Most studies of plantation systems, and especially those dealing with sugar cane economies, have concentrated on cases where the product is sold for export on the international market, and it has become more or less a commonplace to think of ‘plantation economy’ as being synonymous with ‘export economy’. However, in the case of Argentina there developed in the latter part of the nineteenth century a large and economically important plantation system whose product was destined almost entirely for a protected internal market. This sugar cane economy was based largely in the northwestern province of Tucumán, but later expanded further to the north into the provinces of Salta and Jujuy. Protected by high tariff barriers and liberally financed by banking credits, the Argentine sugar industry of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries provides one of the first examples of ‘import substitution’ in Latin America. However, despite these apparently modern and economically progressive features, the internal logic of the plantation system inevitably asserted itself in the field of production relations and patterns of labour recruitment, with the result that, for a certain period, a modern and technologically advanced agro-industry operated labour policies which were manifestly backward and coercive. In Tucuman these features were somewhat mitigated by factors which cannot be dealt with in this paper, but in the provinces of Salta and Jujuy archaic forms of production relations predominated until as late as the early 1940s.