Brief Summary of Chapter One

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Brief Summary of Chapter One

Chapter one of Richard Tucker’s Insatiable Appetite concerns sugar consumption and how such consumption has negatively affected the environment of the Philippines, Hawaii and Cuba. With regard to Cuba, Tucker begins with the Spanish role in Cuba and follows Cuba and it’s sugar industry through until the U.S. replaces Spain as Cuba’s primary foreign “overlord.” He then continues through to the Cold War and the impact of Fidel Castro’s rise to power and the subsequent trade embargo implemented by the U.S. as a result. Particular attention is paid to how U.S. investors, such as Horace Havemeyer and the Atkins family, exploited America’s inherent financial superiority compared to Cuba in order to meet the demands of European and North American demand for Cuban sugar. The effects of such sugar production on the ecology of Cuba are explored through the accounts of people such as Harry Franck. After following Cuba’s relationship with sugar through to Castro and the Cold War, Tucker turns his attention to the Pacific and how demand for sugar in the Western United States resulted in the exploitation of the workers and ecology of Hawaii and the Philippine Islands. Sugar magnates such as Claus Spreckels are highlighted for the role they played in exploiting Hawaiian sugar production through treaties such as the Reciprocity Treaty. The importance of the Panama Canal is explained, as is the role of unions in Hawaii’s sugar industry. Following Hawaii, Tucker concentrates on the role Americans and American capital played in the sugar industry of the Philippine Islands, particularly in Luzon and Negros. Tucker relays how in the Philippines American influence replaced European colonial influence, but was mostly indirect. Tucker explains how, despite an indirect role, Americans were nonetheless instrumental in “the transformation of sugar production into…rural industrial capitalism.”1 In addition to Cuban, Hawaiian, and Philippine sugar Richard Tucker also explains how the discovery of beet sugar by German chemist Murkgraff affected the international sugar industry. In short, chapter one concentrates on how northern demand for sugar from Cuba, Hawaii, and the Philippines affected the workers and ecology of those locations and how demand for sugar in the northern world resulted in near slavery conditions for workers in Hawaii and especially Cuba and the Philippines. He is highly critical of unregulated laissez-faire capitalism.

Chapter One Historical Outline

(Origins of Sugar to 1800)

Background: Sugar is originally from the islands of the Pacific. Human hybridization produces more intense sucrose
500 B.C.: Sugar reaches Northern India
8th Century A.D.: Sugar reaches eastern Mediterranean
Late 13th Century: French Crusaders discover sugar in Syria
Late 16th Century: Dutch and English begin to seek more sugar by circumventing Catholic, Muslim traders2
1650: Americans begin consuming tropical Caribbean sugar
1747: German chemist Murkgraff isolates sugar from beets. By 1884, half of world sugar comes from beets

Late 18th Century: Following U.S. independence, Americans begin selling goods and raw materials from frontier to Cuba in exchange for Cuban sugar
(Sugar During the 1800’s)

1800: England consuming 150,000 tons of sugar annually

1815: American whalers first begin purchasing Philippine sugar

Early 1800’s: Sugar plantations spread rapidly throughout Pacific

1860: U.S. passes Spain as the top importer of Cuban sugar

1870: Sugar becomes Philippines most important export

1870s: Cuba’s Ten Years’ War (Result of war: Cuban land becomes inexpensive allowing American investors to step in and purchase land)

1875: Hawaii and U.S. institute Reciprocity Treaty
1890: Horace Havemeyer founds American Sugar Refining Company (aka “The Sugar Trust”)
Late 19th Century: Consumer tastes begin to prefer refined white sugar to coarse brown, muscovdo sugar. This change in tastes creates a need for improved sugar refining (expensive), thus pushing small-scale sugar producers out of business3
1893: Cuban sugar production passes one million tons
1894: Cuba “reopens” war of independence against Spain. Armies destroy Cuban sugar

production capacity

1898: U.S. Navy intervenes in Cuban/Spanish War. This begins four-year period of U.S. domination of Cuba
1898: William Dewey defeats Spanish in Philippines, U.S. becomes primary colonial power
1903: Platt Amendment (According to Tucker: Platt Amendment signaled that the U.S. government was willing to send it’s military into Cuba in order to guarantee the safety of U.S. capital4)
1900: William Van Horne begins purchasing Cuban property in order to build railroad line for the transport of sugar into world markets
(Sugar during World War I)

