Ch 4: Some Significant Statistics

If we forget our glib habit of thinking in war billions for the moment, and revert to normal standards, a few commonplace figures will be more eloquent in arousing interest in Cuban trade, and calling attention to our peculiar apathy there, than anything that I could write. Let us first get a relative idea of the foreign commerce of the three chief Latin American countries during 1917:

      Argentina: $36,893,409
      Brazil: $44,510,000
      Cuba: $54,255,962

      Argentina: $110,034,006
      Brazil: $59,875,000
      Cuba: $73,354,389

In 1918 Cuba's imports were valued at $297,622,215 and her exports at $413,325,251, a further substantial increase, with a large trade balance in her favour.
   At one period of the old regime exports from the United States, Spain and the United Kingdom were nearly equal. When the real race opened twenty years ago, just as Cuba's foreign trade started its amazing record of increase, exports there from the British Isles were £1,795,568. By 1912 these figures were a million pounds more, and the figures receded again in 1913. The United States had now gained 53% of Cuba's foreign purchases. The United Kingdom had only 12% and Germany 9% beside her shipping and interests in the Island. We had allowed the increasing orders for sugar machinery, formerly our speciality, to go to Americans. Judged by the large increase of general exports to Cuba the British share at its pre-war best was very inadequate. Increase in prices, and empty sugar bags sent the total value of our exports up somewhat through 1915 and 1916, but German trade was then dead, and the United States' exports were leaping up by millions a year
   Taking official Cuban figures for 1917 and 1918 respectively, the largest shares in exports were:

      United States: $206,353,087 and $222,262,276
      United Kingdom: $15,377,328 and $9,154,567
      Spain: $15,651,998 and $10,392,529
      France: $6,289,418 and $7,044,221

On the other side of the balance-sheet Cuba has been building up a magnificent export trade for her own products, for which the United States has always been a ready customer, while British imports from the Island have been enormously fostered by the war and our crying need for sugar. The official figures for 1917 and 1918 were:

      United States: $257,446,699 and $293,997,619
      United Kingdom: $73,563,756 and $95,817,266
      Spain: $13,546,199 and $6,775,875
      France: $11,616,630 and $5,656,957

Bringing this to date, exports from the United States to Cuba during the first two months of 1919 were $52,414,843.

A Need for a Commercial Treaty
As a modification of the Platt Amendment, which outlined the relations between Cuba and the United States, a Reciprocity Treaty was concluded in 1903 which has proved one factor in Cuban-American commerce. For some years there have been negotiations for a Commercial Treaty with the United Kingdom. There will be difficulties in framing some clauses to avoid encroachment of provisos in the American agreement, but drafts have been carefully drawn up and demand attention. There are imperative reasons for the utmost vigour in clearing up all the problems involved in negotiating some agreement on the basis of reciprocal encouragement for exports between the two countries. This is a question that the Department for Overseas Trade must consider carefully, and that the Federation of British Industries should also study without delay.
   In the fiscal year 1916-1917, of the total exports of the United States to the 20 countries of Latin America, Cuba took approximately one-third. The Island offers a magnificent field for manufactured articles, because the energies of its people are devoted to the production of sugar, tobacco and other natural products.
   In the classes of goods in which the British Isles used to have an adequate share in the Cuban market the following might be mentioned: Mineral Oils, Chemicals, Soap, Cotton, Fabrics, Silks, Furniture, Jewellery, Traction Engines, Musical Instruments, Cutlery, Bedding, Leather Goods, Tugboats, Carriages, Glass and Earthenware, Drugs, Ink, Woollens, Paper, Sanitary Fittings, Jam and Marmalade, Biscuits, Potted Meats, Fancy Goods, Upholstery, Stoves, Light Railways, Surgical Instruments, Machinery, Paint and Varnish, Linens, Clothes, Stationery, Watches and Clocks, Tools, Agricultural Implements, Millinery, Carpets, Looking Glasses, Linoleum, Optical Supplies and Toys
   Even in 1913 our exports of cotton goods were twice as large as those of the United States, but in 1917 the American total trebled ours. In hardware alone, when Cuba was buying large quantities to stimulate sugar production, our shipments fell from 16,375 tons in 1916 to 5,966 tons in 1917. About half of this was sugar machinery, of which that year 122,160 tons went from the U.S.A. In goods whose production was less affected by the war, delays in getting permits for export and tonnage allotted, lost many orders, though steamers were constantly sailing in ballast, to bring back sugar.
   As practically every commodity that we manufacture is suitable for this market a definite steamship service with the United Kingdom is imperative with adequate speed, and reasonable rates, unless the United States is to have an unchallenged monopoly of the trade. Half the difficulties of our West Indian Colonies could be solved if Cuba were included in this sphere for a well-organised sea service for passengers and freight from Europe with return cargoes of Antillian products. There are lines in existence also plying between England and Gulf and other mainland ports which could be enormously improved by a moderate deviation of route to touch Cuba in passing for high-class freight and passengers.

