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Book Reviews SALT AND THE COLOMBIAN STATE: LOCAL SOCIETY AND REGIONAL MONOPOLY IN BOYACá, 1821–1900. By Joshua Rosenthal. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012, p. 240, $28. This is a most informative study focusing on La Salina de Chita, a tiny town near the border between the current states of Boyacá and Casanare in northeastern Colombia, about 150 miles from Bogotá. A local history, it links directly to the narrative of the institutional and fiscal development of the Colombian state by concentrating on salt production, a steady source of about 10% of total federal revenue in the nineteenth century. As had been the case during the colonial period, salt remained a state monopoly in the postcolonial era. La Salina’s salt-based economy thus provides a window into the process of day-to-day state formation in post-independence Colombia. To maximize revenues from the sale of the town’s salt, various Colombian administrations, Liberal and Conservative alike, introduced institutional adjustments to the monopoly in an effort to run a more efficient and profitable business, not always with the desired results. The study follows these institutional changes to illustrate the dynamics of state building and the impact on the local economy and society. Even gender roles were affected , with women’s economic role marginalized as salt making ceased to be a cottage industry or communal activity and became instead semiindustrial . The study also demonstrates the tensions between fiscal realities and liberal (antimonopoly) inclinations in a deeply conflictive society. After four thematic chapters presenting the history of the salt monopoly, the local community, the evolution of salt making and government involvement in this activity, the study closes with two chronological chapters, one dealing with the history of the salt-making experience through 1857, when locals rebelled against state policies threatening the survival of La Salina, and the other after 1857. La Salina remained a strategic target for governments and armies during times of civil war (no fewer than eight in the period covered by the study!), making these chronological chapters particularly helpful in establishing connections between the story of the saltworks and national politics. Unlike subterranean salt mines, the most important of which was in Zipaquirá, a town neighboring Bogotá, La Salina was a surface operation. Salt was extracted from several thermal springs in the area, near the banks of the Casanare river, through a process that involved storing water in wells or tanks; boiling it in kettles or iron pans to produce salt-saturated water; and, finally, slowly heating it in ceramic containers until crystals formed. The finished product appears to have reached more than 100,000 consumers, its main use being the fattening of cattle. Wood-fueled ovens were required throughout the process, which meant that large quantities of timber were also necessary. The author closely documents the process of extracting salt from the hot springs, a technique that did not change much over the course of the 125 The Latin Americanist, September 2012 nineteenth century. He takes particular note of the difficulty of introducing alternative fuel sources, especially coal, and the failure to bring steam power into the equation. Still, he deems the salt works to have been a “surprisingly functional industry” (51) and, despite some ups and downs, regards the overall enterprise to have been an “unqualified success” (61, 62).Yet, it seems clear that the industry’s viability was constantly threatened by the need to ensure salt makers access to nearby forests, leading to regular efforts by the Finance Ministry to purchase local woodlands and ongoing attempts by tax-farmers or salt contractors to wrestle land away from communities and smallholders. Unfortunately, perhaps due to the fragmentary nature of the documentation, we learn little about the substantial environmental impact of the operation or its effect on land tenure in the area. In addition to a steady supply of timber, another serious challenge for the local salt industry was the large number of workers (at least 120 and, according to some documents, as many as 1,000!) required to collect and transport wood, manufacture ceramic containers, and monitor the purification process itself. Labor management, the author notes, remained an “enduring problem” (59). While not highly theoretical...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1557-203X
Print ISSN
1557-2021
Pages
pp. 125-126
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-25
Open Access
No
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