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Tobacco is grown from seeds, planted in specially prepared seed beds.
Seeding is begun in the early autumn. When the young plant has attained a
proper height, about eight or ten inches, it is removed to, and planted
in, the field of its final growth. This preliminary process demands skill,
knowledge, and careful attention equal, perhaps, to the requirements of the
later stages. Experiments have been made with mechanical appliances, but
most of the work is still done by hand, particularly in the area producing
the better qualities of leaf. From the time of transplanting, it is watched
with the greatest care. A constant battle is waged with weeds and insect
life, and water must be brought if the season is too dry. If rains are
excessive, as they sometimes are, the crop may be partly or wholly
destroyed, as it was in the autumn of 1914. The plant matures in January,
after four months of constant watchfulness and labor, in cultivation,
pruning, and protection from worms and insects. When the leaves are
properly ripened, the stalks are cut in sections, two leaves to a section.
These are hung on poles and taken to the drying sheds where they are
suspended for three or more weeks. The time of this process, and its
results, depend upon moisture, temperature, and treatment. All this is
again an operation demanding expert knowledge and constant care. When
properly cured, the leaves are packed in bales of about 110 pounds each,
and are then ready for the market. Because of the varying conditions under
which the leaf is produced, from year to year, it is somewhat difficult
to determine with any accuracy the increase in the industry. Broadly, the
output appears to have been practically doubled in the last twenty years,
a growth attributed to the new economic conditions, to the extension of
transportation facilities that have made possible the opening of new areas
to cultivation, and to the investment of capital, largely American capital.
The exports show, generally, a material increase in sales of leaf tobacco
and some decline in sales of cigars. The principal market for the leaf, for
about 85 per cent of it, is in the United States where it is made, with
more or less honesty, into "all-Havana" cigars. This country, however,
takes only about a third of Cuba's cigar output. The United Kingdom takes
about as much of that product as we do, and Germany, in normal times, takes
about half as much. The remainder is widely scattered, and genuine imported
Havana cigars are obtainable in all countries throughout the world.
The total value of Cuba's yearly tobacco crop is from $40,000,000 to
$50,000,000, including domestic consumption and foreign trade.

The story that all Cubans, men and women alike, are habitual and constant
smokers, is not and never was true. Whatever it may have been in the past,
I am inclined to think that smoking by women is more common in this country
than it is in Cuba, particularly among the middle and upper social classes.
I have seen many American and English women smoke in public, but never a
Cuban woman. Nor is smoking by men without its exceptions. I doubt if the
percentage of non-smokers in this country is any greater than it is in
the island. There are many Cubans who do smoke, just as there are many
Americans, Englishmen, Germans, and Russians. Those who watch on the
street for a respectable Cuban woman with a cigar in her mouth, or even a
cigarette, will be disappointed. Cuba's tobacco is known by the name of the
region in which it is produced; the _Vuelta Abajo_ of Pinar del Rio; the
_Partidos_ of Havana Province; the _Manicaragua_ and the _Remedios_ of
Santa Clara; and the _Mayari_ of Oriente. Until quite recently, when
American organized capital secured control of many of the leading factories
in Cuba, it was possible to identify a cigar, in size and shape, by some
commonly employed name, such as _perfectos, conchas, panetelas, imperiales,
londres_, etc. The old names still appear, but to them there has been added
an almost interminable list in which the old distinction is almost
lost. Lost, too, or submerged, are many of the old well-known names of
manufacturers, names that were a guarantee of quality. There were also
names for different qualities, almost invariably reliable, and for color
that was supposed to mark the strength of the cigar. An accomplished smoker
may still follow the old system and call for a cigar to his liking, by the
use of the old terms and names made familiar by years of experience, but
the general run of smokers can only select, from a hundred or more boxes
bearing names and words that are unfamiliar or unknown, a cigar that
he thinks looks like one that he wants. It may be a "_superba_" an
"_imperial_" a "Wilson's Cabinet," or a "Havana Kid."

