UMass Amherst Economist Carmen Diana Deere to Speak on American Colonization of Cuba

November 17, 1997


AMHERST, Mass. - University of Massachusetts economics professor Carmen Diana Deere will present a lecture, "The Yankees are Coming! The Rise and Decline of U.S. Colonies in Cuba, 1898-1930," on Tues., Nov. 25, at 4 p.m. in Memorial Hall. The event is the second in this year''s series of four Distinguished Faculty Lectures, and is free and open to the public. Following the lecture, Deere will be presented with the Chancellor''s Medal in recognition of her contributions to the University. The Chancellor''s Medal is the highest honor bestowed on individuals who have rendered exemplary and extraordinary service to the University. The lecture and presentation will be followed by a reception.

During one of her research trips to eastern Cuba in the early 1990s, Deere happened across the story of how an American colony, called Omaha, was founded there at the beginning of the century. Her curiosity piqued, she began reading the English-language newspapers published in Havana during the 1910s. Eventually, she identified 80 foreign colonies on the island. Two of the colonists Deere found in the historical record were from Greenfield.

Most of the settlements were farming communities made up of American homesteaders who had been attracted to Cuba by U.S. real estate companies which advertised Cuba as a modern-day Eden, where the growing season lasted year-round. In the aftermath of the Spanish-American War (Cuba''s second War for Independence from Spain), these real estate companies had bought huge tracts of land at extremely low prices, particularly in the eastern region of the island and on the Isle of Pines, and developed settlements there.

Deere argues that the colonies represented the forefront of a turn-of-the-century movement to annex Cuba to the United States. Many assumed that, in a process similar to the annexation of Texas, once a sufficient number of Americans were living in Cuba and the country was Americanized, the newly founded Cuban Republic would petition the U.S. to become a state.

The colonies, most of which produced citrus fruit and winter vegetables for export to the U.S., thrived until around World War I, when the entry of the U.S. into the war coincided with the 1917 revolution in Cuba. At this time, a number of the colonies were attacked by rebel forces, and when the U.S. failed to take control of the island, many of the settlers returned home. Other colonists became discouraged by protectionist U.S. trade policies. By 1930 the American colonies were in decline, as was the annexationist movement.

Deere discovered the colonies while engaged in a six-year-long study of Cuban agriculture with researchers at the University of Havana. The broader project, which was funded by a grant from the MacArthur Foundation, has resulted in a book Deere co-authored with a team of four other researchers, titled "Cuba Agraria: Capitalista, Socialista Y en Transformacion." It is an economic history of rural Cuba from 1898 to 1995, to be published in Spanish by the Social Science Press in Cuba in early 1998. During 1995-96, Deere held the Bacardi Family Eminent Scholar in Latin American Studies chair at the University of Florida; it was here she did research on the book.

The book is based on three in-depth case studies of municipalities in different regions of the country, "the view from below" on how national policies played out at the local level, and the role of local people in shaping different regional responses. In addition to field work in Cuba, the book is based on archival research in the Braga Brothers Collection of the University of Florida, the largest archive on the Cuban sugar industry in the U.S.

Deere holds degrees from the University of Colorado, the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and the University of California, Berkeley. She joined the University faculty in 1977 and has been the director of the Latin American studies program since 1992. She was president of the Latin American Studies Association during 1992-94.