Studies of the rural sector in Latin America in both the colonial and national periods have focused on the hacienda and plantation, concerning tenure, land use, and labor relations. The literature on Bolivia is no exception. The two most important themes studied have been the expansion of the hacienda at the expense of Indian lands and the decline of commercial agriculture as a consequence of changes in commercial circuits in the southern Andean region. The official version of Bolivian history as formulated by the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR) political party maintains that the land reform program initiated by that party in 1953 destroyed the feudal hacienda and restructured land tenure in the country, an interpretation which finds general acceptance in Bolivia, especially among scholars who argue that the hacienda expanded at the end of the nineteenth century.

Recent studies have examined changing patterns of land tenure in different parts of Bolivia during the late colonial period and in the years after about 1870, showing that in most regions latifundio expanded at the expense of the land base of the corporate Indian communities. In the altiplano (La Paz and Oruro departments), the rapid growth of the cities of La Paz and Oruro in the period 1900-20, following the Federal Revolution (1899), together with the expansion of tin mining created an increasing demand for foodstuffs. Improvements in internal transportation with the construction of roads and railroads linked new areas in the altiplano to the growing urban markets, and made the acquisition of relatively cheap but fertile Indian lands close to the roads and railroad lines attractive to members of the urban oligarchy.1 Erwin Grieshaber has documented the volume and spatial distribution of Indian land sales in La Paz department, and the social and occupational background of the principal purchasers of Indian lands. Many of those who purchased these lands were involved in commerce or industry, or were prominent politicians.2 The expansion of the latifundio, however, generated resistance in the altiplano from members of the communities who attempted to preserve their land base, as occurred at Jesús de Machaca in 1921.3 Erick Langer has further shown that members of the Sucre oligarchy bought Indian lands after 1880, a pattern that he interprets as an attempt to secure mining profits in a safer form of investment, and after 1895 as an alternative to investment in the stagnating silver mining industry.4 Finally, in the case of Chayanta in northern Potosí department, the members of the Indian communities resisted the expansion of the hacienda, and maintained their land base relatively intact.5

The agrarian structure of Cochabamba during the colonial period has been examined in two studies. Bolivian historian José Gordillo Claure discussed the evolution of the hacienda in the Valle Bajo during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the conflict over land between the hacienda and the corporate Indian communities, and the structure of the land market and internal structure of hacienda production.6 Brooke Larson argued that the contraction of the Potosí urban market at the end of the seventeenth century initiated changes in the structure of land tenure and land use in Cochabamba haciendas in the eighteenth century, namely a deemphasis of demesne production, the partition of haciendas, and more frequent leasing of hacienda lands. Larson equates land tenure in Cochabamba at the end of the colonial period to the pattern of fragmentation observed by Clifford Geertz in parts of Indonesia, the involution of land-holding into more complex systems of tenure.7 However, Larson’s interpretation does not give sufficient importance to and does not fully explain the functioning of service tenantry in hacienda production and the internal distribution of land, and its assumption that the practice of the leasing of hacienda lands and sharecropping were extensive is based on only a small sample of detailed hacienda inventories which may not have been representative.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in contrast to the patterns observed in other parts of Bolivia, the hacienda in Cochabamba declined. I will demonstrate this by examining the hacienda and changes in the structure of land tenure in the Sacaba Valley, one of three valleys in Cochabamba department which constituted the most important grainproducing region in the country before the 1870s (see Map 1). I will present evidence to document trends in hacienda tenure and the pattern of partition of agricultural land that resulted from the institution of liberal economic policies, as well as from internal factors related to economic modernization, debt, and recurring ecological crises.

I have used four basic sources of information. Data on land sales and the division of haciendas for inheritance in the Sacaba Valley are found in the Cochabamba notarial protocols housed in the Archivo Histórico Municipal and the national land registry organized in the late 1880s. The run of notarial protocols is fairly complete up to 1902, and the land registry collection, although disorganized, records land transactions from about 1888 and some sales before that date. The cadastral survey, first prepared in 1882 to serve as the base for the calculation of a new land tax, provides a detailed description of land tenure at one point in time, including the size of individual properties, principal crops grown and the use of irrigation, and an estimate of the value. A subsequent survey for the Sacaba Valley, preserved in the prefectural archive in the city of Cochabamba, has been dated to about 1912 through a comparison with published figures on the total number of properties in the jurisdiction. One caveat, however, must be introduced concerning the use of documents which record the size of a given property. Documents prepared at different times in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries frequently show discrepancies, so the sizes of haciendas given here should be considered estimates.

