Autor: José Luis Romero
Título: Latin America: Its Cities and Ideas
The City and the Countryside
Independence loosened the ties that held Creole society together; both the wars for Independence and the civil wars that ensued provided the occasion for different groups to burst upon the social scene and assert their own identity, tendencies, or expectations. Against the Creole middle classes, the urban common people sometimes made their presence felt. But the picture was substantially changed with the appearance of the rural society that had surfaced in the late eighteenth century and had suddenly found, in the post-revolutionary circumstances, a sense of mission and of unforeseen possibilities. Never previously marshaled, this rural society was now called upon to participate in the power struggles and ideological battles; and it answered the call and claimed the role that its strength seemed to demand.
In the beginning, Latin America had been a world of cities. But the countryside suddenly emerged and overflowed those urban islands. The countryside was the most cherished home of Creole society and the heart of criollismo. Rural society played its trump card and revealed that rural land was not only producing the wealth that would ensure everyones survival but was also the forging place for a well-rooted population that could turn each colonial realm into an independent nation with a definite identity. The countryside affirmed its role as cradle of the new nations, as it sent its brave sons on horseback into the fields of battle and hurled their multitudes at the fearful cities. Deluding themselves, the enlightened urban groups looked upon the leaders of these rural armies as ignorant men who did not know what they wanted. But like the men who followed them, the hacendados who were the self-declared colonels or generals of these peasant armies espoused the ideology of criollismo, a somewhat vague philosophy deeply rooted in secular, day-to-day experience and hence governed more by emotion than by doctrine. It was a spontaneous ideology, and its terms became more clearly defined when it had to face the ideology of the cities. Then it asserted itself as a way of life with a limited set of ideas and norms coined by experience. As a spontaneous ideology, criollismo combined a way of life with a way of thinking, but it never made its thinking altogether clear. For that reason, criollismo was not opposed to one particular ideology among the many that prevailed in the cities, but to all of them at once: it was an anti-urban ideology, but it showed more of an affinity with urban attitudes that adhered to traditional ways of living and thinking. As the home of criollismo, the countryside initially laid siege to the cities with a kind of blind force that seemed at first devastating; but with time rural groups became enmeshed in the complex network of problems of that other, equally real world of which the cities were part and that they had learned to understand by studying the vicissitudes of the mercantile world.
As a productive system that associated the cities with unscrupulous middlemen, rural society burst upon the scene with a tremendous show of power and force. But soon this rural group realized that its goal should not be to annihilate the cities but to take control of them, expecting perhaps that they would surrender to its dictates. And this was, at least, partially true: cities became countrified, but only in appearance, in some customs and norms and in their outward allegiance to certain vernacular habits. Little by little, however, rural society was once more overcome by urban schemes. After a while, even customs and norms were once again those of urban society, whether it was Páez or Rosas who wielded control of the city. In the meantime, rural society, which was the source of wealth, readjusted its mechanisms once again to the complex brokerage system that the cities skillfully handled. Rural society only exerted its influence and its power by becoming part of that system and by sharing its control with the urban groups that, after bowing to rural power, slowly regained their position by seducing their temporary conquerors or perhaps by giving them some role in running their complex machinery.
In any case, after Independence, cities ceased to be the exclusive centers where economic and political decisions were made. They continued, of course, to be the most organized social clusters, and for that reason they gradually recovered their power, but they had to replace their old elite with others better able to deal with rural society. In turn, the countryside also became a center where decisions were made, and the cities had to accept this new bi-polarity. But only rarely would rural society make blind or arbitrary decisions. Rural groups accepted the role of the cities and tried to control them in order to control those who were controlling rural society. In practice, the rural elite became as much urbanized as the cities became countrified and, after a short while, it became part of urban society and was absorbed in its affairs. Vicente Pérez Rosales said the following about the capital of Chile: The people of Santiago invariably direct and orchestrate the scene in the tragic-comic drama of public affairs. But like all urban societies of that period, something had substantially changed in the make-up of the inhabitants of Santiago. They were still in command of their region and of the entire country, but their composition as a social group had become much more representative than the old Creole bourgeoisie: something of rural society had managed to penetrate them.
Cities changed, but so did the countryside. Independence certainly did not modify the system of rural production: the form of ownership or of simple possession of the land was the same as in colonial times, and during several decades the right of the first born continued to be in force. Traditional forms of production and of hiring laborers also survived. Many haciendas remained in the hands of the same families, such as the one known as Cañada Seca, that Guillermo Enrique Hudson described in Allá lejos y hace tiempo; but others changed hands in the turmoil of revolutions and civil wars. Foreigners appeared on the scene and worked the land relentlessly, like the German whom Pal Rosti met in El Palmar in 1857, growing coffee in Venezuelas Aragua valley; or the North Americans who ran sugar mills on Caribbean islands, or the Englishman whom Hudson recalls as being his neighbor on the Argentine Pampas. But most important of all were the new owners or tenant farmers on the old haciendas, many of whom used their power and influence; for someone who had national or local power nothing was easier than to ruin an hacendado and force him to vacate his land or give up his livestock. This was how many nouveau riche farmers came into being. They became stronger and more powerful thanks to their new-found wealth and to the men that their wealth enabled them to rally to their side.
