In 1762 when Cuba was re-conquered by Spain, this society began to experience a series of economic, administrative, and political changes. This paper is aimed at examining the effects produced by the reforms that were carried out by the Spanish government in order to improve the defensive capabilities of Cuba. In particular, it is necessary to examine the arguments expressed by Sherry Johnson in her book The Social Transformation of Eighteenth-Century Cuba.
Overall, one can argue that the policies of the Spanish monarchy were designed at increasing the loyalty of the local people to the state. This is why they had to provide more opportunities to people of different social classes and races. These efforts increased the social mobility within this community and many people could benefit from these policies.
Certainly, one should first speak about the military expansion that was essential for improving the defense against possible invaders. The state had to increase its expenses on fortification as well as infrastructure projects such as the construction of roads and bridges. One of the tasks was to prepare the island for the possible invasion by a foreign country.
This increased expenditures offered more economic opportunities to people who could represent different social classes, races or ethnicities. A great number of people came from Spain and permanently settled in Cuba. Sherry Johnson says that “military service afforded a means to arrive” and “military policy provided an opportunity to remain”1. One of the most important changes introduced by the state was the adoption of fuero military.
In this case, the term fuero can be understood as a set of laws that guarantee certain rights and privileges to military people. This is one of the reasons why a greater number of people chose to join the militia. More importantly, people of color also had a right to join the ranks of militia because this service enabled them to climb a social ladder2. A great number of people were motivated to settle in different regions of Cuba, apart from Havana.
Additionally, the Spanish government attempted to improve the economic life of Cuba. In particular, they developed a more efficient fiscal legislation that could stimulate trade in different across different part of the island. In this way, they attempted to make people more interested in staying in the island.
Furthermore, the Spanish monarchy introduced a more sophisticated bureaucracy that could better protect the civic rights of people, especially those ones who represented the military circles. This is how Cuba was reincorporated in colonial empire of Spain after the British invasion.
Thus, the improvement of Cuba’s military capabilities contributed to the social and economic of many citizens. It is worth noting that many members of the militia later became landowners and farmers. In other words, they could participate in the economic life of the country.
It has to be admitted that not every layer of the population was able to benefit from the military expansion. In particular, slaves were not able to acquire a higher social status in the community. This is the limitation that historians should not overlook when discussing the social transformation of Cuba.
Furthermore, one should note that the reforms implemented by the state resulted in significant demographic changes. According to Sherry Johnson a great number of people from peninsular regions came to Cuba in order to serve the state3.
In part, this increased migration can explain the growing number of intermarriages in this society. Some ethnic groups such as Creoles were no longer marginalized. Therefore, the racial boundaries that existed before became less distinct. Thus, the reforms of the state affected the notions of race and ethnicity existing in Cuba.
As it is pointed out by Sherry Johnson, the reforms of the Spanish government resulted in the creation of a very mobile society. She says that it was “a unique social dynamic” and Cuba was the only colonial country in which this dynamic could be observed4. This is one of the major arguments that the author strives to express.
Overall, this scholar strives to undermine a popular believe according to which Cuban society was driven primarily by slavery and the exports of sugar. Such a view of this society will be too simplistic because it reduces the life of Cuban society only to economic aspects. The Spanish government did make a significant attempt to reincorporate Cuba into its domain and their policies produced very complex effects.
Overall, these examples suggest that colonial history of Cuba is much more complex that many people believe. After re-conquering the island, the Spanish state attempted to make sure that Cuba could resist a foreign invasion. One can identify several important effects, namely the creation of sophisticated military bureaucracies, increased migration, adoption of new laws, and improvement of economic life. The book written by Sherry Johnson provides readers insights into the life of the eighteenth century Cuba.
Johnson, Sherry. The Social Transformation of Eighteenth-Century Cuba. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2004.
1 Sherry, Johnson. The Social Transformation of Eighteenth-Century Cuba (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2004), p. 90.
2 Ibid. p. 16
3 Ibid. p. 16
4 Ibid. p. 2