A Postal Anomaly
It seems unfortunate that the Government has not been able to accede to Cuba's request to conclude treaties for a direct Parcels Post between the two countries, and for reciprocal Money Orders. The Parcels Post was established some years ago with France and Germany. The Postmaster General should examine the records of the Custom House department in the Cuban Post Office. A large postal trade exists with foreign countries, especially with the United States. American firms advertise in the Cuban Press and by catalogue, giving the delivered prices of the articles. Money orders are sent, and the goods are despatched, as a simple solution of the shopping problem in interior districts, and as an easy means of securing standard articles in the cities. The names of many London shops are household words in Cuba, but the difficulties in sending money for goods, adjusting the carriage charges, and arranging for the dispatch are effective barriers. A Parcels Post would be of greater benefit to our traders than to Cuba, which has few commodities which could be disposed of by mail order.
   There is no English bank in the Island, though Canadian institutions are well represented, and every town of note has one or more branches of leading American banks. It is refreshing to learn that a British Chamber of Commerce is at last being founded in Havana. Our Insurance Companies have not neglected Cuba.
   The Island is taking a leading part in establishing an international agreement for the recognition of Trade Marks, Patents, and Copyrights. Following the pan American Financial Conference, held in Washington in 1915, a central bureau has been established in Havana, registration in which will extend protection for trade marks and proprietary rights throughout all the countries that have ratified the convention.
   It is important to notice that during the American fiscal year 1913-1914 the United States purchased nearly twice as much from Cuba as they exported to the Island. In the 1914-1915 period, and also that of 1915-1916, the trade balance between the two countries was over $100,000,000 in Cuba's favour, while British firms were inundated with orders from the Island which they could not, or were not allowed to fill. By this time Americans were making supreme efforts to dominate the Cuban market, and in one year they had increased their exports sufficiently to cover their ensuing large increases of Cuban imports and also to cut the adverse trade balance in half. "Cuando una puerta se cierra otra se abre" is a significant local proverb meaning "if one door is shut another opens."
   Cuba's principal products are: Sugar, Molasses, Confectionery, Hard Woods, Cedar, Mahogany, Guava, Jelly, Iron Ore, Copper, Cattle, Fruit, Cocoa, Sponges, Honey, Cigars, Cigarettes, Rum, Manganese, Marble, Tobacco, Tortoise-shell, Mother of Pearl, Dyes, Tanning, Bark, Beeswax, Asphalt, Hides and Vegetable Fibres.
   The staples of the Island, however, are Sugar and Tobacco. There is a persistent rumour that we soon are going to import German and Austrian beet sugar because our colonies cannot nearly supply our needs and Imperial preference therefore can still be safeguarded. I hold no brief for Cuban sugar, but we have been glad enough to turn to our Ally in time of need, and there are both practical and sentimental grounds for the careful study of this subject before we are irrevocably committed to a policy by officials who have no intimate knowledge of the wider questions involved. This is a delicate matter for an outsider to write about, because it bristles with problems. But Cuba can purchase a large quantity of our goods, and surely we cannot afford to neglect an important reciprocal market merely to get beet sugar from Germany, especially when the welfare of our shipping and railroads in the Island is involved.

The pleasant secret of extracting sugar from cane was taken from India to China in 766 B.C. The manufacture spread to Persia, and the celestial food of Vishva Mitra gained wide popularity in Syria, Mesopotamia and Tripoli. Transported by caravan "Sakar" and "Kandat" became trade staples along the Mediterranean in the 14th and 15th centuries, and the cultivation spread to Cape Verde and the Azores. Sugar soon became a necessity of life but its chief fields for production became centred in the West and East Indies in the 16th Century. During the Napoleonic wars, when the British blockade cut off supplies from North Europe, the extract of sucrose from beetroot became a flourishing industry on the Continent. During the American Civil War the price of cane sugar was driven to famine heights by speculation, and for the first time the beet variety, hitherto frowned on by some medical authorities, became popular in England. The question whether cane sugar is more wholesome than beet is a much debated point. The fact remains that for medicine, and for the best brands of condensed milk, preserved fruit and jams, cane sugar is demanded. Through German competition and the methods of production the sugar trade of our West Indian colonies was seriously undermined, but by manufacturing on a large scale Cuba continued to increase her industry and her last pre-war crop produced over 2,500,000 tons.
   For some years Germany and Austria dominated the beet sugar market, sweating also the production of the Ukraine for export. With her own sources of supply intact, and realizing the importance of sugar in daily life, Germany planned to create a famine in Allied countries by the systematic devastation of the beet sugar belts of Belgium and North France. By her treatment of Holland's ships supplies from Java were soon restricted. Our West Indian colonies could supply only a fraction of our needs. Enemy agents had made ingenious plans to divert much of the Western crops to neutrals at a great profit. Our reserves were seriously depleted during the second year of the wan and sugar would have been scarce and at famine prices had not the Cuban Government taken action to stop corners and profiteering, and to ship their entire output to the Allies at a moderate fixed price at a time when the market was practically at their mercy.
   Though neutral traders were soon offering from six to ten times the amount for certain supplies, no outside bids have been considered. The price of labour, machinery, lubricating oil, fertilizer, and incidentals of production were rising by leaps and bounds. Rice, a food staple for plantation workers, was scarce and expensive. The freight on empty jute bags from Calcutta to Havana, an open and safe route, jumped to well over £20 a ton. But Cuba fixed the price of centrifugal sugar delivered on the docks at her ports at $4.60 per hundredweight, practically 2d per pound. Her entire crops of 3,500,000 tons have been shipped to the Allies. To maintain a high level of production the planters have expended $70,000,000 on improvements of planting and new machinery since 1914. Toward the close of 1918 the Sugar Equalisation Board, for the Allies, agreed to pay an increase of price from $4.60 to $5.50 per hundredweight for the 1818-19 crop.
   The retail price of 6d and 7d per pound in England, an increase of more than 100%, while not a prohibitive price, is an eloquent criterion of the enormous rise in subsequent costs which before the war were less than 1d. During control the State profit has only amounted to £6,668,993, or a return of 4 to 5% above the total outlay, for the Exchequer. It is easy, however, to realise to what heights the price of sugar might have risen had Cuba left her stocks to speculators.
   The Island can now produce yearly a million tons more than the world's entire cane sugar supply twenty years ago. Owing to the happy combination of soil, climate, and progressive methods, the quality of the product is unsurpassed. The grinding season lasts from December 1st to the middle of May. Molasses and rum are important by-products.

A Point for Economists
It is interesting to recall the fact that the bulk of the sugar is carried from the Centrales to the ports on railroads owned and operated by British capital. In the fixed price ex dock the freight charges are paid by the producers, the profits of the traffic reverting to the shareholders in London, and the earnings are therefore subject to income tax. With an enlightened policy of fostering development Cuba is most generous in her treatment of foreign railroads. Cuban sugar, therefore, supplies an object lesson to our pseudo economists. Much of the machinery can be sent from England. India supplies millions of jute bags, British-owned railways reap most of their profit from the transport, so that the product indirectly helps the Exchequer besides paying English shareholders. Also our shipping benefits on all sides.
   This year's crop in Cuba will reach 4,000,000 tons. After that, however, the future of Cuban sugar will become more problematic in the European market. France will restore her beet sugar industry gradually, but will need her products for some time to come. Directly peace is signed the Central Powers will be in a position to resume exports, but probably without bounties and with high labour costs. With some proper shipping facilities, therefore, and skilled production, Cuban sugar will be better able to stand on its own merits.
   The question for us, however, remains. Are we going to take steps to gain a reciprocal share in a magnificent market for our goods and shipping, or are we to supinely leave to the United States a customer who can spend £50,000,000 annually on manufactured goods.

