A lawyer by training, a historian by avocation, Gabriel Camargo Pérez has dedicated more than 50 years to explicating his home region, the Department of Boyacá, Colombia. This work collects nearly 150 short essays written over several decades. The essays, in turn, are roughly organized into 20 chapters, treating Boyacá’s geographic setting, pre-Columbian population, the conquest, early settlements, religious conversion, the Comuneros Revolt, the Patria Boba (1810-16), Spanish reconquest, independence (1819), the historical evolution of municipal structures, Paz de Río, Belencito, Sugamuxi (Sogamoso), and Boyacá’s development from 1886 to 1992.
Under the Chibcha-Muiscas, what became Boyacá was the locus of various religious centers, of which Sugamuxi, which the author dubs the Rome of the Chibchas, was the most important. Native son Camargo Pérez peppers his essays with references to his hometown and its historical role.
Some of the items included here were originally journal articles; others, news-paper stories; and still others, orations and speeches. Their subject matter varies widely. These factors make for too much repetition and for an uneven quality to the work as a whole. Camargo Pérez celebrates Boyacá’s natural beauty and deplores its partial ecological destruction. His view of the indigenous past is limited by a lack of sources. His treatment of the colonial centuries is superficial, but he is not blind to Spanish, creole, and mestizo land grabbing from the Indian population. Camargo rescues some Sogamoso comuneros from oblivion, but his handling of the independence struggle adds little information that is new. In one of the last essays, he sketches the nine chief executives with Boyacá roots who ruled Colombia between 1837 and 1962; he also lists dozens of Boyacá personalities who, since 1810, have contributed to Colombia’s cultural and political life.
Perhaps the most significant of all the essays are those that treat the profound social and economic changes brought, since 1950, to part of Boyacá’s heartland by the development of heavy industry at Belencito and Paz de Río. Camargo Pérez served as legal counselor at the Paz de Río steelworks at its inception and for many years thereafter. It would be a valuable addition to his country’s history of that period if he would flesh out this piece into a full book.
Despite its limitations and occasional subjectivity, this book contains a number of essays that Colombianists may find useful introductions to a major region, Boyacá.