This book is the third published to date as part of a series (Conflictos y armonías en la historia argentina) under the editorial guidance of the prolific writer Félix Luna. This is María Sáenz Quesada’s second book, but her writing is well known in a variety of occasional and periodical publications. She is a niece of Justo P. Sáenz (h), who was in his lifetime the charismatic doyen of Argentine folklorists, bound together, as many still are, by consuming interests in estancia and gaucho history, lore, and culture. Doubtless her family affiliations, transcending those to her uncle, served to nurture in her a sentimental affection and broad knowledge concerning the topic she now treats. She is also a teacher of history at the Universidad de Belgrano. Her intellectual gifts as well as her expressive artistry are amply displayed in this informative and useful popular history of the estancieros, chiefly Porteños, who have figured prominently, often decisively, in the long history of Argentina and especially in that of the humid pampas.
This work is clearly intended for the lay reader. Sáenz Quesada warns us in her introduction (p. 13) that hers is not an empirical study based on unimpeachable archival sources, but an effort to exploit the best of a vast literature on the theme. Her bibliography contains 160 citations. Perceptive and demanding scholars will be disappointed, perhaps even appalled, that indispensable contributions are omitted.
The virtue of Los estancieros is that María Sáenz Quesada set out to produce a readable panorama of the ranching history of her country, emphasizing the important role played in its formation and development by identifiable persons who, she rightly acknowledges, occupy a highly controversial place in making Argentina the nation it has become. This large book was not aimed at the invention of an apologia. Sáenz Quesada is candid in avowing that she is not prepared to offer any conclusive or final judgments, moral or scientific, on such a diverse and variable group of people as were and are the estancieros of Argentina.
She tells her story elegantly and encyclopedically, admittedly stressing its positive side and thereby risking the hostility and resentment of those who, with or without reason, have chosen to regard all estancieros as sinister and destructive.
This reviewer is especially grateful to María Sáenz Quesada for including considerable information on Black slaves and their descendants who once played a vital role in Argentina’s development.
This is not an unflawed book. The author falls short in demonstrating satisfactorily the power allegedly wielded by inmigrantes chacareros (p. 12 passim). She is wrong in assuming that the failure for so long to plant trees in the pampas can be attributed merely to the fear of settlers that in so doing they would obstruct the horizon of prompt sight of hostile Indians (p. 30). And she may be justly chided for suggesting that Africans failed to reproduce themselves because it was so cold in Argentina’s plains (p. 39). These are among the smaller disappointments found in this otherwise readable and honest book. Not least of its charms are the five brief commentaries at the end of the book by historic personalities who offer reminiscences of their lives on estancias, each a reminder of the enormous variability of motives characteristic of estancieros.