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islands canary cuba

Canary Islands & Cuba

The Sister of the Caribbean: 125 Years of the Loss of Cuba
Multiple historical ties unite Cuba with Fuerteventura, Lanzarote and the rest of the Canary Islands.

December 18 was International Migrants Day and, as in previous years, we must take advantage of this commemoration organized by the United Nations to remember some chapter of the long history of emigration in Fuerteventura and Lanzarote. In this case, let's recap one of the traditional destinations, the so-called "Pearl of the Caribbean": Cuba

In December 1898, exactly 125 years ago, the Treaty of Paris was signed, by which Spain recognized the independence of Cuba, at the same time that it sold the territories of Puerto Rico and the Philippines to the United States.

For the Canary Islands, this defeat was a hard economic setback, Cuba was still, for example, a preferential market for onions from Lanzarote. However, political sentiments were somewhat mixed. On the one hand, Canarian soldiers fought in the Spanish army, supported by the island oligarchy as well, but, on the other hand, the incipient Canarian nationalism looked with great interest at the emancipation process of Cuba and there were Canarians prominent in the rebel sector.

Secundino Delgado (1867-1912), considered by many to be the father of the Canarian independence movement, emigrated to Cuba at a very young age, becoming involved in its emancipation and later acquiring Cuban nationality. The Cuban writer and politician José Martí (1853-1895), called the "apostle of Cuba's independence", was the son of Leonor Pérez Cabrera, a Canarian woman from Tenerife who had emigrated as a minor. Martí stated that "it is not uncommon for the son of the Canary Islands, badly governed by the Spaniard, to love and seek in the colonies of Spain the independence that, by reason of proximity, variety of origins and lack of sufficient purpose, he does not attempt in his own islands".

There are numerous testimonies of the suspicion of the Spanish authorities with the large Canarian colony in Cuba at the end of the nineteenth century. Unlike the rest of the Spaniards, the Canarians were quick to identify with the local population and even the U.S. ambassador went so far as to suggest in a famous report that the Canarians were a clear support for the Cuban rebels. To this we must add that 42 percent of the Spanish census in Cuba in 1861 was Canarian, being the main region by far.

Cuba's independence brought other political repercussions, as the so-called "disaster of '98" left a broad mark on the country's national consciousness, while in the Canary Islands the fear spread that the United States would also venture into the archipelago, given the ease of victory against Spain. In this context, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote were once again seen as the easiest to conquer, due to their poor defence and the landing facilities on their coast.

Cirilo Lopez, who returned from Cuba, was Morro Jable's first resident

In 1902, Antonio María Manrique, a key intellectual and writer of the time who was born in Fuerteventura but spent most of his career in Lanzarote, wrote an article eloquently entitled Waiting for the Enemy. This fear led the Spanish government to reinforce the defence of the Canary Islands, creating, among others, the military battery of the River in the Risco de Famara, while in 1904 it re-established the battalion suppressed in the eighties of the nineteenth century in Fuerteventura, which was one of the great demands of the Majorero newspaper La Aurora (1900-1905): "For the first time, for a long time now, a law has been voted in the Spanish Parliament that has benefited Fuerteventura (...)".

In spite of everything, Canarian emigration to Cuba did not suffer from independence. The flow varied according to the conditions prevailing on both sides of the Atlantic, so the crisis that caused the fall of the cochineal at the end of the nineteenth century, and the export problems during World War I, led to an increase in the number of Canarians going to the Great Antilles, which were in high demand especially for sugar farms. It was only after the crises of the 1920s, and especially after the crash of 1929, that Cuba ceased to be a preferred destination for Canarian immigrants.

In recent decades, this sort of Atlantic labour market has continued to advance according to the rhythms of hardship and growth experienced on both shores. As a result of the tourist boom, the flows have been reversed and now it is the Canary Islands that receive Cuban emigrants. In Lanzarote, the resident population with Cuban nationality in 2020 was 877 inhabitants.

