Isle of Pines, U.S.A.: The Other Side of American Expansion in Cuba, 1898--1960

Date of Completion

January 2012


History, Latin American|History, United States




This dissertation examines the experiences of U.S. citizens on the Isle of Pines, a Rhode Island-sized island off the southwest coast of Cuba, during the years in which Americans maintained a significant presence. In assessing the settlements, commercial activities, and encounters between private Americans and native Cubans (pineros), this project considers issues of identity, race, class, and the diverse forms of U.S. expansion in the twentieth century. Spurred by fears of a "closed" frontier in the United States, a search for economic opportunity and social mobility, a desire to preserve an agrarian way of life, a quest for improved health, and a sense of adventure and patriotism, as many as 10,000 Americans bought property on the Isle. Roughly 2,000 established at least part-time residences at a time when the Isle only had about 4,000 people. Although these settlers sought opportunity – mostly by growing citrus fruit and vegetables for export – many met with bitter disappointment as a result of business failures, tropical storms, and limited support from the U.S. government. During the quarter-century that the Isle's sovereignty remained in question, settlers made their communities a cultural extension of the United States. They established English-language schools, newspapers, and social clubs. Nevertheless, after a generation of self-isolation and tension, settlers and pineros grew to collaborate in commercial and institutional endeavors. These cultural and economic intersections belie popular perceptions of U.S. domination and perpetual U.S.-Cuban conflict. ^ Like other recent studies that consider history "from the bottom up," this dissertation emphasizes the experiences of non-state actors, rather than diplomats, to gauge U.S.-Cuban relations at the grassroots level. It employs previously untapped – indeed hitherto undiscovered – archival sources from the United States and Cuba. Methodologically, this project closely examines discourse and images to ascertain the key assumptions and logic of historical actors. This approach includes close readings of landholding company records and advertisements in newspapers that sold property and products from the Isle, as well as analyses of the rhetoric used in private reports and correspondence. ^