Agriculture in the Sacaba Valley

From colonial times, the Sacaba Valley was an area dominated by haciendas that produced large quantities of grain and, to a lesser degree, potatoes for the market in the altiplano. The single most important crop was wheat, largely grown without the benefit of irrigation. According to the cadastral survey prepared about 1912, 4,362 properties (95.47 percent) produced grain, 434 (9.50 percent) grew potatoes, but only 38 properties (.38 percent) produced alfalfa, fruits, and vegetables, which were specialty crops grown in areas with abundant water for irrigation. There were generally two crops per year within a system of crop rotation. In the case of Hacienda Puntiti, potatoes were generally harvested in November and wheat in May. Other crops grown included corn, barley, haba (broad bean), and alfalfa. Estancia Piusilla, located at a higher elevation, produced wheat, barley, oats, potato, and papaliza and oca (tubers indigenous to the Andean region and widely consumed in Bolivia). Only 708 properties (15.5 percent) were partially or completely irrigated, the majority of these being partially irrigated. One small hacienda in Arocagua, with an area of 38.61.76 hectares, was completely irrigated. The cadastral value of the hacienda was 122,500 bolivianos, or a mean of 3,172.13 per hectare, which was high for the Sacaba Valley.8

Water rights were closely regulated and defined, and the amount of water a given property received varied from month to month, depending on (among other things) the division of water rights among neighboring properties. In 1889, Hacienda Guaillani Chico received 1,176 hours of water for irrigation from several sources, with the peak months being January, June, and August.9 The registration of the partition of Hacienda Recreo y Monjas in 1886 carefully recorded the distribution of irrigation water among three heirs from seven sources, including four streams, two lakes, and a reservoir.10

Changes in Land Tenure

Between the late colonial period and the 1940s, the number of properties in Cochabamba department grew, with the greatest degree of change occurring in the years after 1860. The number of properties increased from some 1,045 private properties and 695 community asignaciones (subsistence plots) around 1846, to 44,904 properties in about 1912, and 68,250 around 1948.11 A similar pattern of growth of the number of individual agricultural properties can be observed in the Sacaba Valley, where the hacienda had developed as the dominant form of tenure in the seventeenth century (see Map 2). According to a 1692 census of yanaconas in Cochabamba, there were 11 haciendas in the Sacaba Valley.12 Intendant Francisco de Viedma counted 27 haciendas in the 1780s, which indicates the formation of new properties between the 1690s and 1780s, or the division of existing haciendas for inheritance or other motives.13

There were further changes in hacienda ownership in Sacaba in the years before the onset of crisis in the regional economy that was brought about by the loss of the altiplano market at the end of the nineteenth century.14 Of the 27 haciendas in Sacaba in the 1780s, 4 were divided by inheritance or sale by 1835, when tribute rolls (padrones de tributarios)15 list 32 haciendas. By comparing the owners listed in the rolls prepared between 1835 and 1878 and in the cadastral survey prepared about 1912, we find that 11 of the haciendas (34.4 percent) were divided in order to realize inheritance, and at least 6 properties (18.8 percent) changed hands through sale.16 The greatest degree of change in hacienda tenure during the first 50 years following Bolivian independence occurred as a result of inheritance. The latter does not appear to have been as important a factor in the partition of haciendas in the colonial period, but the abolition of entail (mayorazgo) and other revisions of inheritance law after independence that favored partible inheritance no doubt contributed to this result.17

Table I lists the haciendas in 1835 compared to the number of properties with an area of greater than ten hectares registered in the cadastral survey of the early twentieth century. The data in the table document the fragmentation of the colonial hacienda, although they do not take into account the proliferation of small parcels formed from hacienda territory. The methodology used here is also deficient in that a comparison of lists of property owners fails to identify the transfer of ownership between members of the same family with different surnames; nevertheless, the data presented are indicative of the general trend. The families that owned 20 of the properties listed in the 1878 tribute roll apparently failed to maintain ownership circa 1912. One hacienda, Molino Blanco, did not experience fragmentation and remained in the hands of the same family, but at the other extreme Hacienda Tucsapucyo had been divided into 13 smaller properties with an area of more than ten hectares, one of which remained in the hands of a member of the same family.

The crisis in Cochabamba agriculture in the last decades of the nineteenth century contributed to instability in hacienda tenure, as evidenced by an increase in the volume of sales. A representative sample of 88 hacienda sales in the Sacaba Valley between 1860 and 1929 shows two periods of an elevated number of sales, in the 1880s and 1890s and again in the 1920s. In the former period, there were a total of 36 sales, 10 of them recorded in 1895-99 at what seems to have been the height of the crisis in the regional economy. A number of these sales resulted from foreclosure for debt. The number of hacienda sales dropped over the next 20 years, to 16 between 1900 and 1909, and 8 between 1910 and 1919. But the tempo of sales increased over the next decade to 7 recorded in 1920-24, and 13 from 1925 to 1929.18

That the hacienda in the Sacaba Valley experienced rapid parcelization in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is clearly shown by Tables II and III, which summarize data on the number of properties in 1894 and about 1912, according to the size of the individual parcel. In the former year, there were 61 medium- and large-sized haciendas with an area of more than 50 hectares, 2 percent of all properties. These properties, however, occupied lands of varying quality and in different ecological zones. Haciendas controlled a large percentage of the total area of agricultural land in the Sacaba Valley, but not necessarily all fertile valley lands. There was a large number of small- and medium-sized properties with an area of less than 50 hectares; 2,075 parcels had a surface area of less than 1 hectare, reflecting the growth of the number of smallholders, and 978 properties were between 1 and 50 hectares.

