Historians who study the great Andean rebellions of 1780-82 will welcome the publication of Francisco Tadeo Diez de Medina’s diary, a chronicle of events in La Paz between February and June 1781, when an Indian army led by Julián Apaza, better known as Virrey Túpac Catari, besieged the city, causing massive losses of life and property. Until now, the most accessible account of the first “circo” has been that written by Commander Sebastián Segurola, a Spanish officer who reached Upper Peru late in 1780 and who limited himself to reporting military developments. By contrast, Diez de Medina was born in La Paz, enjoying there a prominent economic and social position. Displaying an intimate knowledge of the city and its residents, the oidor wrote not only of battles and actions of important persons during the siege, but also of its human impact—hunger, epidemics, and widespread misery. As the editor notes in her thoughtful “Estudio preliminar,” his narrative also provides insight into the creole mind. Diez de Medina was critical of Segurola’s leadership and ambivalent about the nature of the Indians. His language, ranging from pretentious to poetic, reveals the creole resentment of Spanish prerogatives and reflects the growing tension between Americans and peninsulars. By analyzing Diez de Medina’s attitudes as well as his eyewitness accounts, the scholar can learn much about what the inhabitants of La Paz were doing and thinking when, “on the eve of Independence, enclosed between walls, they supported the rigors of an implacable Indian siege” (p. 52).
Siles has equipped this handsome edition with many useful tools. In addition to the “Estudio preliminar,” there are copious notes accompanying the text, capsule biographies of the principal characters, a glossary, and indexes of names and places. Gunnar Mendoza’s graceful prolog places the account within the context of other eighteenth-century archival materials. There are thirty-three pages of illustrations, including three maps of La Paz, portraits of Segurola and Bishop Gregorio Francisco de Campos, and photographs of colonial buildings. With these fine printed and pictorial accessories, the diary promises to become an indispensable and widely consulted source.