The old haciendas continued to function as they always had. And all of the old haciendas that the Marchioness de Calderón de la Barca described in her book Life in Mexico were much like those evoked by Jorge Isaacs and Guillermo Enrique Hudson, or like the traditional Brazilian fazendas. Little by little, however, things began to change. Certainly, the hacendados changed their attitude. As in the case of Mauá and the coffee planters of São Paulo, the traditional fazendeiro or hacendado began to think more and more like a businessman. Producers understood that they had to pay attention to export mechanisms, because industrial development in Europe and the United States had created new opportunities on the international market. But they also understood that they had to adopt the technical innovations that by then were marveling the entire world, especially because the crisis in the labor force was an ever-growing threat to business. In the first decades of the century, more progressive producers began to introduce steam-operated machines, especially at the sugar mills in Cuba. As their experience grew and the argument over the advantages and disadvantages of technology was settled, the use of machines spread to other regions and to other areas of production. Other technical refinements began to be introduced as well, inspired by foreign models.
New farming, livestock, and mining techniques were introduced in response to an international demand for exports. Foreign markets needed more products, but they demanded quality; thus the more alert producers made an effort, especially after the middle of the century, to improve production. Ranchers tried to refine their livestock by crossbreeding them with English or French stocks; planters began to treat their crops to eliminate pests and blights, while improving irrigation and introducing new varieties in order to get a product that could compete in the international markets. Initially everything was done on a small scale, but the scale increased as the second half of the nineteenth century wore on and a certain degree of stability began to set in.
Certain products were particularly interesting because they opened up new export opportunities. While wool offered enormous opportunities for Argentina, another prospect was also opening up: the possibility of selling fresh meat in Europe if its quality could be upgraded through the crossbreeding that had recently been started. The demand for natural fertilizers was great and could not be satisfied by Europe. Thus Perus vast amounts of natural fertilizer became immensely valuable. In 1882, in a review of Perus economic process during the preceding decades, Luis Esteves wrote:
The desert islands of Chincha are rich in guano: the depleted, sterile soil of Europe can be rejuvenated with this fertilizer. For the England of Malthus, whose population is increasing at a faster pace than the means of subsistence, guano is a means to reduce the cost of bread and to produce meat. Shouldnt all nations of the world rejoice at this discovery and shouldnt Peru have a bright future?
Europe was thrilled, so much so that in 1863 Spain sent a squadron in an unsuccessful bid to take over the islands. Indeed, for some time, guano was Perus chief export. In the meantime European demand for saltpeter, another fertilizer, seemed to offer the prospects of enormous earnings. Peru and Chile fought over it and in 1879, after the War of the Pacific, Chile was in control of the saltpeter of Tarapacá. Industrial metals were sought eagerly in many regions, and some began to be sold for profit. Coffee from the state of São Paulo, already the chief export by the middle of the century, began to be grown more extensively, especially after 1870, when the coffee plantation became a full industrial operation.
Just like Cubas earlier sugarcane producers, the new coffee producers were the hacendados who showed the most obvious shift in thinking, one that would later spread to almost all sectors of the economy. They understood the world market and knew that proper management of the production process was not enough; they also had to control the marketing mechanisms, since their product was basically export-bound. Bur for many decades after Independence most hacendados and mine owners continued to run their operations in the traditional, routine ways. They were driven by other concerns, such as their position as patriarchs, like don Joaquin Gómez, whom the Marchioness de Calderón de la Barca described as monarch of all he surveys. But, above all, they were concerned with the influence they could exert, which sometimes took the form of military and political powers. From time to time, these land and mine owners would live in the city, where they always had well-appointed homes; but as a rule they resided on their land, with their own way of life, according to their own principles, in close contact with rural labors and watching over the new pace of production. Some, simple and somewhat primitive in their tastes, contented themselves with the old inherited mansions, which were sometimes in ruins; but then there were those like Mr. Lavalle, whose sugar mill in Peru was visited, in 1834, by Flora Tristán, who wrote:
[He] has built for himself one of the most elegant homes. He has economized on nothing to make it strong and beautifully embellished. This little palace is furnished in the best of taste and at great expense: English rugs, furniture, clocks and French candelabra; Chinese etchings and curiosities; in other words, everything needed for a comfortable existence.