1914: Panama Canal opens. Allows for increase in Philippine sugar trade in Eastern U.S.
1914-1917: World War I devastates European beet sugar production; Sea warfare during World War I “disrupted shipments of New World sugar to Europe.”5 Allied governments abandon free-trade principles
1917: Great Britain establishes International Sugar Board; U.S. joins and also passes Lever Act, granting President power to control production and marketing of foods during war
1918: U.S. sets up Sugar Equalization Board guaranteeing Cuban and American growers profit. This ensures continued ecological damage in Cuba
End of 1918: “Dance of the Millions”
(Sugar during the Great Depression)

1929-1930: Demand for sugar in Europe and North American collapses, resulting in economic difficulties for nations, such as Cuba, that were entirely dependent on sugar exports

1932: World sugar price drops to .78 cents

Result of Depression on Sugar Industry: No one in Cuba opens new lands to produce export crops; Governments play more dominant role; lobbyists become increasingly important; relationship among a nations elite, it’s workers and those who control exports becomes more pronounced; American control of Cuba’s sugar industry becomes increasingly dependent on Cuba’s dictator, Gerardo Machado

(Sugar during World War II)

Late 1930’s to 1945: War results in increased demand for Cuban sugar

Late 1930’s to 1945: Japanese occupation of Philippines damages that nation’s sugar industry dramatically as Japan reverts lands to food not sugar production

Early 1940’s: Increased sugar production in Cuba, as a result of war, is achieved through greater efficiency not the use of additional acreage

(Sugar during the Cold War and Beyond)

Late 1940’s: A majority of American investors begin divesting their direct holdings in Cuba’s sugar industry

1946: Philippines become independent but are still subservient to needs of American economy

1956: Fidel Castro begins organizing a challenge to Batista’s Cuban regime (Batista’s regime is strongly supported by both Truman and Eisenhower administrations)

Mid 1950’s: American Sugar companies’ control approximately 82 percent of Cuba’s arable land6

1959: Castro’s forces enter Havana and bring an end to a half-century of American dominance of Cuba

1960: Eisenhower administration severs ties with new Castro regime by instituting a total trade embargo

1960’s: Sugar no longer Philippines primary export crop

1960- Present: American trade embargo on Communist Cuba in place, no trade relationship in sugar exists

1974: U.S. Sugar Act lapses, global sugar prices drop thus hurting Philippines

1990’s: Hawaiian sugar industry nearly ceases to exist as Hawaiian sugar is priced out of world markets

Chapter 1 Outline

In the chapter titled, “America’s Sweet Tooth: Cane Sugar Transforms Tropical Lowlands” the argument that Richard P. Tucker tries to argue is that America abused the system of exploiting the land for its resources. In the Tropical lands near Mexico, Cuba, and Havana, one crop that grew extremely well was sugar cane. Sugar cane was being consumed as early as the 1650’s. People all over the world used sugar cane, for many products they enjoyed. For example, in 1800 the country of England consumed 150,000 tons annually of sugar cane due to their new addiction of tea (page 8). Also in major United State cities such as New York, New England and Baltimore sugar cane was used to be distilled in their making of rum and was also used for molasses. Even poor people used molasses as their sweetener (page 9). Sugar was such a valuable commodity because sugar can be economically derived from two different plant sources: cane and beets (page 11).

Sugar cane was such a tremendous plant to grow that they wanted to have more of it and the way that was accomplished was to exploit the lands that could grow it year round, like the Caribbean Islands. When the states were settling down the one crop they realized that they could grow well was wheat. Havana knew this and was forced into the production of sugar. The United States saw there was inexpensive land throughout Cuba and many investors took part of this (page 12). These new investors quickly took over the land buying sugar cane properties. Not only was the land of the tropics destroyed but the main reason why this was accomplished was because of exploitation of humans. According to Tucker, “Sugar Consumption on this scale would not have been possible without massive supply zones in tropical America, nor would it have been possible without one of the history’s most brutal systems of human exploitation, the use of African slaves to clear lands in the New World for plantations.”


I feel the argument for chapter one is this “the ultimate consumers had no direct responsibility for the social costs of cane and virtually no awareness of its ecological costs, but they were players nonetheless.” Americans are the ultimate consumers; they use it (being the sugar) for the molasses and rum. This is the argument being made Tucker provides excellent examples through out the chapter showing how America is gaining land in Cuba and exporting. The chapter also shows us how they were protected by the American flag when threatened by the Cuban government. “Yankee capital penetration followed by political and military support from Washington to guarantee American access to land and resources to the south.” This also is part of Tuckers argument.