There is a wide difference in the dates given as the time of the
introduction of the coffee plant in Cuba. One writer gives the year 1720,
another gives 1748, and still another gives 1769. Others give various years
near the end of the century. It was doubtless a minor industry for fifty
years or more before that time, but it was given an impetus and began to
assume commercial proportions during the closing years of the 18th Century.
During that century, the industry was somewhat extensively carried on in
the neighboring island of Santo Domingo. In 1790, a revolution broke out
in that island, including Haiti, and lasted, with more or less violent
activity, for nearly ten years. One result was the emigration to Cuba of
a considerable number of refugees, many of them French. They settled in
eastern Cuba, where conditions for coffee-growing are highly favorable.
Knowing that industry from their experience with it in the adjacent island,
these people naturally took it up in their new home. The cultivation of
coffee in Cuba, prior to that time, was largely in the neighborhood of
Havana, the region then of the greater settlement and development. For
the next forty years or so, the industry developed and coffee assumed a
considerable importance as an export commodity, in addition to the domestic
supply. In 1840, there were more than two thousand coffee plantations,
large and small, producing more than seventy million pounds of coffee, the
greater part of which was exported. From about the middle of the century,
the industry declined, in part because of lower prices due to increase in
the world-supply through increased production in other countries, and in
part, because of the larger chance of profit in the growing of sugar, an
industry then showing an increased importance. Coffee culture has never
been entirely suspended in the island, and efforts are made from time to
time to revive it, but for many years Cuba has imported most of its coffee
supply, the larger share being purchased from Porto Rico. It would be
easily possible for Cuba to produce its entire requirement. There are few
more beautiful sights in all the world than a field of coffee trees in
blossom. One writer has likened it to "millions of snow drops scattered
over a sea of green." They blossom, in Cuba, about the end of February or
early in March, the fruit season and picking coming in the autumn. Coffee
culture is an industry requiring great care and some knowledge, and the
preparation of the berry for the market involves no less of care and
knowledge. The quality of the Cuban berry is of the best. It is the
misfortune of the people of the United States that very few of them really
know anything about coffee and its qualities, notwithstanding the fact that
they consume about a billion pounds a year, all except a small percentage
of it being coffee of really inferior quality. But coffee, like cigars,
pickles, or music, is largely a matter of individual preference.

Cuba produces a variety of vegetables, chiefly for domestic consumption,
and many fruits, some of which are exported. There is also a limited
production of grains. Among the tubers produced are sweet potatoes, white
potatoes, yams, the arum and the yucca. From the latter is made starch and
the cassava bread. The legumes are represented by varieties of beans and
peas. The most extensively used food of the island people is rice, only a
little of which is locally grown. The imports are valued at five or six
million dollars yearly. Corn is grown in some quantity, but nearly two
million dollars worth is imported yearly from the United States. There are
fruits of many kinds. The banana is the most important of the group, and is
grown throughout the island. It appears on the table of all, rich and
poor, sometimes _au naturel_ but more frequently cooked. There are many
varieties, some of which are exported while others are practically unknown
here. The Cuban mango is not of the best, but they are locally consumed by
the million. Only a few of the best are produced and those command a fancy
price even when they are obtainable. The aguacate, or alligator pear, is
produced in abundance. Cocoanuts are a product largely of the eastern end
of the island, although produced in fair supply elsewhere. The trees are
victims of a disastrous bud disease that has attacked them in recent years
causing heavy loss to growers.