At that same mill, near Lima, the hacendado told his guest the following: Mademoiselle, from what you say, it seems all you know about blacks is what you have heard from the elegant speeches made by your philanthropists. Unfortunately, it is all too true that the whip is the only way to make them work. He was referring to the slaves who constituted the work force at his establishment: some four hundred men plus women and children. Elsewhere, in Mexico for example, the labor force was Indian or mestizo. There were any number of establishments, especially ranches, where one found Creoles who were expert horsemen, some of whom were part Indian. On the plantations, slaves were branded. The discipline was severe and the punishment at times cruel. Slave women took revenge by aborting their babies, and the men by working slowly. More submissive, Indians tolerated their own lot with a kind of stoicism. Only the ranch hands retained a certain air of independence, tempered only by respect for the bravery and skills of the owner, who, in turn, respected his men, even though he exercised an almost despotic authority. One Captain Andrews, an Englishman, once offered a cigarette to a gaucho and would later write the following about his gesture: But though given to a farmhand of the country, it must be tendered with the chivalrous air of the old Spanish school, or it will lose half its virtue. Curiously, shortly afterwards, Darwin would write in his Voyage of the Beagle: But whilst making their exceedingly graceful bow, they seem quite as ready, if occasion offered, to cut your throat.
A ranch needed few men. But no matter how they may be called (gaucho, vaquero, huaso, morochuco, or llanero), they were expert horsemen capable of managing large herds of cattle. There was never a shortage of men for work, including those who were steady ranch hands on an estancia and others who traveled about the countryside offering their services from place to place. But on plantations and in the mines, the shortage of labor became increasingly acute. The price of black slaves rose as their numbers decreased, due not only to a declining slave trade, but also to epidemics, infertility among slave women, and infant mortality. The number of free men also increased, and they did not always remain with their old establishments. Conditions on the hacienda became even worse when slavery was legally abolished, starting in Mexico in 1829, followed by the other countries, and finally by Brazil in 1888. In the meantime, the personal tribute that Indians had to pay was eliminated almost everywhere. Thus, the haciendas had to be reorganized in order function on the basis of a free work force.
In addition, a number of circumstances gave rural folk an opportunity to change their lot in life. Most important of all were the wars, which opened the way for these people to become part of mainstream society, since the leaders who recruited them made no distinctions of race or class. Some would proclaim the need for an immediate break with the established order. In Caracas, in 1811, an excited Coto Paúl shouted:
Anarchy! That is freedom, when she unties the ribbon and lets her hair fall in order to escape tyranny. Anarchy! While the gods of the weak, the mistrustful and the fearful curse her, I fall on my knees before her. Gentlemen! Let anarchy, with the torch of the furies in her hand, guide us to Congress, let the smoke from her torch intoxicate the rebels against order so that they follow her through the streets and the squares shouting freedom, and reawaken the Dead Sea that is Congress. We are here on the high mountains of holy popular leadership. When anarchy has destroyed everything here and we see before us the bloody spectacle of the battlefields of war, freedom will rise.
Blacks, mulattos, Indians and mestizos answered the call and joined the armies of Independence. San Martín called his black soldiers his finest. But it would be the civil wars that gave the rural common people their greatest opportunities for social assimilation and ascent. They were recruited for vast undertakings not just by political leaders, like those who brought the montoneras to Buenos Aires in 1820 or to Mexico in 1855 or to Lima in 1865, but also by others. With his army of farmhands, each hacendado had intervened, at one time or another, in some dispute. Some farmhands distinguished themselves in the fighting and would never return to their earlier humble condition. An awareness that they were a people at arms was spreading; such sentiment created the rudiments of a democracy and slowly found its political voice. There was even the occasional hacendado who discovered that his slave was indeed a human being, such as the one portrayed in the Afro-American story of Feliciana in the novel by Jorge Isaacs.
Those armies of farmhands, under the command of the owners lieutenant or the owner himself, did not always have to fight a rival army. The almost constant crisis of power forced each hacendado to organize his own defenses. Banditry was one expression, perhaps the most significant one, of the explosion of rural people and of the crisis of the traditional system in the wake of Independence. Roads were full of highwaymen who robbed travelers and attacked haciendas. When they appeared, no one knew who they were; in fact, it was not uncommon for bandits to be confused with groups of the irregular armies who were fighting in the civil wars. Bandits and soldiers were two sides of the same coin. One might be able to identify a soldier by some piece of uniform, his cap or saber. But what difference did such credentials make to someone whose home was occupied, whose animals were taken, or whose costly tableware was stolen? Bandits did the same things, although perhaps with slightly less respect for human life. But an hacendado recognized them by their behavior or because he might even know who they were. To respond to an attack, he armed his men and converted his home into a fortress. And knowing that he could expect nothing from the forces of the law, he received his assailants with gunfire.
