French immigration to Cuba

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French immigration to Cuba began in Cuba already in the eighteenth century, to be strengthened significantly since the nineteenth century. The majority of French people settled in eastern Cuba.[1]


First wave of migration[edit]

The first wave of French immigrants arrived to Cuba was formed for people who fled of the Haitian Revolution and of the administration of the governments in Haiti after the independence of this country. This immigration happened, especially, between 1800 and 1809, when arrived more than twenty-seven thousand individuals of all social classes to the eastern part of the island. Many of them emigrated to the city of Santiago de Cuba, which did not have sidewalks or paved streets. In addition, the city was affected by the lack of drinking water, supplies and spaces to contain the big wave of people that were arrived.

Newcomers soon realized the favorable geographical conditions presenting this new land. Initially, they worked in the activities of the port, and even they traded, temporarily, with the Catalan settlers who lived in Santiago. The port of Santiago de Cuba took a lot more activity, to the point of reporting high levels of commercial development.

The French settlers prompted the increasing of the white population in Santiago and this city, for the first time in history, lived a relative balance between black and white. In addition, there were some small social changes such as the opening of a new pharmacy, enabling government buildings, facilitating the opening of grocery and meat from other places or expanding post offices.

In addition, the General Captain of the island and the governor approved the coffee growing and many French-Haitian migrants were used for work in the coffee fields, especially those white French who were considered as "solvents and reliable".

Already in 1804 there were three thousand men who cultivated the land. The lands were bought, sold and resold, while the men created economic projects with capital of several origins (including Creole, French and other origins). Those elements become an engine for the economy Santiago.

In 1807, the main exported product of Cuba was the coffee, exported to the United States and Spain. Sebastián Kindelán y O’Regan, governor of Santiago, indicated in a report the existence of five hundred thousand coffee plants in Cuba, whose production of ten million pounds could be quadrupled in 1810. But soon, the production was swamped. In addition, the war between France and Spain gave rise to an order of the Captaincy General of the island that forced into exile to many Franco-Haitian and French residents. Only the French people who were Spanish naturalized and had been assimilated into the Spanish culture could stay in Cuba.

The exact number of French people that were expelled from Santiago de Cuba is not known. What is known is that most of them moved to the southern United States, and that the exodus took place without violence, contrary to what happened in other parts of the country.[citation needed]

The French people who lived in Cuba were forced to sell their products to low price, being highly disadvantageous for them. The Government of Cuba rejected everything that was related to the people of French origin, mainly by certains groups and individuals, as was the case of the bishop of Santiago de Cuba.[2]

Second, third and fourth waves of migration[edit]

In 1814, when the peace between France and Spain was restored, the French people who had emigrated from Cuba were allowed to return to the Caribbean island. So they, together to other French immigrants, formed what has been considered as a second French immigration flow to Santiago de Cuba.

This second flow of immigration not only promoted the increased of the economy of the city, but also, in 1817, Santiago became in the main world exporter of coffee, with the expansion of the grain fields in Santiago; vials and water systems were created to populate the Sierra Maestra.

Between 1818 and 1835 arise the third wave of immigration to Santiago de Cuba, supported by a Royal Order designed to "whiten" the Cuban population. In this period, about of thirty-one of the French immigrants came from the South West France. However, only 23% of the population was dedicated to the agriculture. Trade and port activities were much stronger than in the previous period.

Since 1821, several years after the treaty between Spain and England for the abolition of the slave trade, the slave trade was increased and the Santiago port become in one of the ports more actives in this regard, but also gaining strength the exportation of sugar, honey, honey, wax, coffee, snuff and rum.

Shortly after, mining emerged as a new and important factor in economic development. So some farmer migrants left the agriculture for the mining.

In 1830 the French work in the mining, turned it into one of the most important economic sources in the period. Also emerged octopus shops, stores, tailor shops, sales and other wholesale items, etc.

The fourth and final flow of French immigrants to Santiago de Cuba in the period happened between 1836 and 1868. In this period emigrated over 2200 French people. During the most part of period they came from the French Atlantic.

The economy was strengthened while the immigrants were incorporated into traditional sources of jobs. In 1851 a French steamship promoted a better communication between Santiago de Cuba and New York City.

In July 1844 the French engineer Segebien performed a railway project for the Eastern Department, considered the first work of this kind in the region and intended to link the project to the Santiago port. He and other engineers contributed heavily to the expansion of the railroad, which was assigned much of the capital of companies, especially from 1843 and until 1861.

Coffee production remained in the top one in the agricultural production, being more important that the sugar. It was in the forties decade when Santiago de Cuba reached its highest production of coffee grain. However, at the end of this decade the coffee production began to decline due to the bankruptcy of some landowners who worked in the coffee production. So they began to exploited the copper deposits and the sugar production. But the main crisis of the coffee production in the region is marked by the beginning of the first war of independence.

