The Struggle for the Hacienda. Two Case Studies from Valle Sagrado during the Last Phase of the Andean Hacienda Regime

Article excerpt

Genberg. Birgitta, The Struggle for the Hacienda. Two case studies from VaIIe Sagrado during the last phase of the Andean hacienda regime. Stockholm: LAIS/Stockholm University, 2004.

Possibly with the exception of the work of the prematurely deceased Peruvian historian Alberto Flores Galindo (1949-1990), the book by Birgitta Genberg provides us with the most complete portrayal of the hacienda system in the southern Peruvian highlands before the dismantling of the regime in 1969. Adding to the analysis the perspective of the social actors, Genberg's study explores comparatively the socio-political landscape (1940-197Os) of two different haciendas located in the Sacred Valley of Cusco, in terms of the potential and operational relations of disposition between the landlords and their (indigenous peasant) labor force. If there is one common denominator to be found in the previous literature on the hacienda system in the area, it would be the portrayal of the land owner as a cruel and exploitative employer. However, the hacienda owners or hacendados have according to Birgitta Genberg never been given focus as individual actors in a longer coherent text. "No landlord," she claims, "has received anywhere near as much attention as the peasant leader Hugo Blanco, for instance" (p. 15).

Genberg's The Struggle for the Hacienda presents the biography of José Vicente Orihuela Yábar, a landlord with serious ambitions to modernize and improve his properties. The son of a notable family in Cusco, José Vicente Orihuela was an active participant of the Peruvian belle époque that flourished in the early twentieth century endorsing regional self-government and renaissance of the old Incan culture (indigenismo). The Peruvian historian José Tamayo Herrera has referred to this period as the intellectual and scientific golden age of Cusco, which attracted the attention of legendary figures from across the national spectrum such as the founder of Peruvian socialism José Carlos Mariátegui, and last but not least, the founder of the first Peruvian populist party Victor Raúl Haya de la Torre. As a refined man, recognized politician and successful producer of corn for the international market, José Vicente Orihuela achieved a high level of operational disposition in the cultivation of his properties (although he was not able to integrate his haciendas into a modern scale economy). "It is even likely that Orihuela's great success as a corn grower was to a large extent connected with the growth of a landless proletariat of agricultural workers in the department" of Cusco (p. 150).

Similarly to his neighbor producer and hacienda owner José Orihuela, Oscar Augusto Fernández Oblitas also hailed from a prominent family in Cusco. Due to his social and cultural capital, and as a result of the maintenance of complex relations of personal dependence at the local and national levels, Oscar Fernández turned into the most successful cattle breeder in the region. Due to his incapacity to persuade the indigenous workers, his ability to control the production process was nonetheless very much limited (compared to José Orihuela, Oscar Fernández was an absent landlord and one with a lower degree of operational disposition in the production of his property). "Both landlords," Genberg concludes, "had problems with their workforce, problems they tried to resolve with somewhat different means." The concept of habitus provides here the theoretical tool that allows for an understanding of the difference in the actors' response when faced with social dilemmas, and therefore makes the actions of the actors more intelligible.

What was in this context the role of the indigenous peasantry? The indigenous peasants were by no means passive objects of the constraints of their social environment. To the contrary, according to the study the peasants shaped the hacienda system and forced the hacienda owners to constantly re-evaluate their production strategies. …