According to the cadastral survey prepared around 1912, there were 4,597 properties in Cantón Sacaba, including 64 haciendas with an area of more than 50 hectares and 1,132 properties with an area of between 1 and 49.99 hectares. There was an increase of 154 properties in the latter size category since 1894, indicating the separation of medium-sized parcels from larger properties, even though the number of haciendas remained fairly stable. At the same time, the number of small parcels with an area of less than 1 hectare increased by 1,312, to 3,387. (The area of 14 properties [.30 percent] was not indicated in the cadastral survey.) A total of 3.9 percent of the properties listed occupied 74.9 percent of the land, whereas small parcels with an area of less than 1 hectare, 73.7 percent of the properties registered in the cadastral survey, controlled 7.9 percent of the land. Thus, agricultural land in the Sacaba Valley was maldistributed, but it had nevertheless experienced considerable fragmentation around the end of the nineteenth century.

Detailed case studies of individual haciendas further document the process of the partition of the colonial hacienda in the Sacaba Valley. Two in particular will serve to illustrate the changes in land tenure that occurred through both sales and division for inheritance.19

Hacienda Tucsapucyo belonged to the Urquidi family in 1835, but family members began selling off parts of it in the 1860s, if not earlier. There are seven sales by members of the Urquidi family of land from Hacienda Tucsapucyo in my sample, including four land sales in 1866 by Pedro Urquidi with a total area of 103.30.66 hectares. In 1912, one member of the Urquidi family still owned a large parcel with an area of 107.10.72 hectares, or 7.6 percent of the total area of the former hacienda as registered in the cadastral survey.

Those who acquired lands from the Urquidi family realized sales, and several sections of the colonial hacienda were also divided for inheritance. In 1904, for example, Rafael Tejada sold a parcel with an area of 130.20.94 hectares to Luciano Terrazas for Bs 13,333.33. In 1929, Felipe Guzmán sold a property with an area of 149 hectares to Cresento Márquez for Bs 40,000. The working of inheritance could be seen in 1897, when the three heirs of Dominga Corrales divided a parcel in Tucsapucyo with an area of 117.63.81 hectares.

In 1912, there were a total of 131 properties in the territory of the colonial hacienda, including 13 with an area greater than ten hectares. These 13 properties (9.9 percent) occupied 86.8 percent of the total area of the former hacienda as recorded in the cadastral survey (see Table IV). There were 67 properties (51.2 percent) with an area of less than one hectare, and another 51 with an extension of between one and ten hectares. The partition of Hacienda Tucsapucyo thus involved the creation of small-, medium-, and large-sized parcels out of a single, large colonial hacienda.

The second case study is of Hacienda La Abra. There are data on the partition of the hacienda for inheritance as well as a number of sales, and evidence of instability of tenure, especially during the crisis of the 1890s. In 1865, when four individuals divided the hacienda for inheritance, it reportedly had a surface area of 514.38.11 hectares.

The first sale I encountered was recorded in 1880, and several individuals who then bought former hacienda lands held them for only a limited period of time. Venancio Jiménez, a prominent local politician and member of the Cochabamba city council, bought a share of La Abra in 1880, but sold the property eight years later with a Bs 2,400 profit. The purchaser, one Juan Moyano, likewise kept the property for only eight years, selling his share to three individuals in 1896. Bernabé Zelada, who bought a share of La Abra from Moyano, experienced debt problems, and sold the property in the following year. Moyano recovered from his financial problems, however, and again bought land in La Abra. According to the cadastral survey Moyano owned a property with an area of 110.07.64 hectares, or 24.3 percent of the territory of the colonial hacienda.

There were two additional divisions of land in La Abra for inheritance, and a debt sale in the 1920s which involved a member of a prominent elite family. In 1905, the heirs of Modestino García Revollo divided lands with an area of 185.12.52 hectares. In 1918, the heirs of Felicidad Valencia, who had received lands through inheritance in 1865, divided a property with an area of 100.84.40 hectares. In 1929, Carlos Salamanca, brother of the future president of the same name, bought lands in La Abra from the Banco Hipotecario Nacional for Bs 11,000. The bank had foreclosed on and taken possession of the property.

According to the cadastral survey prepared about 1912, there were 65 properties in the area of Hacienda La Abra, seven of which (10.8 percent) had an area greater than ten hectares and together comprised 78 percent of the territory registered in the survey (see Table V). There were also a number of parcels of land that belonged to smallholders.