During the nineteenth century the French had presence in diverse sectors of the Cuban economy, mainly in the trade, but also had many French people in the agriculture and seamanship. Also had French people in the bakery, medicine, engineering, law, pedagogy, carpentry and food sectors.[2]

Causes of the French migration to Cuba[edit]


On the economic side, Spain sought to substitute coffee production in Cuba to Haiti in the hegemony of the global coffee market, especially after the economic ruin of the colony as a result of infighting that took place there from the last decade of the eighteenth century.

On 22 November 1792 a royal decree was issued which authorized the "exemption from all duties, sales taxes and tithes, for 10 years at the time of cotton, coffee and indigo crop of that island."

In fact, the production of these three products occupy the bulk of exports effected Haiti before the 1790s. Even then, these exemptions were declared as perpetual.

The slave was also vital to maintain the increased production of sugar and coffee to the world market. It is therefore possible that coinciding with the start of the revolutionary movements of Haiti, attaining the reformist Cuban Francisco de Arango y Parreno, as one of the biggest concessions in Spain, which was enacted freedom of slaves for six years. Between 1790 and 1820 were introduced in Cuba about 227,000 African slaves.

It is precisely between these two dates, 1790 and 1820 which produces the arrival and settlement of Haitian immigration in Cuba. While they stayed preferably in coffee producing areas of the former Oriente Province, increasing coffee production there by cultivation techniques they knew from Haiti, and also by increasing real labor, with workforce they were, the fact remains that too soon they were making trips to the western provinces, and preferably free blacks who left in search of improvements in their social life. Even today, the descendants of these African- Haitians informants, we reported back to the eastern lands of their grandparents or parents from Vuelta Abajo.

It should be noted that for much of the time prior to 1800, Cuba had barely stand on its own, and had not received that could contribute to the income of Spain. However, after 1790 there was an escalation in the process of growth of commercial agriculture. At this time not only increased sugar exports, but appeared new exports such as coffee and later, if only momentarily, cotton.

No causal factors were that the latter two products constitute basic exports Haitian economy and destroyed much of its production in Cuba was stimulated by the French and Haitian migration caused by the triumph of the revolution in Haiti.

The reason why the French immigration remains mostly in eastern Cuba, seems to be fully justified by the possibility of acquiring land very cheap compared to the West, where due to the development of the sugar industry, the suitable land for this crop had reached exorbitant prices.[1]

Racial balance[edit]

Not only economic factors favored the immigration of French, but also a powerful social factor would play an important role for them. Francisco de Arango y Parreno, the ideologue of the landlord class Criollo of Cuba, argued in favor of immigration as a means of countering the rise of the black population produced by the unrestricted entry of slaves who agreed with this. The increase of the black population was a factor of concern not only to the Spanish authorities but to the great Creole slave owners who, seeing the events in Haiti, feared a general uprising of characters similar to those of the French colony. Arango, much observer analytical problems of his day, was commissioned in March 1803 by Someruelos, captain general of the island of Cuba, to work closely with the French authorities of Haiti. After this mission, as a result of the terrible situation he was able to observe closely, he decided to urgently strengthen the white population of Cuba, especially in the east.

As a result of Peace of Basel between Spain and France, Spain was forced to cede the occupied Santo Domingo for France, but the transfer had not been made. In 1801 Toussaint L'Ouverture, on behalf of French royalty, the Spanish demanded the formal delivery of Santo Domingo, leaving them no choice but to accede to the latter. The final withdrawal of the Spanish troops and the terrible failure of general Charles Leclerc, commissioned by Napoleon to restore the authority of the French over their former slaves in Haiti, migration occurred, the first of many Spanish families of Santo Domingo and later French-born families in Haiti, most of them settling in eastern Cuba.

The estimated total number of people who went to Cuba is more than 30,000. Despite recommendations by Arango for them to remain in the eastern region, as well as economic factors already mentioned, not a few families settled in other parts of Cuba, even some them were to the Pinar del Río Province.[1]


The number of Cubans of French ancestry remains unknown. In some historical works the number of French colons to Cuba is reported to be over 60,000 in the days of the Haitian Revolution. In those days the total population of Cuba did not reach one million and the balance of white slaves was about 50% whites and 50% blacks. This meant near 10 or 12% of French whites refugees. However, the number of registered residents in the French Consulate record, on 1 May 2012, was 534, two thirds of them residing in Havana. They were primarily officials of the Embassy of the French school, the Alliance Française and their families, and Officials expatriates working for French companies accredited in Cuba and their families.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Archivo Cubano. Una identitá en Movimiento (in spanish: Cuban filed: A identity in moving). Retrieved in March 01, 2013, to 0:20 pm.
  2. ^ a b Migraciones francesas a Santiago de Cuba en el siglo XIX (in Spanish: French migration to Santiago de Cuba in the 19th century). Retrieved March 1, 2013.
  3. ^ French Embassy in Cuba: La comunidad francesa en algunas cifras (in Spanish: The French community in some figures)