Problems of Economic Development

  • J. R. Ward
Part of the Studies in Economic and Social History book series (SESH)


For the first three-quarters of the nineteenth century the economic history of the Caribbean may be presented in terms of slavery and the effects of its abolition on the sugar industry. Thereafter the themes are more diversified, although sugar remains the most important single influence. In the 1880s its international price was sharply reduced by the growth of subsidised beet sugar exports from continental Europe (see Graph and Table II). Cane sugar could only be kept competitive through the construction of larger and more efficient processing factories, usually supplied by railways from a wider field area than had been customary before. Of the Caribbean producers Cuba, with considerable tracts of flat land, was best suited for these adaptations, and the coastal plains of Puerto Rico also had a significant potential. However in the 1880s and 1890s progress here was inhibited by the uncertainties that followed slave emancipation, and by the political confusion of the last phase of Spanish rule [22: 271–435; 6: 101–7; 94: 65–7]. Many other islands were too small and mountainous to accommodate viable systems of centralised processing and some completely abandoned commercial sugar production in this period. Even the better endowed territories like Trinidad or British Guiana were unable, despite efforts at modernisation, to maintain the growth that they had achieved since the 1850s [79].


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Select Bibliography

(i) General

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Copyright information

© The Economic History Society 1985

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. R. Ward
    • 1
  1. 1.University of EdinburghUK

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