When I hear it said that the cultivation of coffee should bring great prosperity to our country, I am happy and wish that it could be so. But then I recall our distance from the sea, the oppressiveness of government, the scarcity of labor, the laziness of our workers, the dearness of money and tools, the insecurity in which we live (waiting for revolution, if not in the middle of one), our backwardness in mechanical skills, time, and capital which are—in addition to hard work—integral to the success of any coffee enterprise. Thus, I shelter grave fears that all this prosperity will only be wishful thinking.

Pedro Alejo Forero1
September 1879
Viotá, Cundinamarca

The large coffee estate districts of central Colombia were convulsed in social conflict during the late 1920s and early 1930s. A swath of municipalities in eastern Tolima and southwestern Cundinamarca witnessed the mobilization of between 10,000 and 15,000 service tenants, agricultural laborers, and squatters in the most extensive rural uprisings in Colombia since the late eighteenth-century Comunero rebellion.2 In the course of these protests, urban middle-class activists—reformers and revolutionaries alike—sought to direct and shape the rumblings from below in the coffee districts southwest of Bogotá. Dismayed by poverty, oppression, and cultural backwardness in the countryside, these lawyers, intellectuals, and bureaucrats historically interpreted the origins of the crisis and formulated a reform program which would endure for the succeeding half century.

Sketched out earlier by Alejandro López and others,3 the critique of the agrarian problem crystallized with the shock of the Depression and escalating rural unrest after 1929. First, finding their own countryside a foreign place, these observers came to rely on images of the medieval world—of manors, lords, and serfs—to decipher the origins and nature of what was labeled “creole feudalism.”4 In his 1935 law thesis, Domingo Martínez Zamora referred to the heritage of conquest and colonialism as an “antediluvian she-ass” holding the Colombian peasantry in merciless bondage to landlords and rural pettifoggers.5 The second dimension of this thesis was that great estate agriculture was economically backward. Its allegedly characteristic traits of extensive cattle raising, low productivity, and irrational labor management were viewed as “economic drawbacks.”6 In 1929, J. R. Hoyos Becerra, the chief of the General Labor Office, characterized the service tenancy arrangements on many central Colombian coffee haciendas as “intrinsically defective.”7 These early critics argued that the latifundio was an unreliable producer of foodstuffs and export commodities. “Feudalism” thus referred to the entrepreneurial deficiencies of the landowners as well as the barbarous treatment of their workers. The minister of industries chastized intransigent large coffee planters in 1934 saying that “no one travels far in his grandfather’s car.”8

The notion of the latifundio as the enemy of modernity and the impetus to cast off the “shackles” of feudalism took strong hold on the imagination of Colombian intellectuals and policymakers in the half century after the Great Depression.9 An elite and middle-class agrarian reform project contemplated the breakup of the great estates, the creation of a yeoman smallholder class through colonization and land distribution, and health and education measures in order to transform serfs into citizens.10 In the 1960s and ’70s, dependentista and Marxist preoccupation with Colombia’s transition to capitalism in the first half of the twentieth century mirrored the dualism of the liberal critique of the ancien régime.11 Thus, as historians examined the history of the connection into the world economy through coffee from the midnineteenth century onwards, central Colombia’s great estates fared badly. Viewed essentially as late nineteenth-century transplantations of highland colonial latifundios onto a tropical frontier, these enterprises were characterized as suffering from absentee management, lacking in technological or managerial innovation, and dependent on “backward,” “archaic,” or “precapitalist” labor relations. In short, they were considered ultimately a vestigial mode of production waiting to be liquidated by the rural unrest of the interwar years. Moreover, the endemic social inequalities in regions dominated by coffee haciendas were considered fundamental obstacles to capitalist development. Given the powerful counterpoint of the smallholder society in the Antioquian corridor to the west and its alleged role in stimulating industrialization, the coffee plantations came to be seen as the modernization road luckily not taken.12

Easily caricatured and slotted into a deterministic view of Latin America’s recent past, the large export-oriented estate in Colombia (and elsewhere) remains something of a puzzle. Given its importance in the half century before the Great Depression, it deserves the reassessment it is currently receiving from historians.13 For these large enterprises, despite persistent problems with domestic capital, labor markets, and fluctuating prices abroad, were the principal source of wealth in much of neocolonial Latin America after 1880.14 Their owners played major roles in the differentiation of the region’s economies, contributing to infrastructural improvements, commercial networks, financial institutions, and manufacturing before 1930 and afterward. And although they were not the only, nor even the most consistently important political actors, theirs were significant voices in debates about trade, transport, taxes, and money. A heterogeneous group, from backwater barons to cosmopolitan planters intimately associated with global capitalism, they were divided by region, crop, and political influence. Finally, the organizational diversity of their enterprises in a variety of ecological, economic, and social contexts leads to an appreciation of the complexity of export capitalism’s social architecture.

This essay focuses on the key issue of great estate structure and management in central Colombia before the Great Depression. The purpose is to challenge the monolithic view of the enterprises in those districts as doomed to “decline and premature decadence,” in the words of Colombia’s premier historian of coffee, Marco Palacios.15 I will examine the collective histories of major coffee haciendas in the southwestern Cundinamarca municipality of Viotá in the three decades before 1930. My argument is that the predominant patterns of land and labor usage—product diversification and service tenancies—were rational responses to the problems encountered by agrarian entrepreneurs during the rise and consolidation of export capitalism in the Colombian Andes from the 1870s onward. By contrasting this system with largely unsuccessful efforts to establish wage labor on haciendas devoted almost exclusively to coffee, it becomes possible to assess the economic viability of large-scale export production in this region. Moreover, we will have an empirical starting point to reassess the complex trajectory of capitalism in Latin America—the ebb and flow of creation, destruction, and transformation of economic structures and social relations which have given shape to the region’s history during the past century.

The Triumph of Export Agriculture in Central Colombia

At midday on October 23, 1910, Swiss botanists Otto Fuhrmann and Eugene Mayor stood on the heights of Guachaní, some 2,447 meters above sea level, overlooking the southwestern corner of Cundinamarca. Accompanied by coffee planters Luis Montoya Santamaría and Gabriel Ortiz Williamson, the foreign expeditionaries had journeyed southwestward down from the highland capital of Bogotá in order to investigate coffee plant diseases and parasites in the rich semitropical coffee districts of the Tequendama Valley. Immediately below the northern pass of the Cordillera de Subía, at the eastern edge of the Bogotá Biver basin, lay the Calandaima Valley, coterminous with the municipality of Viotá. In the following four days, the Swiss naturalists visited large coffee plantations in the northern and central sections of the municipality. They collected specimens and took notes on a variety of plants in the coffee groves before departing by train for the Magdalena River port of Girardot.

Their scientific imagination fired by the beauty and variety of the Calandaima Valley, Fuhrmann and Mayor also came away impressed by the tidiness which the great coffee planters had brought to the region. In Viotá, nature appeared to have been tamed, carefully designed coffee groves giving human shape and dimension to a land once covered in semitropical forests. Moreover, the Swiss scientists found manor houses—civilized, comfortable, and open—surrounded by garden parks planted in cacao, vanilla, and palm trees, where majestic peacocks held sway. High in the Colombian Andes, Fuhrmann and Mayor had seemingly encountered a paradise in which human reason had made nature less fearsome and from which riches could be expected to flow in full measure.16

The Europeans had visited one of central Colombia’s premier coffee municipalities dominated by large estates.17 Seven enterprises with over 1,000 fanegadas controlled almost 80 percent of Viotá’s land (Table I).18 Medium-sized estates, between 100 and 1,000 fanegadas, 18 in number, held slightly over 18 percent of the land. A handful of small plots occupied the remaining 2 percent. There were, however, variations within different sections of the municipality. The northern zone was most fragmented; its 25 enterprises, two-thirds of Viotá’s 41 farms, lay on nearly 22 percent of the municipality, and averaged 332 fanegadas in size. The only estates there larger than 1,000 fanegadas were the 1,750-fanegada Java owned by Conservative generals Mariano and Federico Tovar, and the 1,500-fanegada Arabia held in partnership by Enrique Ireguí and the French businessman Jorge Maguín. In contrast, the municipality’s central section, comprising 58 percent of its territory, was in the hands of three immense estates: Buenavista (also known as Calandaima), a 8,500-fanegada enterprise run by Carlos and Jorge Washington Crane, heirs of a nineteenth-century Bostonian merchant, George C. Crane; the 9,600-fanegada Florencia managed by Aristides Salgado on behalf of his wife, heiress of Pedro Alejo Forero, a Bogotá lawyer and Liberal politician who had acquired the property during the 1860s; and Ceilán, a 4,007-fanegada property extending westward halfway down the Cordillera de Subía, and owned by the sons of the nineteenth-century Liberal military chieftain, Eustacio de la Torre. The landholding pattern of the municipality’s southern section, not visited by the Swiss scientists, was similar to that of the northern zone. Its 13 units, representing a little over 18 percent of the municipal land, averaged 544 fanegadas in size. However, two large enterprises comprised over 63 percent of the district, both owned by heirs of Nicolás and José María Sáenz, members of a business family who had arrived from western Colombia in the 1880s: the 2,970-fanegada cattle ranch Atala/Casacoima and the 1,500-fanegada Liberia, a model of technical and organizational management.