Causes for the Partition of the Sacaba Hacienda

A number of complex economic and ecological factors contributed to the partition of the hacienda in the Sacaba Valley and the growth in the number of smallholders. Between the end of the colonial period and the late nineteenth century, the structure of the interregional and internal economy changed. In the eighteenth century, Cochabamba producers sold flour and grain in the southern Peruvian and Upper Peruvian (Bolivian) altiplano market. During the late nineteenth century, markets for Cochabamba flour and grain contracted. The completion of the first railroads that linked the coast to the altiplano opened that market to imports of cheap foreign grain, flour, and manufactured goods which displaced locally produced goods. In 1894, one Cochabamba hacienda administrator wrote,

The agricultural year has been good, and it would be better with the prospect of good prices, except for the competition that [forces prices] down; and especially that which the railroad brings, hundreds of quintals of [Chilean] wheat flour vomiting from every train that adds in the market to [the flour] our mills produce.20

That the loss of profitable markets in the altiplano contributed to a drop in agricultural income is difficult to prove empirically in the absence of hacienda account books which could demonstrate the profitability of individual haciendas over time, and the sources of hacienda income. Qualitative sources, however, written at the end of the nineteenth century, consistently bemoaned the loss of markets to Chilean products. One adaptation of Cochabamba producers to the new market conditions was the growing of corn for conversion into chicha (fermented corn beer). Some large-scale producers also attempted to manipulate the local markets (to which they were increasingly reduced) in years of crop failure or apparent crop failure in order to drive prices up and earn windfall profits.21 Nevertheless, Cochabamba agriculture stagnated from the 1890s until about 1917.

In 1917 and 1918, opportunities for Cochabamba farmers changed. In 1917, the Oruro-Cochabamba railroad was completed, which lowered transportation costs and allowed Cochabamba produce to compete in the altiplano market. Moreover, inflation during World War I brought prevailing prices in the altiplano urban centers in line with the price of Cochabamba produce. However, the completion of the railroad in 1917 coincided with a poor harvest in the altiplano which created unusual demand for Cochabamba produce and gave rise to an unwarranted optimism concerning the future for grain sales in that market. Some speculators were ruined in 1918 when the harvest in the altiplano returned to normal levels and there was less demand for what Cochabamba had to offer. A postwar depression in tin mining in 1921 and 1922 further reduced consumption of Cochabamba produce in the altiplano.

In 1918, the government closed the national market to imports of foreign alcohol, which stimulated a rapid expansion of national alcohol production with either a corn/grain or sugar base. Many Cochabamba farmers borrowed from banks and moneylenders in order to expand production, and thus take advantage of the short-term demand for corn as a base material for alcohol. But the Bolivian alcohol industry declined sharply after 1923, as a consequence of government taxation and the smuggling into the country of large quantities of cheaper Peruvian alcohol. The stagnation of the alcohol industry, coupled with growing competition among corngrowing regions in Bolivia, limited the demand for Cochabamba corn, and after 1925 the price of corn collapsed. Land values also dropped. Agricultural income declined, and many farmers were unable to pay land taxes and service outstanding debts.22

Debt played an important role in the process of the partition of the hacienda in the central valleys. A financial burden had long been common in the Cochabamba region, but the credit market changed during the course of the nineteenth century. In the colonial period, different groups within the church, and perhaps merchants, provided credit to hacienda owners. The bulk of the financial burden on colonial haciendas, however, was in the form of ecclesiastical censos, a type of lien that recognized a nominal capital on the value of a rural or urban property and produced interest income.23 Interest was charged at rates that did not exceed 5 percent, and the church did not necessarily much care about collecting the principal. Further, church corporations with liquid capital to lend carefully screened potential borrowers, and would not lend to those deemed to be credit risks.

The role of church corporations as lenders and recipients of interest income from censos on haciendas changed following independence. The government of Antonio José de Sucre (1826-29) closed a number of convents and monasteries in Bolivia, and sold the urban and rural real property of those institutions at auction. Moreover, legislation enacted during this period enabled landowners to redeem censos, and thus liquidate one financial burden while eliminating an important source of church income.24 In Cochabamba, the female orders remained relatively untouched by the Sucre reforms and expanded their land base during the second half of the nineteenth century. However, they did lose interest income from censos, and price inflation in the last decades of the nineteenth century and first decades of the present century (see  Appendix 2) eroded the real value of the rent paid for the haciendas owned by the female orders, forcing several of them to sell rural lands “for economic need.” Between 1877 and 1901, for example, the rent paid for Hacienda Cliza, owned by the nuns of Santa Clara, increased by 13 percent. During the same period, measured here from 1881 in order to avoid the distortion in price movements caused by the 1877-79 drought crisis, corn and wheat prices, considered as representative of other prices in the region, increased by 70 percent and 41 percent respectively. Price inflation continued after 1900 at different rates, and placed additional pressure on the financial base of the orders.25

With the erosion of the financial resources of the church, new forms of credit emerged—modern capitalistic banks which increased the amount of credit available but imposed stricter and higher terms of repayment. Banks in the late nineteenth century charged borrowers as much as 10 percent to 12 percent interest, and required semester payments of principal and interest. The volume of debt increased after 1870, and the changes in terms of repayment made the burden difficult to carry during periods of stagnation in the agricultural economy or ecological crisis which destroyed all or part of a crop. (On the ecological factor, see  Appendix 1.) Landowners faced foreclosure due to their inability to amortize a debt, often after missing four or five semester payments.26

