This original and well-executed study illuminates an “overlooked story of American imperialism”: the effort by thousands of U.S. citizens to settle permanently on Cuba's Isle of Pines—known since 1978 as Isla de la Juventud, or Isle of Youth (p. 7). Located some forty miles off the southwest coast, it is the largest island off the Cuban mainland. As Michael E. Neagle chronicles in a thoroughly researched and flowing account, the United States recognized Cuban sovereignty over the Isle of Pines in 1904 in return for a separate agreement in which the Cubans under the constraints of occupation granted the Americans a lease at Guantanamo Bay and Bahia Honda. The U.S. Senate, however, did not ratify the Hay-Quesada Treaty, leaving the island in limbo. By 1910, seizing upon the opportunity offered by the island's anomalous status, some two thousand American settlers had taken control of 90 percent of the arable land, most of which they devoted to cultivation of grapefruit, which became “the primary driver of the Isle's economy for decades” (p. 125). Holding “Cuban authority in low regard,” the American settlers lobbied strongly for U.S. annexation of the island to secure their homes and investments (p. 66). The “residents considered themselves pioneers who presumed that the Stars and Stripes would follow them to the Isle of Pines” (ibid.). The industrious Americans put thousands of acres under cultivation, constructed miles of roads, imported technology and modern transportation, and built hotels, stores, schools, and churches. However, the belated ratification of the Hay-Quesada Treaty in 1925 shattered the dream of annexation. The treaty, followed in 1934 by abrogation of the Platt Amendment, a potent symbol of Yankee imperialism, imperiled the American presence. But, as Neagle shows, by the 1950s a new wave of immigrants, including tourists, missionaries, retirees, and teachers, had taken up residence. Many of the new settlers were bilingual and reflected a more “accommodating ethic” toward the Cubans (p. 229). As a result, “the U.S. presence was not preponderant, nor totally unwelcome” (ibid.). Many Cubans wanted to learn English and other skills from the American migrants, and the American Central School on the island “emerged as a key place to nurture such interactions” (p. 256). While Cubans and Americans peaceably coexisted on the Isle of Pines, Cubans on the mainland rebelled against the corrupt U.S.-backed Fulgencio Batista dictatorship. After six decades, the revolution led by Fidel Castro brought an “abrupt end” to the American colony (p. 277). The departure of the Americans “engendered sadness, mourning, bitterness, and anger” (p. 278). Neagle offers a seamless narrative illuminating a unique chapter in the history of American colonialism. The study does not fall neatly into settler colonial or imperial history yet bears fundamental relation to both. Perhaps more effort at comparison—with Hawaii, which is briefly referenced, or with Puerto Rico or the “banana republics” of Central America—might have been illuminating, but Neagle kept the focus squarely on the Isle of Pines, a subject that he has mastered. The book is thoroughly researched in U.S. and Spanish archives, memoirs, business publications, news accounts, and interviews, and it exploits an appropriate secondary literature. Beautifully produced by Cambridge University Press, the study includes abundant maps, illustrations and photographs, including one at the end of the book, taken by the author, of the American Central School, a place where Cubans and Americans once coexisted and shared knowledge. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Organization of American Historians. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Journal of American History – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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