February 27, 2021

The history of the Cuba that founded the Canary Islands


The role of canaries figures indelibly in the history of Cuba. Not surprisingly, emigration from the Archipelago was practically constant from the seventeenth century to the beginning of the twentieth. Over those years, it was impossible to separate the future of the Caribbean island from the Canarian influence. The doctor in History and professor of the History of America at the University of La Laguna (ULL) Manuel Hernández has just published a book that recovers a good part of that story: Resistance and adaptation. The struggle of the Guajiro island peasantry of western Cuba against the saccharocracy (1670-181).

The issue, which has 754 pages and has been published in Ediciones Idea, is now available in all the Archipelago bookstores, on the Peninsula and through online sales channels. At the moment, and due to the current health circumstances, there is not yet an official date for its presentation.

The importance of the Canarian emigration to Cuba was such that a good part of its towns were founded by families who arrived from the Archipelago. To prepare this book, the also academic of the History of Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela has spent more than 20 years investigating in countless archives, both in Spain and in the Cuban territory itself. “It is the fruit of many years of work. I started the research in 2000 on the role that the Canarian emigration to Cuba had developed in the west of the island. I began the search in the notarial protocols in Havana and I completed it with numerous information from the Spanish archives, both in the Canary Islands and the General of the Indies and the National Historical Office of Madrid, among others ”, he explained.

“More than half of the people who got married in Guanabacoa were Canaries”

Manuel Hernández – Doctor in History


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Hernández even makes use of documentary sources that have remained unpublished until now and puts the spotlight on the role of the Canaries in the fight against the Havana oligarchy of the time. The researcher, who goes back in his research to 1670, recalled that the massive emigration of islanders began even earlier. “Since the 16th century there has been emigration to Cuba,” he said. “What happens is that the time of a great family emigration, which is what I study, began from 1670. The reason for this is that the Canary Islands was the only region that had direct trade with Cuba. Furthermore, our Archipelago had grown spectacularly for a century and a half. To get an idea: Cuba had five times less population in 1650 than the Canary Islands. Cuba had only 20,000 inhabitants and the Canary Islands had more than 100,000 ”, he specified.

The ULL historian focuses his investigations precisely at the moment when entire families arrive on the island from the Canary Islands who will be in charge of cultivating the lands of the west and founding towns such as Santiago de las Vegas, Matanzas, San Antonio de los Baños or Santa María del Rosario, to cite just a few examples. “The cultivation of tobacco was beginning to develop in Cuba, which is going to flood the world market with a high-quality product. That is where the canaries go: to the vegas of the rivers of Havana. They will found a series of towns dedicated to growing tobacco. It was a family emigration, which is what is important and what differentiates it from the rest of the emigrations. There were as many men as women. I take as an example the marriage book of Guanabacoa, which is one of those towns that they created. The canaries were nothing more and nothing less than fifty percent of those who were married, despite the fact that a part of them were already married. Both men and women. It was a massive emigration at a time when there was hardly any population and in which a plantation economy with slaves had not yet developed that is going to transform the Cuban economy. ”

The island guajiros will lead their own fight against the unjust measures imposed by the Havana oligarchy. It is known as the saccharocracy: the economic elite on the island of Cuba at the end of the 18th century, whose activity was based on sugar plantations and the massive employment of slave labor.

“The islanders were only given the lease of the vegas around the rivers”


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The confrontation begins with the refusal from Havana that the rest of the territories could have autonomy. “These people concentrated – in the Havana City Hall and allied with the captains general – all political power from the tip beyond the west to the center of the island, to Santa Clara,” Hernández said. “They dedicated themselves to giving themselves an enormous amount of land. For example, one of the towns founded by Canaries, San Julián de los Güines, was practically owned by a single notary in Havana. This, in addition, was the secretary of the Havana City Council, the Ayalas. These gentlemen took over huge amounts of land and what they gave to the Canaries was only the lease of the meadows around the rivers, where tobacco was grown ”.

The struggle of these Canarian peasants to gain jurisdiction and free themselves from submission to the power of the oligarchs is the focus of this new investigation by the Tenerife doctor. “The only independent jurisdiction that was achieved was that of Santiago de las Vegas and that involved a terrible fight in Madrid. It was a tremendous battle, “said the historian. It was a time when canaries were the majority in a good part of these territories. “If we add the canaries with the children of canaries they were more than 90% of the population,” he stressed.

This interesting study once again demonstrates the deep ties that unite Cubans and Canaries. “You just have to take into account speech. When I’m in Cuba, they automatically ask me if I’m from Santa Clara. In the way of speaking, the Canarian influence is so evident that they confuse you perfectly with a Cuban, it is that they do not believe that you are not, “concluded the researcher.

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