonies to the homeland and beyond, a Pacto Navío [loosely, a ship’s covenant].

As quickly as Spanish settlements arose after Columbus landed on the island of Hispañola, trade routes were established. Ships provided goods from the homeland to Caribbean and Central American colonists and returned laden with New World exports that were in high demand throughout Europe. Annual sailings were organised and conducted by privately-owned and -operated merchant navíos [ships] who paid a rate for inclusion in a convoy prior to embarkment. A single government agency, Casa de Contratacíon [House of Trade, a government agency of the Spanish Crown], used the collected rates to provide protection on the open seas: a heavily-armed fleet of large, tri-masted navíos de línea [line ships] which was led by a navío capitano [flagship]. Upon the convoys’ return, the agency collected duty on the imports upon arrival.

Two distinct convoys—the Flota de Indias and the Tierra Firme Galeones—annually embarked from Sevilla (later from Cadíz) down along the African coast to the Canary Islands to provision before making the transatlantic voyage. As the Flota de Indias collected cargo from Veracruz, Mexico, including silver and goods imported from China by the fleet of galleons that embarked from Spanish-held Manila, the Tierra Firme made its way to Panama and Colombia to collect South American cargo. A rendezvous in Havana concluded the journey before sailing into the Trade Winds that transported both convoys back to Spain.

This relationship began in 1566 and ended, in 1790, with its dissolution at the hands of King Charles IV because its profitability had declined, thus heralding the demise of the Spanish empire. But a successor to this unwritten covenant—this pacto navío—took shape during the next century as multiple waves of migration reshaped industry and trade amongst the Caribbean colonies.

First Contact: Early French Migration to Cuba

The fall of Napoleon Bonaparte’s First French Empire (1804-1814) signalled not only the end of multiple conflicts throughout Europe. It heralded a period of change that lasted nearly a century. It  saw the emergence of Great Britain as an empire, as a provocateur of technological advancement, as an economic instigator for the development of world trade, and as the self-appointed enforcer of global maritime activity, who monitored the blockade of international slave trade and orchestrated the end piracy on the open seas. Thus, the era was titled Pax Britannica (1815-1914).

New channels of trade emerged not because of official agreements, but thanks to the influence of population migrations from Europe and other Caribbean colonies to the island of Cuba. Sugar, metals, and tropical produce were the commodities that replaced the early shipments of precious metals that were the original currency of trade that were exchanged for flour, wine, and brandy.

There were three distinct diasporas of French migrants to Cuba that sprouted an unofficial yet binding relationship even before 1815 when the Second Treaty of Paris was signed. The first was the Haitian Revolution on the island of Hispañola’s French-colonised Saint-Domingue, which began with a slave rebellion that was instigated, in 1790, by Vincent Ogé and concluded with the 1801 inauguration of rebel leader François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture as the infant nation’s Governor-General. The revolution resulted in a mass exodus of French sugar planters who had established a profitable sugar industry on what was France’s largest and most profitable colony.

The Haitian Revolution not only temporarily stifled the very lucrative slave trade from Africa to the Caribbean colonies. The potential for slave upheaval in Cuba had been voiced since the 1740s and the revolution made that threat readily apparent and indeed imminent. The new governor of Cuba, Don Salvador de Muro y Salazar, in 1799, then granted land parcels along the coast for the settlement of white refugees from Sainte-Domingue at Nipe, Holguín, Sagra de Tánamo, and Mayarí. (It is interesting to note that during this same period, imports of foreign wine rose 312 percent commensurate with French migration from 12,527 barrels in 1797, rising in 1803 to 39,130 barrels.)

The second wave of French migration to Cuba was due in great part to a lieutenant colonel of the Louisiana infantry, who was attached to the general staff that was stationed in Havana. Luis Juan Lorenzo de Clouet y Piettre signed a contract with the Cuban government to obtain land for 40 French migrant families. His intent was to establish a settlement at Bahía de Jagua in southern Cuba. About 845 French émigrés arrived not only from Louisiana but from Sainte-Domingue as well as Bordeaux and other French ports via American points of entry at Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Charleston. The foundation of the city of Cienfuegos is due to this specific exodus.

The third diaspora arrived, in 1830, when French-Mexican hostilities arose despite the abdication of King Charles X of France and deposition of the House of Bourbon which opened diplomatic relations between the two countries. (By the end of the decade, France invaded Mexico to collect compensation for French settlers’ property that, in 1828, had been damaged or looted in Mexico City by Mexican forces.)

The Development of the French- and Spanish-Caribbean Rum Trade 

These diasporas from Sainte-Domingue, Trinidad, Louisiana, Mexico, and metropolitan France—especially Bordeaux—at the turn of the eighteenth century spiked an interest in Cuban rum in the minds and palates of these new arrivals.

Unlike the planters who produced rhum agricole in the French Caribbean colonies, Cuban distillers focussed greater emphasis, by the early 1810s, on the ageing of molasses-based aguardiente de caña and the improvement of distillation techniques which together created a new, smoother style of end product called ron. They also invested in new technologies such as continuous distillation, filtration of the base molasses, and ageing in both glass and wooden barrel, unlike their Briths and French counterparts who were resistant to change.

With this technical excitation coupled with the lifting of production bans by the Spanish crown Cuban rum exports doubled from less than 50,000 gallons per year, in 1778, to more than 100,000 gallons a mere two years later. The Cuandro estadístico de la Simper Fiel Isla de Cuba reported, in 1827, that there were approximately 300 rum distilleries in operation on the island, just as French-Caribbean distilleries when into severe decline.

European vineyards faced, during the 1850s, a crisis of catastrophic proportions. A species of fungus that was native to the United States known as Oïdium tucker (aka: powdery mildew) decimated vineyards in France, Spain, Portugal, and Italy as well as the island of Madeira. The Oïdium or powdery mildew infection probably originated from the introduction of North American grapevines to Europe as viticulturists, horticulturalists, and botanists became increasingly fascinated in the grafting, hybridising, and cultivating vines that would not only improve yield but appeal as wine stock. The experiment triggered tragedy.

French wine production, by 1854, declined from over 1 billion gallons to only 290 million gallons or less than one-third of its normal output. Symbols of the Industrial Revolution, steam-powered trains and steam-powered, ocean-going vessels were faulted as being the carriers of this “American disease”. And as Oïdium-resistant American vines were introduced as a method for controlling outbreaks, an aphid known as the phylloxera was inadvertently introduced on the same stock, during the 1860s, once again destroying European vineyards in its wake. It hit especially hard in France.

Both the Oïdium and phylloxera blights turned the tide on rum trade between the Caribbean and France. To replenish the alcohol supplies lost to Oïdium, in 1854, Napoleon III suspended duties on rhum imports. Thus, the French public acquired a taste for rum. The country imported, between 1854 and 1857, more than one million gallons of rhum alone. As the phylloxera blight swept Europe and once again led to the near ruin of the wine and brandy industry, rhum and rum imports leapt by the 1880s to more than four million gallons.

As Oïdium reached its peak of devastation, in 1854, two important economic events occurred. Even though Britain served as the global police force that was self-assigned to blockading slave trade since the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act of 1807 was introduced by Parliament, the growing empire also opened its ports to foreign produce, including commodities such as rum that were produced in slave-holding regions. Cuban rum exports jumped that year, averaging nearly three million gallons per annum. To further stimulate a burgeoning global economy, in 1860, Britain equalised foreign rum import duties. This positioned Cuban rum makers on par with their British Caribbean counterparts.

The following year, France also reduced import duties on foreign rum to further ease the rapid decline in domestic alcohol supplies. At this juncture, a number of factors changed the importance and profitability of Cuban rum. First, American sugar syndicates established in Cuba had a positive impact on both sugar and rum production, especially during the inception of the Civil War in the United States (1861-1865). Cuban rum exports reached record levels, by 1864, of more than 4.5 million gallons. Although export statistics are incomplete for the second half of the nineteenth century, it appears that Cuban rum exports remained high during the European phylloxera blight.

Second, the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) may have also contributed to the rise in Cuban exports. Following the military tradition supplying troops with alcohol rations in many European nations during this period, rum instead of brandy was sent to French troops who served in the Crimea. Third, there is another more poignant reason why rum was added to the list of alcoholic beverages found on café menus throughout France. Annual alcohol consumption in Paris, in 1865 alone, totalled per capita at 59 gallons of wine, 21 gallons of beer, and 3 gallons of spirits per capita. The rise in popularity of the workers’ cafés not only in Paris but everywhere in France, reflected the aspirations of this growing class compounded with the effects of domestic and global economic crises on the overall cost of social drinking.

