Dr. Juan José Ponce Vázquez's new book, Islanders and Empire: Smuggling and Political Defiance in Hispaniola, 1580-1690 (Cambridge UP, 2020) tracks the importance of smuggling to the society, economy, and politics of the island of Hispaniola in this “long seventeenth century.” Smuggling, in his words, made people's lives on the island, an island that had suffered from imperial commercial neglect and a declining sugar industry. Concomitant with this endemic smuggling, local elites began asserting their authority over local and imperial institutions on the island, taking advantage of royal officials’ isolation from the Spanish metropole and their need for local alliances. These factors, Dr. Ponce Vásquez argues, allowed local elites to gain immense wealth and power, alter the course of European inter-imperial struggles, limit, redirect, and suppress the Spanish crown’s policies, and thus take control of the destinies of Hispaniola, other Spanish Caribbean territories, and the Spanish Empire in the region during this period.
R. Grant Kleiser is a Ph.D. candidate in the Columbia University History Department. His dissertation researches the development of the free-port system in the eighteenth-century Caribbean, investigating the rationale for such moves towards “free trade” and the impact these policies had on subsequent philosophers, policy-makers, and revolutionaries in the Atlantic world.