Even worse was the problem of the roads. Bad enough as they were, roads became even more dangerous along winding stretches, in the highlands or in wooded areas. There, bandits hid themselves and lay in wait for the stagecoach, carts or horsemen. The element of surprise gave them the advantage; and they took everything the travelers were carrying and ruthlessly killed anyone who resisted. For such situations, the hacendado had his own troop, armed to the hilt and with good mounts. A foreman or steward executed the rudiments of a tactic that he had learned in the army or in hand-to-hand combat. And when the confrontation would finally take place, the two opposing sidesfarm hands and banditswere fighting a long and yet undecided battle between an established society and one in open rebellion.
The Marchioness de Calderón de la Barca, a Scotswoman married to the Minister of Spain in Mexico, who lived in that country between 1840 and 1841, explained banditry in rather simple terms:
This pestilence of robbers, which infests the republic, has never been eradicated. They are in fact the outgrowth of civil war. Sometimes in the guise of insurgents, taking an active role in the fight for Independence, they have independently laid waste the country and robbed all those they met. Under the pretext of expelling the Spaniards, these armed bands have infested the roads between Veracruz and the capital, they have ruined all commerce and, with no regard for political opinions, they have spread robbery and murder everywhere. In 1824, a law was proposed in Congress that would subject all armed bands to the military justice in order to speed up the proceedings. For most of the bandits who had been apprehended had found some opportunity to escape while their trial was pending, and many had been imprisoned four and five times for the same offense and yet had never been brought to justice. In this law were included both robbers by profession and those bodies of insurgents who were merely extemporaneous amateurs. But whatever measures have been taken at different times to eradicate this evil, its causes remain, and the idle and the unprincipled will always take advantage of the disorganized state of the country to obtain by force what they should gain by honest labor.
These idle and unprincipled were doing what they could to extricate themselves from the subordination that rural people had endured for so long. War and anarchy gave them the occasion, and while their old masters were looking for power, these farmhands on horseback were making crime and robbery their livelihood and perhaps even their way to get rich. What mattered was to leave the hacienda, to shake their dependence and enjoy the savage freedom of the land, with no master, and with an easy wealth which evoked that of the gentry.
It was perhaps in Mexico where banditry lasted the longest and was most intense. But it did not fade quickly in other places, either. In Peru, around Lima, bandits from Piedras Gordas and from Tallada de Lurín wreaked havoc for a long time. In Colombia, they attacked the savannah from Cota, where Juan Rojas y Rodríguez became famous. In Chile, bandits operated out of Portezuela de Colina, La Dormida and other places mentioned by Pérez Rosales, threatening the capital itself just after Independence was declared. Pérez Rosales recalled that in 1847 the Cerrillos de Teno were controlled by pela-caras (robbers) that hid out in the forests of Chimbarongo. Pérez Rosales fought against these bandits and in his Recuerdos del pasado wrote the following: My most active inspectors were the wealthiest landowners in the area. They armed their tenants who, under the command of their respective land owners, went everywhere in pursuit of bandits...
But in Mexico civil war and anarchy lasted much longer and, as a consequence, so did banditry. The descriptions by Manuel Payno in Los bandidos de Río Frío (The Bandits of Río Frío) more or less coincide with the disturbing experiences recounted by the Marchioness de Calderón de la Barca. The novel El Zarco (The Blue-Eyed One) by Ignacio Manuel Altamirano is set in the dangerous Juárez years, between 1861 and 1863, and is a complete portrait of a bandit whose temperament, according to the author, drove him to his life of crime. Had the character been real, there might have been other deep-rooted reasons for his conduct. But Altamirano created a symbolic figure and certainly revealed many hidden sides of banditry, among them the protection or complicity that bandits enjoyed among the most influential groups.
Perhaps those who joined the bands of highwaymen and those who joined the revolutionary armiesno matter whether the revolution be liberal or conservativewere one and the same. Sometimes they joined the regular army; but they were often members of guerrilla groups, mounted rebels whose activities were a combination of war and banditry. This was a direct consequence of the social explosion among rural people. But not among all of them. The ones who found this way out were, above all, horsemen from the Pampas of Argentina and Peru, from the Venezuelan plains, from the Mexican states of Veracruz, Morelos and Guerrero, from the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul and from the Chilean valleys. In those regions the horse was a necessity, but it was also a luxury and a sport. Horses were raised with great care. Don Gregorio Gándara, whom Guillermo Enrique Hudson recalls when describing the Argentine pampas around the mid-century, had one thousand breeding mares on his estancia. At the timesays Hudsoneveryone, from the poorest to the most powerful gaucho, who owned land and cattle believed that all his saddle horses should be of the same coat. But even someone who couldnt afford that luxury had his little troop to move about the plains, to work temporarily on some hacienda for a rodeo or for a cattle roundup, and, above all, to live the life of a free man. These horsemen spent everything they had on their horses saddle and would not be satisfied until they had their silver harnesses. It was not only the horse that assured their freedom: it was also their knife, and above all their determination to defend that freedom at all costs with a kind of bravery that sometimes bordered on provocation and arrogance. Just that provocative, just that arrogant was the lacho guapetón [handsome and dashing swaggerer]. Described by Pérez Rosales around 1880, he was recalled as follows:
This Chilean type, almost forgotten today, was, in his lifestyle, tastes and tendencies, the living incarnation of the knight-errant of the Middle Ages in poncho and boots. Like the knight errant, the lacho guapetón was looking for adventure; like the knight errant, he was looking for other dashing young men to conquer, wrongs to make right, rights to assert and damsels to please, sometimes by his gallantry and sometimes not, as there were those who were ill-mannered and indolent. Just as the knight never missed a tournament where he could display his gallantry and the irresistible power of his lance, the lacho guapetón never missed a rodeo, a horse show, or any place where there were young girls to idolize him, chicha to drink, tonadas to listen to, hearts to give away, generosity and graciousness to display, and fights over things as petty as a refusal to drink out of the same glass.
