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An Agrarian Republic

An Agrarian Republic: Commercial Agriculture and the Politics of Peasant Communities in El Salvador, 1823–1914

Aldo A. Lauria-Santiago
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    An Agrarian Republic
    Book Description:

    With unprecedented use of local and national sources, Lauria-Santiago presents a more complex portrait of El Salvador than has ever been ventured before. Using thoroughly researched regional case studies, Lauria-Santiago challenges the accepted vision of Central America in the nineteenth century and critiques the "liberal oligarchic hegemony" model of El Salvador. He reveals the existence of a diverse, commercially active peasantry that was deeply involved with local and national networks of power.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7202-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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    (pp. 1-16)

    Over the last two decades, El Salvador’s political changes, which include a revolutionary civil war and a transition to civilian rule, have drawn attention to the country’s earlier history. Important aspects of recent history have been linked to the changes of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By focusing on land use, export production, and rural class and ethnic relations, this study traces the history of what are considered causal factors in the development of El Salvador’s highly stratified and politically conflicted society. Its conclusions may add to our understanding of land use, peasant communities, and politics in other regions...

  2. 2 Peasants, Indigo, and Land in the Late Colonial Period
    (pp. 17-33)

    During the late colonial period, both subsistence and commercial agriculture expanded in the two provinces that later united to form the State of El Salvador. The second half of the eighteenth century witnessed the steady rise of indigo production and export, as well as related economic activities. Indigo, a blue dye used in textile manufacturing in Europe and the Andes, could be produced and processed by both small and large growers. The colonial-era provinces of San Salvador and Sonsonate became production centers, while the merchants of Guatemala City, and to a lesser extent San Vicente, San Miguel, and San Salvador,...

  3. 3 The Formation of Peasant Landholding Communities, 1820s–1870s
    (pp. 34-70)

    During the colonial period, landholding peasant communities were subjected to a series of colonial impositions that included coerced labor, forced sales, tribute payments, and other forms of coercive state-based extraction or market participation. After independence these long-standing colonial practices ended, and the power of the Salvadoran and Guatemalan elites that benefited from these policies weakened. After the 1810s, Indians in El Salvador no longer paid tribute or individual head taxes and could not be forced to work for wages. The new state had to build its incipient fiscal structures by creating liquor and tobacco monopolies that rarely provided reliable or...

  4. 4 The Peasantry and Commercial Agriculture, 1830s–1880s
    (pp. 71-103)

    Between 1820 and 1880, El Salvador became a stronghold of peasant producers organized around the resources provided by municipalities or ethnic communities. This chapter examines rural society and peasant social structure in selected parts of the country, especially in the west. Archival sources provide a valuable perspective into many of the critical processes that shaped El Salvador’s agrarian history during this period. Peasants organized in communities or town governments with their own local and ethnic identity, or relied on these bodies to secure their subsistence and market-oriented production.¹ Few could survive without them. But peasant communities were not egalitarian utopias,...

  5. 5 Peasant Politics, Revolt, and the Formation of the State
    (pp. 104-131)

    Throughout the nineteenth century, peasants and artisans struggled for power and significantly influenced the formation of the Salvadoran nation-state. By so doing, peasants and artisans also shaped their local social and economic conditions, gaining or maintaining local or regional autonomy and using their political clout to defend local resources. As a result, they limited the social and economic power of local elites and the power of national elites to shape the nation.¹ Popular protest and mobilization ranged from local revolts or riots to participation in regional or national political and military alliances involving elite-led factionalism. (I prefer the termfactionalism...

  6. 6 Coffee and Its Impact on Labor, Land, and Class Formation, 1850–1910
    (pp. 132-162)

    The growth of the coffee economy in the nineteenth century and the wealth generated by coffee exports produced a new elite class while also benefiting countless peasants, farmers, and merchants.¹ By the late 1880s, income from the export of coffee surpassed that of indigo. Coffee’s share of total exports, negligible in the 1850s, rose to 99 percent by the 1920s. A new prosperous elite could import products from abroad and gained in power. By the 1960s, landownership and wealth were extremely unequally distributed in El Salvador, driven by the power of the country’s agro-export elite. The success of this class...

  7. 7 The Privatization of Land and the Transition to a Freeholding Peasantry, 1881–1912
    (pp. 163-194)

    This chapter asks the question: was the privatization of community and municipal lands that began in 1878 initiated and manipulated by a self-serving coffee oligarchy, or was it the result of more complex interactions between other sectors of Salvadoran society? How were lands divided and titled? And what did this transition mean for the tens of thousands of peasants, farmers, and entrepreneurs who possessed these kinds of lands? Many have understood this process as part of the enactment of liberal reforms promoted from the top by modernizing elites. Historians persistently portray privatization as an elite-controlled process, and in most accounts...

  8. 8 The Abolition of Ethnic Communities and Lands, 1881–1912
    (pp. 195-221)

    The privatization of community lands, especially in the west, reveals the complex interaction between peasant agency, state policies, land tenure, ethnic conflict, and agrarian capitalism triggered by the partition. The partition of these communities involved political and cultural factors that were often extraneous to the abolition ofejidosand led to delays and internal and external conflicts. It took more than twenty years to settle most issues connected with the privatization of community lands, but by the early 1900s most communities had been dissolved and their lands transferred to individual property holders.

    Just as the state had supervised important aspects...

    (pp. 222-240)

    In the colonial period, El Salvador’s Indian and Ladino peasant communities were economically secure and active in local and export markets. Peasant communities produced indigo successfully and generally managed to coexist with larger indigo producers. More than half of the indigo crop was cultivated and processed by small and midsize producers, most of whom relied on communal and municipal forms of land tenure and often communal forms of production as well. These peasant communities provided a basis for subsistence farming and solidarity by enabling their members to title lands and develop diverse patterns of land use and agricultural production. Most...

    (pp. 251-252)