Ch 3: British Trade with Cuba

A few years ago, when Cuba's development was restricted, many classes of British goods held a predominant place in the North Antillian market. What a triumph for our engineers when the greatest floating dock was towed across successfully to Havana harbour! From railroad engines to needles and cotton the list extended. But during the War of Independence British merchants failed to interpret the signs of the times.
   Only through a lack of imagination could doubts have existed over the ultimate future of Cuba. History shows that absolutism cannot crush a united and determined people who prove their quality by heroism, sacrifice and suffering, to gain the common rights of mankind. The Cubans were colonials of direct European stock, Castilian with strong strains of French, English and Scotch blood, and with no part-Indian element to complicate the problems. Through political causes thousands of the best men had been brought up or educated in France, the United States, or England.
   In the dark days which preceded the change of regime, through greater efforts to estimate the future, Americans and some Germans were able to make an advantageous entry into many fields of enterprise abandoned or neglected through British pessimism and apathy. When the dawn of a new era was lighting the horizon, foundations for future development were disregarded, and our existing interests were sacrificed when initiative at home and patience of those on the spot were necessary. On their face value the items involved were not very large, but their measure rested with the future, and there was no official inspiration to guide.
   It is easy to imagine the feelings of Englishmen who gave up their sugar plantations or parted with large concessions of cedar and mahogany for a song, or abandoned good land for a few shillings an acre in districts soon networked by railroads and filled with prosperous plantations. Where were the men at home who should have been prepared to assist in the reconstruction, or the merchants who should have had agents ready for new commercial opportunities? Our enterprise was not lacking in adjacent countries of far less promise. Glaring examples might be quoted of apathy and lack of foresight which restricted Great Britain's share in the new era of Cuba's prosperity. If Canadians had not developed electric traction and banking, and paved the way for English capital to build the trunk railroad, Great Britain would have made a lamentable showing in the two decades of progress during which America and, until 1914, German interests and commerce made great strides.
   Before the War of Independence, Cuba's foreign commerce was $147,000,000. In 1918 it was $710,947,466, and nearly 80% with the United States. During the Civil War both the American and German colonies in Cuba had an influx of far-seeing men seeking future opportunities. Each community was animated by a collective impulse to foster the interests of their respective countries. The Germans especially, spoke Spanish, lived among local families, and pooled the information gathered, for the common good. The British generally lived at English boarding-houses, where they had little opportunity for guaging the political trend, and they were divided by absurd lines of caste and by cliques which prevented an exchange of ideas or mutuality. Few knew the language or took any interest in local conditions.
   For one period the British Consulate was a citadel of Ambassadorial sanctity. Businessmen rarely entered its doors. The American Consulate was a Chamber of Commerce, Information Bureau and Club, with interpreters always available for commercial transactions, and catalogues and helpful advice for local merchants. Too frequently British commercial visitors relied on German interpreters, agents of commercial espionage.
   Most travellers over the Seven Seas have either laughed or winced at the joke: "Why is the British Consul "General?" - because he is paid to make a noise with a monocle from 1 to 2 with an hour off for lunch!" But the blame for our failures in Cuba cannot all be laid at official doors. For some years our consular reports from the Island have been voluminous and good. The Consular Staff has advanced far beyond the old tradition which took a paternal interest in our sailors and left commerce to develop itself, except when judicial rights had to be safeguarded. We have had officials temperamentally unfitted to represent a commercial nation. There have also been notable men in the service like Mr. D. Turnbull, who took a leading part in the abolition of slavery in Cuba, and Mr. F. W. Ramsden, to whom the American Navy has erected a memorial tablet in Santiago. Famous for his action in preventing the "Virginius" massacres, he also rendered magnificent service in extending British interests in Cuba in a previous era, and nobly sacrificed his life in caring for the starving non-combatants during the American invasion, mourned by every race and class.

