Versión en Español Home      Add to Favorites    Contact Us    

On Empire Collapse, State Fragmentation, and Balance of Power and Social Imaginaries in World History.
Origin and Legitimating Function of the Founding Fathers in the Modern Sociopolitical Itinerary of Nations (1808-1989).
By Joaquín E. Meabe, Jorge G. Paredes M., Eduardo R. Saguier and the collaboration of Maximiliano Korstanje (translation by Estela Herrera) .

Reviews

The Plebeian Republic: The Huanta Rebellion and the Making of the Peruvian State, 1820–1850

Cecilia Méndez
Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press. 2005. Pp. xvi, 343.

 

Anyone who wishes to understand the dynamics of state formation in the central Andes must pay close attention to a few regions in the sierra (highlands) where an overlay of geographical, socioethnic, commercial, and political fissures have repeatedly facilitated rebellions and conflicts that elude easy pacification. For the republican history of Peru, this is especially true for the region of Huanta and Ayacucho, in the south-central Andes, about midway between the ancient capital of Cuzco and the Spanish commercial and administrative hub of Lima. An important entrepôt and production zone on the commercial artery connecting Lima with the silver-producing zone around Potosí during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the department of Ayacucho by the republican era was dangling between growing regional commercial circuits dominated by Lima in central Peru and Arequipa in the south; by the twentieth century it had become the nation's poorest highland region. Moreover, Huanta also lies at the center of one of the important transversal arteries, allowing access to both the Amazon lowlands and the coast.

This is the setting for the avowedly monarchist rebellion of the Iquichanos between 1825 and 1828 and its republican aftermath. In her book, Cecilia Méndez provides a thorough analysis of these events that turns them from an odd footnote of Peru's transition to independence into a key diagnostic episode in the formation of this Andean nation-state. Shortly after the final defeat of the Spanish viceregal army by patriot forces near Ayacucho on December 9, 1824, a broad alliance of Spanish officers and merchants, a few Creole landholders and traders, mestizo and indigenous muleteers, and pastoralists and farmers from the valleys and high plains around Huanta refused to recognize the new republican authorities and began a military campaign in the name of King Ferdinand VII of Spain. The rebels sacked haciendas, distributed coca fields in the lowlands, attacked towns, established their own authorities and a government in remote high plain hamlets, collected taxes, and issued judicial sentences and decrees, all in the name of the Spanish king. It took over two years, until mid-1828, before government troops aided by peasant militias from neighboring provinces fully squelched the rebellion. But during the subsequent decades, the indigenous leaders of the Iquichanos would be repeatedly solicited by liberal caudillos to support them in civil wars against their conservative adversaries. Surprisingly, the Huanta peasants agreed to these requests, to the point of perhaps bringing the decisive force to bear in several key battles deciding the course of national politics. The puzzle, then, that Méndez seeks to solve is how, in a matter of a few years, avowedly monarchist peasant rebels could turn into respected allies of liberal republicans.

In explaining the rebellion, Méndez places preponderant weight on the dense social networks created by labor and trade relations between Huantas' merchants, hacendados, middling landholders, muleteers and peasants and conflicts over the local administration of justice, tithe collections, and access to piedmont parcels of land in the context of a crisis of the region's dominant commercial crop, coca leaves. Middle strata among traders, muleteers and coca growers could thus emerge as the military leaders of the rebellion, regardless of ethnic origin. Méndez stresses that the monarchist rebel authorities worked to dissolve the colonial ethnic corporate order allowing Quechua-speaking muleteers, and coca-leaf planters to assume power along Spanish and Creole merchants. During the 1830s, several of the indigenous leaders of the rebellion would be courted by liberal caudillos in the civil wars against conservative challengers, receiving official recognition as district governors or justices of the peace, and addressed by the likes of Lois José Orbegozo or Andrés de Santa Cruz as honored republican citizens. Only since the mid-nineteenth century did provincial and national elites refer to the inhabitants of the Huanta highlands as Iquichanos, pristine descendants of the Chankas who had fought against the Inkas. This ahistorical essentialization and primitivization of the Huanta peasantry would sadly resurface in Mario Vargas Llosa's commission report about the 1983 massacre of eight journalists at Uchuraccay—the erstwhile capital of the monarchist rebels—during the civil war between the Peruvian state and Sendero Luminoso.

Méndez has produced an important, painstaking study of a fascinating early episode of Peruvian nation-state formation. Her insistence on the plebeian, cross-ethnic, and social alliances in this monarchist rebellion is a welcome addition to a decentered, regionally specific and de-essentialized understanding of this process. Precisely because of the social, ethnic, and institutional fluidity of this process, I suspect she may have overemphasized the ideological affinity of the rebels with the liberal caudillo state-mongers and conversely underestimated the significance of their earlier dalliance with monarchism. Republican citizenship could take on a broad gamut of ideological guises, always unstable due to rapidly shifting institutional circumstances. What we need to explore further is the relationship between the fluctuating surface ideologies and more slowly evolving notions about legitimate exercise of power.

Still, Méndez's work contributes greatly to an understanding of these issues, especially given the crucial importance of the Ayacucho-Huanta region in the history of the Peruvian republic from the 1820s Iquichanos to the 1980s Senderistas.

Nils Jacobsen
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

  ^ Top
© CopyLeft 2008/2018 - www.er-saguier.org - Nation State Crisis
Reproduction allowed citing this website with a link to the original article or to this website.

Web design by Papyros Digitales