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Reviewed by:
  • Economía y sociedad en el Oriente boliviano (siglos XVI–XX)
  • Frederic Vallvé
Economía y sociedad en el Oriente boliviano (siglos XVI–XX). By José Luis Roca . Santa Cruz de la Sierra: Cotas, 2001. Photographs. Illustrations. Tables. Figures. Bibliography. Index. 678 pp. Paper.

Economía y sociedad en el oriente boliviano (siglos XVI-XX) can be considered José Luis Roca's opus magna; this substantial contribution fills the dearth of general historical works about the Bolivian Oriente. According to Roca, the Oriente comprises the present-day departments of Santa Cruz, Beni, and Pando. This political definition excludes the lowlands of Chuquisaca and Tarija and the Amazonian territories of La Paz and Cochabamba. The book revolves around the role of the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra (Bolivia's most prosperous and second-largest city) and its inhabitants in exploring, populating, and developing the vast territories of the Amazon and River Plate basins from the colonial period to the present.

In his introduction, Roca explains that the main purpose of his book is to reach a general public that does not usually read history texts. It does not claim, then, to be a piece of original research. As such, he offers an exhaustive survey of the existing bibliography of the Oriente. This survey includes the work of classical Bolivian historians such as Gabriel René Moreno, Hernando Sanabria Hernández, and José Sánchez Suárez, as well as the contributions of other international scholars such as [End Page 508] Thierry Saignes or David Block. Despite his claim, Roca transcribes excerpts of some highly relevant primary sources, such as local and regional newspapers or the holdings of the prefectural archives of the Department of Santa Cruz and the Casa Suárez archives in Guarayamerín (Beni), as well as materials from a number of private archives. The book is organized in eight thematic chapters linked by the common theme of the book, "Economy and Society," but which can also function as independent essays. These chapters cover a wide chronological range, from the prehistory of the Moxos plains or the impact of the rubber boom on the Bolivian Amazonia, to the current highland migration to the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra or the impact of the oil industry in the area. The author's socioeconomic focus is a welcome change from most of the historiography of the region, which has tended to concentrate on military, political, administrative, or government issues.

The writing style is narrative, with a minimum of jargon or specialized terminology. And the author brilliantly succeeds in reaching the common reader while, at the same time, offering a rigorous and well-documented analysis of past, current, and future historical trends of the Bolivian Oriente. The depth and complexity of this book makes it a necessary guideline for any historians who want to familiarize themselves with a little-known region of Bolivia that is becoming increasingly important in the twenty-first century due to its strategic location in the middle of the Amazonian, Andean, and River Plate macro regions. It will also be valuable for students and the general public, who will be captivated by the author's straightforward, elegant, and extremely readable writing style and the romance-like and epic dimensions of the history of the Bolivian Oriente.

Frederic Vallvé
Georgetown University


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 508-509
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2004
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