Robert Patch's fine book makes three main points. First, far from being either a peripheral or preindustrial economy, Spanish Central America in the late colonial period was a key supplier of finished cloth for miners in Zacatecas and Honduras, indigo producers in El Salvador, and defensive ports in Nicaragua, thus playing a crucial role in imperial trade. Second, this industrial production relied on coercion of the indigenous population. And third, Spanish bureaucratic records still hold much potential for discerning the indigenous experience of colonialism.

The first three chapters emphasize the symbiotic relationship between tribute collection and the repartimiento in Central America's mature colonial period. Despite its seemingly genuine concern with good government, the crown incentivized the illegal repartimiento by underpaying colonial officials, treating posts as rewards, and selling offices to the highest bidder. In turn, alcaldes mayores guaranteed tribute payment to the...

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