The rise of coffee cultivation was a watershed in Nicaraguan history. Prior to the 1880s, most land was common property; thereafter, land in coffee districts was privately owned. Before coffee, peasants labored largely in household and communal production; afterward, many rural Nicaraguans worked on coffee estates for several months out of the year.1 In the past, historians viewed this revolution in land and labor as Nicaragua’s capitalist transition. Notwithstanding major disagreements about how capitalism developed, they agreed that land privatization dispossessed the peasantry and promoted the spread of free wage labor.2 This interpretation fit the prevailing Central American historiography: namely, that the coffee boom was the region’s great capitalist transformation.3 In the 1990s, Central American historians overturned part of this orthodoxy by demonstrating that the expansion of coffee cultivation did not separate most peasants from the land.4 However, on...

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