In the first section, Tucker is talking about the New York sugar trust and the domestication of nature in Cuba. It all started out in the colonial times, with shippers wanting Nature’s goods from the Caribbean. The triangular trade, which was linked to the African slave trade, provided sugar’s major by-products, molasses and the rum from the molasses. The refined sugar was a luxury. The trade forming between the temperate and the tropical climate zones was very ecologically damaging. The demand for lumber was extremely high. Another resource that was high in demand was Cod, which was being fished unregulated in international waters. When America won its independence its commercial and political relations with Europe were hurting so they needed to find a different place. In Havana is where they were able to find this. Havana turned itself into a sugar producing fool because its wheat was being supplied by the Pennsylvania’s wheat farmers. After the war in 1812 the trade with Cuba increases yet again. The Spanish hold there is weakening. The dominate player turned out to be New York, because it was able to offer Cubans an entire range of trade and financial services. In 1860, United States was importing more sugar from Cuba than Spain was. In the mid 1800s an additional complication arose, when beet sugar started to take off. Beet sugar became 53% of all the sugar. Produced which had great affect on the Cuba sugar cane. In 1870 there was a war in Cuba by discontented cattleman and coffee grower being mad at the prospering sugar planters. As a result of this war, there was a lot of cheap land throughout Cuba. US investors jumped on this opportunity. They improved the refining process, and the new sugar refineries were called Centrals. Centrals required large amounts of cane, which had to be squeezed within hours or it lost lots of sugar content. The Centrals financed railroads to help with the time it took from the fields to the factory as well as the distance they could get the sugar from.

The second section was on the yankee domestication of Cuban Landscape. The first story told about the domestication of Cuban landscape is told by a well know sugar investor by the name of Edwin Atkins. He purchased an estate that his family had been financing for quite some time, Soledad estate. This was upriver from the small port of Cienfuegos on the central south coast of Cuba. The estate focused on intensive sugar production in its low lying land and forested hills above. He established the Havard garden on his estate, which became one of the outstanding botanical gardens and research centers in Latin America. In 1890 Atkins as well as Horace Havemeyer ultimately held the key to the Cuban sugar economy. By the end of the year Havemeyer became the owner of all the sugar refineries and budding the empire of The American Sugar Refining Company or otherwise known as the Sugar Trust. Tariff powers thus enabled American business to dominate marketing and therefore production of the crop that, in turn, dominated Cuba’s lands.

Section third was on sugar estates and environmental degradation in the pacific. This section is about other places that experienced environmental degradation, such as Hawaii and the Philippines. In 1830 the first planters found the fertile volcanic soils. Capitalist enterprise presupposed that land be defined as property not communally shared space. The most powerful sugar magnate was Claus Spreckels of San Francisco. The American control of Hawaii was a step toward the Philippines. The American impact there was to be based less on direct exploitation of the land than on the power of U.S. capital and markets to support Filipino landlords. Americans provided the capital, technology, and marketing networks but rarely managed the land directly. Even after the Philippines became independent on july 4, 1946, but independence was tied to continuing subordination of the Philippine economy to American markets. Social chaos translated into environmental devastation in the region around the plantations. No rational land management was possible.


A diverse range of natural ecosystems were replaced by sugar. Planter invested heavily in agronomic research, which for many years emphasized the search for biological controls of sugar pests. Sugar research centers overcame disease challenges effectively but ultimately only by increasing applications of commercial fertilizers and pesticides. The impact of the chemicals used on the soil and water regimes depended largely on local circumstances. Sugar itself does not deplete soil nutrients as severely as several other tropical monocrops. So the long term ecological viability of cane plantations remains problematic.

Outline of Chapter One

Chapter One of Tucker’s Insatiable Appetite is about the growth and spread of sugar cane in the tropics and how it was perpetuated by American entrepeneurs and supported by U.S. governmental policies. Because Americans came into tropical nations and pushed the growth of sugar production and consumed so much refined sugar cane, ecosystems were destroyed and social consequences occurred. American businessmen were involved in Cuba, Hawaii, and the Philippines. Although in all places Americans did not always directly manage the land, their efforts still caused damage.