A Parochial Decade
The chief onus of our failures rests at home. Dependant on foreign and colonial trade, we have been singularly indifferent to general conditions abroad. With two exceptions the London Press printed nothing illuminating about the radical changes in Cuba except during the actual Spanish-American conflict. When the Island was recovering, and its progress was obvious to those who really knew the country and the qualities of the leaders who had guided the people to freedom, the South African war carried public interest onward to the intensely parochial decade when strikes, old age pensions, and national insurance held the stage. While Americans were gaining our New World markets, and Germany was also developing her mercantile marine at our expense, letters from an English resident in Havana regarding this, were rejected by two ponderous dailies which devoted much space to controversies regarding the revision of the Prayer Book, resulting in the momentous decision that "the wicked shall descend into Hell" should be changed to Pit, and that Honour should be substituted for "Kiss the son lest he be angry." Cuba merely affords a pregnant example of a policy determined by a public that cares nothing about other countries unless pestilence, war, earthquake or lynching gives them a news value.
   The American Press teemed with articles destined to create a wide interest in Cuban affairs and commercial opportunities. A score of important books on the Island had a large sale in the United States and there are standard works in Paris, but no English editions. Americans were soon gaining an increasing share in Cuban trade, and though they have enjoyed certain advantages, and were bound to outdistance us, there is not a sound reason or excuse for our insignificant showing before the war. Neglect and indifference were the keynotes of our failure. We can no longer expect other nations to come with their hat in their hands and beg for our goods.
   It may be urged that we have maintained a fair increase in our exports to Cuba. A glance at comparative statistics proves that the proportion has been grossly inadequate. In Cuba a few years ago there was an emphatic prejudice in favour of British goods. They stood for quality, for honesty of description and manufacture. We packed carefully, and our credit was far more generous than the terms offered by our chief competitors. But Americans started to study local wants. They have gone after Cuban trade vigorously, and gained it by an intelligent campaign, which has been more effective than tariff concessions which British prices could generally meet. They have kept Cuba in the public eye at home, and advertised there.
   Before the war Germany also published much Cuban data to instruct her merchants and capitalists, especially during the period of reconstruction, when Cuba was never mentioned in the British Press, except in periodic paragraphs written apparently by the same Hostile pen a series of base libels of the Cuban people, apparently issued to discourage British investments in the Island.
   Germany never reached us in the actual volume of her exports to Cuba, but she created almost out of nothing a profitable share of commerce chiefly at our expense; she cut deeply into our shipping and established several local enterprises investing a great deal of capital. We must not overlook also the exports made by companies incorporated in New York, but in reality direct branches of German firms, with large bonded storage facilities arranged by their Steamship Lines in Hoboken, where British Shipping Companies were restricted to the limited space of leased piers on the New York side of the Hudson.

A Short-Sighted Shipping Policy
The opening of the Panama Canal was bound to increase the value of Cuba's seaports. It also attracted thousands of American and Canadian tourists who flocked to the Island for a respite from a northern winter, and to visit the Canal Zone. In the face of these promising signs shipping agreements were already in operation by which British passenger steamers practically abandoned Cuban ports. The British steamers engaged in the Caribbean trade which had been sold to Germany, now became nucleus for the large tourist traffic and carrying trade between the United States, the West Indies, and Central America, which the great Hamburg and Bremen companies built up so rapidly. Not only have British Shipping men neglected regular services between Cuba and the United States and adjoining countries, but there has been no efficient links with our home ports.
   American companies also soon had large fleets of ships engaged in the tourist traffic and fruit trade with Cuba. Ere long the entries and sailings from Havana exceeded those of all American ports except New York, and all other Cuban harbours became prosperous. Besides a large passenger traffic, the value of goods taken to Cuba in German ships in 1913 nearly equalled that of our own, and our showing was helped because several boats engaged in the American fruit trade flew the British flag. With ordinary enterprise the bulk of the increased shipping trade of Cuba could have been retained for British ships. Until the war, in charters for loading and shipping Cuban products especially from the smaller ports, British cargo boats maintained a leading place. If these tramps could profitably wander about in ballast to pick up cargoes when needed, there seemed no adequate reason why regular services could not have been maintained and enlarged, or new lines established to secure for British ships an adequate share of the carrying trade over defined routes.
   Since the war the United States has gained an enormous lead in Cuban shipping, and Scandinavian vessels are filling the charters for special cargoes. In 1917 and 1918 more Norwegian than British ships entered Cuban harbours, and our list included Admiralty transports going in ballast for sugar. The cream of the defunct German trade has gone to the United States.
   Hampered originally by quarantine regulations, communications between Jamaica and Cuba have been greatly neglected, and an efficient service between Port Antonio and Santiago, would link the Islands reciprocally with existing main shipping routes to the greater advantage of Jamaica and England.

The Pan-American Railroad
When the railway between San Salvador and Lima is completed in the near future, the three Americas will be linked, and it will be possible to travel by train from New York 10,000 miles to Buenos Aires. The pan American railroad will naturally affect British trade in Central and South America. The line across Nicaragua, Columbia, and Ecuador will probably be built in record time, and the entire system is likely to be in operation before the British public takes heed of its possibilities. If offers a double reason for the great need of a more adequate steamship service from British ports to Cuba and Central America.
   Japan also is preparing for a large share in the shipping and trade of the West. She is building rapidly. The Raifuku Maru, 9,000 tons dead weight, was built in twenty nine days. Started on October 7th last year, she was launched on October 30th, had completed her sea-trials on November 5th, and was immediately loaded and sent to Latin America, an unprecedented achievement. Havana now has a regular service from Japan.

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