These great estates had been founded between the 1860s and the 1880s on the western slope of the eastern Andes at the edge of the Upper Magdalena basin. The region had been a sparsely settled, economically marginal frontier zone well into the nineteenth century.19 From the colonial period, the Tequendama corridor had served as a transit point from the eastern highland core to the western part of the country and the river outlet to the Caribbean Sea; it also stood at the edge of a relatively dynamic agricultural and commercial system in central Colombia, its patchwork of extensive cattle estates, sugar plantations, and small farms supplying beef, sugar, and fruits to the densely populated altiplano.20 Around the middle of the nineteenth century, Viotá and other backwater villages in southwestern Cundinamarca became the arena for central Colombia’s first major experiments in export commodity production. A mix of highland merchant-landowners, foreign businessmen, trader-financiers from western Colombia’s mining centers, and local lords tried their hand at export production, establishing cattle ranches, tobacco estates, and cotton, cacao, indigo, and sugar plantations, and engaging in quinine-bark-stripping expeditions. These initial efforts faltered by the early 1870s as a result of what Carlos Abondano, a Viotá landowner who had invested in indigo, later referred to as a “shameful miscalculation.”21 Nonetheless, as a result of these initiatives in export agriculture, new circuits of capital had been created, transportation improvements had been encouraged, and the first wave of migrants from the populated eastern highlands had been drawn down into the tropical plains and highlands of the mid-Magdalena basin.22

Turning to coffee in the 1870s, agrarian entrepreneurs hoped that its adaptability to the mountainous terrain and its long-term productivity would make it more profitable than other export crops.23 Despite persistent problems in acquiring capital and labor and erratic international market conditions, the bean found a secure place in large-scale agriculture on the western slope.24 Viotá was considered an especially ideal location for coffee cultivation.25 The price of real estate in the region remained relatively inexpensive.26 The conditions for cultivation of the sensitive coffee plant were excellent in the Calandaima Valley, with its appropriate soils, rainfall, temperature, and scores of streams which tumbled off the Cordillera de Subía allowing adequate drainage, water for bean processing, and power for plantation machinery. Less than a day’s journey by mule to the river port of Girardot, the district was relatively accessible to foreign markets. Thus, in 1878, Carlos Abondano, recovering from the indigo debacle on his estate Neptuno in Viotá’s northern section, predicted that the municipality would become, “in time, a great producer of coffee.”27 In the succeeding two decades, Abondano’s prophecy was borne out as the district’s old colonial holdings were dismantled and streamlined, creating the large coffee plantations which would survive through the middle of the twentieth century.28 By 1900, Viotá had gained renown for its “valuable coffee plantings, almost all belonging to men of progress, who owed all, those few of great fortunes and the rest of modest means, to their honorable work year in and year out, a work which is constant, energetic, and intelligent.”29

The first two decades of the twentieth century were the golden age of coffee plantations in the Upper Magdalena basin, and Viotá in particular. Largely spared the disorders and material devastation on the western slope during the War of a Thousand Days which ended in 1903, it was described shortly after the cessation of hostilities by Cundinamarca Governor Eliseo Medina as the Tequendama Valley’s most “industrious and productive” district, a major source of plantains, maize, cattle, and sugar products. Yet coffee reigned supreme in the hills above the dreary little town on the banks of the Río Lindo on the great estates acclaimed for their high productivity, sophisticated equipment, and careful management. These enterprises produced 1,875,000 kilograms of coffee in 1905, and 37.7 percent of all the beans harvested in southwestern Cundinamarca.30

Viotá retained its place as a major coffee producer well into the 1920s, its importance in these years guaranteed with the completion of a nearby rail link to Girardot, greater access to credit from local and foreign sources, and a fairly steady flow of migrants out of the highlands to work on the great estates. The district’s economic vitality was reflected in its ranking as the fifth highest real estate valuation (1,115,270 pesos) in 1912 having among Cundinamarca’s 75 municipalities.31 A 1923 agricultural census indicated that 54.5 percent of the coffee bushes (producing and not yet bearing fruit) planted in the Tequendama corridor were in Viotá, and the municipality had 25 percent of all plantings in the Tequendama and Sumapaz combined.32 A statistical compendium of the Colombian coffee industry published the following year showed Viotá with the fourth largest number of trees in the country; its 4,967,500 bushes on 30 estates represented almost two-thirds of the coffee plantings in the zone which stretched from San Antonio de Tena to Jerusalén on the Magdalena River.33 Cadastral reports at the end of the decade further revealed the extent of Viotá’s wealth, with its 3,373,070-peso valuation—a 192-percent increase from 1912—making it the eighth-ranked municipality in Cundinamarca, surpassed only by the capital and its environs and the rapidly growing river port of Girardot.34

The planters of the Calandaima Valley were leading proponents of a modernized coffee sector. Carefully monitoring their enterprises from nearby Bogotá by telephone, they sought to raise productivity with fertilizers and campaigns to counter coffee parasites, and supported public health programs among their workers.35 They also exercised influence at a national level; Ortiz Williamson and the Crane brothers were principals in the formation of the Sociedad de Agricultores de Colombia (SAC). Others served at government posts, including Luis Montoya Santamaría as the nation’s first minister of agriculture. Colombia was not a planter’s republic in these years, yet, to the degree that it became a republic of coffee, the Viotá estate owners were among its most influential advocates and defenders.36 The manicured and carefully managed islands of order in their Andean fastness visited by Fuhrmann and Mayor before World War I were celebrated two decades later by Mario del Corral after a visit to the “region of Viotá, one of the richest producers of coffee in Cundinamarca, one which possesses perhaps the finest varieties in the department.” This influential spokesman for the coffee lobby journeyed up through the coffee groves toward the heights of the Cordillera de Subía, taking note of the valuable and well-managed haciendas and marveling at the beauty of the “coffee groves which cover the valleys and gorges of this broken landscape.”37

The Dilemmas of Large-Scale Export Production

The success of large-scale coffee production in central Colombia is somewhat surprising given the difficult circumstances within which it emerged in the late nineteenth century and the continuing obstacles in the several decades preceding the Great Depression. Following the formation of the coffee plantations in the 1870s, international markets were highly erratic, finally careening downward in the late 1890s. Internally, persistent scarcities of labor and credit, transportation obstacles, and civil unrest led to Pedro Alejo Forero’s dismissal of optimism about coffee as wishful thinking.”38 Notwithstanding the elite’s determination to embark on a modernization program following the end of civil war in 1903, a certain anxiety about an export-oriented economy was evident in the succeeding three decades. With a prescient eye, Cundinamarca’s governor warned in 1906 against overreliance on coffee and suggested agricultural diversification and manufacturing in order to avoid “North America’s perilous dominion.”39 Planters also expressed desperation with the continuing difficulties confronting commercial agriculture; in 1908, Viotá’s Ortiz Williamson fretted, in paraphrase of Bolívar, that “we have tried plowing the seas . . . perhaps it is time to emigrate, but we won’t [leave] because even that is too expensive.”40 And Mario del Corral, having lavished praise on the Viotá haciendas in 1928, was by turns disconcerted that, in the rich valley of the Calandaima, some “beautiful groves seem to have been abandoned by their owners, by the workers, and by man in general.. . . No longer do the powerful machines shake the earth, nor do the shouts of the muleteers pierce the majestic silence of that immense solitude.”41

Though del Corral’s lament regarding the great estates on the eve of the Great Depression was hyperbolic, hacienda owners on the western slope through the first quarter of the twentieth century were legitimately concerned about the viability of plantation agriculture. In spite of the considerable advantages of large-scale coffee cultivation, these planters continued to be plagued by the dilemmas which had confronted the original coffee entrepreneurs in Cundinamarca’s southwestern frontier in the closing decades of the nineteenth century.

In the first place, the international market for their principal export product continued to be unstable throughout the first decade of the twentieth century. Though not as erratic as in the 1880s and ’90s, foreign demand for Colombian coffee immediately following the end of the War of a Thousand Days was sluggish. Given the saturation of North Atlantic consumer markets by large Brazilian harvests, coffee exports from the northern Andean republic between 1905 and 1909 increased in value by only 3.9 percent, despite a 40-percent growth in volume.42 Between 1909 and the onset of World War I, their position improved dramatically, due partly to the Brazilian valorization program by which coffee production was kept from the market.43 Prices advanced briskly by 76 percent between 1909 and late 1914, with the volume of exported coffee increasing by 46 percent and its value doubling as Colombian varieties acquired growing influence in the North American coffee trade.44 Though the war initially checked the pace of growth in Colombian exports and choked off access to traditional European markets, particularly in Germany, from 1917 to the end of the decade Colombian beans found a secure niche in the U.S. market.45 In this period, global inflation pushed the value of tropical commodities upward, the prices for Colombian coffee jumping by almost two-thirds. The subsequent 37.9-percent increase in the volume of exported coffee resulted in a 168-percent growth in earnings, five times what they had been a decade before in 1920. However, as the North Atlantic economies skidded into a deep recession in 1920 and 1921, the large plantations on the western slope were badly battered.46 During the crisis, prices for Colombian coffee fell by a quarter, to nearly prewar levels, with earnings sliding by almost 14 percent, held in check only by a 62.4-percent increase in the volume of exports. The recovery of tropical commodity trade from the recession was relatively rapid. The prices for Colombian beans, beneath the umbrella of another Brazilian valorization program,47 grew by 62 percent and the total value of coffee exports by 114 percent between 1921 and 1927. In the following two years, however, the global trade in tropical commodities stalled. Though Colombian beans held their own in foreign markets by increasing the volume of production by 20 percent, there was a 7.5-percent downward slide in value.48 Despite the signs of a weakened tropical commodities market, the Colombian coffee elites remained optimistic. In late 1929, the manager of the newly created Federación Nacional de Cafeteros, Alfredo Cortázar Todelano, suggested that “with a small effort by our growers to improve cultivation and a little more care in the processing to ensure the highest quality product, we can best Brazil.”49

Cortázar Todelano’s injunction to Colombian producers was mirrored by powerful pressures on the large producers in the Upper Magdalena Valley. Large foreign processing and exporting firms which had replaced the older system of commission houses as a result of the crisis of the early 1920s now placed increasingly stringent demands for quality control in cultivation and processing.50 The impact of this restructured marketing system was exacerbated for the central Colombian hacienda owners by the definitive emergence in these years of small-scale coffee producers elsewhere in the country, in the Sumapaz district south of the Tequendama,51 and particularly in the rapidly growing coffee corridor in western Colombia.52 The latter region, stretching from the Department of Antioquia southward into Caldas, Tolima, and the Cauca Valley, produced some 70.3 percent of Colombian coffees by the late 1920s; the network of foreign and local merchants and financiers in the west was able to guarantee a lower-cost, high-quality bean from an export-oriented smallholder agriculture.53 Under these conditions, the large-scale producers in the Tequendama Valley who had sent their specialty coffees to Europe and, to a lesser extent, North America on direct account for a generation or more, were now competing with western Colombian varieties which, through the 1920s, had a price edge of between 1 and 2 cents per pound on New York markets.54

Central Colombian growers were also at a disadvantage because of persistently high transportation costs. A flurry of projects in the western part of the country during the 1920s connected its fast-growing coffee districts with Pacific ports and outlets on the lower Magdalena River.55 However, shipments from the still relatively isolated valleys of southwestern Cundinamarca to coastal ports took up to five months and cost as much as 60 pesos a ton.56 The problem was due partly to the inadequate roadway system from coffee estates to stations along the railroad between Bogotá and Girardot, and also to high freight charges, despite pressures from the planter lobby.57 More problematic, however, was the Magdalena River, where shifting sandbars and the coincidence of the dry season in its midsection (a more than 250-kilometer stretch between Girardot and La Dorada) with the coffee harvest on the western slope rendered even barge transport impossible for months on end. Thus, during a period when Cundinamarca producers might have earned high profits in markets relatively clear of beans from the western part of the country, mountains of coffee were often stuck in Girardot’s warehouses and docks.58

The problems of the international coffee markets and the competition from the increasingly dynamic western corridor notwithstanding, central Colombia’s coffee sector remained strong in the first third of the century and even underwent a surge in production during the 1920s. In Viotá, tree plantings increased by 230 percent between 1907 and 1927, reaching a little over 8 million.59 While major capital investments in land and machinery had already been made, there were substantial permanent and occasional expenditures in grove management. For example, expanded production necessitated increases in packaging materials and mule teams.60 Moreover, growing concern over soil exhaustion led some Viotá landowners to invest in fertilizers, with Guillermo Sáenz reporting in the late 1920s an increase in productivity per bush from .75 to 1.7 pounds after the application of chemical fertilizers.61 There were also unforeseen outlays in response, for example, to repeated outbreaks of coffee rust diseases in southwestern Cundinamarca.62

At the same time, labor costs were high and tending to go higher. In 1906, a study of comparative labor costs in coffee production worldwide revealed that average Colombian costs were 6.5 cents (U.S.) per pound in contrast to the world average of 4.7 cents; moreover, Colombian enterprises were said to have had 60 percent fewer workers, and the average salary in coffee areas was 50 percent greater than the world average.63 Although wage series are lacking for the 1920s, the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros reported in 1929 that daily wages in the large coffee plantation districts had risen from 35 centavos a day to between 1.00 and 1.50 pesos in the preceding two years.64 The upward movement of labor costs may very well have been exacerbated by increasing pressures for higher quality and bean standardization.