  1. Cuba

    1. Land Management and Support of Sugar Industry

      1. 1868- Cuban government destroyed ranches and farms and US investors bought the cheap land to restore and grow cash crops

      2. 1877- Because American consumers preferred refined, white sugar, centrals were built (giant processing and refining centers), they were usually owned by a partnership of American Investors and Cuban Elite

      3. By 1888/1890 An American, Atkins owned 12,000 acres of land in Cuba and Havermeyer owned 19 refineries

      4. 1903- The US ratified the Platt Amendment which gave the US the right to re-enter Cuba for the ‘preservation of Cuban independence'; the US wanted to make sure no other countries would come in and profit from the sugar industry

      5. After 1921, sugar prices dropped and Cubans defaulted on loans made by US banks so control of the industry mostly went to New York businessmen

      6. In the 1940s the US sold land back to the Cubans, no longer directly involving themselves in land management

      7. In the 50s the US supported the dictator Batista, who in turn, did not reform the sugar industry, this continued to hurt the working class and augment social distress.

      8. US policies pushed expansion of the sugar industry in Cuba with low or no tariffs and created boards and quotas from the 1890s to 1974.

      9. 1959- Castro came to power in Cuba , Americans left and US consumers no longer bought Cuban sugar

    2. Environmental and Social Consequences

      1. 1844- after the closing of small mills because of large centrals, hungry workers fled to the hills and joined those who would fight with Castro in the 1950s

      2. 1886- slavery was abolished and almost all the small mills closed because they could not afford to pay workers; colonos (previous slaves) then contracted with centrals to plant an agreed acreage (but if there was a poor harvest or low market price, the colonos would be affected, not the central), which left them in perpetual debt.

      3. 1917-1920- More sugar was produced through usage of more land instead of improved efficiency

      4. 1921- land previously used for sugar fields became poor scrub forest or used for squatting after Cubans defaulted on US loans

      5. 1930s- Land was either shared between sugar cropping and subsistence farming, reverted to woodland scrub, or cattle pasture which led to soil erosion and depletion

      6. 1990s- Cuba had genuinely sustainable agriculture (after US investors left and Cuba had a chance to recover and plant other crops)

  2. Hawaii

    1. Land Management and Support of Sugar Industry

      1. 1830s- Sugar cropping came to Hawaii through American Investors

      2. 1892- Sovereign Monarchy of Hawaii overthrown, this was engineered by the 5 major US sugar corporations- Hawaii became a US territory

      3. 1958- Hawaiian sugar workers were the most efficient and most highly paid

      4. 1990- almost all Hawaiin sugar plantations closed because their sugar out priced all other sugar on the market

    2. Social and Environmental Consequences

      1. Indentured servants were brought to Hawaii from Japan, China, and the Philippines, their children rose into middle class society

      2. The Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association was formed to protect the forests of Hawaii and to do sugar cane research, especially pest control

    3. Here, where the US policies did not destroy the environment or social strata, the

sugar industry collapsed, not because of a change in government, but on its own.

  1. The Philippines

    1. Land Management and Support of Sugar Industry

      1. 1898- The US seized the Philippines and businessmen partnered with the landed elite through new technologies and marketing networks but rarely overseeing the running of factories/ refineries

      2. 1913- Underwood-Simons Tariff removed limitations on imported sugar to US

      3. 1909- Horace Havermeyer illegally came in and bought 58,000 acres of land in the Philippines, other American companies did the same but to a lesser degree

      4. 1934- The US made a new quota for Filipino sugar which would be awarded to the companies that produced the most

      5. July 4th 1946 the Philippines became independent. Afterwards, the US stopped creating policies which favored Filipino sugar

      6. 1985- The Filipino sugar industry went bankrupt because the system the US built to support it no longer existed.

    2. Environmental and Social Consequences

      1. In the late 1800s, Negros, a sparsely populated island, was deforested on its eastern side for fields of sugar cane; so much was deforested that plantations had to used dried, crushed cane for fires instead of wood

      2. 1880s- Displaced rice farmers and tribal communities used violence to express their anger towards the sugar industry

      3. 1896-1907- Papa Iso’s Revolt; led by a man who lost his farm to a powerful planter

      4. 1909- Large US centrals cleared forest to make room for their refineries and contracted with small owners, they seized the land when the contracts were not fulfilled; the peasants who lost land to centrals usually fled to the hills and planted food crops on steep slopes causing environmental damage.

      5. 1934- The new Filipino sugar quota caused a race between the major companies to cut down trees to expand their sugar fields to increase production and win

1 Richard Tucker, Insatiable Appetite. (New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2007), 30.

2 Information pertaining to I through V can be found on page 8

3 Richard Tucker, Insatiable Appetite. (New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2007), 13.

4 Richard Tucker, Insatiable Appetite. (New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2007), 17.

5 Ibid., 18.

6 Richard Tucker, Insatiable Appetite. (New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2007), 23.

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