The Argentine gaucho and the Mexican charro were not much different. But while such romantic personalities added color to the countryside, the vast majority of the rural population engaged in the backbreaking grind of farming.
For several decades, the explosion of the countryside would threaten to control the fate and character of the cities. Centers of power and hubs of commercial and financial activity, cities were the target of anyone who wanted to impose his authority on the restless society of the new countries emerging out of independence. The capitals attracted opposing factions. The colonial system had made those cities the seat of political power and public administration, and no insurgent movement could consider its job done until it had taken the capital. From therefrom the palace, so to speakall the strings of public life could be maneuvered; within it one could parcel out government positions in a way that would tighten ones grip on the reins of authority.
Capitalsand to a lesser extent all urban centers, each one on its own scalecontinued to be the focal points of economic life as well. Commerce was the fundamental activity in cities, varied in intensity depending on the citys area of influence. Thus the collapse of strong businesses like that of Judas Tadeo Landinez in Bogota in 1841 or that of the Viscount de Mauá, first in Montevideo in 1869 and then in Rio in 1875, had such an impact. At times, cities served only their domestic markets; for a variety of reasons, others were either regional or national distribution centers. National distribution centers controlled the most important and most profitable business: import/export, which had increased significantly since independence. English, French, or German products came to the ports and, after passing through foreign customs and, in some areas, several domestic customs stations, finally arrived at the urban centers. Certain products continued to be controlled by monopolies; others were traded on the free market. Once received by wholesalers, they were circulated among the markets, stores, and small shops that buyers frequented. National products brought from the countryside to the cities also had to pass through the domestic customs stations; prices on foreign and local products were increased by shipping problems and by the risks that the constant state of insecurity posed.
As demand rose, so did the volume of imports. The more comfortable classes had a penchant for French and English goods of all types: furnishings, rugs, and china and silver, fabrics, laces, jewelry and wearing apparel, wine, oil, sweets. This obsession with keeping up with European fashion accounted for a significant volume of trade. And yet the need to obtain instruments, tools, and machinery was becoming more and more important. Steam-operated machinery, originally used in mills and then gradually introduced elsewhere, like the machines that the English company installed in the Real del Monte mines in Mexico, required heavy investments. But then came the steam-driven vessels and railroads, the first of which was built in Peru in 1859. These new technologies meant that rails, locomotives, and wagons had to be imported, and thus increased financial obligations abroad. Those obligations increased even more when gas lighting began to spread in the 1850s. All these new needs, brought about by the encroachment of the industrial world, made the demand for capital. Even the first independent governments negotiated and obtained large loans. But the need to modernize would eventually require even more capital. The stability gradually achieved after the middle of the century encouraged the great powers to make that capital available.
The mediums of financial transaction were the banks. The first banks that the independent governments established failed because they were hard hit by political instability and economic problems. After the 1850s, however, private financiers managed to amass sufficient capital to establish other banks, like Edwards in Valparaiso, Ossa in Santiago, or Mauá in Rio de Janeiro. The last of these had his sights set on the capitals in the region of Río de la Plata. But as an institution, banking did not begin to flourish until the great foreign banks set up branches. The Bank of London and Brazil was founded in Rio de Janeiro in 1862, the Bank of London and the River Plate in Buenos Aires in 1863, and the Bank of London and South America in Mexico City in 1864. Others followed soon thereafter in those and other cities in response to the interest of various investing countries.