In the midst of all these circumstances, the great estate owners in Viotá and elsewhere in southwestern Cundinamarca were confronted by the age-old problem of acquiring cheap credit. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the capital base of these enterprises had been created by a combination of local savings, indirect foreign investment through commission houses, and the inflationary policies of Conservative administrations.65 Hyperinflation and the pressure on debtors by foreign creditors following the War of a Thousand Days threatened plantation agriculture on the western slope, where landowners seeking to pay workers in estate nickel coins would have echoed Ortiz Williamson’s complaint in 1907 that “we coffee growers are on the eve of harvest and we have no money.”66 For the succeeding two decades, these hacendados negotiated their way through a thicket of unstandardized coinages, an inadequate supply of specie, and high interest rates. Official efforts before the 1920s to establish a sound monetary system—burning paper money in the streets of the capital, a failed project for a national bank, and initiatives to establish mortgage institutions—proved largely unsuccessful. Moreover, domestic credit markets for large-scale agriculture remained inadequate in the first two decades of the century as capital was drawn to the profitable import trade and urban real estate.67

Financial conditions improved somewhat in the 1920s. Following the $25 million Panama indemnity payment from the United States, growing direct and indirect foreign investment, and fiscal reforms undertaken by the central government under the advice of North American consultants, the circulation of currency and greater access to credit quickened the pace of the nation’s economic life.68 Yet large agriculturalists, at least those in coffee, gained little from the so-called “dance of the millions”. In the resultant scramble for capital, the coffee hacendados were hardly competitive with the demands of rapid urbanization and the expanding manufacturing sector. Towards the late 1920s, interest rates in agriculture remained quite high, short-term rates ranging between 12 and 15 percent, while longer-term rates were between 15 and 18 percent.69

Under these conditions, Viotá growers searched for credit lines in both the public and private sectors. For example, the managers of the hacienda Java borrowed 15,000 pesos twice running in 1927 and 1928 from the recently established Banco Agrícola Hipotecario, a government-financed national mortgage bank.70 More significantly, however, the plantation owners grew increasingly dependent on large commercial banks, foreign and domestic.71 The Afanador family which owned La Florida had arrangements with the Colombian branch of the Mercantile Bank of the Americas, the single U.S. bank operating in Colombia at that time.72 Luis Montoya Santamaría was a heavy borrower from the Banco Francés e Italiano, another major creditor of central Colombian coffee growers in those years whose operations were subsequently taken over by the Royal Bank of Canada.73 A handful of domestic private banks also serviced large growers, notably the Banco de Colombia which had entered the export trade during World War I, provisioning central Colombian planters in partnership with the New York financiers Crossman and Siecklen, underwriters of the first Brazilian valorization.74 Several large estates, including California, Argentina, and the municipality’s third largest, the Cranes’ Buenavista, sold their beans through the Banco de Colombia. The banks purchased beans from growers, crediting to the latter’s account two-thirds of the market value; once the crop had been sold, the planters received the remainder of the payment, less a commission of around 2.5 percent and interest of 12 percent. Unlike the earlier credit operations with often six-month repayment schedules, now 30-, 60-, and occasionally 90-day terms were the best available.75 The high interest and commission rates charged by these institutions were onerous. Yet given their credit needs, expanding exports, and the disappearance of older deals with European commission houses, the planters had no real alternative to the conditions set by the bankers.

If the hacendados had difficulty accumulating capital to meet their production costs after the turn of the century, they also struggled to acquire a cheap and malleable work force. In 1906, the editors of the Revista Nacional de Agricultura complained that 50 percent of the harvest on the western slope had been lost because of a lack of laborers.76 More than two decades later, Gabriel Ortiz Williamson informed Mario del Corral that, for the same reason, 15 percent of the 1928 crop in Viotá had not been gathered.77 In the middle of that year, the nation’s central bank issued dire warnings on the tight labor market in central Colombia’s plantation districts, saying that the “coffee crop is abundant, but there was fear for the lack of hands for the harvest. ”78

The absence of a settled peasantry in this frontier zone had plagued agrarian entrepreneurs in the nineteenth century and did not change substantially before the Great Depression.79 Between 1905 and the end of the 1920s, the population in the rural areas of Cundinamarca’s southeastern corner increased by only 73.5 percent, to not quite 150,000 persons.80 This was barely 6 percent higher than the departmental growth rate as a whole, and significantly lower than the 135-percent surge in Bogotá and the tripling of population in nearby Girardot. The growth was most rapid in the period immediately following the civil war, as a result of a sharp spurt of migration from the highlands. According to some reports, between 1906 and 1914 the permanent work force on the western slope grew by over 500 percent, from 12,000 to 80,000 persons, while the seasonal labor force expanded at a less dramatic 140 percent, from 100,000 to a yet substantial 240,000 persons.81 This prewar increase in the region’s population, however, was not sustained over the remainder of the period before 1930, slowing to 17.2 percent during the war years and picking up some pace (22.9 percent) during the 1920s.

While labor conditions improved briefly after the end of the War of a Thousand Days, over the long term opportunities elsewhere beckoned workers who might otherwise have come to work in the coffee groves of the Tequendama Valley. In the first place, there were certainly the attractions of other agricultural frontiers, especially when access to plots in service tenancy arrangements diminished as estates reached their territorial limits. While there was some migration from Viotá to the Quindío region in western Colombia in the mid-1920s,82 the Sumapaz district just south of the Tequendama was a more accessible frontier zone. In nearby Fusagasugá, for example, the population growth rate early in the century was some 25 times greater than in Viotá.83 Throughout the Sumapaz, squatters contested large landowners and real estate speculators for control over public lands.84 Public works programs were another major cause of the labor scarcity in central Colombia. The construction of highways, bridges, government buildings, and aqueducts drew away workers from agriculture, not only in the western slope, but in the highland districts, the point of origin for many of the temporary workers who traveled into the coffee region for the harvests.85 Additionally, the labor problem for large-scale commercial agriculture appears to have been exacerbated by the rapid industrialization and urbanization of the 1920s.86 The differential between urban and rural wages which had begun to diverge during World War I appears to have become even wider by the late 1920s.87

It is hardly surprising that in the midst of the “dance of the millions” the coffee planters of central Colombia expressed deep concern about the future of their enterprises. Many among them would likely have agreed with Mario del Corral’s pessimistic assessment of the country’s boom time, when the secretary of the Cundinamarca Coffee Growers’ Committee, after returning from his visit to Viotá, concluded,

[W]hen the price of coffee was lower than it is now, business was better because wages were lower, all of the harvest would get collected, and even the freight charges were tolerable; also the lives of the workers were so much better because there was always enough food and tropical diseases had not ravaged those human agglomerations of the public works projects.88

Entrepreneurial Strategies and Hacienda Coffee Production

The first three decades of the twentieth century were perilous times for the large coffee plantations of central Colombia. An erratic world coffee market, growing competition from western Colombia, a flawed infrastructure, and the incoherence of labor and capital markets presented constant challenges to their owners and managers. A handful of Viotá’s great estates experienced major problems in these years, the pressures of the market and the inadequacy of their responses resulting in severe and persistent financial difficulties. One enterprise, Los Olivos, went bankrupt in this period. This Ortiz family estate was mortgaged for 6,325.98 pesos in 1924. The following year, its owner, Luis Nariño Ortiz, acquired another loan from the Banco Hipotecario de Colombia for 16,000 pesos, but his efforts to keep the enterprise afloat failed, and the estate was put up for public auction in 1929.89

Though no other estate reached such a critical stage in those years, others did contract considerable indebtedness. Most notable was the case of Argelia, owned by the former President of SAC and Minister of Agriculture Luis Montoya Santamaría. In 1919, Montoya Santamaría mortgaged his estate to the Compañía General de Seguros de Bogotá for 15,000 pesos. This debt was later transferred to one of the largest foreign banks operating in Colombia in those years, the Banco Francés e Italiano. In 1923, Argelia’s owner contracted another mortgage of 24,000 pesos with his brother, Eustacio Santamaría. In 1925, Argelia’s owner arranged for two additional mortgages, one with the Banco Francés e Italiano for 23,000 pesos and the other for 9,500 pesos with the Banco de Bogotá, a powerful national bank and major coffee purchaser. The following year, further negotiations with the Banco Francés e Italiano resulted in a credit line of $24,148 in U.S. dollars, with the bank assuming direct control over the marketing of the harvest. Finally, in 1929, Montoya Santamaría once again sought additional capital, this time contracting a mortgage of 30,000 pesos with another foreign bank, the Banco de Londres y América del Sud.90

These two debt-encumbered estates were among a handful of Viotá haciendas which had the lowest rate of coffee plantings in those years (see Group I, Tables II and III). While the municipal increase in coffee plantings between 1907 and 1927 was 280 percent, the rates of growth on these two enterprises were substantially lower: Los Olivos plantings increased by only 62.5 percent and Argelia’s by an even lower 50 percent. They were two of five estates in the municipality, encompassing 16.9 percent of the land and holding 13 percent of its bushes, which grew by less than 100 percent over the 20-year period. The size of these relatively slow-growing enterprises was mostly in the middle range, between 500 and 750 fanegadas, and they included another Montoya Santamaría holding, his 625-fanegada La Victoria located in the municipality’s southern section. There was one other enterprise, however, in this group, the 4,007-fanegada Ceilán, which had contracted huge debts from French creditors in the 1890s and had gone into receivership after its founder, Eustacio de la Torre, died in 1904; Enrique de Narváez, the Colombian representative of those foreign financiers, administered the estate directly for over two decades, finally completing payments in 1931.91

One estate in this category, the Iregui family’s Argentina, experienced no growth at all in this period. Its 100,000 bushes planted before 1907 were still bearing fruit in the mid-1920s, but there had been no additional plantings since the first years of the century. The other enterprise which had low growth in these years was the remnant of the great Abondano tract in northern Viotá, the 750-fanegada Glasgow, whose plantings grew by only 33.3 percent over the two decades. Both Argentina and Glasgow had 200,000 bushes by the end of the period. The average number of bushes in this group was 219,000, and the average size of the estates was 1,290 fanegadas.