Access to credit in the early twentieth century formed an integral aspect of production and commercialization of agricultural produce in Cochabamba. In a report written in the early 1920s, British Vice-Consul T. O’Conner described the credit relationship and debt during the 1921 depression in tin mining:

The general depression in business in Bolivia is keenly felt in the department of Cochabamba. The closing down of the majority of the mines in Oruro has caused a heavy decline in the consignments of agricultural produce to that region. Credit restrictions on the part of banks have further handicapped trade which hitherto had been carried out on a long credit system, the farmers being accustomed to ask substantial advances on their crops. A great number of proprietors who were indebted to banks for loans contracted in former years found themselves unable to meet the pressing demands of their creditors and were obliged to accept the foreclosure of their mortgages. In most cases, these properties have been taken over by the banks and now are offered for sale at exceptionally low figures. This has naturally brought about a general depreciation in the value of all agricultural lands in the department.27

At this point, it is probably well to underscore the relative dependence of the members of the local elite on agriculture as a source of income. Most elite families owned little more than rural and urban real estate and personal belongings. Thus, they depended on hacienda income to supplement any earnings from employment and were always vulnerable to a decline in agricultural income. Only a few of the wealthier families had invested in bank and mining stocks and interest-bearing bonds (letras hipotecarias), or disposed of liquid capital to lend. Two exceptions were the Lavayén family, which formed a mortgage bank in the city of Cochabamba, and the Salamanca family, one of the wealthiest and most politically influential in the department, which took advantage of the debt problems of other property owners to buy lands in the Valle Bajo in the 1880s and 1890s.28

When hacienda owners found themselves squeezed by mounting debt and declining agricultural income, the loss of an entire hacienda through foreclosure was not, however, the sole alternative. They could also choose to sell off sections of the hacienda in order to save a part of their lands. In some instances, the hacienda owner sold to service tenants the subsistence plots that they already worked. Between 1894 and 1912, for example, the number of service tenants on Sacaba haciendas dropped from 4,265 to 3,621, through a change in status to piqueros (independent smallholders) as well as by migration.29 Evidence also suggests that sharecropping increased in importance in the early twentieth century, which constituted a major transformation in hacienda production.30

The growth of the peasant population in the Sacaba Valley created a demand for land at a time when hacienda owners felt sufficient pressure to sell, and the active participation of peasants in the commercialization of their surpluses allowed them to accumulate enough capital to buy land. The population of Chapare province, the administrative jurisdiction created at the end of the nineteenth century which included the Sacaba Valley, fluctuated during the course of the nineteenth century as a result of periodic ecological and mortality crises, but then nearly doubled between 1900 and 1950.31 Within the peasant economy itself, there was a well-defined division of labor, with the men responsible for agricultural production and the women for commercialization of family surpluses in local markets or as far away as the altiplano. Men also sought seasonal work on neighboring haciendas in order to earn additional money to put toward the purchase of land, which was the goal of most peasant families.32

To the extent that hacienda owners were subdividing their properties for sale to the peasantry, they were tapping the latter’s modest store of capital to solve their own short-term problems. The peasants, in fact, constituted the single largest group of potential purchasers of hacienda lands, especially as the earlier pattern of the sale of haciendas between the members of a small local elite had clearly broken down. The process of inheritance, however, had not ceased to contribute to the partition of haciendas; and it was, of course, a continuing process in the sense that the constituent sections (suyos) separated from a hacienda in turn could be subject to division for the same reason. In 1877, for example, the seven heirs of José Olivera divided Hacienda Chacacollo. In the following year, the sixth suyo of Chacacollo was further divided for inheritance.33 Eventually, the growing demand for land may also have made it more attractive for heirs to divide land for sale rather than maintaining a hacienda intact (pro-indiviso), with profits divided among the collective owners.

A Distinctive Pattern

The transformation in the structure of the southern Peruvian and Bolivian economies during the later nineteenth century contributed to the decline of the hacienda in the Sacaba Valley. The loss of altiplano markets, coupled with debt and periodic ecological crisis, contributed to the instability of hacienda tenure, and one strategy commonly adopted by hacienda owners was to subdivide and systematically sell off parts of their lands. Landless peasants, smallholders, and artisans from the urban centers in the region frequently bought hacienda lands. The evidence presented from the cadastral survey clearly shows a growth in the number of smallholders in the Sacaba Valley in the last decades of the nineteenth and first years of the twentieth centuries. The hacienda in the Sacaba Valley declined in importance as the dominant form of tenure and mode of production, and hacienda owners increasingly vied with small-scale peasant producers for control of shrinking markets.