In Mexico, Minister Lucas Alamán founded the Banco del Avío. A committee created in 1831 had recommended certain measures to promote industry, and the bank was to serve those purposes. A conservative minister in several governments and himself an industrialist, Alamán directed the United Mine Company and founded several businesses to manufacture cotton thread and textiles. There were others in Mexico City, which was not the only site where such activities gained in importance. The Marchioness de Calderón de la Barca wrote in 1841:
Formerly, Puebla rivaled Mexico in population and industry. The plague, which carried off 50,000 persons, was followed by the pestilence of civil war, and Puebla dwindled down into a very secondary city. But we now hear a great deal about their cotton factories, and about the machines, instruments and workmen brought from Europe, already giving employment to 30,000 individuals.
The Marchioness went on to recount the vicissitudes of one of the most energetic industrialists, Don Esteban Antuñano, who struggled to get his factory, called La Constancia Mejicana in operation. He endured financial hardship and opposition to train his operators and to bring the necessary machinery from the United States. In the end, the factory went into production in 1835:
It is beautifully situated, and at a distance has more the air of a summer palace than a cotton industrial factory. Its order and airiness are delightful, and in the middle of the court, in front of the building, is a large fountain of the purest water. A Scotchman, who has been there for some time, says he has never seen anything to compare with it and he worked six years in the United States.
Although Puebla had an aristocratic tradition, its new bourgeoisie showed an enormous capacity for initiative and enterprise. There were cotton thread and textile factories, but there were also tile factories and, in 1860, a brewery.
In the cities, the debate between protectionists and free traders became heated. The former wanted to protect local industries and cottage industries that were being threatened by the wave of foreign imports, which were blamed for their failures. But Vicente Pérez Rosales, who had put up a liquor factory around 1830 and had sustained serious setbacks, would observe many years later that improvidence and haste compromised the success of many initiatives. He then examined the industrial experiments undertaken as of then:
The pottery industry in Chile failed because we got it into our heads that we should begin with fine china, even before we got out of the quarry and before even trying crockery; the glass factory failed because rather than starting out with bottles made from common glass we had the audacity to begin with fine glassware and glass windows; the beet root sugar factory failed because the manufacturer had to be a farmer and the product, because it was Chilean, refined; the woolen factories are languishing because rather than starting out with ponchos, blankets, and mattresses, we were crazy enough to begin with fine woolens. My liquor factory failed because rather than content myself with improving the condenser tube, I tried some delicate French still; instead of making a better scotch, I got into cognac, anisette, perfect love. The sad lesson from all this is that every refined industry introduced in a country that lacks even the most rudimentary industries will invariably lead the entrepreneur down the road to ruin.
To be sure, for one reason or another, the efforts made to start up new industries had difficulties. Even a determined, imaginative entrepreneur like the Baron of Mauá could begin any number of projects and end his career in humiliating bankruptcy. But something was learned from the effort. Little by little, the outline of an industrial city began to emerge, with its young factories, its print shops or ironworks, or simple machine repair shops with their gas turbines, where one could see the old craftsmen mingling with the budding industrial proletariat. And although labor movements were surfacing in a few cities, by that time the new social stratum had not yet become a significant force.
Moreover, there was widespread sentiment at the time that what mattered to craftsman and worker alike were their own social assent. In her novel Jorge, el hijo del pueblo, Arequipas María Nieves y Bustamante described the lot of an artisan and his distress over the gulf that separated his classhis sad worldfrom the upper classes of which he wanted to be a part. That ambition seemed to justify any effort. Of course, not everyone made the effort and José T. de Cuéllar amused himself in depicting the archetype of the Mexican artisan, a drunken laggard, in his Historia de Chucho el Ninfo. Those who struggled hard to improve their station in life tended to do so in their own city and within certain pre-determined possibilities. Others took their chances with some of the new adventures that economic change had introduced, while still others moved elsewhere, dazzled by the brilliant prospects that such things as mining had to offer. In those hubs of adventure, the native mingled with the foreigner, locked in a kind of wager with destiny. Those who would fall into poverty rubbed elbows with those who would become rich. It was all a matter of luck. Pérez Rosales described the tense atmosphere of Copiapó around 1846:
The only thing that Copiapó had in common with Chile was the constitutionwhich was not always observedand the lawswhich all too often were broken; the expression a ball of yarn is made from a single strand does not fit Copiapó because the strand Copiapó was to the ball Chile what an egg is to a nut. It was very difficult if not impossible to find four Chileans in a casual gathering of 25 men. I say men because the opposite was true of the gentler sex [...] Copiapó was a cosmopolitan town and very riojano; there were English, French, Chileans, Germans, Italians, not to speak of those from almost all the sister republics. In Copiapó, one neither could nor should have spoken of anything other than mines and just as Valparaiso is one big business firm, Copiapó was the gaping mouth of an enormous mine.
There one found people from every station in life. They all had one thing in common: they were all adventurers. The humblest of them were those who had only their hands to work with; they hoped, nonetheless, to build their future with those hands.