Contrasted with the fragile financial situation and sluggishness in growth of several Viotá estates was the dynamism and vitality among a considerably larger number of enterprises (see Group II, Tables II and III). Ten of the municipality’s 15 estates larger than 500 fanegadas underwent over 100-percent growth in coffee plantings in this period, some even increasing their bushes sixfold or more. These enterprises cultivated 49.2 percent of the municipality’s bushes and held 72.4 percent of its land. The average number of bushes in this group was 394,500, and the average size of the estates was 2,762 fanegadas. Two of these, Arabia and Java, appear to have started completely anew in the first decade of the century, reaching 400,000 and 270,000 bushes respectively by the mid-1920s. Some of the largest increases in production were on Atala and Costa Rica, both with 600 percent; each had 350,000 bushes by the end of the ’20s. Quite lower, but still substantial levels of growth were achieved on the Crane estate, Buenavista, with a 195-percent increase over the period, resulting in 590,000 producing bushes. In between were the medium-sized increases of Ortiz Williamson’s La Magdalena with 200 percent, La Ruidosa’s 250 percent, and Liberia, the Sáenz model estate whose coffee plantings grew by 375 percent, reaching 475,000 bushes. Overshadowing them all was Florencia; its 400-percent growth to 1,000,000 made it Viotá’s largest in numbers of bushes as well as size, with 9,600 fanegadas. The smallest estate in this group of most rapidly growing enterprises was the 500-fanegada plantation of the Afanador family, La Florida, which grew by 400 percent, reaching 230,000 trees by 1927.

The differences between the two groups of estates reflected the dilemmas of large-scale export agriculture during the first third of the twentieth century as well as the resources and strategies which appear to have been used to overcome the severe external and internal pressures. In 1917, at the depths of the economic crisis occasioned by World War I, Ortiz Williamson pondered the problems confronting Viotá’s estate owners. A letter to the Bogotá daily, El Tiempo, in August of that year from La Magdalena’s owner squarely laid out the principal issues. On the one hand, he insisted on a realistic appraisal of Colombia’s ability to compete in international markets. “Whosoever wants to obtain a moderate profit in this business should expect to [set aside] a part of his holding [for] renters and estancieros who will work very inexpensively.” After postulating that service tenancy was the only serious way of reducing the substantial labor costs, Ortiz Williamson proceeded to his second argument. The recently elected congressman criticized what he believed were unwarranted enthusiasms for coffee. With a certain pique, he wrote,

[I]t is all very well . . . to conserve the plantings which now exist, but it seems less than prudent to preach on all sides that coffee is the philosopher’s stone of the nation. . . . [I]t is natural and patriotic to support other areas of production, such as cattle raising which requires an insignificant number of hands.92

Ortiz Williamson’s caution echoed concerns expressed by the planters on the southwestern Cundinamarca frontier a generation before. There appears to have been virtual unanimity among Viotá’s first coffee hacienda owners regarding crop diversification. Carlos Abondano had suggested in 1879 that on a typical coffee enterprise of 100 fanegadas only 40 of these should be planted in the bean; the remainder was best divided up into pasturage for animals and gardens of corn and yuca. Nicolás Sáenz, writing a decade later, insisted that such allocation of land would help underwrite coffee cultivation and would “avoid the impatience of neophytes” who might have expected to have quick and easy returns in such an enterprise.93 There was perhaps less agreement on the use of land as remuneration for labor services. Abondano recommended, on his 100-fanegada model plantation, that “estancias” be put aside for eight to ten worker families, so as to assure the “peons in residence very necessary to the enterprise.” Sáenz, however, was less sanguine about such arrangements. His manual is fraught with injunctions against giving workers too much leeway, suggesting strong discipline in the coffee groves to ensure proper care in bush maintenance and harvesting. Moreover, Sáenz turned a skeptical eye on the subcontracting systems which other planters were using to clear the land and establish the coffee groves, and which provided the basis for service tenancy arrangements; for him, such contracts severely compromised effective management, as enterprises ultimately would “be burdened with debts and time would be lost.”94 It is very likely that the Sáenz estate, Liberia, depended largely on wage labor, both in the initial land clearance and in the subsequent periods of expansion and consolidation.

On the question of crop diversification, Ortiz Williamson shared in the consensus which apparently developed in the early period of estate formation on the western slope. Regarding the labor issue, he seems to have cast his lot with those who, however skeptical about the malleability of the highland migrants or the efficacy of subcontracting, had determined that the cost of labor was simply too high to be borne through wage payments in specie. The ongoing operations of the enterprises required a sizable permanent work force; further, the labor needs of the harvest season forced landowners to hire a large number of additional workers at relatively high wages. The most rational response to this situation, as Ortiz Williamson implied, was to assure a large, permanent work force which would be paid with usufruct rights to land rather than money; in short, a system of service tenancy would effectively reduce the expenditures on labor.

Between the 1870s and the 1890s, labor systems had been in considerable flux as the great estates expanded up the slopes of the Cordillera de Subía. In order to clear the land, planters had relied on combinations of contracting out to organized gangs, direct wage labor, and temporary sharecropping arrangements known as the colonato. Immediately after the War of a Thousand Days, this mix of labor uses evolved into a full-blown service tenancy system. This occurred in the context of the absence of any sustained European immigration as in the Brazilian case and the inability of the planters to rely on an effective state-organized labor recruitment system as occurred in Guatemala.95 While the flow of highland migrants into the district in the decade after the conflict’s end and high prices for coffee in the early 1910s likely gave the landowners some choices with regard to wage labor or service tenancy contracts, persistent fiscal instability likely set firm limits on the availability of specie to pay workers in those years.

There were several aspects to the labor system which had crystallized by the 1920s. First, the estates, to a greater or lesser degree, relied on the labor of workers and their families allocated a parcel of land in exchange for their labor.96 These estancias, as they were known, varied in size, depending on the specific contractual arrangements between the landlord or his administrator and the worker, who was referred to as an arrendatario. However, they appear to have ranged between four and six fanegadas, there being no standardized contract. For some sizable number of arrendatarios, their parcels in the 1920s may have been the last of several allotments as they cleared the coffee groves from the turn of the century onward. Plot uses were formally limited to production of foodstuffs and tenants were often required to pay an additional annual rent in cash for the use of their land. Second, the required tasks for the tenants, also known as obligacioneros, varied according to the size of their plots, but were usually half a month. These obligations were fulfilled during weekly work periods of two to three days, during which the workers were directed by a foreman responsible for a given grove area known as the tablón. Third, the service tenants were not the only workers on these estates. A group of more or less permanent salaried employees existed on each estate, from a handful of carpenters and machinists to a larger group of unskilled field hands. Finally, there were the large group of workers brought in for the harvests, particularly the principal one between March and May. During those months, these jornaleros or voluntarios were paid in coin, food, and molasses; the arrendatarios, it should be noted, also received some small additional remuneration in specie at harvest periods, though usually only half of what casual laborers earned.

This system benefited the planters in ways other than a reduced wage bill. It assured them a secure work force which could be expected to submit to the disciplines of the great estates. While they periodically hired gangs of mostly young men and women who wandered about the countryside following the ripening coffee, the landowners clearly perceived such temporary workers as outsiders who could only be regimented by high wages and strong grog. Most Viotá landowners appear to have believed that the consolidation of a long-standing community of arrendatarios on their haciendas would ensure a measure of loyalty and personal attachment to the estate among their workers, thus guaranteeing a stable and disciplined pool of laborers. Indeed, by the late 1920s, numerous arrendatario families were entering their second generation on some plantations; sons were inheriting estancias from their fathers or negotiating their own service tenancy contracts. Further, the arrendatario plots were the principal source of foodstuffs on the great estates themselves; the yuca, corn, potatoes, and plantains grown on these parcels were purchased by the administrators in order to feed their wage laborers, thereby reducing the cost of transporting food from other areas. In some cases, it appears that the estate managers required the tenant families to lodge and feed the day laborers, thereby even further reducing the costs of maintaining the nontenant work force.

The advantages of service tenancy were evident to most Viotá estate-owners. By the end of the 1920s, approximately one-fifth of the land in the municipality had been allocated to arrendatarios, and those estates with the highest rates of coffee plantings over the whole period depended on these arrangements for a substantial portion of their labor. On such enterprises, the ratio of lands under coffee cultivation to those allocated to tenants was quite low. Six of the seven largest estates, comprising 28,327 fanegadas (over 74 percent of the land) had from .3 to .7 fanegada in coffee for every one fanegada allocated to a service tenant. For example, Guillermo Sáenz’s 2,979-fanegada estate, Atala, with a very high 600-percent growth rate in its coffee plantings between 1907 and 1927, had a ratio of .3 to 1; Buenavista, the municipality’s second largest estate, had a ratio of .4 to 1; while Florencia, the largest, Java, with 2,970 fanegadas in the northern zone, and Arabia, in the same section, with 1,500 fanegadas, all had ratios of .7 to 1.

Though service tenancy predominated, there were at least two major instances of sharecropping contracts. Ortiz Williamson had noted in his 1917 letter that some Viotá landowners gave direct control over coffee production to their tenants. In the mid-1920s, Arabia directly cultivated 400,000 trees on the estate, while its arrendatarios cared for another 75,000 on their own parcels. On Ortiz Williamson’s estate, some 31 percent of the 337,500 coffee trees were on tenant plots, as opposed to the estate-managed tablones. For La Magdalena’s owner, the difficulties of the war years apparently forced him into these arrangements. However, he was somewhat forlorn about their consequences, noting that during the coffee harvest it was difficult to get the tenants to attend to their obligations because they were working diligently on their own plots. In any event, it appears that such experiments with sharecropping were largely transitory as they did not become commonplace in the following decade.

A few hacendados struck out on a different path, attempting to have a substantial segment of their permanent work force paid directly in specie. Two of the most rapidly growing enterprises did so with some success. In the southern zone, Liberia, quadrupling its coffee bushes in this 20-year period, apparently continued to follow the advice of its founder and avoided service tenancy to any significant degree. Only 6 percent of the 1,500-fanegada enterprise was in the hands of tenants, and its ratio of land in coffee to tenancies was a quite high 3.4 to 1. Similarly, Costa Rica, which increased coffee cultivation by 600 percent in this period, had double the proportion of estate land in the hands of arrendatarios, but its ratio of coffee land to tenancies was even higher than Liberia’s, 4.8 to 1.