The parcelization of agricultural land in the Sacaba Valley, and in Cochabamba department more generally, stands in marked contrast to the pattern of the expansion of the hacienda in the Bolivian altiplano and Chuquisaca department as described by Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, Gustavo Rodríguez Ostria, and Erick Langer, among others. Market forces contributed to the different evolution of land tenure. The expansion of the hacienda in the altiplano, for example, was related to the growth of the population of La Paz and Oruro, and the improvement of internal transportation which facilitated the movement of produce to market. Moreover, the expansion of hacienda production on the extensive altiplano hacienda did not entail a major capital investment other than in the purchase price. The hacienda owner settled landless peasants, frequently former members of the corporate Indian communities absorbed by the hacienda, and extracted labor in exchange for a subsistence plot. Published data reflecting conditions before the 1953 agrarian reform show that two principal forms of tenure existed in the altiplano, the hacienda, and the Indian communities, and that the number of the former had expanded since the previous century while the communities had declined, although some continued to exist—most likely in areas ill-suited to agriculture. In 1846, José Dalence reported that there were 79 haciendas and 302 communities in Oruro department, and 224 and 213 respectively were recorded in 1948.34 Most haciendas in Oruro were large latifundios: in 1948, there were 81 haciendas in Oruro’s Cercado province, 79 of which had an area of more than five hundred hectares.35 The categories used by Dalence in the mid-1840s and by the cadastral survey in the 1940s may have been somewhat different, but comparison of the two sources clearly indicates the extent of the change in the distribution of land over the course of a century.

The partition of the hacienda in Cochabamba department was unique within Bolivia, and the 1953 agrarian reform did not eliminate the traditional hacienda but merely terminated a process of transformation of land tenure that began earlier as a consequence of the factors outlined above (see Table VI). The MNR thesis attributing the liquidation of agrarian feudalism to its own measure, therefore, has to be modified in relation to the specific case of the Cochabamba hacienda. Indeed, the pattern of the partition of the hacienda throughout the three central valleys, and particularly in the Valle Alto around Cliza and Ucurena, directly contributed to the formation of the first peasant leagues (sindicatos), which in turn played an important role in the articulation of agrarian reform as one of the measures that would be adopted by the MNR following its seizure of power in 1952.

Weather and Agricultural Conditions in Cochabamba

Until the 1940s and the development of irrigation with a large reserve capacity in the Valle Alto, agriculture in the Cochabamba region depended on rainfall, or on irrigation systems that drew water from rain-fed streams and springs. Irregular rainfall could cause drought, and drought or the prospect of drought was a common occurrence in Cochabamba, particularly in the central valley districts. Further, speculation on short-term weather conditions contributed to rapid changes in commodity prices, which caused anxiety for urban consumers and the government. Drought or the prospect of drought could drive prices upward even if there was no immediate food shortage, or an opportune rain could influence prices in the opposite direction. It may therefore be useful to present a chronological summary of data abstracted from local newspapers on weather and related agricultural conditions. The data in question clearly demonstrate both the precariousness of agriculture and the persistence of a speculative attitude among some large-scale producers, those who had the capacity to store surplus grain.

Any discussion of the impact of cyclical drought must be placed within the context of the duration of the agricultural year in Cochabamba. During years of normal rainfall, the first planting generally follows the first rains in September to November, but can occur as late as the end of December or the first two weeks of January.36 In analyzing the impact of drought in the Cochabamba region, it is important to document both the amount of rainfall and the point within the agricultural cycle at which the drought began. Late rains, for example, can delay the first planting, but not necessarily cause crop failure. During the 1877-78 drought, on the other hand, the shortage of rain began only in December after the first crop had already been planted, and plants withered or were stunted in their growth with the lack of rain and the intense summer sun. Showers in February of 1878 deposited only 5 to 8 millimeters of rain after two to three months of little or no rain, and 43. 5 millimeters in March, which was too little too late to save much of the wheat and barley crops.37 Rainfall during the entire year in the city of Cochabamba was a mere 142. 70 millimeters, most of which fell at the beginning of the agricultural year.38

Rainfall levels dictated the success or failure of agriculture, and farmers in the Sacaba Valley and elsewhere in the region faced either ruin or a bountiful crop from year to year. The Sacaba Valley, perhaps the driest of the three central valley districts, was particularly susceptible to drought, and in some instances farmers there faced crop damage when those in the other valley districts did not. Whereas drought and other ecological conditions affected agriculture throughout the Cochabamba region, the impact was uneven and at times localized. In general, though, it could be argued that ecological crisis had more of an impact on farmers in the Sacaba Valley than in the other valley districts.

The following table summarizes information on weather and crops recorded in local newspapers. In some instances, the reports are narrowly focused on one area within the larger region, but, with some variation, they represented conditions throughout the region.

Cochabamba Corn and Wheat Prices in Bolivianos, in Selected Years


Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, Oprimidos pero no vencidos. Luchas del campesinado aymara y qhechwa 1900-1980 (La Paz, 1984) and Gustavo Rodríguez Ostria, Expansión de la hacienda o supervivencia de la comunidad (Cochabamba, 1982) both discuss the expansion of the hacienda at the expense of the Indian communities in the altiplano in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Rodríguez Ostria also argued that in the case of the three central valleys in Cochabamba department haciendas expanded at the expense of community lands, while the number of independent peasant producers increased at the same time.


