Park’s intent is to present the rise and disintegration of the Liberal party during the second half of Colombia’s nineteenth century, and to explain how provincial politics intervened in the Liberal-Conservative attempts to gain control of political power and keep it. The two points are viewed through the national political activities of one of the most controversial men in the country’s history, the Cartagenero Rafael Núñez.
Unquestionably, the author has fulfilled his goals. He has presented methodically the chronology of the events, giving the necessary background to men, ideas and problems of the period. Park obviously did extensive research in Colombian public and private archives, finding references to the political game played from the 1860s to the 1880s.
I have, however, reservations about the work. In the first place, the chapter on Colombian federalism adds little to what we already knew. Park has accepted the usual interpretation of the origins and development of the federal idea; yet, when he ventured on his own (pp. 23-24), he showed little appreciation for the forces encountered between the colonial heritage and the early Herculean efforts made to create a nation. This chapter also brings up the question of how much emphasis and credence we should place on coeval descriptions and analyses in making our own assessments (pp. 26-28). At times, Park relies too heavily on interpretations given by nineteenth-century politicians and journalists.
Unquestionably, the author ended up liking Núñez. However, liking a person dictates impartiality, or at least unassailable arguments, which are not always present. For instance, Park attempts to quash the rumors of Núñez’s self-interest in his marriage with Dolores Gallegos (pp. 77-78). But, at the age of 26, how substantial were Núñez’s political assets? By Colombian standards, he had no oligarchical standing, which he acquired precisely through his marriage and his active support of José de Obaldía. Additionally, the author takes Charles W. Bergquist to task for his economic interpretation of the rise and fall of the Liberals. Yet Park also emphasizes (p. 196) economic conditions as a factor in the promotion of the political changes Núñez advocated.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of Park’s study is that he failed to assess Núñez’s actions, leaving us again with partisan interpretations. For example, the complex nature of Núñez’s personality is never explored, and Park merely mentions his “uncertainty and skepticism” (p. 80), while giving two stanzas of the famous “Que sais-je?” Throughout the study, the author bypassed opportunities to analyze Núñez’s actions and to explore the reasons for and significance of his political activities. Núñez is portrayed as a paladin of the Conservative restoration and the parties’ reconciliation (pp. 214-215), but the constitutional dictatorship imposed by the Regeneration (p. 270) is left without analysis.
Núñez deserved more and better. After all, what he did in Colombian politics was unique, and to this date no one has dared to defy the country’s political culture as the costeño did.