The history of sugar in Florida is a tale of experimentation and entrepreneurs, early mistakes and later successes, politics and money owing freely from Washington to the sugar barons and then back again as campaign contributions guaranteed the industry would grow in influence well beyond its impact on the economy.
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The history of cane sugar in America is tangled and tawdry.
The tale begins in the pre-Revolutionary era when British interests controlled a large part of the Caribbean and actively fostered the slave trade. It moves through the Civil War and ensuing years with indentured labor until machines begin to take over much of the work done by stooped workers, chopping away at the lowest level of the plants while fighting heat, humidity, mosquitoes and snakes.
The human element aside, cane sugar has always enjoyed preferred status among the array of crop agriculture as to taxation, protection and various forms of financial subsidies since the 1700s. It has been inexorably involved in politics, the wellspring of those protectionist measures and it continues to this day. Despite the cries of free market advocates who find the sugar industry anomalous to the American sense of capitalism as a competitive enterprise, subsidies in the form of forgiven loans to processors continues to the present day.
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This is the story of how the Florida sugar industry had the benefit of soil, climate and a favorable political pathway smoothed by copious campaign contributions and guided by legions of lobbyists. As it grew in acreage, it also grew in influence. It enjoyed minimization of risk to the point where profits were guaranteed by a government mandated floor with virtually no ceiling. It was run, since World War II, by determined entrepreneurs having learned from the mistakes of the past, and later by Cuban expatriates bringing their agricultural expertise and hard-nosed business sense to the muck of the once pristine Everglades after the Cuban revolution of 1959 - an event that made Florida the largest cane sugar producer in the nation.
This book was written from hundreds of sources, interviews and site visits. It is an attempt to help the reader concerned about human health, south Florida’s delicate ecosystem, and money in politics to understand how we got to this point, and to think about where we go in the future.