"Are emigrés foreign burdens?" : autonomy, slavery, and loyalist exiles in the dissolution of Spanish Empire in the Americas




González Quintero, Nicolás Alejandro

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This report focuses on how Cuban local and metropolitan authorities handled the mass migration of refugees and loyalist troops arriving in the island from a war-torn American continent in the early 1820s. In a context of growing plantation slavery, the landing of exiles ignited discussions around local autonomies as well as the efforts of local elites and metropolitan authorities to preserve this mode of production in Cuba. Although initially Cuban authorities often acted as independent arbiters concerning the fate of refugees, this report argue that their intentions to preserve slavery and Spanish rule finally superseded any consideration of autonomy and distributive justice. By doing so, this report illustrates the paradoxes the Spanish Empire experienced during the time of its dissolution on the mainland and its simultaneous expansion in the Antilles. While the Monarchy underwent a process of contraction in the continent, local authorities in Cuba enhanced their autonomy to preserve both Spanish rule and slavery within the Caribbean. Nevertheless, this situation generated significant tensions among royalist officers and populations from the Empire’s former colonies. Despite the attempts of émigrés to challenge local autonomy and to enhance previous metropolitan policies on exiles, the Crown continuously favored local decisions over those of refugees. Nonetheless, the arrival of exiles deeply influenced the power of local cabildos and legitimated the growing power of military governors on the island. Fears of a pro-independence movement, or a slave revolt promoted by spies from the continent and Santo Domingo, increased the urgency with which the Crown and local elites worked to secure Spanish rule in Cuba. This situation enhanced the power of the General Captain, augmented surveillance systems in the Caribbean, and legitimized the banning of public associations and freedom of the press. These measures diminished the possibilities of establishing a pro-independent movement within the island and helped to preserve both slavery and Spanish dominion in the Caribbean



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