Sugar, Slavery, and Freedom in Nineteenth-Century Puerto Rico





The con­tri­bu­tions of the black pop­u­la­tion to the his­to­ry and eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment of Puer­to Rico have long been dis­tort­ed and under­played, Luis A. Figueroa con­tends. Focus­ing on the south­east­ern coastal region of Guaya­ma, one of Puer­to Rico’s three lead­ing cen­ters of sug­ar­cane agri­cul­ture, Figueroa exam­ines the tran­si­tion from slav­ery and slave labor to free­dom and free labor after the 1873 abo­li­tion of slav­ery in colo­nial Puer­to Rico. He cor­rects mis­con­cep­tions about how ex-slaves went about build­ing their lives and liveli­hoods after eman­ci­pa­tion and debunks stand­ing myths about race rela­tions in Puer­to Rico. His­to­ri­ans have assumed that after eman­ci­pa­tion in Puer­to Rico, as in oth­er parts of the Caribbean and the U. S. South, for­mer slaves acquired some land of their own and became sub­sis­tence farm­ers. Figueroa finds that in Puer­to Rico, how­ev­er, this was not an option because both cap­i­tal and land avail­able for sale to the Afro-Puer­to Rican pop­u­la­tion were scarce. Pay­ing par­tic­u­lar atten­tion to class, gen­der, and race, his account of how these lib­er­tos joined the labor mar­ket pro­found­ly revis­es our under­stand­ing of the eman­ci­pa­tion process and the evo­lu­tion of the work­ing class in Puer­to Rico.
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