Interestingly, Viotá’s smaller estates tended to have both high rates of growth over the 20-year period and greater reliance on nontenant labor. The Bazurto family’s Pekín, for example, had an extraordinarily high 82.4 percent of its holdings in coffee cultivation and the highest coffee-tenancy ratio in the municipality, 25 to 1. Nonetheless, reliance on wage labor was risky. This was especially true for larger firms, and the heavy reliance on such labor arrangements by Liberia and Costa Rica was exceptional. A number of estates with the lowest rates of coffee expansion in the period appear to have depended largely on wage labor. Luis Montoya Santamaría was apparently determined to avoid commiting very much land to service tenancy. His La Victoria in the municipality’s southern section, where coffee plantings expanded by only 86 percent over the 20-year period, had only 4 percent of its land in tenancies and a very high coffee-tenancy ratio of 9 to 1. More significantly, the debt-ridden Argelia, with an even lower 2.8 percent of its 500 fanegadas in tenancies, had a ratio of 10.3 fanegadas of coffee land for every one in tenancy, indicating an extremely high reliance on wage labor, the highest among the 15 largest estates.

It is notable that those estates which depended largely on wage labor, whether they were successful or not in longer-term expansion over the whole period, halted or severely cut back on plantings after 1922. In Argelia’s case, over 66 percent of all its bushes in 1927 had been planted before 1907; the remaining 33 percent had been planted between 1907 and 1922. Liberia’s planting history shows a more dynamic pattern of grove extension in the interim period, with almost 79 percent of its total number of bushes planted between 1907 and 1922, but a termination of plantings in 1927.

In contrast, the large estates which relied on service tenancy had consistent increases in plantings over the entire period. As of 1927, almost 30 percent of Buenavista trees had been planted before 1907, 39 percent between 1907 and 1922, and 32.2 percent between 1922 and 1927. Likewise, the municipality’s largest estate, Florencia, with its 1,000,000 trees in 1927, had only 20 percent that dated from before 1907; 60 percent had been planted between 1907 and 1922 and a smaller, but not insignificant, 20 percent in the mid-1920s. In short, it is likely that the tightening of the labor market in the teens affected various wage-labor estates in different ways, depending on their overall resources. By the 1920s, the deepening crisis in labor and capital markets affected both kinds of estates. Yet the growth rate of those dependent on service tenancy remained remarkably stronger than that of estates which had placed their bets on wage labor.

The ability of plantations to expand cultivation, whether or not they relied on wage labor, also appears to have depended on income streams which could effectively underwrite the high labor costs. Certainly successful reliance on wage labor depended on access to relatively cheap credit from outside the estate. This was certainly the case for both Liberia and Costa Rica, both part of larger business conglomerates in these years. The Sáenz family was able to prevent any devolution of land to service tenants, even in periods of crisis, through a substantial influx of capital from other successful industrial and commercial holdings.97 Nonetheless, this must have been quite expensive, because the plantings on that plantation came to a halt after 1922, during the period of increases in labor costs. The Camacho Roldán and Tamayo partnership likewise was able to move toward greater reliance on wage labor over this period; during the dramatic rise in coffee prices in the late teens, Costa Rica’s management eliminated most of its tenancies. In contrast with the Sáenz enterprise, the Camacho Roldán and Tamayo business apparently had the commitment and sufficient financial capacity to persist in this strategy, probably with the expectation that long-term increases in coffee prices would cancel out the growth in labor costs. This, in turn, would account for the expansion of coffee plantings on Costa Rica through most of the 1920s.98

But there were other sources of income generated within the estates themselves which appear to have subvented coffee production in those years. By the end of this period, lands devoted to sugar cultivation and livestock comprised almost 27 percent of the municipality’s territory. During the initial stages of estate formation in the late nineteenth century, cane likely played a role as a major institutional cushion within these enterprises; the resultant sugar products were used to feed workers and were also sold in nearby towns and probably as far away as Bogotá. With the consolidation of large-scale sugar production oriented toward growing urban markets after the turn of the century by such highly capitalized and technically advanced complexes as the nearby Ingenio San Antonio, cane cultivation was no longer a reliable source of income. Hence, cattle raising took on increased importance over these years. This was especially appropriate, as Ortiz Williamson pointed out in 1917, because of the low labor requirements of cattle production.

The low ratio of coffee lands to pasture on the largest estates illustrates the planters’ dependence on income from the ranching sections of their enterprises. Four of the largest estates, with almost 30 to 50 percent of their land in pasture and high rates of coffee expansion in this period —Java, Atala, Buenavista, and Florencia—had ratios of between .3 to .4 fanegadas in coffee for every one in pasture. To be sure, Ceilán, the municipality’s second largest hacienda, had only 4.1 percent of its land in pasture and a quite high 2-to-1 ratio of coffee to pasture land. The same ratio existed on the stagnating Argentina; with almost 40 percent of its land in tenancies and a coffee-tenancy ratio of .9 to 1, the low allocation of land to pasture, 17 percent, probably signalled the absence of income streams outside of coffee which might have helped sustain the enterprise over the long term.

Another potential and sometimes real source of income within the great estates was the unexploited forest and brushlands comprising a third of the total land in the municipality and located mostly on the upper ridges of the Cordillera de Subía. Three-quarters of the reserve areas were located in the central part of the municipality, and they made up substantial segments, between one-third and two-thirds, of the three largest estates. With Viotá’s territory remaining substantially forested in the 1920s, the reserve areas, in particular, served two functions. First, they were possible areas for additional coffee expansion, providing the owners of estates with significant leverage to take advantage of price increases. (Significantly, in the 1930s with lowered coffee demand but a market for lumber in the rapidly growing nearby capital city, these zones would become the center of lumbering activity.) Second, these reserves also provided an indirect source of income for the great estates in other ways as the rural poor contracted with hacienda administrators to use forest areas for hunting, small-scale gardening, and making charcoal. On the one hand, they augmented the self-sufficiency of the tenant households, thereby reducing the potential claims of a substantial portion of the work force on estate income through wage demands. Such arrangements also provided a vehicle through which the estates could legitimately extract bits and pieces of capital from the rural poor through the collection of licensing fees, tolls, and fines.

The Logic and Social Consequences of the Hacienda System

From both neoclassical and traditional Marxist perspectives, the system of land and labor management on central Colombia’s great coffee estates could be considered inefficient and incompatible with advanced capitalist agriculture.99 Unquestionably, these estates did not maximize their principal resource—land—in order to achieve high rates of productivity in the principal commercial crop. Analogously, the prevailing labor system—service tenancy—allowed a remarkable degree of autonomy for a major portion of the work force, thereby qualifying the planter’s capacity to control the production process. Low allocations of land to coffee cultivation, extensive cattle raising, and a reliance on a dependent labor force remunerated in usufruct rights to land marked these enterprises as remnants of a “seignorial” order and obstacles to modernity in the Colombian countryside. Thus, for observers in the 1920s and 1930s and later students of that nation’s agrarian problem, the coffee haciendas seem aptly to have been characterized as archaic institutions waiting to be nudged off the stage of history.

However, the evidence regarding the responses of these plantations, as well as materials from enterprises elsewhere throughout the globe engaged in tropical commodity production in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries suggest otherwise.100 The Viotá entrepreneurs, like landowning elites engaged in commercial agriculture throughout the globe during the neocolonial period, may very well have been attempting to maintain a balance between short-term gains and long-term survival. Such entrepreneurial strategies depended on the generation of what Richard Cyert and James G. March have referred to as “organizational slack,” defined as the “difference between total resources and total necessary payments,” in order to assure continuing viability.101 In these terms, the evolution of the great coffee estates on slope relied on a variety of what Cyert and March have referred to as “cushions.” Doubtless there was an element of a rentier mentality among the planters, with these huge holdings serving as hedge against inflation for entrepreneurs engaged in various commercial, financial, and industrial ventures. Yet seen from another vantage point, organizational slack provided the dynamic underpinnings of commercialized great estate agriculture in central Colombia in the first three decades of the twentieth century. The obviously small proportion of land used for coffee cultivation in the municipality—21 percent—was nonetheless the center of a constellation of economic activities which gave these enterprises their particular identity as export-producing estates. Over one-third was uncultivated, serving as a potential area for coffee grove expansion in periods of high prices and as a source of various goods—game, garden produce, charcoal—for the rural poor which helped limit the flow of scarce resources to workers and which could ultimately be extracted by the estate. The more than one-quarter of the district in pasture assured a steady income stream through extensive, low-labor-cost, cattle raising, geared to fairly stable regional markets. Finally, a little under one-fifth of the land was allocated to workers as a major form of payment for their services on the great estates, freeing up scarce capital for other outlays.102

By the 1920s, the prevailing estate structure in Viotá was the outcome of creative and flexible entrepreneurial responses to the economic difficulties of great estate agriculture in the more than half century after 1870.103 Yet its long-term consequences undermined the very bases of planter wealth and social power. In effect, the problem of labor, however, was not merely focused on a mechanical response to exogenous conditions, what planters and government officials repeatedly referred to as the “scarcity of hands.” For a substantial portion of the district’s rural poor, in their position as service tenants, had become important players in what Cyert and March have called the “firm coalition.” Most landowners had come to rely primarily on service tenants for a large proportion of their labor force, thereby avoiding costly outlays of capital and seemingly assuring themselves disciplined and accessible workers. However, by embedding a peasant household within the great estate, the planters provided the bases for an extensive local and regional smallholder economy. The service tenants used their estancias as the foundation for the production of foodstuffs and illegal liquors, plugging into marketing networks throughout the Tequendama Valley and beyond. Over the three decades after the turn of the century, peasant production and trade gave this segment of the rural poor ever greater leverage in their bargaining within the great estates.

Under these circumstances, it is not surprising that the dependent smallholders would seek greater access to land, freedom to produce and market their crops, and escape from labor obligations. These all became points of contention in the 1920s, the peasant economy thickening even as the overall economic environment turned more perilous for large-scale coffee growers. As J. R. Hoyos Becerra noted in his January 1929 memorandum, what had been once of “mutual benefit” for both planter and peasant under service tenancy was being undermined.

[T]he peon does not need security, due to the public works projects, . . . [and] foodstuff cultivation is earning ever higher returns due to price increases . . . so that the tenant can earn enough income from the marketing of his own crops in order to pay for the use of his plot with money rather than labor.104

The landowners responded with a customary mix of bargaining and coercion as the tenants acquired ever greater leverage in the years prior to the Great Depression. On the one hand, there appears to have been an increasing incidence of special arrangements for coffee cultivation by tenants through the 1920s, especially on the smaller estates, but also occasionally on the larger ones. Other kinds of negotiations included individual contracts for specific tasks, such as laying stone on pathways or cutting trees, arrangements which essentially reduced the tensions between owners and tenants by privileging relatively independent work over gang labor.

