French immigration to Cuba

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

The Haitian Revolution led to the first great French influx to Cuba in the nineteenth century, especially between 1800 and 1809, with the arrival of more than twenty-seven thousand individuals of all social classes, to the territory east of the island. The city of Santiago de Cuba, which by that time did not have sidewalks or paved streets and did not know the use of the lamps, are now 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 were directed mainly towards the port activities, and even came to stand temporarily on trade in Catalan settled in the jurisdiction. The port of Santiago de Cuba took a lot more activity, to the point of reporting high levels of commercial development. With this rising demographic, well done for the first and only time in the history of Santiago a relative balance between black and white, there were some small social changes such as the opening of a new pharmacy, enabling government buildings, facilitating the arrival grocery and meat from other places or expanding slugs email.

In addition, the captain general of the island and governor's jurisdiction approved the promotion of agriculture plantacionista coffee, with the use of French-Haitian migrants, especially those who were white French "solvents and reliable", and therefore were considered good opinion.

Already in 1804 there were three thousand men who cultivated the land unproductive. Were bought, sold and resold land, the pair that created economic projects with capital Creole, French and other nationalities. Combining these with the marine farming was to become an engine for the economy Santiago.

For 1807, it mainly exports coffee Cuba to the United States and Spain, a Sebastián Kindelán y O’Regan report, governor of Santiago, revealed the sum of five hundred thousand coffee plants whose production of ten million pounds could quadruple in 1810. But the boom soon be swamped. The war between France and Spain conditioned an order of the Captaincy General of the island that forced into exile in Franco-Haitian and French residents. Certainly, this was not good news for Kindelan, who had seen the economic development achieved in no time thanks to its jurisdiction by the tenacity and the French spirit.

However, he decided to write the captain general to express his "prudent preparatory to enforce compliance with its orders from above, regarding the export of foreigners of the French nation." Captain General was unmoved: only the French naturalized and whose conduct was "arranged to Spanish customs" would remain in Cuba. The exact number of French expelled from Santiago de Cuba is not known. What is known is that most moved to the southern United States, and that the exodus took place without violence, contrary to what happened in other parts of the country.

The short time allowed the French to negotiate their forced to sell assets at prices laughable and highly disadvantageous for them. Even those who were naturalized were withholding their property and the state set to reject everything that was related to the Gallic origin, mainly by some groups and individuals, as was the case of the bishop of Santiago de Cuba.[2]

Second and third waves of migration

But as the political winds usually affect for good or ill individuals, in 1814, with the restoration of peace between France and Spain, were allowed to return to the French emigre who, together with other new, formed what has considered as a second French immigration flow to Santiago de Cuba.

Not only economic societies increased with this second flow but, by 1817, Santiago became a world power export of coffee. This was necessary grain notable expansion in the jurisdiction; vials were created to populate the Sierra Maestra and water systems and took some wasteland far.

Between 1818 and 1835 is located on the third immigration flow to Santiago de Cuba, supported by a Royal Order designed to "whiten" the Cuban population. In this period must have come around and thirty-one immigrants from South West France. Agriculture was not the economic magnet, since only 23% of the total would be devoted to this type of work. Trade and port activities are now 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, increases the slave trade and the port Santiago becomes one of the most active in this regard, but also gaining strength the export of sugar, honey, honey, wax, coffee, snuff and rum.

Shortly after mining emerged as a new factor in economic development, there was even talk of a "mining fever" to refer to the new situation. Some migrant farm work left to pursue this promising sector of the economy.

In 1830 consolidating the first French economic society for mining, which will feature the best techniques for mineral exploitation and a large work force, so is among one of the most important economic sources of the period. Also emerged related companies pulpería 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 discussed is between 1836 and 1868. For the most part, came from the French Atlantic and recorded in a number of over 2200.

The economy is strengthened to the extent that immigrants are incorporated into traditional sources of income. But beyond. In 1851 the French steamship promote for better communication between Santiago de Cuba and New York City, there are new companies and companies engaged in the bakery trade in precious wood and railway development.

In July 1844 the French engineer Segebien performed a railway project of the Eastern Department, considered the first work of its kind in the region and intended to link the mine to the port Santiago. This 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 first place in agriculture over the sugar. It was in the forties when Santiago de Cuba reached its highest production of this grain, and when, and at the end of it, began to decline, due to the bankruptcy of some landowners, representing the attraction exploitation of copper deposits, like sugar production. But the great crisis of the coffee production in the region is marked by the beginning of the first war of independence.

There are curious differences in the contribution of each wave of immigration. Thus, indirect flows stands over the presence of planters, merchants and seamen, while in live trades and professions were the most numerous. The bakery, medicine, engineering, law, pedagogy, carpentry and food were also some of the sectors where those nineteenth-century French, who chose the island of Cuba as economic destiny, left their mark.[2]

Causes of the French migration to Cuba


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

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, quedándoles no choice but to accede to the latter. The final withdrawal of the Spanish troops and the terrible failure of General 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]


  1. 1 2 3 Archivo Cubano. Una identitá en Movimiento (in spanish: Cuban filed: A identity in moving). Retrieved in March 01, 2013, to 0:20 pm.
  2. 1 2 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)
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