This work is one of the few attempts by North American specialists of Argentina to understand the economic development of the interior during the export era of the late nineteenth century. It is of particular importance because sugar remained within the domestic sector, despite attempts to export it; the interplay between externally oriented interests, such as those of the meat packers, and domestic interests, such as those of the sugar industrialists, shows up the inconsistencies behind the Argentine model of development.
Guy focuses her study largely on issues that divided elites at both the federal and the provincial levels: internal taxation on sugar land and production, government-sponsored bounties, incentives that benefited the largest cultivators and refiners at the expense of the small planters and the workers, and others. The presentation of conflict resolution, however, appears choppy and lacks theoretical continuity; Guy attributes much of the dissension, rebellions, and political intrigues in Tucumán to the oft-cited “sugar politics.” Yet, in the end, one gets the impression that “sugar politics” boiled down to no more unique a concept than the perennial struggle among elites for the largest shares of return on their investments.
The organization and coherence of the chapters vary. The best ones are devoted to the importance of family and networks for carrying out successful investments; the formation of syndicates and other attempts at concentration of the industry after 1890; the quest for new markets; and the conclusion.
The work contains two principal theses. The first is that the growth of the sugar industry in the late nineteenth century was a symbol of successful domestic integration and nation-building, and served as evidence of the viability of the generation of eighty. Second, once the sugar industry became established, the locus of decision-making about its future shifted from Tucumán to Buenos Aires. These are important considerations because they express the new format taken by the federalist-centralist issue, which remained economically unresolved despite the federalization of the city of Buenos Aires in 1880.
The book describes very many conflicts, but occasionally Guy fails to explain the background of the ideological positions articulated by the parties to the conflicts, so we are left with questions. For example, why did the Juaristas of Tucumán, after their victory in the form of the removal of their enemies through federal intervention, proceed “to map out a course totally unacceptable to the President [Juárez Celman]: protecting and expanding the sugar industry” (p. 67)? Moreover, why would Juárez Celman oppose his own supporters in such a vital zone of the country? The only conclusion the author gives us remains unsatisfactory: “Juaristas had proclaimed their allegiance to the man but not to his economic theories” (p. 71). Again, why the lack of reconciliation between the political and the economic spheres?
Guy makes a serious effort to describe different processes of guaranteeing a supply of labor for sugar planters. She concludes that on this issue Tucumán’s legislators succeeded in attracting and keeping a sizable labor force. She goes on to write, however, that what “remains unclear is why Tucumán never became subject to organized discontent, often experienced in other sugarcane growing areas, until the twentieth century” (p. 36). To help in answering this question, I would suggest reading the work of Argentine sociologist Francisco J. Delich, especially his Tierra y conciencia campesina en Tucumán.
Argentine Sugar Politics should be read by all who want to see just how difficult it was to get industry started in the interior, and how many of the difficulties came from among the industrialists themselves.