[Illustration: PALM-THATCHED ROOFS A PEASANT'S HOME]

Since the American occupation, considerable attention has been given,
mainly by Americans, to the production of oranges, grape-fruit, and
pineapples, in which a considerable industry has been developed. There are
several varieties. The guava of Cuba makes a jelly that is superior to that
produced from the fruit in any other land of my experience. If there is a
better guava jelly produced anywhere, I should be pleased to sample it,
more pleased to obtain a supply. But there is a difference in the product
even there, just as there is a difference in currant or grape jelly
produced here. It depends a good deal on the maker. Some of the best of my
experience is made in the neighborhood of Santa Clara, but I have tried no
Cuban _jalea de guayaba_ that was not better than any I have had in the
Far East or elsewhere. The _guanabana_ is eaten in its natural state, but
serves its best purpose as a flavor for ices or cooling drinks. There are
a number of others, like the _anon_, the _zapote_, the _granadilla_, the
_mamey_, etc., with which visitors may experiment or not as they see fit.
Some like some of them and others like none of them. An excellent grade of
cacao, the basis of chocolate and cocoa, is produced in somewhat limited
quantity. The industry could easily be extended. In fact, there are many
soil products not now grown in the island but which might be grown there,
and many others now produced on small scale that could be produced in
important quantities. That they are not now so produced is due to lack of
both labor and capital. The industries of Cuba are, and always have been,
specialized. Sugar, tobacco, and at a time coffee, have absorbed the
capital and have afforded occupation for the greater number of the island
people. The lack of transportation facilities in earlier years, and
the system of land tenure, have made difficult if not impossible the
establishment of any large number of independent small farmers. The day
laborers in the tobacco fields and on sugar plantations have been unable to
save enough money to buy a little farm and equip it even if the land could
be purchased at all. Yet only a very small percentage of the area is
actually under cultivation. Cuba now imports nearly $40,000,000 worth of
alimentary substances, altogether too much for a country of its productive
possibilities. It is true that a part of this, such as wheat flour for
instance, cannot be produced on the island successfully, and that other
commodities, such as rice, hog products, and some other articles, can be
imported more cheaply than they can be produced locally. But the imports of
foodstuffs are undoubtedly excessive, although there are good reasons for
the present situation. It is a matter that will find adjustment in time.

The island has mineral resources of considerable value, although the number
of products is limited. The Spanish discoverers did not find the precious
metals for which they were seeking, and while gold has since been found,
it has never appeared in quantity sufficient to warrant its exploitation.
Silver discoveries have been reported, but not in quantity to pay for its
extraction. Nothing is ever certain in those industries, but it is quite
safe to assume that Cuba is not a land of precious metals. Copper was
discovered in eastern Cuba as early as about the year 1530, and the mines
near Santiago were operated as a Government monopoly for some two hundred
years, when they were abandoned. They were idle for about a hundred years
when, in 1830, an English company with a capital of $2,400,000 reopened
them. It is officially reported that in the next forty years copper of a
value of more than $50,000,000 was extracted and shipped. During that
time, the mines were among the most notable in the world. In the meantime,
ownership was transferred to a Spanish corporation organized in Havana.
This concern became involved in litigation with the railway concerning
freight charges, and this experience was followed by the Ten Years' War, in
the early course of which the plant was destroyed and the mines flooded. In
1902, an American company was organized. It acquired practically all the
copper property in the Cobre field and began operations on an extensive and
expensive scale. A huge sum was spent in pumping thousands of tons of
water from a depth of hundreds of feet, in new equipment for the mining
operations, and in the construction of a smelter. The best that can be done
is to hope that the investors will some day get their money back. Without
any doubt, there is a large amount of copper there, and more in other parts
of Oriente. So is there copper in Camaguey, Santa Clara, and Matanzas
provinces. There are holes in the ground near the city of Camaguey that
indicate profitable operations in earlier years. The metal is spread over
a wide area in Pinar del Rio, and venturous spirits have spent many good
Spanish pesos and still better American dollars in efforts to locate
deposits big enough to pay for its excavation. Some of that class are at it
even now, and one concern is reported as doing a profitable business.

