The Logic of the Latifundio: The Large Estates of Northwestern Costa Rica since the Late Nineteenth Century

The Logic of the Latifundio: The Large Estates of Northwestern Costa Rica since the Late Nineteenth Century

The Logic of the Latifundio: The Large Estates of Northwestern Costa Rica since the Late Nineteenth Century

The Logic of the Latifundio: The Large Estates of Northwestern Costa Rica since the Late Nineteenth Century

Synopsis

This book studies the changing social relations in a region of Costa Rica that does not conform to the country's image as an "agrarian democracy" and investigates why latifundios (large unproductive or under-utilized estates) still dominate much of Latin America.

Excerpt

A traveler along the Pan-American Highway enters Costa Rica from the north through Guanacaste province, just a few kilometers from the Pacific Ocean, in an area of torrid lowland plains dotted with occasional trees and a few rolling hills. Barbed wire fences run parallel to the two-lane route for most of its length, marking the borders of properties and assuring that livestock stay out of the way of the intermittent traffic. The savannas--lush green during the rains and brown or yellow in the dry season--nurture scattered herds of cattle, and in a few spots with more abundant water, rice and sugarcane fields break the monotony of the flat landscape. This region of tropical prairies is, more than anything else, an immense pasture, covered with large expanses of grass and tangled brush, which give much of the land an almost abandoned look, as if its human inhabitants had tried to ensconce themselves and retreated in the face of the sweltering sun and the relentless secondary vegetation.

The scattering of cattle in distant pastures, the appearance of abandonment, and the chained, wrought iron gates securing the entrances of one or another important hacienda hint at a problem that has weighed heavily on much of rural Latin America--that of the latifundio, or large unproductive estate. But the evident underutilization of the land and the concentration of ownership also suggest a paradox that might become apparent to our traveler some seventy kilometers south of the border, at the provincial capital, Liberia. There trucks filled with fat bellowing steers line up at a modern slaughterhouse, shiny refrigerator trailers packed with beef pull onto the highway, headed for ocean ports, the giant silos of rice mills hover above the plains, and modern bank buildings adjoin the town plaza.

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