Nonetheless, behind this relatively flexible negotiating between the two groups stood an oppressive style of labor control which so scandalized observers in the 1920s and 1930s Efficacious use of peasant labor depended on administrators, foremen, and straw bosses disciplining their workers through a systematically capricious arbitrary code of job regulations, tenancy contracts, and forms and schedules of payment. Informing this process was a paternalism where benevolence and injury were in uneasy balance, its foundations in the powerful language and symbols of seignorialism which had evolved in the eastern highlands following the sixteenth-century conquest. In this brutal intimacy, the provision of gifts and special deals to assure the loyalty and affection of subordinates combined with a crueler pedagogy which included beatings, whippings, eviction, and sexual abuse.105

However much both lord and peasant shared this cultural template of class relations, its efficacy was undercut by conditions on central Colombia’s coffee frontier. A relatively autonomous smallholder society embedded within the great estate was given further impetus by the broader political and cultural fracturing of planter hegemony in the region, especially after the War of a Thousand Days. In the three decades following the end of the war, landlords were increasingly absent—thanks to the proximity and attractions of Bogotá—and therefore considerably less concerned with the currency of paternalism. Moreover, the Conservative state and the Catholic church had a fragile presence in this traditional Liberal zone. The Tequendama Valley had been a center of guerrilla operations against the government at the turn of the century and continued to generate a rambunctious native radicalism which erupted in protests throughout the period. This dissident strain, largely Liberal in origins, provided a vague political subtext to the ongoing friction between the tenants and the hacienda owners as the two sides bargained over work rules, labor obligations, remuneration, and tenancy regulations.

Clearly, on the eve of the Great Depression, most of Viotá’s estates had gone quite far in grandfather’s car. After a difficult process of hacienda formation and consolidation in the last decades of the nineteenth century, their owners had managed to negotiate persistent problems in the wider economy and within their own enterprises following the War of a Thousand Days. Even as the district plunged into intensive unrest in the 1930s and ’40s, many enterprises would go farther still. In addition to continuing economic problems, they endured substantial political pressures over the succeeding decades. Government officials proved erstwhile supporters of the planters, often urging them to reach an accommodation with the peasant claimants in the district. They also faced an adeptly led Communist movement which effectively consolidated the tenant gains of the previous quarter century and attempted to transform the municipality into a showpiece of revolutionary agrarianism in the middle decades of the century. Under these circumstances, the process of estate devolution was nonetheless discernibly slow. A few haciendas passed into their creditors’ hands during the middle and late 1930s, and were parceled out to tenants and peons.106 Not until the middle 1940s, however, when the predominantly wage-labor estate Liberia, was sold by the Sáenz clan to the Department of Cundinamarca,107 did the pace of land distribution pick up. During the early 1950s, several estate owners entered into partnerships with real estate speculators to reap the benefits of the end of the hacienda era in the region. Nonetheless, other large firms—including the haciendas Buenavista, Florencia, and Java—survived well to the end of the decade and beyond, selling off some of their holdings, but continuing large-scale coffee production.

The conflicts in the 1930s and 1940s in Viotá turned on the contests within the largest and most dynamic estates over “organizational slack”. The landowners were essentially seeking adjustments within the institutional framework of great estate agriculture which had evolved during the previous half century to save their firms in the face of a major downturn in the world coffee markets. This involved renegotiations of land and labor usage which combined wage relations, service tenancy, and sharecropping. The planters’ maneuvers hardly represented a stalling in the face of their inevitable demise. These conflicts are not best understood as the final act of an archaic mode of production swept aside by an enraged peasantry in a moment of economic crisis. Rather, the complex design of export capitalism is set in relief by a series of moves that impinged on the gains made by the rural poor within the shadow of the great estate system after the turn of the century. The result was intense rural unrest. In effect, the story of agrarian conflict in Viotá and elsewhere in central Colombia between the Great Depression and the mid-1940s is not so much the end of an old order as the setting of the stage for the dark night of violence into which the region would descend at midcentury.


Juan de Dios Carrasquilla, Segundo informe que presenta el comisario de agricultura nacional al poder ejecutivo para el conocimiento del Congreso (Bogotá, 1880), 77.


The principal works on these revolts are Pierre Gilholdès, “Agrarian Struggles in Colombia,” in Agrarian Struggles and Peasant Movements in Latin America, Rodolfo Stavenhagen, ed. (Garden City, 1970), 407-452; Hermes Tovar Pinzón, El movimiento campesino en Colombia durante los siglos XIX y XX (Bogotá, 1975); Gloria Gaitán de Valencia, Colombia: La lucha por la tierra en la década de los treinta (Bogotá, 1976); and Gonzalo Sánchez, Las ligas campesinas en Colombia (Bogotá, 1977).


See Alejandro López, Problemas colombianos (Paris, 1927). Another major critic of Colombian agriculture in those years, although more sympathetic to the landowners, was Fabio Lozano T., Con los agricultores de Colombia (Lima, 1927). For a devastating attack on rural life in the large estate districts by a modernizing planter, see a speech to the Sociedad de Agricultores de Colombia (SAC) by Jesús del Corral, “Por los siervos de la gleba,” Revista Nacional de Agricultura (hereafter RNA), 9:120 (special ed., June 1914), 7.


Pablo Garzón Muñoz, El problema agrario en Colombia (Bogotá, 1937), 23.


Domingo Martínez Zamora, La rebelión campesina y los diversos aspectos de una reforma agraria en Colombia (Bogotá, 1935), 88.


Martínez Zamora, La rebelión campesina, 89.


“El problema del trabajo entre los cafeteros,” Circular no. 6002-B, Jan. 4, 1929, Boletín de la Oficina General del Trabajo, 1:1 (Aug. 1929), 7-8.


Memoria del Ministro de Industrias al congreso nacional en sus sesiones ordinarias de 1934, 284.


Albert O. Hirschman addresses the idea of “feudal shackles” in a provocative essay on the idea of the market in Western economic and social thought, “Rival Interpretations of Market Society: Civilizing, Destructive, or Feeble?,” Journal of Economic Literature, 20 (Dec. 1983), 1,463-1,484.


For a review and critique of the land reform policies from the 1930s through the 1970s, see Absalón Machado C., “Políticas agrarias en Colombia,” in Campesinado y capitalismo en Colombia, W. Ramírez Tobón, ed. (Bogotá, 1981), 57-88.


Regarding the continuities of dualist perspectives, Ernesto Laclau argues that “historically the Latin American left emerged as the left wing of liberalism and its ideology was correspondingly determined by the basic categories of the liberal elites of the nineteenth century.. . . Dualism was an essential element in this system of categories. From this source there derived a constant tendency to identify feudalism with stagnation and closed economy, and capitalism with dynamism and progress.” See his Feudalism and Capitalism in Latin America,” in Politics and Ideology in Marxist Theory, Laclau, ed. (London, 1977), 33.


These are central themes, with some variations, in the following contemporary histories on the origins of the agrarian problem: Jesús Antonio Rejarano, “El fin de la economía exportadora,” in La nueva historia de Colombia, Darío Agudelo Jaramillo, ed. (Bogotá, 1976), 675-739 and “Orígenes del problema agrario," in La agricultura colombiana en el siglo XX, Mario Arrubla, ed. (Bogotá, 1976), 17-82; Salomón Kalmanovitz, “Evolución de la estructura agraria colombiana,” Cuadernos Colombianos, 1 (1974), 353—404; Machado C., “Relaciones de producción en la economía cafetera: 1930,” Ideología y Sociedad, 14—15 (July–Dec. 1975), 64-86 and “Incidencias de la economía cafetera en el desarrollo rural,” in El agro en el desarrollo histórico colombiano: Ensayos de economía política (Bogotá, 1977). Two major monographs are Mariano Arango, Café e industria, 1850—1970 (Medellín, 1977) and Marco Palacios, Coffee in Colombia, 1850-1970: An Economic, Social, and Political History (Cambridge, 1980).


See, for example, Michael J. Gonzales, Plantation Agriculture and Social Control in Northern Peru, 1875-1933 (Austin, 1985); Laird W. Bergad, Coffee and Agrarian Capitalism in Nineteenth-Century Puerto Rico (Princeton, 1983); and Thomas Holloway, Immigrants on the Land: Coffee and Society in São Paulo, 1886-1934 (Chapel Hill, 1980).


Throughout this essay, great estate, plantation, and hacienda will be used interchangeably to identify large coffee enterprises in central Colombia. As economic and social institutions, they lay somewhere between the two discrete descriptions of large-scale agricultural institutions outlined by Eric Wolf and Sidney Mintz in their classic essay, “Haciendas and Plantations in Middle America and the Antilles,” Social and Economic Studies, 6:3 (Sept. 1957), 380-422.


Palacios, Coffee in Colombia, 53.


O. Fuhrmann and E. Mayor, Voyage d’exploration scientifique en Colombie (Neuchâtel, 1914), 101-110.


The following description of Viotá’s estates is derived from the “Censos Cafetero de 1932,” unpublished materials in the archive of the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros, Bogotá, and the Registraduría de Tierras, La Mesa (Cundinamarca), Libros de Matrícula, Viotá.


One fanegada is equivalent to 1.6 acres or .65 hectares.


For a geographical and geological description of the area, see Alfred Hettner, La cordillera de Bogotá: Resultado de viajes y estudios (1892), Ernesto Guhl, trans. (Bogotá, 1966).


Maurice Philip Brungardt, “Tithe Production and Patterns of Economic Change in Central Colombia, 1764-1833” (Ph.D. diss., University of Texas, Austin, 1974) documents changes in this region before and after the war of independence, and locates the tropical and semitropical districts of western Cundinamarca in a larger ecological context.


Letter of Carlos Abondano, Feb. 13, 1879, Carrasquilla, Segundo informe, 59.


For a careful description and analysis of these changes, see Frank Safford, “Commerce and Enterprise in Central Colombia, 1821—1870” (Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1965). Also interesting are the contemporary reports of Guillermo Wills, Observaciones sobre el comercio de la Nueva Granada (Bogotá, 1831); Isaac Holton, New Granada: Twenty Months in the Andes (1857) (Carbondale, IL, 1967), 155-161; Salvador Camacho Roldán, Escritos varios, 3 vols. (Bogotá, 1892—95), III; Medardo Rivas, Los trabajadores de la tierra caliente (Bogotá, 1946); and Auguste LeMoyne, Viajes y estancias en América del Sur, la Nueva Granada, Santiago de Cuba, Jamaica y el Istmo de Panamá (Bogotá, 1945).


So reasoned a principal advocate of the switch to coffee cultivation in the 1860s, Salvador Camacho Roldán, a Liberal politician and businessman, who eventually made extensive investments in it on the western slope, including Viotá. See his Escritos varios, I.