Erwin Grieshaber, “Export Expansion and Indian Land Sales in the Department of La Paz, Bolivia 1881-1920,” paper presented to the Andean Studies Committee, American Historical Association, Dec. 1986.


See, for example, Ramiro Condarco Morales, Zárate el “Temible" Willka. Historia de la rebelión indígena de 1899, 2d ed. (La Paz, 1983) and Roberto Choque Canqui, La masacre de Jesús de Machaca (La Paz, 1986).


Erick Langer, “Rural Society and Land Consolidation in a Declining Economy: Chuquisaca, Bolivia 1880-1930” (Ph.D. diss., Stanford University, 1984). In a paper presented at the meeting of the Midwestern Association of Latin American Studies, Nov. 1987, in Chicago, Langer outlined the evolution of nineteenth-century Bolivian legislation designed to eliminate the Indian community: “Liberalism and the Abolition of Indian Communities in Nineteenth-Century Bolivia.”


Tristan Platt, Estado boliviano y ayllu andino. Tierra y tributo en el norte de Potosí (Lima, 1982).


José Gordillo Claure, “El origen de la hacienda en el Valle Bajo de Cochabamba. Conformación de la estructura agraria (1550-1700)” (thesis, Universidad Mayor de San Simón, 1988).


Brooke Larson, Colonialism and Agrarian Transformation in Bolivia: Cochabamba, 1550-1900 (Princeton, 1988), especially 188-195.


Catastro de la Propiedad Rústica, Chapare Province, Cantón Sacaba; El Ferrocarril, Jan. 19, 1915. The cadastral survey prepared for Cantón Sacaba about 1912 is preserved in the Treasury Department of the Cochabamba prefectural palace, located on the main plaza of Cochabamba in buildings that once belonged to the Augustinians. An effort was being made in 1987 to organize a prefectural archive, and, depending on the success of the reorganization, the cadastral survey may have been transferred to another office in the prefecturate.


Escrituras Públicas, exp. 147, Archivo Histórico Municipal de Cochabamba (hereafter AHMC).


Cochabamba notarial protocols 1886, AHMC.


José Dalence, Bosquejo estadístico de Bolivia, reprint ed. (La Paz, 1975), 241; Zenón Cossío, Informe del prefecto y comandante general (Cochabamba, 1917); Rafael Reyeros, El pongueaje la servidumbre personal de los indios bolivianos (La Paz, 1949), 5; Rafael Peredo Antezana, La provincia de Quillacollo, Ensayo monográfico (Cochabamba, 1963), 183.


Gordillo Claure, “El proceso de la extinción del yanaconaje en el Valle de Cochabamba (Análisis de un padrón de yanaconas, 1692),” mimeo (Cochabamba, 1987), 21.


Francisco de Viedma, Descripción geográfica y estadística de la Provincia de Santa Cruz de la Sierra (Cochabamba, 1969), 53.


For a more detailed discussion of the crisis in Cochabamba agriculture in the late nineteenth century, see Robert H. Jackson, “Liberal Land and Economic Policy and the Transformation of the Rural Sector of the Bolivian Economy: The Case of Cochabamba, 1860-1929” (Ph.D. diss., University of California, Berkeley, 1988), chap. 3 and passim. See also below.


In the first 50 years following independence, the Bolivian government continued to collect tribute from the Indian population, and prepared and periodically revised tribute rolls today preserved in the Archivo Nacional de Bolivia in Sucre. The tribute rolls for much of Cochabamba record the name of the hacienda and hacienda owner, which can be used to document changes in ownership and the division of a property for inheritance.


Padrones de Tributarios, Cantón Sacaba, in Archivo Nacional de Bolivia, Sucre.


For a more complete discussion of inheritance during the republican period, see Jackson, “Liberal Land and Economic Policy,” chap. 5.


Cochabamba notarial protocols, AHMC; Registro de Derechos Reales, Chapare Province. The Registro de Derechos Reales is a separate land registry located in Cochabamba, in the office of the same name.


This section is based on the sample of hacienda sales and descriptions of the division of haciendas from the AHMC and Registro de Derechos Reales and the cadastral survey.


Quoted in Langer, “Espacios coloniales y economías nacionales: Bolivia y el norte argentino (1810-1930),” Siglo XIX, 2 (1987), 151.


See  Appendix 1. Also see Jackson, “Liberal Land and Economic Policy,” esp. chap. 1 and App. 1.


Ibid., chap. 4, 136-157. On the rise of the debt burden on Cochabamba agricultural lands in the 1920s, see Arturo Taborga and Jesús Lozada, Trabajos presentados a la Misión Kemmerer por los asesores de Cochabamba (Cochabamba, 1927). El Comercio, Feb. 28, 1928, Feb. 3, 1929, and May 11, 1929 discusses the decline in property values after the collapse of corn prices.


