Visiting Assistant Professor of Africana Studies Reynaldo Ortiz-Minaya recently presented a lecture titled “Plantation Economies and Penal Landscapes in 19th Century Cuba and Louisiana, 1803-1886” at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette.
His analysis examined the structural similarities between the control of spaces within Louisiana and Cuba following the Haitian Revolution of 1804, the concomitant rise of sugar production within both locales, and the function of prisons within the slave regime.
Ortiz-Minaya argued that the rise of global capital during the 19th century and the maintenance of slave labor as the principal mode of production within the Spanish Caribbean basin are the forbearing and concurrent conveyors of the modern penal system.
He said the methods and practices of punishing enslaved convicts foreshadowed what would happen in the U.S. with convict leasing during the Jim Crow era. After U.S. abolition in 1865, several large-scale cotton plantations—e.g., Angola, La.— were converted into prison complexes, populated with chain-gang inmates who were often ex-slaves.
While in Louisiana, Ortiz-Minaya examined archived material at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, otherwise known as Angola or “The Farm.” Working with Professor Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, Ortiz-Minaya visited the archives of the Roger Thayer Stone Center for Latin American Studies at Tulane University. He also visited several plantations “whereby the continuities of the slave regime can be found within the penal realities and social landscapes of the state.”