The end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century witnessed the appearance of what scholars (such as Everdell, Agamben and Goldhagen) usually define as the first modern concentration camps. Their almost simultaneous use during the Cuban War for Independence (1895-1898), the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) and the Philippine-American War (1899-1902) represents a turning point in the way non-combatant population would be managed in recent conflicts, especially by modern counter-insurgency doctrines. In all those case-studies, drastic measures designed to defeat local guerrilla groups ended up causing tens of thousands of civilian victims, mainly due to starvation, poor sanitation and the spread of epidemic diseases among overcrowded encampments. Interestingly, the basic principle of undermining the insurgents' military capacity by segregating and confining the rural population in militarised enclaves has been put into practice in many other later contexts, such as Libya, British Malaya, Algeria and Vietnam.
My doctoral research is focused on how the so-called policy of reconcentración was implemented on the ground by Spanish colonial authorities in their attempt to dominate the Cuban insurrection in the mid-1890s. In my paper, based on my own fieldwork in western Cuba, I will review the potential contribution of historical archaeology to the understanding of these episodes of mass violence, not only in terms of their material dimension but also of their long-term impact upon landscape. I will also critically explore how contemporary historiography has interpreted the indiscriminate internment of the Cuban population and the more than 150,000 victims that it produced, including the bitter controversies around the intentionality of those deaths and the polemical figure of Spanish Captain-General Valeriano Weyler. I will argue that the erection of these early camps might be seen as a consequence of the combination of an eliminationist approach towards the insurgents and an increasingly widespread perception of the pro-independence rebellion as an infectious disease.
Marti, Alberto P., "Interpreting Reconcentration Camps in Cuba (1895-1898): Collateral Damage or Undercover Genocide?" (2015). CHGS Conference Proceedings. 36.