Skip to content

The government of Catalonia has said the wealthy Spanish region must confront “the past racism” of its slave-trading history, after a documentary revealed how Catalan industrialists and seafarers profited from the transatlantic slave trade when the British abolished the practice in 1807.

It has long been acknowledged that many Catalan fortunes – including that of Antonio Gaudí’s patron Eusebi Güell – were made on the back of slave labour in the tobacco, sugar and cotton plantations of Cuba and, to a lesser extent, Puerto Rico.

Far less well known is the fact that Catalan magnates and mariners spent decades growing rich from slavery after filling the void left by Britain’s decision to abolish slavery and exit the trade.

OK, likely true.

It shines a light on what historians have been demonstrating for decades: that between 1817 and 1867, Catalans were directly or indirectly involved in the transportation of 700,000 slaves from west Africa to the Caribbean and that the trade financed much of the industrialisation of Catalonia and the 19th-century building boom in Barcelona.

Although Spain soon followed Britain in abolishing slavery – in word if not in deed – it turned a blind eye when the clandestine trade continued, much of it on ships owned and crewed by Catalans.

By then, independence movements in the Americas had reduced the Spanish empire to little more than Cuba and Puerto Rico, where the demand for sugar led to the spread of plantations and the need for labour – slave labour. At the same time, Catalonia needed capital to industrialise, capital that was often invested in the hugely profitable slave trade.

What is it with The Guardian and anything economic?

If the capital’s invested in slaves and plantations then it’s not invested in industrializing Catalonia. If it’s invested in Catalonia then it’s not in slaves and plantations.

Opportunity costs, you know?

10 thoughts on “Fun story”

  1. Isn’t it simply a case where stock and flow, to use your words, aren’t quite so distinct (practically)? The clue being in the words “hugely profitable”. Returns from slavery amply financing said industrialisation. That’s what I assumed?

  2. Steve.. You only need to look at Spud to see that one coming.

    He’s into the whole Thought Crime thing, and would quite happily exclude anyone not agreeing with him from social life. Or any life if his flavour of vindictiveness gets enough traction.

    But honestly, the first sentence in our Host’s quote had me thinking Spain ( or at least Catalunia ) finally had grown the backbone to demand excuses and reparations from Tunesia and Libya for past transgressions regarding Human Resource Acquisition.

  3. What is to be done about the vast sums of money the Spanish stole from the South Americans? Candidly, reparations must be paid by the Spanish forthwith.

    Also of course, no mention of the moslems / arabs who carried out slavery for centuries / millenia prior to and on a massively greater scale than whitey (or in the case of Espana, dusky?) ever did and indeed, continue to do so to this day, with little to no criticism from anybody…….

  4. Grikath – racism was starting to fade into the background just a few years ago. The early 2000’s was pretty relaxed in general, and people were a lot less uptight.

    Unfortunately, racism is far too useful to TPTB to let it die, so we have a massive multinational “anti-” racism industry in the West dedicated to keeping people at each others’ throats.

    Demand for White Supremacy far outstrips supply, however. Hence the Eternal Kulak now being blamed for Arabs mistreating black fellas.

    It’s all so tiresome.

  5. The government of Catalonia has said the wealthy Spanish region must confront “the past racism” of its slave-trading history,
    And the guilt the government will feel for Cataluna’s role in the slave trade will be kept in a small pot in a locked filing cabinet marked “do not open” in a basement storage under an office in a small village outside Figueres. Spain still hasn’t sorted out its Civil War guilts. The C19th’s are well down the priority list.

  6. Far less well known is the fact that Catalan magnates and mariners spent decades growing rich
    Quite. This is something the the “reparations” crowd really do not get about responsibilities. There is really no comparison between modern governments elected by democratic systems with universal franchises & governments of the C19th & earlier. Since we elect them, we do collectively bear some responsibility for what our governments get up to. Governments then are incomparable to governments now. They really didn’t have the power they do now. Mostly they were hostage to commercial interests because they had a limited tax base. Spain’s a particularly good example. The wealth extracted form the Spanish Empire went to small numbers of individuals & via them, much to the church. Almost none of it benefited the Spanish people. Quite the opposite. The wealthy individuals frittered it on themselves & Spain remained a relatively undeveloped country right up until the mid C20th. So you’re now asking the descendants of poor peasants to pay compensation for the actions of their oppressors.
    Much the same’s true of the UK, isn’t it? Modern Britain is the result of the endeavours of ordinary Brits. The profits of the slave trade bought some impressive homes for those had an interest in it & some vanity public buildings. The only connection with it the majority of our forefathers might have had was grafting in the factories owned by the wealthy.

  7. Entertaining. One could therefore insist that Algeria, Morocco etc pay reparations to the French and Spanish for putting them to the trouble of conquering them to stop their slave raids.

    And of course their anti-colonialism in freeing themselves from French and Spanish rule was thus wicked racism and a refusal to pay their long-owed debts.

  8. Catalonia, not Spain? Clever use of the divide & conquer strategy. Could we use that here? Next time someone comes asking the government about reparations, we can direct them to Liverpool City Council.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *