Defining Politics: The Guaraní of Corrientes and the Struggle for State Formation, Río de la Plata, 1810–20

Thursday, January 2, 2014: 2:00 PM
Columbia Hall 6 (Washington Hilton)
Rachel Lora Lambrecht, Emory University
Soon after Ferdinand VII’s abdication, the Río de la Plata was thrown into a turmoil that displaced the old colonial structure, redefining political and territorial configurations. In this process, many actors and groups would attempt to imprint their particular conceptions of society, politics, and government, opening ground to local and regional disputes that caused disorder and uncertainty in the population. My paper analyzes the contribution of the Argentine province of Corrientes to the struggle for state organization that took place following the May Revolution of 1810. Corrientes took an active role in these debates, being one of the first Cabildos to recognize and elect representatives to the Junta (Assembly). Because of its bordering location that connected Buenos Aires, Asunción, and the Portuguese empire, the territory was hastily pushed into combat, assisting the Liberating Expedition to Paraguay led by Manuel Belgrano. The centralist policies of the new political center located in Buenos Aires, however, soon conflicted with Corrientes’ interest. Seeking an autonomous form of government, the province joined Santa Fé, Entre Ríos, Misiones, Córdoba, and the Provincia Oriental, forming the “League of Free Peoples” led by José Gervasio Artigas. Besides advocating for autonomy, Artigas had a strong rhetoric of equality, which would attract the support of groups long excluded from the colony’s political life, the lower ranks of society. The “League” clashed directly with Buenos Aires’ ambitions, driving them to militarily collide. The subaltern groups of Corrientes, composed of a vast indigenous Guaraní population reminiscent of the Jesuit Missions, participated actively in these conflicts, providing human resources for the battles. Using censuses, army rolls, letters and official documentation to recreate their backgrounds and goals, I propose that these groups, then-called naturales, had clear aspirations when engaging into conflicts that would define the Río de la Plata’s future.
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