When it comes to versatility, rum has it. You can take it neat, on the rocks or use it to make a cocktail. It’s synonymous with a good time. However, when you dig deep, you’ll discover its dark origins.

With a clear link between sugarcane and rum, there are some ethical ideas that come into question. Should rum companies tied to slavery be forthright about their origins? Should they be obligated to share their wealth and try to make things “right?”

Here’s how African slaves in Puerto Rico made rum possible.

Sugarcane and the Brutal Enterprise of Slavery

Sugarcane was a staple across much of the Americas, specifically the Caribbean. When European colonizers realized how profitable and versatile sugar was, they forced African slaves to do the heavy lifting.

The Spanish, who colonized Puerto Rico, wasted little time exploiting the island’s natural resources. As reported by the University of California San Francisco library, Spain started the sugar plantation system only two decades after they colonized Puerto Rico.

Sugarcane in Post-Slavery Puerto Rico

The Spanish government abolished slavery in Puerto Rico in March 1873. However, this was on paper.

For the thousands of African and Afro-Puerto Rican slaves, freedom didn’t come immediately. To make up for loss of revenue, they had to keep toiling for a few more years.

The fate of the sugarcane industry was placed on the shoulders of laborers after slavery. In most cases, the conditions they worked in were almost as bad as those of the slaves.