An enormous grassroots sector clung to routine, either because of a lack of initiative or, more often, because of the disheartenment borne of poverty. Anyone travelling in Latin America at that time was struck by the poor people, but so also were the citizens who saw them every day; travel accounts, articles on customs, or engravings, watercolors and sketches capture the presence of this group, which was the largest in any city. Perhaps the group caught the foreigners attention most in those cities where blacks represented the largest portion of the lower classes: in Veracruz or in Cartagena, but especially in the Brazilian cities. This black community [...], said Pérez Rosales in 1825 about Rio; but he was no less surprised by the Indian or mestiza multitude elsewhere. Pancho Fierro, a subtle yet perceptive painter, left visual testimony of this stratum of Creole society in Lima. As in all cities, they could be seen in the market place and on festival days. Parish, Robertson and Hutchinsonall Englishmenwere surprised to see beggars on horseback in Buenos Aires, perhaps less wretched than the Mexican lepers, who were described as pathetic piles of rags who would approach the window and beg in a plaintiff falsetto; or who would sleep under the arches of the aqueduct then shake off their idleness by taking in the cool air or lie out in the sunshine. Not all such types were beggars. Convinced that they would never be anything but poor, some stopped working out of discouragement. Pal Rosti, a Hungarian who traveled through Venezuela in 1857, asked a young man with dark skin who was leaning against a wall near the market place in Caracas why he wasnt working. The young man replied:
Why should I work? All the food I need hangs from the trees; I need only stretch out my hand to pluck it; if I need a blanket or a machete or a little liquor, I take some bananas or some other fruit to the market and I get everything I want and more. What else do I need? I wouldnt be any better off if I was as rich as Mr. X or Mr. Y., and thats how every peon in Venezuela thinks.
The working class engaged in a hundred different trades and occupations, but not one was sufficient to enable it to escape that poverty that stifled initiative. That poverty was the product of the very structure of society. Three revealing books were written on the subject: one by Mariano Otero, Ensayo sobre el verdadero estado de la cuestión social y política que se agita en la República Mexicana, published in Mexico in 1841; one by Miguel Samper, La miseria en Bogotá, published in 1867; and a third by Joaquín Capelo, Sociología de Lima, published in 1900. Despite the opening that temporarily came about after the revolution, for many it was virtually impossible to get to the subsistence level; but it was even more difficult to try to move up socially, and economically, despite the indirect effects of the industrial revolution.
The gulf that separated the middle classes from the upper classes was not as great. There was considerable tension between them, precisely because there was a certain fluidness, despite the best efforts of the upper classes to put themselves out of reach. Anyone from the middle classes who began to imitate the lifestyle or habits of the more genteel folk was labeled pretentious and affected. But perseverance and success began to knock down barriers once one managed to amass a respectable fortune. Occasionally, it was simply a matter of luck: a vein in a mine, an export or import commodity tapped at the right moment, a rural ranch that had done so well that its owner could move to the city, or a prosperous business that enabled the nouveau riche to fight to be admitted into the most select circles. That hope is what drove the merchant or employee to persevere in his efforts, efforts that even if they did not have optimum results, could at least help him move higher on the middle class comfort scale.
Some of the literature portrays that social class, which was just beginning to emerge in some cities. Within it, the alert observer would be able to discern the last vestiges of hidalgo society, which the new patrician class believed it was capable of restoring and whose period of greatest splendor it looked back on with nostalgia. Students of custom and habit did not overlook the subject; Chiles Jotabeche, Argentinas Alberdi, Colombias Vergara y Vergara. Novelists, too, began to tap that vein: Mexicos Juan Díaz Covarrubias explored it in his work La clase media, while the Perus Luis Benjamín Cisneros used it as his backdrop in Julia. All their works were vibrant descriptions of the city, where society moved slowly, trying to break out of the traditional structure. But it was Chiles Alberto Blest Gana who left us the most thorough and incisive picture. From the middle classes, he drew characters representative of the new situation that was gradually taking shape and that would mature later. In Martín Rivas he deftly combined the portrait of the two parallel societies living within Santiagos social milieu. An astute observer, he highlighted the decisive role of money in a fluid society, whose the uppermost strata did not have the means to make their ranks impenetrable.
Even though the middle classes made progress in some cities, the middle classes were unable to bridge the gap that separated them from the inner circles of the old aristocratic society until the latter part of the century. The process was making its presence known, but the resistance from the social structure was very strong. The first contact that the Marchioness de Calderón de la Barca had with a Creole society was when she arrived in Havana in 1839. She had the following to say: This sudden change from Yankee Land to this military, monkish, Spanish Negroland is dreamy. That dream replayed itself many times over in Mexico, where the Scots Marchioness noted over and over again the tremendous contrast between the upper classes and the working classes: No connecting link between the blankets and the satins, she said in a curious passage in which she was describing the multi-colored society that came together on the Paseo de la Viga in Mexico City.
