Networks of Patronage or Subaltern Politics? Black Battalions in the Formation of Uruguay, 1810–50

Sunday, January 8, 2012: 9:10 AM
Superior Room A (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Alex Borucki, University of California, Irvine
Africans and their descendants joined all armies across the Río de la Plata in the 1810s and 1820s giving their support to the royalists of Montevideo, the revolutionaries of Buenos Aires, the local party of Artigas and even the invading Luso-Brazilian army in modern-day Uruguay. In the 1830s, Africans and their descendants formed the backbone of the first Uruguayan infantry. While colonial black militias were entirely formed by people of African ancestry, the Uruguayan black battalions were commanded by white professional officers who also participated in the political arena of this country. In the army, Africans and their descendants not only developed corps solidarity and bonding with each other, they also created social networks with white officers and political caudillos. It was through these networks that black soldiers helped to determine the outcome of white elite politics in Montevideo from the 1830s to the 1850s.

While the development of horizontal networks and black identities within the rebel army and later particularly in national infantry seems clear, it remains uncertain the nature of vertical networks between black soldiers and white officers as these links tied these soldiers with the larger political turbulence which underwent the region. On the one side, these networks could be understood within the caudillo politics emerging in nineteenth-century Latin America which provided continuity to patron-client relationships rooted in colonial times. On the other, these ties may be interpreted as evidence of political mobilization on the part of subaltern groups now acting within liberal politics. Instead of defining whether these ties expressed subaltern participation in liberal politics or old patterns of patron-client networks, this paper argues that these views may be seen just as the two ends of the same continuum: the new political relationships between elites and urban subaltern populations in nineteenth-century Latin America.

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