The Workers

Caribbean Labor: Using the networks of formal and informal empire, Anglo-American sugar executives in Cuba imported seasonal and more permanent workers from Haiti and the British Caribbean altering the demographic, politics and culture of Cuba and the Caribbean. Haiti’s proximity to eastern Cuba, and the influence of the United States during its occupation of Haiti (1915-1934) made Haitian workers accessible and vulnerable to the exploitative tactics of U.S. employers. Often hired as cane-cutters, over 100,000 Haitians arrived in Cuba as agricultural laborers during the 1910s and 1920s. The 100,000s of British Caribbean workers who arrived in Cuba during the republican era were familiar with Anglo-American customs, fluent in English, and held legal status as British subjects. For these reasons, British West Indians found a social mobility inaccessible to Haitians and many Cubans. Often accused of stealing Cuban jobs, both Haitians and West Indians faced reprisals from the Cuban government, which was unwilling to target foreign employers, in the 1930s and 1940s when tens of thousands were deported back to their respective homelands. The transnational financial and labor networks of the Anglo-American colony in Cuba dramatically shifted Cuban demographics, while exacerbating tensions between Caribbean nationalities.

Cuban Protestants: Families living in rural Cuba often suffered neglect from the Catholic Church, the Cuban government and large corporations – both foreign and domestic. In these contexts, Protestant missionaries frequently offered the most comprehensive, if still inadequate, social services in the region. From the Spanish colonial period forward, Protestantism emerged as a symbolic and material trope for social change, resistance against Spain and the Catholic Church. Still, the Protestant community represented only a small percentage of the population, with an estimated 10,000 active members and a community perhaps twice that, in a population of just over two million in 1908. By the mid-1950s Protestantism had grown significantly, with close to six percent of the Cuban population identifying with a range of denominations. The religion attracted Cubans who sought to both thrive in and transform Cuban society. The Catholic Church consistently undermined its own credibility in the eyes of many Cubans leading to just 24 percent of the population identifying as practicing Catholics in 1954. The rising practice of revolutionary Protestantism continued into the 1950s as Protestants disproportionately joined the cause against Batista, often attaining leadership positions in the revolutionary effort.