Sweetened Social Engineering: Sugar Cane, Agrarian Labor, and Hacienda Power in 20th-Century Northern Coastal Peru

Friday, January 6, 2017: 10:30 AM
Room 601 (Colorado Convention Center)
Javier Puente Valdivia, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile
The 1969 Peruvian agrarian reform enforced through military means intended a major restructuring of land ownership while at the same time displacing a traditional, land-based oligarchy from power. Land cooperativization was deemed a pivotal solution for the remaking of agrarian property and politics, in turn undermining the material basis of Peruvian haciendas. A major failure ensued. Agrarian reform ultimately triggered social turmoil and faltering production.  

Contemporary collective memory among rural populations in agrarian reform areas recasts understandings of hacienda times. Having experienced considerable socioeconomic disarray under state cooperativization, the time of patrones is remembered as an agrarian pax. While wages were limited and sociopolitical rights opaque, family subsistence was guaranteed and social stability prevailed. As neoliberalism made one last stab at local and family subsistence, the legacy of haciendas strengthened its moral stance.

Challenging conventional views about hacienda autocracy in pre-agrarian reform Peru, this presentation looks at the history of Chiclín as a lens for examining the nature of hacienda power in Peru. Since colonial times, the Chiclín hacienda lay at the center of the Peruvian sugar axis on the northern coast. Inasmuch as the cycle of sugar cane production paved the way for industrialization and constituted a key aspect in the rise of modern capitalism, twentieth-century plantation life relied on its capacity to craft major projects of social engineering. Sugar profits funded manifold efforts of this sort including urbanization, sanitization, nutrition, housing, education and the further mechanization of sugar production. In turn, the ecology of sugar came to govern every aspect of local existence, from social relations of production to religion. While the central political government exerted limited control over the rural countryside, sugar and sugar cane economically, socially and – more importantly – morally empowered hacienda and patrones.

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