"Hombres que entre las raíces": Plantation colonies, slave rebellions and land redistribution in Saint Domingue and Cuba at the late colonial period, c. 1750 c. 1860
In the last years, the work by Engerman and Sokoloff (ES) on the divergent development paths within the Americas has provided an important backing to the institutionalist school. In line with the work by Acemoglu, Johnson and Robinson, ES assume the existence of institutional persistence: once accepted the resilient nature of the institutional framework, it becomes easier to trace a link between an adverse colonial heritage and an unsatisfactory economic performance at present. Nevertheless, this interpretation, satisfactory as it is at the big picture level, may also obscure both the presence of noteworthy causal relations and the agency of other actors. I am concerned with two questions. First: How to explain substantial differences in economic performance (particularly, land inequality) between ESs same type of colony? Second: Is it possible to include the role of non-European agency in the development narrative? The comparative study of the plantation economies of Saint Domingue and Cuba at the late colonial period sheds light on these issues. The intrinsic instability of the plantation colonies and, in some cases, the outbreak of slave rebellions with their visible impact on the institutions and the economic performance suggest more nuanced analysis. I conclude that the recognition of both political economy factors and non-European agency in the process of economic change could benefit ongoing research on the (colonial) origins of comparative development.
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