The bitumens are represented in the island by asphalt, a low-grade coal,
and seepages of petroleum. At least, several writers tell of coal in the
vicinity of Havana, but the substance is probably only a particularly hard
asphaltum. The only real coal property of which I have any knowledge is a
quite recent discovery. The story was told me by the man whose money was
sought to develop it. It was, by the way, an anthracite property. In
response to an urgent invitation from a presumably reliable acquaintance,
my friend took his car and journeyed westward into Pinar del Rio, through a
charming country that he and I have many times enjoyed together. He picked
up his coal-discovering friend in the city of Pinar del Rio, and proceeded
into the country to inspect the coal-vein. At a number of points
immediately alongside the highway, his companion alighted to scrape away
a little of the surface of the earth and to return with a little lump of
really high-grade anthracite. Such a substance had no proper business
there, did not belong there geologically or otherwise. The explanation
soon dawned upon my friend. They were following the line of an abandoned
narrow-gauge railway, abandoned twenty years ago, along which had been
dumped, at intervals, little piles of perfectly good anthracite, imported
from Pennsylvania, for use by the portable engine used in the construction
of the road. My friend declares that he is entirely ready at any time to
swear that there are deposits of anthracite in Cuba. A very good quality
of asphalt is obtained in different parts of the island, and considerable
quantities have been shipped to the United States. Signs of petroleum
deposits have been strong enough to induce investigation and expenditure.
An American company is now at work drilling in Matanzas Province. The most
extensive and promising mineral industry is iron, especially in eastern
Cuba. Millions of tons of ore have been taken from the mountains along
the shore between Santiago and Guantanamo, and the supply appears to be
inexhaustible. The product is shipped to the United States, to a value of
several millions of dollars yearly. A few years ago, other and apparently
more extensive deposits were discovered in the northern section of Oriente,
The field bought by the Pennsylvania Steel Company is estimated to contain
600,000,000 tons of ore. The Bethlehem Steel Company is the owner of
another vast tract. The quality of these ores is excellent. In Oriente
Province also are deposits of manganese of which considerable shipments
have been made.

It is not possible in so brief a survey of Cuba's resources and industries
to include all its present activities, to say nothing of its future
possibilities. At the present time, the island is practically an extensive
but only partly cultivated farm, producing mainly sugar and tobacco, with
fruits and vegetables as a side line. The metal deposits supplement this,
with promise of becoming increasingly valuable. The forest resources,
commercially, are not great, although there are, and will continue to be,
sales of mahogany and other fine hardwoods. Local manufacturing is on a
comparatively limited scale. All cities and many towns have their artisans,
the bakers, tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, and others. Cigar making
is, of course, classed as a manufacturing enterprise, and so, for census
purposes, is the conversion of the juice of the sugar-cane into sugar.
A number of cities have breweries, ice factories, match factories, soap
works, and other establishments large or small. All these, however, are
incidental to the great industries of the soil, and the greater part of
Cuba's requirements in the line of mill and factory products is imported.
While little is done in the shipment of cattle or beef, Cuba is a natural
cattle country. Water and nutritious grasses are abundant, and there are
vast areas, now idle, that might well be utilized for stock-raising. There
are, of course, just as there are elsewhere, various difficulties to be
met, but they are met and overcome. There are insects and diseases, but
these are controlled by properly applied scientific methods. There is open
feeding throughout the entire year, so there is no need of barns or hay.
The local cattle industry makes possible the shipment of some $2,500,000
worth of hides and skins annually. Other lines of industry worthy of
mention, but not possible of detailed description here, include sponges,
tortoise shell, honey, wax, molasses, and henequen or sisal. All these
represent their individual thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars,
and their employment of scores or hundreds of wage-earners. Those who start
for Cuba with a notion that the Cubans are an idle and lazy people, will
do well to revise that notion. There is not the hustle that may be seen
further north, but the results of Cuban activity, measured in dollars or in
tons, fairly dispute the notion of any national indolence. When two and a
half million people produce what is produced in Cuba, somebody has to work.