See Palacios, Coffee in Colombia, chaps. 4 and 5, for a portrait of the problems confronting coffee growers in central Colombia during the late nineteenth century.


An assessment of coffee’s potential in Viotá and other areas of Cundinamarca in this period can be found in letters penned by the founders of a number of haciendas to the government, in Carrasquilla, Segundo informe. A decade later, Nicolás Sáenz, founder of the hacienda Liberia in Viotá’s southern section, wrote a manual for large-scale coffee production based on his experiences there which illustrates how the district became a model of coffee cultivation and processing. See Memoria sobre el cultivo de café (Bogotá, 1892).


In the early 1870s, a hectare in the central Tequendama Valley cost 8.40 pesos. By decade's end, the formation of large coffee estates in Viotá already begun, land values had increased by over 100 percent to 17.37 pesos a hectare. Through the 1880s and the early 90s, however, land costs rose more slowly, by only 80 percent, reaching 31.40 pesos per hectare by 1891 (Palacios, Coffee in Colombia, 35-37).


Letter of Carlos Abondano, Nov. 12, 1878, Carrasquilla, Segundo informe, 42.


The process of estate formation and consolidation in Viotá can be traced in Cundinamarca, Catastro de propiedad inmueble del Estado de Cundinamarca formado por la Comisión de Revisión nombrada por la asamblea legislativa en el año 1878 (Bogotá, 1878) and Catastro de Cundinamarca, 1890 (Bogotá, 1890). A less prosaic view of this process written soon thereafter is Rivas, Trabajadores de la tierra caliente, 300-312. Palacios, Coffee in Colombia, 64-68, provides a cogent description and assessment of this hacienda colonization in western Cundinamarca.


J. M. Pérez Sarmiento, La guerra en Tolima, 1899—1902: Apuntes y relaciones de la campaña recopiladas por El Comercio de Bogotá (Bogotá, 1903), 142.


Cundinamarca, Visita del gobernador del departamento de Cundinamarca a las provincias de Sumapaz, Girardot y Tequendama (Bogotá, 1906), 113.


Cundinamarca, Informe del secretario de hacienda al gobernador del departamento, 1920, 78-80.


Boletín de Estadística de Cundinamarca, 2:13-14 (May 1924), 22-23.


Diego Monsalve, Colombia cafetera (Barcelona, 1927), 414-426.


Informe del secretario de hacienda de Cundinamarca al señor gobernador 1930, 75-76.


A close reading of the RNA, for most of this period edited by Viotá landowner Gabriel Ortiz Williamson, reveals a deep preoccupation with issues of economy and technological innovation among large-scale coffee producers. In this regard, it might be reasonable to argue that the absenteeism of some growers contributed to better management because of access to modern agricultural methods and more direct engagement with the markets for both coffee beans and credit, in their Bogotá offices. The idea that close personal attention to the details of commodity production might not necessarily lead to a sophisticated appreciation of commercial agricultural production and marketing is drawn from T. H. Breen, Tobacco Culture: The Mentality of the Great Tidewater Planters on the Eve of Revolution (Princeton, 1985). Breen argues that the tendency of eighteenth-century Virginian tobacco planters to reside almost exclusively on their estates in order to meticulously cultivate their extremely sensitive staple generated “a set of idioms . . . to comprehend a complex marketing system centered thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean . . . [which was] not necessarily an accurate picture of how commerce operated” (p. 84).


The political influence of large-scale coffee producers is revealed in the official history of the first two decades of the Sociedad de Agricultores de Colombia (SAC) by Rafael Flórez, Reseña histórica de las labores ejecutadas por la Sociedad de Agricultores de Colombia en los veinte años de su existencia (Bogotá, 1924). For a thoughtful and detailed analysis of the planter lobby, see Bejarano, Economía y poder: La SAC y el desarrollo agropecuario colombiano, 1871—1984 (Bogotá, 1985), chap. 3. See also the suggestive treatment of the landed interest by Francine B. Cronshaw, “Landowners and Politics in Colombia, 1923-1948” (Ph.D. diss., University of New Mexico, 1986).


“Hacia la ruina de los cafeteros,” RNA, Nov.-Dec. 1926, p. 532.


Carrasquilla, Segundo informe, 77.


Cundinamarca, Visita del gobernador, 96.


RNA, Oct. 30, 1908, p. 261.


“Hacia la ruina de los cafeteros,” 532-533.


The material on prices, value, and volume of Colombian coffee exports in this essay, unless otherwise indicated, is from Robert Carlyle Beyer, “The Colombian Coffee Industry. Origins and Major Trends, 1740-1940” (Ph.D. diss., University of Minnesota, 1947), 356-368.


The valorization program is discussed in Holloway, The Brazilian Coffee Valorization of 1906: Regional Politics and Economic Dependence (Madison, 1977) and Antônio Delfim Netto, “Foundations for the Analysis of Brazilian Coffee Problems,” in Essays on Coffee and Economic Development (Rio de Janeiro, 1973), 65-76.


In this context, the plantation varieties, also known as Bogotás or Girardots, were particularly important, as exemplified by the recommendation of North American coffee experts in 1914 that 25 percent of the highest-grade blends should be washed Bogotás (Spice Mill, Jan. 1914, p. 36).


The process by which Colombian beans penetrated North American markets in the war years is described by Charles A. McQueen, “Colombian Public Finance,” The Colombian Review, June 1928. For an overview of this shift, in which the United States went from providing 34.7 percent of the world market in 1909 to 46.4 percent in 1929, see Beyer, “The Colombian Coffee Industry,” 372ff.; Antonio DiFulvio, The World’s Coffee (Rome, 1947); and William H. Ukers, All About Coffee (New York, 1935), 521-529.


For a discussion of the crisis, see Maurice D. Lee, Macroeconomics: Fluctuations, Growth, and Stability (Homewood, IL, 1971), 130-134. The interconnectedness of the onset of financial crisis in the United States and the coffee trade is revealed in a late 1919 report that “the advance was abruptly terminated on November 12, a day of sensational crashes in other markets, notably cotton and stocks, originating principally in the tight money situation and resulting in phenomenally high lending rates. As a consequence, coffee markets here and in producing countries were dominated by widespread pessimism, unsettlement, and lack of confidence. Due to widespread weakness the mild market [Central American and Colombian varieties] has become a duplicate of the Brazilian one” (Tea and Coffee Trade Journal, Dec. 1919), p. 598. See also McQueen, “Colombian Public Finance."


For an analysis of the valorization program in the 1920s, see Netto, “Foundations for Analysis of Brazilian Coffee Problems”; V. D. Wickizier, The World Coffee Economy with Special Reference to Control Schemes (Stanford, 1943); and Stephen J. Krasner, “The Politics of Primary Commodities: A Study of Coffee, 1900-1970” (Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 1970), 101-165.


The fall in Colombian earnings were braked by the relatively stronger position of milds in world coffee markets throughout most of the crisis (Tea and Coffee Trade Journal, Jan. 1920), p. 104.


Alfredo Cortázar Todelano, “La verdadera situación de la industria caletera de Colombia,” Revista Cafetera de Colombia (Sept.-Oct. 1929), 357.


The impact of the 1920-21 crisis on Colombia’s export economy deserves closer attention. According to one contemporary observer, “following the drastic decline in the value of Colombian coffees in 1920, the business was badly disorganized and the rebuilding of organizations has given a good many newcomers a chance to enter the field” (“A Trip Through Colombia,” Spice Mill, Feb. 1923, p. 249). Among these newcomers were major coffee purchasing firms, such as W. R. Grace, Hard and Rand, and the American Coffee Corporation, a subsidiary of A & P, all of which moved swiftly into the center of Colombia’s export sector, proffering credit, rationalizing merchandizing, and demanding higher-quality products. Praise for the efficiency of foreign purchasers working directly in the countryside, as opposed to the older commission-house system, is found in Revista Cafetera de Colombia, Dec. 1928, p. 51. A wide-ranging critique of U.S. coffee interests in Colombia in the mid-1930s is a series of articles by Rafael Sánchez Maldonado, El Tiempo, May 28-June 3. 1936. Monsalve’s data reveal that, by the mid-1920s, most of Viotá’s coffee hacendados were shipping their beans through banks and shipping firms. See Colombia cafetera, 649-654.


The Sumapaz region’s growth had been relatively slow and uneven before the second decade of the century. Between 1890 and 1912, the value of its real estate had grown by only 6.9 percent, compared to Viotá’s 209-percent increase. However, between 1912 and 1929, land valuations in the Sumapaz district had risen by 368 percent, according to the Informe del secretario de hacienda al señor gobernador de Cundinamarca, 1930, 75-76. Monsalve’s data indicate the growing importance of coffee production in that area, with 22.7 percent of the department’s bushes in 1926. See Colombia cafetera, 427.


There is a vast literature on the western corridor. The classic study is James J. Parsons, Antioqueño Colonization in Western Colombia, 2d ed. (Berkeley, 1986). See also William P. McGreevey, An Economic History of Colombia 1845-1930 (Cambridge, 1971); Arango, Café e industria; Palacios, Coffee in Colombia, 161-197; Keith Christie, “Antioqueño Colonization in Western Colombia: A Reappraisal,” HAHR, 58:2 (May 1978), 260-283; and the provocative essay by Frank Safford, “Significación de los antioqueños en el desarrollo ecónomico colombiano: Un examen crítico de la tesis de Everett Hagen,” Anuario Colombiano de Historia Social y de la Cultura, 2:3 (1965), 49-69.


Palacios, Coffee in Colombia, 195. According to Arango, by the mid-1920s, enterprises with less than 20,000 trees held 62.6 percent of the land in Antioquia’s coffee districts, 82.3 percent in Caldas, and 88.4 percent in the Cauca Valley (Café e industria, 161). North American observers reported that “in the department of Antioquia, the planters have gone the furthest in the direction of standardization.” See U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce, The Coffee Industry in Colombia (Washington, 1931), 8.


See Jorge Ancízar, “La industria del café en Colombia,” RNA, May-June 1924, pp. 186—295 and monthly reports on coffee prices in the Revista del Banco de la República, 1928.


On these projects, see J. Fred Rippy, “Dawn of the Railway Age in Colombia,” HAHR, 33:4 (Nov. 1943), 650-663 and Alfredo Ortega, Ferrocarriles colombianos, 1920-1930 (Bogotá, 1932).


P. L. Bell, Colombia: A Commercial and Industrial Handbook (Washington, 1921), 245. In 1922, a London importer indicated his preference for Costa Rican milds over Bogotás partly because the latter’s extended transport period resulted in high levels of spoilage (RNA, Jan. 1922, p. 209).


See complaints on railway freight costs in RNA, Nov. 1, 1906, pp. 346-354.


