This is a study of the three cabildos of colonial Yucatán (Mérida, Campeche, and Valladolid) in the eighteenth century. It is at once institutional and socioeconomic history, although the author succeeds more at the former than at the latter.
The book is organized topically, with good chapters analyzing the cabildo institution and the sale and inheritability of offices. The author also discusses the geographic origins of the regidores (that is, the proportion of creoles and peninsulars); the economic activities of cabildo members (who were encomenderos, landowners, merchants, or a combination of these); the social “configuration” of the political elite; and the relations between the cabildos and the governors, the church, and the crown. Ana Martínez Ortega devotes as much space as possible to Campeche and Valladolid, so that the book lives up to its claim of being a study of all three cabildos. Moreover, the book analyzes the entire century, so that no one era is overemphasized at the expense of the others. Martínez Ortega thus succeeds in presenting a balanced study of three different city councils over a relatively long period.
A serious defect of the book, however, is the author’s frequent self-contradiction regarding the basic thesis being presented. She argues over and over again that the elite of Yucatán was a closed group (pp. 114, 115, 176, 189). Yet all her evidence proves the contrary, as she herself just as frequently admits (pp. 103–4, 114, 175, 178). Similarly, Martínez Ortega argues that Yucatán had a “natural” economy, that the province was “commercially isolated” and completely lacking in resources, that virtually no economic development took place, and that Yucatán’s “socioeconomic structure did not change throughout its entire life as a colony” (p. 179). But she also mentions the eighteenth-century phenomena of demographic growth, transformation of the landed estate, and Campeche’s commercial vitality, thereby contradicting the other interpretation. The book, in short, lacks a consistent, coherent argument, and will more than likely confuse rather than inform the reader.
Also problematic is the author’s attempt to distinguish between descendants of “conquistadors” and of “recent immigrants” in order to demonstrate that the latter came to dominate the cabildo in the eighteenth century. Regidores are judged to be of “recent” origin if any of their ancestors was a later immigrant, even if the great majority were not. Moreover, the category “recent” includes people whose immigrant ancestors arrived more than a century earlier. Since most of the late colonial upper class was descended (through females as well as males) from both the sixteenth-century elite and the later arrivals, the distinction is spurious.
The book therefore is informative, and it provides useful data for comparison with other regions. But the interpretations should be used with caution.