The persistence of Indian tribute in Cuzco following independence, argues Víctor Peralta Ruíz, illuminates Peru’s failure to form a national commonwealth. At independence José de San Martín abolished tribute, and Simón Bolívar granted citizenship to the Peruvian Indian. Yet these liberal initiatives quickly failed, and tribute appeared under a variety of names (contribución voluntaria, contribución única). Several factors in the old Cuzco intendancy helped tribute survive. The indigenous population preferred to pay one rather than many taxes; more important, tribute payment conferred a right to agricultural land, the “moral economy of the Andes.” Only in 1854 did tribute officially end.
In this book’s most original part, chapters 3 and 4, census data for Cuzco show that indigenous communities prospered during the two decades after independence, in contrast to nonindigenous haciendas. Half as many haciendas existed in 1845 as in 1786, and they controlled only 15 percent of indigenous labor. Bolivia’s restrictions on trade disrupted the haciendas’ commercial ties to Potosí. Meanwhile, to pay tribute, Indians continued producing for the regional economy. Tribute constituted two-thirds of Cuzco’s fiscal income but less than one-fifth of national revenue. By midcentury, tributaries outstripped available land. Mestizo tribute collectors embezzled taxes and aggravated the land shortage by taking communal property for themselves. The moral economy broke down. Tribute’s abolition removed any bureaucratic power capable of defending indigenous rights to land. The haciendas somehow recovered, and latifundios dominated the region.
Based on secondary literature and published primary sources, the other three chapters show the consequences for Peru of indigenous tribute and creole racism. Unlike their counterparts in Mexico, contends Peralta Ruíz, Peruvian creoles did not develop a nationalism capable of integrating the indigenous population and castas as citizens. By inclination, creoles instead perpetuated colonial-style oppression. Republican Peru was “more racist than the colony” (p. 138). Creole attitudes and the provinces’ reliance on tribute made liberal capitalism impossible.
Peralta Ruíz’ conclusions are thought-provoking, if not always entirely convincing. He does not clarify the economic dynamics underlying rural society. Somehow indigenous communities flourished, despite the general economic malaise that beset Cuzco after independence. The author also believes that creoles permitted the abolition of tribute in 1854 because state guano revenues far surpassed it; but tribute still yielded nearly 20 percent of national revenue. The extent to which conditions in Cuzco paralleled those in other parts of Peru also remains uncertain. Cuzco clearly had the largest indigenous population and the highest tribute revenues, but did attitudes toward tribute differ elsewhere?
Still, Peralta Ruíz’ study offers many rewards. Its pages are filled with insights based on a wide familiarity with the historiography of nineteenth-century Peru. The book ambitiously looks for the historical roots of contemporary Peruvian problems.