Columbus, in describing the now extinct aborigines of Cuba, mentioned their habit of puffing smoke from a roll of dried leaves. The Island has been ever famous for its Tobacco which de Lascares advised to "smoke out various maladies," and which Oviedo took back to Spain. Pope Urban VIII stimulated its use by rigid decrees against smoking, which led to wide advertisement by virtue of the controversy that this caused. Sir John Hawkins brought the "Nicotiana" plant first to England, and Sir Walter Raleigh encouraged its growth and habit, which persisted in gaining favour though James I denounced it as the "inhaling of Stygian smoke like that of the bottomless pit," and Charles II prohibited its cultivation in England.
   There is a curious virtue of soil difficult to determine, upon which the quality of the leaf depends. Potash and different fertilisers are necessary, but the vagaries of the plant are difficult to understand. Adjoining strips of apparently the same land often produce widely different qualities. The most famous leaf in the world, used for making the choicest cigars, grows only in the Vuelta Abajo in Western Cuba. This has a minimum of nicotine and a delicate aroma which no other district can equal. Splendid tobacco is produced in adjoining valleys, but it just fails to equal the leader in quality.
   Nearly all Cuban tobacco is very low in the deleterious alkaloid, nicotine, and high in burning quality, which accounts for the liberal indulgence possible to the visitor in Cuba without noxious effect. The culture of the plant needs care and some supervision by skilled Cubans, who inherit the instinct from childhood. The skilled workers in the tobacco districts are quiet contented artists in the profession, with a curious pride in the crops which are generally plotted out to be tended by entire families, even the small children performing simple duties and continuing their training from the earliest years.
   The seeds are very fine, and soon after sprouting the plants have to be set out, when they mature rapidly, and are ready in about three months after they leave the nursery. The growth needs constant watching, and the finer grades are covered with acres of cheese cloth to break the force of heavy rain and to keep off butterflies, as the larvae make tiny perforations, which ruin the leaf for cigars. Each plant is carefully pruned to strengthen the large leaves, which are ready for picking when their green becomes tinged with yellow. The stalks are then cut in sections, each with two leaves, and cured. Cuba's annual crop is valued about £10,000,000. More than half of this is packed and exported to the United States and Europe. Some of the finest leaf goes to the important factories in or near Havana for making cigars and cigarettes. These are generally palatial buildings with much modern machinery and process. But the quality of Havana's world-famous cigars, guaranteed by the names of big companies, and some with English capital, still depends greatly on the "god from the machine," resting first on the vegaros to each of whom is allotted a certain partidario as large as he and his family can manage, and ultimately on the handicraft of the individual cigar makers.

In the Cigar Factories
The workers in the factories are a distinct and intelligent class. In each of the large rooms means are taken to relieve the tedium. Musicians or phonographs are used at intervals, but the chief features are the readers paid by a special fund, to which each worker contributes. The day's work opens by his reading aloud the daily newspapers. This is followed by various books, which show a cultivated taste in poetry, classics and standard authors. Translations of Bronte, Corelli, Wells, and Tennyson are old favourites, with the leading books of France and Spain and the long list of past and contemporary Cuban writers. Be sure of your facts before you talk to workers of either sex from a cigar factory. They have a surprising knowledge of men and things, a simple culture without parallel among the working classes except perhaps a few industrial workers in Finland, another country of which England knows little. Cuba offers an object lesson to America and England for lightening some of the soulless factory routine. I see the commercial materialist smile for we have not yet many Leverhulmes or Selfridges. One foreign director in Havana suppressed the custom as un-businesslike, but quickly increased his output by reintroducing it.

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