Based on the author’s 1972 Cornell dissertation, this work spans three eventful years (1825-28) in Bolivian history, years in which Marshal Antonio José de Sucre (1795-1830) served as the newly created republic’s first president. It is an account which is well grounded in the pertinent manuscript and printed sources.
The volume is divided into 12 chapters. The first 3 provide the historical framework for Sucre’s presidency; the next 7, the objects of his reform measures: the church, education, public health, urban planning, a port (Cobija) on the Pacific, revenue and taxes; and the last two, the failure and collapse of his regime. A conclusion completes the text. The reader is led to expect some items which are not forthcoming: among them is “Apéndice III.” A far more glaring omission is the rest of the “Bibliografía,” only one page of which was printed.
When he became Bolivia’s chief executive, Sucre, at 30, was a much decorated veteran of the independence struggle. By then, the country he would attempt to govern had suffered 16 years of war and much destruction of its mineral-based economy. Intact, however, was its socially dominant creole elite, which lorded it over a weak cholo sector and the mass of downtrodden Indians.
Sucre intended to end the bondage of the Indians by creating a more equitable tax system, thus abolishing the Indian tribute and establishing a more egalitarian infrastructure of schools, charities, and health facilities. To help underwrite these initiatives, Sucre and his foreign-born collaborators pursued anticlerical measures which resulted in the confiscation of the Bolivian regular clergy’s properties, which were taken over by the state.
The heavy cost, however, of maintaining the liberating army of Gran Colombians (needed to guarantee Bolivia’s territorial integrity from Argentine and/or Peruvian designs) was compounded by the failure (due to creole resistance) of his proposed fiscal reform, which undercut and hamstrung the remainder of Sucre’s progressivism. This, in turn, engendered revenue shortfalls which undermined his control over the military. In time, this led to the subversion of the armed forces by Peruvian and Bolivian intrigues, and to Sucre’s own near assassination (on April 18, 1828), his incapacitation, eventual resignation, and a Peruvian invasion. Any hope for substantive (albeit gradualist) reform in Bolivian society departed with its former president, in early August 1828. Indeed, by making the confiscated ecclesiastical properties accessible to private purchase through the presentation of government promissory bills and paper, Sucre had only further expanded the holdings of the landlord class. Despite the faults (which may not be the author’s) noted earlier, this is a sound piece of historical reporting about three years whose modernizing thrust was blunted and deflected by the selfishness of the Bolivian elite—a failure which cannot be ascribed to any lack of vision or administrative skills on the part of Sucre or his associates.