5. La Salina and Colombian History to 1857
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94   La Salina was unique as a town in the way that an outsized state presence— specifically, the state’s economic policies—remade local life there and in the way that this effort generated systematic documentation. But the portrait of local state building has implications beyond this single municipality and touches on broader themes concerning politics in Boyacá and across the eastern highlands. Considering this history offers a portrait of Boyacá as a politically heterogeneous region that played an important role in national affairs, points rarely considered in the general historiography of republican Colombia. A full reckoning of the nineteenth century must consider political eras and the uneven rhythm of eight national civil wars.1 As the home of a saltworks, La Salina was almost always a strategic objective for campaigning armies during these wars.2 Moreover, the regular administrative correspondence contains rich details on succeeding conflicts, the path of campaigns, and the general tumult of these wars. Two immediate factors beyond its status as a saltworks shaped La Salina’s role in the civil wars. First, the Casanare River valley, which defined the immediate geography of the town, offered a path, however precarious, between Bo­ yacá and Casanare. Forces from one region often used this corridor to travel to the other.3 Second, La Salina lay close to Chita, which was a breeding ground of unrest in general and often of regional opposition movements in particular. Lists of criminal cases in Boyacá from the early republican era generally mentioned crimes—frequently violent—in Chita, and correspondence from regional offiChapter 5 La Salina and Colombian History to 1857 Yes, the administration of Finances is the most important point, and the most interesting of a government, because with revenues everything can be done and without [revenues] nothing can be done. . . . The establishment of a new administrative system, even in countries where peace reigns, where there is a spirit, and a public opinion, is the most difficult task . . . a government can undertake. —José María del Castillo y Rada, Memoria de Hacienda de Colombia, 1823 Rosenthal text3.indd 94 11/22/11 4:01 PM la salina and colombian history to 1857    95 cials was often pessimistic when considering the town and its influence.4 Late in the century, these issues were evident in a petition from residents of Chita, published in El Boyacense in April 1887, asking departmental officials to reconsider a plan to relocate the district superior court away from the town.5 They conceded that among residents there it was customary to “obstinately resist the action of the law” but explained that the harassment of court officials had involved acts of only minor disrespect and was in any case typical of a regional attitude rather than anything particular to their town. More practically, the petitioners pointed out that Chita had the best jail in the circuit and that keeping the court where it was had benefits. The business of the court brought in much-needed revenue to Chita, and it was better to use this institution to guide and educate a rebellious population than to leave them to their own inclinations. The Early Republic and the War of the Supremes After independence, Colombia’s economy was in dire straits. Though the new government ended up maintaining most of the existing colonial fiscal practices, the revenue it collected was barely enough to keep it running.6 The man charged with managing this challenging situation as the first notable finance minister was José María del Castillo y Rada, a patriot who had already served as vice president.7 Though he penned strong critiques of Spanish fiscal practices, he did not rush to dismantle the system he took over.8 In considering the obligations of his new ministry and the task of bringing order to Colombia’s fragmented regional systems of revenue collection, including a semiautonomous revenue center on the Caribbean coast, Castillo y Rada eschewed fundamental reform. The task of building this economic infrastructure was as difficult in Boyacá as it was in any other place in the country; Boyacá had a large population, suffered from a stagnant economy, and did not produce much federal revenue.9 Salt returns made up a fair portion of the federal revenue it produced in this era. Sporadic reporting from 1823 and 1824 shows that salt yielded revenues greater than those from direct contributions, sales taxes, the liquor monopoly, or the tobacco monopoly.10 This trend is confirmed by totals for twelve of the...


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Subject Headings

  • Government monopolies -- Colombia -- History -- 19th century.
  • Salt industry and trade -- Colombia -- History -- 19th century.
  • Salt mines and mining -- Government policy -- Colombia -- History -- 19th century.
  • Colombia -- Politics and government -- 19th century.
  • Boyacá (Colombia : Dept.) -- History -- 19th century.
  • Colombia -- Economic conditions -- 19th century.
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