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Salt and the Colombian State

Salt and the Colombian State: Local Society and Regional Monopoly in Boyaca, 1821-1900

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    Salt and the Colombian State
    Book Description:

    In republican Colombia, salt became an important source of revenue not just to individuals, but to the state, which levied taxes on it and in some cases controlled and profited from its production. The salt trade consistently accounted for roughly ten percent of government income.

    In the town of la Salina de Chita, in Boyacá province, thermal springs offered vast amounts of salt, and its procurement and distribution was placed under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Finance. Focusing his study on la Salina, Joshua M. Rosenthal presents a fascinating glimpse into the workings of the early Colombian state, its institutions, and their interactions with local citizens during this formative period. Although historians have cited the state's weakness, and in many cases, its absence in local affairs, Rosenthal counters these assumptions by documenting the primary role the state held in administering contracts, inspections, land rights, labor, and trade in la Salina, and contends that this was not an isolated incident. He also uncovers the frequent interaction between the state and local residents, who used the state's liberal rhetoric to gain personal economic advantage.

    Seen through the lens of the administration of la Salina's salt works, Rosenthal provides a firsthand account of the role of local institutions and fiscal management in the larger process of state building. His study offers new perspectives on the complex network of republican Colombia's political culture, and its involvement in provincial life across the nation.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7798-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. CHAPTER ONE The Salt Monopoly, the State, and Boyacá
    (pp. 3-16)

    In 1806, when Ignacio Caicedo drew a sketch of La Salina de Chita, in eastern Colombia, it wasn’t much of a town, though that hardly mattered to him. An administrator who oversaw the sale of salt, all of which was controlled in theory by a Spanish royal monopoly, Caicedo was more concerned with documenting how salt was made than with explaining any other aspect of local life. Now in the Mapoteca of Colombia’s Archivo General de la Nación (AGN), his sketch conveys something of the topography of the surrounding valley, which had long before been cut by the rushing waters...

  2. CHAPTER 2 Change and Community in La Salina
    (pp. 17-40)

    People made salt in the spot that would become La Salina de Chita long before the Spanish arrived and gave the town its name. Its pre-Columbian residents were the Lache, an indigenous group that formed part of the polity called the confederación del Cocuy. Relatively little is known about these people, who were linked to the Chibcha-speaking Muisca of the highlands to their west, but they did make an impression on the sixteenth-century Spaniards, who deemed the Lache to have been less civilized than the other indigenous groups they had encountered in the region.¹ Their description of the Lache focused...

  3. CHAPTER 3 Making Salt in a Ministry Works
    (pp. 41-61)

    Salt is now a humble substance. Industrial advances in drilling and chemistry have long rendered salt easy to make and cheap to buy. If anything, we now consume too much salt rather than too little. This was not the case for most of human history, during which salt ranged from relatively expensive to prohibitively costly. Thus, the contemporary experience of “sticker shock” at the price of a small bottle of hand-crafted gourmet salt has more historical resonance than do all the prepared foods whose high salinity threatens consumers’ health. Nonetheless, both the high cost of salt in the past and...

  4. CHAPTER 4 The Ministry Monopoly and the Market Monopoly
    (pp. 62-93)

    The history of salt making in La Salina presents many ironies, among them the widespread perception that La Salina’s salt-making industry was a failure even though, at least in terms of production, it was a success. As with contemporary scholarship that considers the state, reflections on the salt industry often pose the question as a matter of success or failure. Elites saw the failure to create an ideal industry, an ideal market, and an ideal society of entrepreneurs and consumers. Local and regional residents had their own criteria for measuring success or failure, but they were similarly pessimistic in their...

  5. CHAPTER 5 La Salina and Colombian History to 1857
    (pp. 94-112)

    La Salina was unique as a town in the way that an outsized state presence—specifically, the state’s economic policies—remade local life there and in the way that this effort generated systematic documentation. But the portrait of local state building has implications beyond this single municipality and touches on broader themes concerning politics in Boyacá and across the eastern highlands. Considering this history offers a portrait of Boyacá as a politically heterogeneous region that played an important role in national affairs, points rarely considered in the general historiography of republican Colombia.

    A full reckoning of the nineteenth century must...

  6. CHAPTER 6 La Salina, Boyacá, and Colombia after 1857
    (pp. 113-144)

    In La Salina 1857 marked the zenith of local defiance to the Finance Ministry. In the nation as a whole, it was the year when Colombia moved from being a country composed of provinces to one formed by increasingly sovereign states. Formally this process played out in the ratification of two constitutions and a major civil war in the next decade; in practical terms, however, large states, often formed by pulling together smaller provinces, simply took on a stronger presence in national politics. The state of Boyacá was formed from the provinces of Tunja, Tundama, and Casanare and parts of...