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The history of Pennsylvania’s contact with Latin America begins in Philadelphia, the port city that had strong commercial ties with Cuba dating back at least to the late eighteenth century. Smuggling agricultural products between the ports of Philadelphia and Havana, Cuba, was big business for many years. It intensified during the American Revolution and was legalized in 1779. The trade relationship remained strong until Cuba’s so-called sugar revolution made the island the world’s

richest colony in the first half of the nineteenth century, which made it more attractive to other port cities in the United States. New York, in particular, was well positioned to displace Philadelphia as Cuba’s primary trading partner.

Philadelphia as Center for Latin American Independence

Even after the weakening of its trade relationship with Cuba, Philadelphia continued to play an important role in Latin American history, becoming a center of political propaganda for Latin Americans who were agitating for independence from Spain. Propagandists circulated freely in Pennsylvania, gathering funds and developing plans for the coming campaigns for separation.

The Venezuelan revolutionary Francisco de Miranda made several trips to Philadelphia as he plotted liberation expeditions, deeming it the most republican of cities.1 Even the great liberator himself, Simon Bolivar, passed through. Bolivar was the revered nineteenth-century leader of numerous independence movements throughout South America. He observed to a U.S. official that he had seen rational liberty for the first time in his life during his visit to Philadel-phia.2 The remarkable extent of Latin American revolutionary activity in Philadelphia was noted by Mexican novelist Martin Luis Guzman, who in 1911 remarked that the city was a paradise for conspirators.3 Specific instances of the activities prompting Guzman’s comment include a Philadelphia-based expedition that outfitted Puerto Rican revolutionaries preparing to invade the island in 1822; the founding of El Habanero, Philadelphia’s first Spanish-language newspaper, by the exiled Cuban priest Felix Varela in 1823; and the anonymous publication of Jicotencatl by the William Stavely Publishing House of Philadelphia in 1826.4 Along with the editorials pushing for independence in El Habanero, Jicotencatl contributed to the intellectual arguments in favor of the fight for Cuban independence.

By the mid-nineteenth century, Philadelphia had become a leader in the manufacture of tobacco products, which encouraged Cuban and Puerto Rican cigar makers to migrate to the city. Many of these workers were involved in the Cuba Libre program, an independence movement based in the United States in the 1890s, and were also members of the movement’s primary political organization, the Partido Revolucionario Cubano (PRC).

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