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The Merchant of Havana
The Jew in the Cuban Abolitionist Archive

Author(s): Stephen Silverstein

LAJSA Book Award Winner, 2017, Latin American Jewish Studies Association

As Cuba industrialized in the nineteenth century, an epochal realignment of the social order occurred. In this period of change, two seemingly disparate, yet nevertheless intertwined, ideological forces appeared: anti-Semitism and abolitionism. As the antislavery movement became organized in Cuba, the argument grew that Jews participated in the African slave trade and in New World slavery, and that this participation gave Jews extraordinary influence in the new Cuban economy and culture. What was remarkable about this anti-Semitism was the decidedly small Jewish population on the island in this era. This form of anti-Semitism, Silverstein reveals, sprang almost exclusively from mythological beliefs.

Biography of Author(s)

Stephen Silverstein is Assistant Professor of Spanish at Baylor University.


  • "Silverstein puts a new twist to the discussion about slavery and the rise of capitalism by looking at the key role debt had in transforming the upper echelons of Cuban society, and the reason why the image of Shylock became so rooted in their imaginary."
    Ariana Huberman, author of Gauchos and Foreigners: Glossing Culture and Identity in the Argentine Countryside
  • "[Silverstein] argues convincingly that we can neither fully understand Afro-Cuban racial identities nor the mechanism of racial hierarchies in Cuba unless we also comprehend the role of the merchant class, foreign-born bourgeoisie, and the lexicon of Jewish usury in nineteenth-century Cuba."
    Amelia Weinreb, author of Cuba in the Shadow of Change: Daily Life in the Twilight of the Revolution