The Emergence of New Trade Networks between Cuba and France 

So how did the French merchants from Bordeaux—who were mentioned earlier—establish trade networks throughout this period of relative peace and considerable turmoil as the world shifted from the Napoleonic empire to the British empire? It appears that by 1795, Spain had formed a network of consuls and vice-consuls along the eastern seaboard of the United States in Boston, Newport, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Norfolk, and Savannah. Many of these consular agents were themselves former merchants and were consequently part of a number of “self-organising” mercantile networks.

Although trade amongst the New World colonies emerged as a major profit centre for Cuba during the mid-1770s, trade and trading was so extensive during the nineteenth century that it became “a specialty in itself, generating such great wealth that merchants could, and did join the landed group.” The number of ships unloading cargo at Havana, by 1800, exceeded 800 vessels, a number that increased in 1828 by 132 percent to 1,057 merchant vessels, excluding a large number of slave ships.

Ten years later, that number jumped by 238.8 percent to 2,524; and, in 1852, the 3,617 vessels entered sixteen different Cuban ports—not just Havana, bring the increase to another 143.3 percent. That same year, 3,274 of those ships—or 90.5 percent—sailed away loaded down with Cuban products, including rum. It was reported that, in 1837, 3,450 pipes of rum valued at $69,010 ($2,306,636.53USD in current value) were exported from the island, while 125,945 arrobas of white wine and 840,306 arrobas of red wine were imported along with brandy, gin,vinegar, oil, and cider worth a total of $1,827,724 ($61,091,073.02USD in current value).

As mentioned earlier, ballast-stones were shipped along with cargo from Europe to Cuba, allowing a ship to sail on an even keel, assuring smooth sailing. Insufficiently ballasted boats tend to excessively tip—or heel—in high winds. But ballast-stones were not the only stabiliser employed. Wine and flour barrels also served as ballast. Built from Limousin and American oak, these barrels were the perfect containers for the shipment and consequent gentle maturation of rum that was loaded for the return voyage. Transatlantic transport transformed seemingly overnight when, in 1819, the hybrid steam/sailing vessel SS Savannah made its maiden voyage from Savannah, Georgia to Liverpool, England. The first purpose-built steamship to make the regular crossing was built in England, in 1838, by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The SS Archimedes was a side-wheel paddle steamer that ushered in not only the era of the transatlantic ocean liner, but of efficient commercial overseas transport.

France entered the era of commercial steamship transport in 1844 with service from Le Havre to New York; Bordeaux to Martinique; Marseilles to Martinique; and from Martinique to Havana. According to data recorded in 1852, the ports of Havana, Cienfuegos, Matanzas, Cárdenas, Trinidad, and Santiago de Cuba were of significant interest to merchants heading to other ports of call on the island.

The “white gold” known as sugar had evolved from a lucrative profit centre, by the end of the nineteenth century, to a glutted global market. Caribbean colonies and young nations had no other choice for survival than to capitalise on rum production. Although Cuba’s sugar and rum production was temporarily curtailed during both the Ten Years’ War (1868-1878) and the Spanish-American War (1898) as sugar cane fields were set ablaze during the fighting, American interests in these products did not founder. As the era of Pax Britannica drew to a close, a new relationship between the United States and Cuba was set into motion that steadily grew even through start of the First World War. Trade with France was no longer a viable option, by 1917, when the United States entered the conflict and the guarantees of safe transatlantic shipping declined. The war had a more positive effect on exports from Martinique to France as the call for rhum rations for troops compensated for the depressed domestic wine and brandy supplies. The spirit was also employed in the preparation of powder explosives. The rather unique trade relationship between Cuba and France came to an end.

Colonialism and imperialism were no longer viable models for the control of trade between or after the wars. Standards for the establishment of profitable imports and exports required agreements structured on more than a hand shake and a gentlemanly understanding amongst independent traders. Unwritten convenants—the pactos navíos—have given way to the current paradigm: domestic exportation incrementally follows migration with the desire for familiar goods while importation maintains its historical stance penalised by enforced taxation and expensive transport costs. Based on this short study, there is room for further research into the impact that the exportation of spirits and other luxury goods had on other former colonies prior to the end of Pax Britannica as well as any shifts in policy during the post-war years of the twentieth century. Future studies could pose viable questions as to the future of global trade throughout the world.

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