Independence was a period of crisis for the upper classes. Many ceased to belong to the upper classes, while others were added. But on the whole, these changes had no impact on their habits and customs. Whenever circumstances allowed, they became as arrogant and ostentatious as the colonial aristocracy had been. They tried to live that lifestyle, each according to his means. They dressed in European fashion and from Europe they brought however much they felt they needed to keep up their show. But fortune had its limits. Some had inherited their lands or mines and continued in the tradition of their colonial ancestors. One saw them in the capital cities, but they were more clearly identified with the old seigniorial cities like Popayán, Trujillo in Peru, Guadalajara, Puebla, Olinda, and Bahía. Others had made their fortunes more recently, through political power, deals or take-overs, and others through business. Some used the profits to get the luxury that real property tended to provide. The high-ranking clergy and upper echelons of the military were part of the upper classes. Some of them were members by birth, but others because the upper classes had lured them to their ranks during unstable periods when the military represented power. But apart from the native upper classes, there were also wealthy foreign businessmen, real aristocrats. Some were English and French. Some had monetary wealth. But more important still were those in key positions to help others acquire wealth. These were the arbiters of good taste in fashion, and what they did tended to be imitated by those who dreamed about the unattainable paradise of London and Paris. Who could be more elegant than a French modiste? Who could be wealthier than an English importer? Each had a place in the elite salons where the discussion was basically about fashion and business. A Dreyfus or a Meiggs could go to the most elegant salons in Lima or Santiago and no one stopped to ask about his social pedigree.
Between the colonial tradition, the patrician style and the development of mercantilism, cities began to take on a new look. But as they absorbed the rural waves of migrants, they began to show a disdain for the countryside, one that was sometimes very pronounced. After the initial alarm, the new urban societies that had absorbed the many people who had left the countryside began to assert their superiority and force the rural world back into a subordinate position. The campesino from the independence movement or the civil wars was by now all too accustomed to freedom and became a divisive factor. The view was that he had to be subordinated to the authority of the state, and even better, the authority of the hacendados, and that he had to be steered to his place within the production system.
There was some conflict between the rural lifestyle and the urban lifestyle during this period, perhaps because the rural world had grown in stature and, for a time at least, believed it could challenge the urban world. But it quickly lost the battle and some mutual resentment lingered on, or perhaps a keen awareness that each represented a different lifestyle.
Frequently, rural troops entered the cities and the urban people looked upon them with terror, as if these country folk were driven only by the most primitive instincts. The cities feared becoming the spoils of war of a people that they supposed hated them for their refinement and wealth: Buenos Aires trembled as the caudillos López and Ramírez advanced, and Lima trembled when León Escobar, a black mounted rebel, entered the city and for one day sat on the presidential seat. And if it wasnt hatred that the people from the rural areas felt, it was at least resentment against the cachacos, the catrines, the currutacos, all nicknames that they use for the urban gentry. Men from the countryside who had distinguished themselves in battle resented the doctor with whom he had to negotiate or coexist in peacetime and wartime. And in the suburbs, where they lived alongside one another and remembered their treatment of one another, urban man and rural man clashed. The latter was accustomed to mistrusting the malicious tavern keeper or grocer who took advantage of his inexperience in the twisted machinations of business dealings.
Both Facundo by Sarmiento and Martín Fierro by José Hernándeztwo Argentine works particularly representative of the period revealed the scope of the friction between countryside and city. The city wanted to recoup the role it had during the colonial period, this time because it believed that the city represented civilization. It had become stronger as groups of hacendados joined urban society. This may explain why the rural common folk had such a keen sense of abandonment. All forces were marshaled against the rural common folk, in order to return them to their subordinate status. After 1850, the bad gaucho, the rebel, played his last card against the civilization of the cities and lost again. Martín Fierro was his lament.
The clash became evident in the contrasting lifestyles. Bartolomé Hidalgo, an Uruguayan minstrel from around the time of the independence movement, sang of a gauchos naive fascination for the fiestas that Buenos Aires held to celebrate the anniversary of the May revolution. Decades later, the Chilean Jotabeche would write about El provinciano in Santiago [The provincial in Santiago], and in Venezuela Daniel Mendoza would write about El llanero en la capital [The plainsman in the capital]. Mendoza created a typical character, Palmarote, who personified the peasants reactions to a world that he regarded as alien. Years later, this would be the same topic developed by Argentinas Estanislao del Campo in his Fausto, where the gaucho Anastasio el Pollo offers not just his naive version of Goethe but also his impressions about life in Buenos Aires.
Countryside and city, rural life and urban life: these were the two poles, the two extremes that would expose the eruption of Creole society within a colonial structure that was still intact. The city would triumph, but the price of victory would be profound changes in the physiognomy of urban society, which had to combine the strengths of the old bourgeoisie within the new patrician classes.