What is a Lawyer Worth? Justice in Chayanta, Bolivia, 1926–37

Friday, January 6, 2012: 3:50 PM
River North Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Robert L. Smale, University of Missouri-Columbia
On May 31, 1926 the leadership of two Northern Potosí ayllus (Indian communities) brought suit against a neighboring hacienda “La Palca,” owned by the Colquechaca Mining Company, seeking an official boundary survey of their adjoining lands.  The ayllus Sullcavi and Guaracata asked the local court in the provincial capital of Colquechaca to mediate the reconstruction of a centuries-old property boundary dividing their lands from those of a land and mining company owned by Bolivia’s wealthiest man, Simón I. Patiño, the “Tin King.”  Even after the resolution of the property dispute, the ayllus engaged in a heated feud with one of the lawyers they had hired for the case.  They judged him to have performed his duties poorly and fought paying him until 1937.  This particular case affords an opportunity to probe the legal, social, and economic position of traditional ayllus in Northern Potosí during a tumultuous period in Bolivian history: eleven years marked by Indian rebellion, international war, and a global economic collapse.  How effectively did the judicial system defend the interests of the nation’s Indian communities?  What might impede or restrict ayllu access to the courts?  And how did wealthy landowners view the legal challenges of their Indian neighbors?
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