For a review of the river problem, see Preston E. James, The Transportation Problem of Highland Colombia,” The Journal of Geography, 22:9(Dec. 1923), 346-354. Also instructive is the lively exchange between the river transport companies and the planters’ lobby on the question of river rates in RNA, Oct. 1908, pp. 301-303.


The following discussion of patterns of coffee planting and land usage from the turn of the century onward is based on unpublished data from the “Censo Cafetero, 1932.”


Bell, Colombia, 250.


“Hay necesidad de mejorar el cultivo de café,” RNA, Sept.-Oct. 1929, p. 354.


Fuhrmann and Mayor had come to Colombia in 1910 to study coffee plant diseases; the report of their findings is in Voyage d’exploration scientifique. A series of letters from Viotá planters and administrators to the RNA the same year identified serious diseases in the groves. See Gabriel Ortiz Williamson, “La mancha,” Oct. 1910, pp. 85-107 and Sergio Céspedes, “Asuntos económicos y agrícolas,” Nov. 1910, pp. 150—156. Five years later, Guillermo Molano penned a number of reports on coffee diseases to the RNA, Feb. 1915, pp. 281-307. A decade later, E. Corradine reported another outbreak of mancha in southwestern Cundinamarca in RNA, Nov.-Dec. 1925, pp. 109-113.


Carlos Liévano, “La industria cafetera universal,” RNA, 1906, pp. 59-61.


“El problema de los brazos,” Revista Cafetera de Colombia, Jan.-Feb. 1929, 85. The U. S. Department of Commerce reported that before 1925 daily wages were between 30 and 60 centavos in the countryside, but that they rose to 1.00 and 1.20 pesos after that date, with highly experienced workers receiving as much as 2.00 pesos a day (The Coffee Industry in Colombia, 10).


Historians have long argued about the economic and political consequences of Conservative monetary policy in the last two decades of the nineteenth century. For various aspects of these debates, see Miguel Urrutia M., “La creación de las condiciones iniciales para el desarrollo: El café,” in La cuestión cafetera, Edgar Revéiz, comp. (Bogotá, 1980), 45-66 and a comment by José Antonio Ocampo. The two principals in the debate have been Dario Bustamante, Efectos económicos del papel moneda durante la regeneración (Bogotá, 1980) and Palacios, Coffee in Colombia, 42-49.


RNA, Feb. 15, 1907, p. 481.


For discussions of the financial problems faced by Colombia in the first three decades of the century, see Hugo López, Estudio sobre la inflación en Colombia. El período de los años 2o (Medellín, 1973); Jorge Franco Holguín, Evolución de las institutuciones financieras en Colombia (Mexico City, 1966); Palacios, Coffee in Colombia, 55 ff; and an excellent recent essay by Paul Drake, “The Origins of United States Economic Supremacy in Latin America: Colombia’s Dance of the Millions, 1923-1933,” Wilson Center Latin American Program Working Paper no. 40 (Washington, 1979).


These changes are discussed in Drake, “The Origins of United States Economic Supremacy”; Bruce R. Dalgaard, “Monetary Reform 1923-1930; A Prelude to Colombia’s Economic Development,” Journal of Economic History, 40:1 (1980), 98-104; and Robert N. Seidel, “American Reformers Abroad: The Kemmerer Missions in Latin America, 1923-1931,” Journal of Economic History, 32:2 (1972), 520-545.


López, Estudio sobre la inflación en Colombia, 93.


Registraduría de Tierras, La Mesa, Libro de Hipotecas, Viotá, I/84/74 (Oct. 13, 1927); I/26/29 (Apr. 18, 1928).


On the history of penetration of U.S. financial institutions in Colombia in this period, see Max Winkler, Investments of United States Capital in Latin America (Boston, 1929); Rippy, The Capitalists and Colombia (New York, 1931); and the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce, Banking Opportunities in Latin America (Washington, 1915).


Monsalve, Colombia cafetera, 649-654.


Registraduría de Tierras, La Mesa, Libro de Prenda Agraria, Viotá, I/8/3 (Jan. 25, 1926).


Jorge Ancízar, “Conferencia sobre el café,” RNA, May 1915, pp.


From a report on the coffee trade by Enrique de Narváez, hijo, in Revista del Banco de la República, June 15, 1928, pp. 217-219.


“Escasez de trabajadores,” RNA, Aug. 1, 1906, pp. 191-192.


Mario del Corral, “Hacia la ruina de los cafeteros,” 534.


Revista del Banco de la República, July 1928, p. 251.


Malcolm Deas provides a penetrating and detailed portrait of these problems in “A Colombian Coffee Estate: Santa Bárbara, Cundinamarca, 1870-1912,” in Land and Labor in Latin America: Essays in the Development of Agrarian Capitalism in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Kenneth Duncan and Ian Rutledge, eds. (Cambridge, 1977), 269-298.


Anuario estadístico de Colombia, 1936, 65-66. The figures for 1928 are highly suspect because of many inaccuracies.


Cited in Bejarano, “Orígenes del problema agrario,” 40.


Interview, Helí Paramo, Bogotá, Apr. 25, 1980.


See Anuario estadístico de Colombia, 1936, 65-66. Cundinamarca’s 1912 cadastral survey reveals, for example, that Fusagasugá had eight times the number of production units of Viotá (Informe del secretario de haciende, al gobernador del departamento, 1920, 78-80).


Public land disputes in Cundinamarca between 1912 and 1919 were located primarily in the Sumapaz. See Informe del secretario de gobierno al gobernador del departamento, 1920, 88-90 and Catherine LeGrand, Frontier Expansion and Peasant Protest in Colombia, 1830-1936 (Albuquerque, 1986), chaps. 5 and 6.


For a review of public works projects early in the decade, see Informe del secretario de hacienda al señor gobernador del departamento, 1923.


On industrialization in Bogotá before 1930, see Albert Berry’s thorough and insightful essay, “A Descriptive Essay on Colombian Industrial Development in the Twentieth Century,” in Industrialization in Colombia (Tempe, 1983), 18-30.


See studies of wage differentials in Cundinamarca during the 1910s in Boletín de Estadística, 2:9-10 (Nov. 1922), 49-51, and for the 1920s, Bejarano, “El fin de la economía exportadora,” 198.


Del Corral, “La ruina de los cafeteros,” 179.


Registraduria de Tierras, La Mesa, Libro de Hipotecas, Viotá, I/21 (Jan. 13, 1924); I/72/67 (Nov. 3, 1925); Libro de Matrícula, Viotá, I/44 (Jan. 7, 1929).


Registraduría de Tierras, La Mesa, Libro de Matrícula, Viotá, I/2 (Sept. 20, 1919); I/2 (Jan. 29, 1925); I/2 (Jan. 30, 1925); I/2 (June 7, 1929).


The history of Ceilán’s debt is reviewed in Registraduría de Tierras, La Mesa, Libro de Matrícula, Viotá, I/II/37 (Feb. 24, 1931).


El Tiempo, Aug. 15, 1917.


Carlos Abondano, Feb. 13, 1879, Carrasquilla, Segundo informe, 60.


Sáenz, Memoria sobre el cultivo de café, 21, 33. For material on the Sáenz family in Viotá, see Roberto García Paredes, Nicolás Sáenz Pinzón, 1857-1907 (Bogotá, 1968); Beyer, “The Colombian Coffee Industry,” 81; and Palacios, Coffee in Colombia, 53.


For contrasts with the Colombian case, see for Brazil, Holloway, Immigrants on the Land; and for Guatemala, J. C. Cambranes, Coffee and Peasants: The Origins of the Modern Plantation Economy in Guatemala, 1853-1897 (Stockholm, 1986); David McCreerey, “Coffee and Class: The Structure of Development in Liberal Guatemala,” HAHR, 56:3 (Aug. 1976), 438-460; and Carol Smith, “Local History in a Global Context: Social and Economic Transformation in Western Guatemala,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 26:2 (1984), 193-228.


For an extended discussion of the tenancy contract, see Palacios, Coffee in Colombia, chap. 4.


Interview with Nicolás Sáenz Dávila, Bogotá, May 6, 1980.


Interview with Fernando Tamayo, Bogotá, Apr. 28, 1980.


The extensive debate on the nature of sharecropping and its relationship to capitalism is instructive for the assessment of service tenancy arrangements. Consider the different approaches suggested by Miriam J. Wells, “The Resurgence of Sharecropping: Historical Anomaly or Political Strategy?,” American Journal of Sociology, 90:1 (July 1984), 1-29 and R. Pearce, “Sharecropping: Towards a Marxist View,” Journal of Peasant Studies, 10:2/3 (Jan.—Apr. 1983), 42-70. See also the classic essay by Daniel Chirot, “The Growth of the Market and Service Labor Systems in Agriculture,” Journal of Social History, 9:2 (Winter 1975). 67-80.


See, for example, the work of Ann Laura Stoler, Capitalism and Confrontation in Sumatra’s Plantation Belt, 1870-1979 (New Haven, 1985).


The Behavioral Theory of the Firm (Englewood Cliffs, 1963), 36-38.


For a discussion of firm behavior under capitalism which considers the issue of nonwage labor use, see Kenneth Bar, “On the Capitalist Enterprise,” Review of Radical Political Economics, 7:4 (Winter 1981), 60-67.


For an interesting work which arrives at similar conclusions from a different vantage point, see Carlos Enrique Pardo, “Cundinamarca: Hacienda cafetera y conflictos agrarios” (unpublished thesis, Universidad de los Andes, 1981).


Hoyos Becerra, “El problema del trabajo,” 7-8.


For a wider discussion of this system of labor management and cultural oppression, see Michael F. Jiménez, “‘Incautious Women and their Bastard Children’: Class, Gender, and Peasant Resistance in Central Colombia, 1900-1930” (unpublished essay).


For example, the large and long-indebted estate of the de la Torre family, Ceilán, was taken over by the Banco Francés e Italiano in 1936, subsequently sold to Mauricio Stanich. Stanich established the Compañía Agrícola Exportadora S. A. Cofex in 1938 which ten years later, in Oct. 1948, sold the estate to the Department of Cundinamarca. Large-scale land distribution did not begin until the early 1950s when the Instituto de Parcelaciones, Colonización y Defensa Forestal took over the hacienda from the Department of Cundinamarca. Registraduría de Tierras, La Mesa, Libro de Matrícula, Viotá, I/126 (Oct. 16, 1936); I/126 (Oct. 18, 1938); I/95 (Oct. 23, 1948); I/90 (Feb. 2, 1951); and I/33-362A (Apr. 9, 1958).


Registraduría de Tierras, La Mesa, Libro de Matrícula, Viotá, II/290 (June 5, 1946).

Author notes


The first draft of this essay was delivered at the Latin American Studies Association XIV International Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, Mar. 18, 1988. The author extends his appreciation for support and criticism in the writing of this essay to Enrique Ogliastri, Frank Safford, and Stanley Stein.