On the role of the church as a source of credit during the colonial period see, for example, Michael Costeloe, Church Wealth in Mexico: A Study of the ‘Juzgado de Capellanías’ in the Archbishopric of Mexico 1800-1856 (Cambridge, 1967) and Arnold Bauer, “The Church in the Economy of Spanish America: Censos and Depósitos in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries,” HAHR, 63:4 (Nov. 1983), 707-735.


Jackson, “Liberal Land and Economic Policy,” App. 9. William Lofstrom, El Mariscal Sucre en Bolivia (La Paz, 1983), 133-142 discusses in general terms the application of Sucre’s anticlerical policies in the mid-1820s. Lofstrom, however, does not mention the sale of church-owned lands.


Escrituras Públicas, exp. 129, AHMC and El Heraldo, July 1, 1901. The figure recorded in El Heraldo comes from an advertisement for the rental of said property, and was the base price at which the hacienda was being offered in rental. The base price reflected the amount received in the previous rental period. Other examples demonstrate the erosion of the real value of the rent paid for haciendas owned by the female orders, particularly after 1900. In 1903, Hacienda Esquilán, owned by the Capuchin nuns, was offered in rental at a rate of Bs 1,000 per year. The base price rose to Bs 2,000 ten years later in 1913. During the same period, corn and wheat prices increased. Ecological conditions forced prices up, particularly in the decade 1900-1909: the price index reproduced as  Appendix 2 records, for example, an increase of 393 percent in the price of corn and 365 percent in the price of wheat between 1900 and 1909. The continued erosion of the real income derived from the rental of rural properties was probably greatest during that decade. In some instances, as in the case of the Capuchin nuns who owned Esquilán, the orders may later have recovered a part of the lost value of the rent. A number of properties owned by the orders were sold after 1900, and particularly between 1910 and 1929.


Bank mortgage agreements recorded in the Cochabamba notarial protocols include a detailed repayment schedule generally presented in tabular form.


Quoted in Christine Whitehead, “Cochabamba Landowners and the Agrarian Reform” (Bachelor’s thesis, St. Hugh’s College, Oxford University, 1970), 18.


Jackson, “Evolución y persistencia del colonaje en las haciendas de Cochabamba,” Siglo XIX, 3 (1988), 158.


Two contemporary sources discuss sharecropping in Cochabamba in the early and middle twentieth century. See Octavio Salamanca, El socialismo en Bolivia. Los indios de la altiplanicie boliviana (Cochabamba, 1931), 173 and Reyeros, El pongueaje, 225-226.


Though population counts were of widely varying quality, published census figures for Chapare Province are still indicative:

  • 1788—6,852

  • 1846—27,511 (Sacaba 24,624; Colomi 2,376; Tablas 511)

  • c. 1880—17,187 (Sacaba 11,923; Colomi 3,659; Tablas 1,086; Mendoza 519)

  • 1900—24,895 (Sacaba 18,047; Colomi 5,226; Tablas 1,447; Mendoza 175)

  • 1950—42,749

Francisco de Viedma, Descripción geográfica y estadística de la Provincia de Santa Cruz de la Sierra (Cochabamba, 1969), 54; Pablo Macera, Bolivia tierra y población 1825-1936 (Lima, 1978), 15; Memoria que presenta el Presidente del Honorable Concejo Departamental de 1887 (Cochabamba, 1888); Censo demográfico de la República de Bolivia según el empadronamiento de 1 de septiembre de 1900 (La Paz, 1902); Censo demográfico de Bolivia (La Paz, 1955).


Salamanca, El socialismo, 165-170. In 1917, for example, with the completion of the Oruro-Cochabamba railroad, produce buyers came to Cochabamba from Oruro to purchase fruits, vegetables, and grains for the Oruro market. Hacienda owners had to compete with smallholders who came to the railhead to sell their surpluses. See Whitehead, “Cochabamba Landowners,” 17.


Escrituras Públicas, various exps. and Cochabamba notarial protocols, various years, AHMC; Registro de Derechos Reales, Chapare Province.


Jackson, “Liberal Land and Economic Policy,” 222-224. This conclusion is based on a sample of land sales involving members of the Salamanca family taken from the Cochabamba City and Quillacollo Notarial Protocols, AHMC and Registro de Derechos Reales, Tapucari, Quillacollo, and Tarata Provinces.


Dalence, Bosquejo estadístico, 241; Reveros, El pongueaje, 9.


Reyeros, El pongueaje, 11.


Licenciado José Rodríguez Flores, personal communication, Cochabamba, Jan. 17, 1987. Rodríguez Flores is an agronomist with extensive experience in agriculture in Cochabamba.


El Avisador, Apr. 11, 1878.


Jackson, “Ciclos de mortalidad en Tarata (1877-1885),Nispa-Ninku, 11 (1987), 11. Normal levels of rainfall range from about 200-250 to 300 millimeters per year in the central valley districts. As was also the case during the 1988 drought in the Midwest corn belt in the United States, drought damage to crops varied from place to place, and even within the same field.