Multiple Loops

Beyond sharing a very similar latitude on both shores of the same ocean, the close relations between Cuba and the Canary Islands have very direct historical explanations. To begin with, all these islands experienced almost parallel colonization processes. Although Fuerteventura and Lanzarote were conquered by Europeans from the beginning of the 15th century, the Canary Islands were not fully dominated until 1496, four years after Columbus' arrival in the Caribbean. Cuba began to be conquered very soon after, in the early 16th century.

Not only did the Canary Islands serve as the first proof of colonization for the Spanish Crown in the face of the experience in America, although on a much smaller scale, but our archipelago also became an almost obligatory stop on the route to the Indies.

The trade winds favoured the prominent role of the Canary Islands in relations with America. The ports of Gran Canaria, Tenerife and La Palma were the only ones, along with Seville, that could trade with the Indies. From this quality of way station on the Atlantic route, a multitude of connections emerged, such as the agricultural-gastronomic field: in the Canary Islands, the Asian sugar and banana plants had already been tested, which were taken from here to America, from where, in turn, came products that would soon become essential for the economy and cuisine of the Archipelago. such as potatoes or millet, among others.

After a first stage in which the sending of settlers from the Canary Islands to America was more limited by the exclusivity of Seville and by the interest of the Crown in populating the archipelago, the flow of Canarians increased from the end of the seventeenth century, when the "great family emigration" began, in the words of Manuel Hernández, professor of American History at the University of La Laguna (ULL) and a great specialist in relations with Cuba. It should also be remembered that in 1650 Cuba had only 20,000 inhabitants, compared to 100,000 in the Canary Islands.

Between 1678 and 1778 the so-called "Blood Tribute" was active, a royal order according to which the Canary Islands had to contribute 50 families to colonize the New World for every 1,000 tons of exports, in exchange for maintaining their privileged trade of their ports with America. Experts still debate today whether this measure was an imposition by the Crown or an advantage that the Canarian elites managed to get from the king.

In the nineteenth century, there were again significant increases in Canarian migrants to the Pearl of the Caribbean (there are estimates that speak of 60,000 Canarians), especially when the slave system was eliminated in Cuba in 1880, which increased the need for free laborers and laborers for the countryside. However, the conditions were not always ideal, as historians and university professors Manuel de Paz and Manuel Hernández recalled in a book significantly titled White Slavery. The anthropologist J. Alberto Galván Tudela also spoke of a specialization by islands, stating that "both majoreros (Fuerteventura) and conejeros (Lanzarote), as well as the people of La Gomera, were characterized by sharing a multiplicity of jobs. Most of them are illiterate, coming from islands with scarce resources, with periodic famines, some chose to emigrate on an adventure without extensive family networks, others through links in Cuba or some family network."

The Cuban War brought the fear of the possible invasion of the Canary Islands

Beyond the demographic, economic, political and gastronomic relations briefly mentioned, the link with Cuba permeates many cultural and social areas, starting with language. For example, the classic canarism of "guagua" has Cuban origins, while in the Great Antilles they use the word gofio normally or on both sides of the Atlantic the term bemba, with common African roots on both shores, is used to refer to the lips.

In music, the round trips have greatly influenced the folklore of the Canary Islands, with genres as classic as the habaneras and décimas, not to mention the strong implantation that all music with Caribbean roots has had in the Islands. Directly linked to emigration, there is also an enormous Canarian-Cuban journalistic legacy. At least a dozen and a half newspapers founded in Cuba by Canarians and aimed at the Canarian community have been located. In literature, Professor Paloma Jiménez del Campo published a study a few years ago in which she referred to more than 30 Canarian writers linked to Cuba.

Ocean, migrations and culture come together in two emblematic figures of the past of Fuerteventura and Lanzarote who have been remembered with sculptures. In the area of Puerto Naos, in Arrecife, the honoree is Gregorio Fuentes, an emigrant from Lanzarote who arrived in Cuba at a very young age, at the beginning of the 20th century. Fuentes dedicated himself to the sea, so that once fully settled on the island he became the skipper of the yacht of the famous American writer Ernest Hemingway, who wrote one of the most famous novels of the twentieth century, inspired by his fishing stories. In the old town of Morro Jable, a statue commemorates Cirilo López Umpiérrez, an emigrant who returned from Cuba and became the first permanent resident of this town at the end of the 19th century.

link to article for some really old pics
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