Cuban Economic History

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The History and Potential of Trade between Cuba and the US

Geography dominates Cuban economic history with location favoring US trade, tourism, and investment. In the early 1800s Cuban was a colony of Spain as the US expanded south into Florida with attention turning to the Caribbean. Cuba remained a Spanish colony through the 1800s in spite of numerous rebellions. There were expressed concerns that Cuba might fall under another European power and that the British might interfere with the slave trade. The US maintained good trade relations with Cuba throughout this period.
Flour was the cornerstone of trade with US exports to Cuba peaking in 1807, 1810, and the 1860s. These peaks surround a tumultuous period of economic and political unrest. Reactionary US tariffs in 1835 lowered Cuban imports relative to US exports by 30%. During the 1840s Cuba suffered a drought followed by a severe hurricane. Rising Spanish tariffs curtailed US trade and investment. The Financial Panic of 1857 and the Civil War during the 1860s greatly diminished trade and investment. High unemployment among Cuban plantation workers was the result.
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By the late 1920s isolationism and protectionism re-surfaced. US tariffs and sanitary regulations hurt Cuba. The Great Depression led to an almost complete exodus of US immigrants. The Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 stopped the sugar trade. The Smoot-Hawley sugar tariff created losses exceeding those due to tariffs on iron, steel, textiles, and wool. The political process raised the duty from $0.18 per pound in 1922 to $0.25 in the House bill, reduced back to $0.18 by the Senate, and finally enacted at $0.21. There was an effort to work out an adjustable tariff on a sliding scale to maintain the price in the US, an idea favored by the White House but ultimately dropped. Smoot-Hawley tariff rates were 14% for sugar and averaged 69% for all agricultural
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