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How Wall Street Colonized the Caribbean


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In the Boston Review, historian Peter James Hudson tells the story of how US banks agressively targeted Caribbean nations like Cuba and Haiti for investment and expropriation in the early twentieth century, leading to decades of financial ruin and colonial theft in the region. Hudson details how the precursors of banks like Citigroup and J. P. Morgan Chase saw the Carbbean as an untapped source of wealth, and how the US government employed soft power and outright military force to facilitate their ambitions. Check out an excerpt from the piece below.

The Caribbean archipelago was ground zero for U.S. imperial banking. Wall Street’s first experiments in internationalism occurred in Cuba, Haiti, Panama, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua, often with disastrous results—for those countries and colonies, and often for the imperial banks themselves. Yet where there was expansion, there was also pushback. The internationalization of Wall Street was met with local resistance, refusal and revolt. And just as the history of imperialism has been excised from popular narratives, so too has this history of Caribbean anti-imperialism and autonomy…

Buoyed by unprecedented wealth and boosted by the expansionist jingoism following the victory over Spain in the Caribbean and the Pacific, New York City’s bankers and merchants believed that the organization of an imperial banking system—one that could compete with Europe’s long-established institutions—was critical to the global rise of the city and to the consolidation of Wall Street’s position in international finance, trade, and commerce. With these ambitions, bankers and business-people set their sights on asserting control over the trade and finance of the Americas. They sought to control local central banks, establish U.S. branch banks, take over commodity financing, reorganize monetary systems on a dollar basis, and refinance European-funded sovereign debt.

Image: 55 Wall St., New York City. Via contemptorary.org.