The Political Economy of Smuggling: Regional Informal Economies in Early Bourbon New Granada

By Lance Grahn | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
BREAD AND BRIBES: THE SANTA MARTA EXPERIENCE

Smuggling in the province of Santa Marta was an industry determined largely by economic backwardness and official complicity. Although it did not attain as great a volume as in Riohacha, contraband trafficking through Santa Marta was just as important to the provincial economy and to the Spanish population there as it was in the Guajira. Illicit food, clothing, and household goods were, in fact, part of the daily routine of life.

Reacting to the commercial void created by ineffectual Spanish trade, Santa Marta residents relied on the relative stability of the informal sector. In turn, the subsequent pervasiveness of this traffic made its control problematical, if not impossible. Aware of the necessary imperial pretensions of commercial monopoly, revenue collection, and moral authority, local authorities could not ignore the issue of law enforcement. Thus, as exemplified by Governor Juan de Vera y Fajardo ( 1733-1743), officials devised ways by which to deter smuggling--such as setting up guard outposts along the coast and interior waterways--while simultaneously taking advantage of smuggling's benefits, even using public funds to support their own illegal commercial activities. Political administration consequently mirrored the dialectical contradictions of Santa Marta consumerism. Though royal agents charged to uphold imperial interests, governors' personal transactions reflected local economic concerns. In the end, smuggling was too rooted in provincial politics and too crucial to the local economy to be eliminated. Instead, policy makers for Santa Marta were left to try to regulate its informal economy.

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