XIV

_POLITICS, GOVERNMENT, AND COMMERCE_


The British colonists in America were in large measure self-governing. This
is notably true in their local affairs. The Spanish colonists were
governed almost absolutely by the mother-country. A United States official
publication reports that "all government control centred in the Council of
the Indies and the King, and local self government, which was developed at
an early stage in the English colonies, became practically impossible in
the Spanish colonies, no matter to what extent it may have existed in
theory. Special regulations, decrees, etc., modifying the application of
the laws to the colonies or promulgating new laws were frequent, and their
compilation in 1680 was published as Law of the Indies. This and the _Siete
Partidas_, on which they were largely based, comprised the code under which
the Spanish-American colonies were governed." There was a paper provision,
during the greater part of the time, for a municipal electorate, the
franchise being limited to a few of the largest tax-payers. In its
practical operation, the system was nullified by the power vested in the
appointed ruler. It was a highly effective centralized organization in
which no man held office, high or low, who was not a mere instrument in the
hands of the Governor-General. Under such an institution the Cubans had, of
course, absolutely no experience in self-government. The rulers made laws
and the people obeyed them; they imposed taxes and spent the money as they
saw fit; many of them enriched themselves and their personally appointed
official household throughout the island, at the expense of the tax-payers.

A competent observer has noted that such terms as "meeting,"
"mass-meeting," "self-government," and "home-rule," had no equivalent in
the Spanish language. The first of these terms, distorted into "_mitin_,"
is now in common use, and its origin is obvious. Of theories, ideals, and
intellectual conceptions, there was an abundance, but government based
on beautiful dreams does not succeed in this practical world. Denied
opportunity for free discussion of practical methods, the Cubans discussed
theories in lyceums. Under the military government of the United States,
from January 1, 1899, to May 20, 1902, there was freedom of speech and
freedom of organization. The Cubans began to hold "_mitins_," but visions
and beautiful theories characterized the addresses. Prior to the Ten Years'
War (1868-1878), there were organizations more or less political in their
nature, but the authorities were alert in preventing discussions of too
practical a character. In 1865, a number of influential Cubans organized
what has been somewhat inappropriately termed a "national party." It was
not at all a party in our use of that term. Its purpose was to suggest and
urge administrative and economic changes from the Cuban point of view. The
suggestions were ignored and, a few years later, revolution was adopted as
a means of emphasizing their importance. The result of the Ten Years' War
was an assortment of pledges of greater political and economic freedom.
Much was promised but little if anything was really granted. There was,
however, a relaxation of the earlier absolutism, and under that there
appeared a semblance of party organization, in the form of a Liberal party
and a Union Constitutional party. There was no special difference in what
might be called their platforms. Both focussed, in a somewhat general way,
the political aspirations and the economic desires of the Cuban people,
much the same aspirations and desires that had been manifested by
complaint, protest, and occasional outbreak, for fifty years. National
independence had no place in either. That came later, when an army in the
field declared that if Spain would not grant independence, the island would
be made so worthless a possession that Spain could not afford to hold it.
A few years after their organization, the Liberals became the Cuban party,
and so remained, and the Union Constitutionals became the Spanish party,
the party of the immediate administration. Later on, the Liberal party
became the Autonomist party, but Spain's concession of the demands of that
group came too late, forced, not by the Autonomists but by the party of the
Revolution that swept the island with fire and sword from Oriente to
Pinar del Rio. The Autonomists sought what their name indicates; the
Revolutionists demanded and secured national independence.

Shortly before the final dispersion of the Army of the Revolution,
there was organized a body with the imposing title of _La Asamblea de
Representantes del Ejercito Cubano_, or the Assembly of Representatives
of the Cuban Army. It was composed of leaders of the different military
divisions of that army, and included, as I recall it, thirty-one members.
This group made no little trouble in the early days of the American
occupation. It gathered in Havana, held meetings, declared itself the
duly chosen and representative agent of the Cuban people, and demanded
recognition as such by the American authorities. Some of its members even
asserted that it constituted a _de facto_ government, and held that the
Americans should turn the whole affair over to them and promptly sail away.


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Online LibraryAlbert G. RobinsonCuba, Old and New → online text (page 14 of 16)