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Cafe, sociedad y relaciones de poder en America Latina. (Reviews).

Cafe, sociedad y relaciones de poder en America Latina. Edited by Mario Samper K., William Roseberry, and Lowell Gudmundson (Heredia, Costa Rica: Editorial Universidad Nacional, 2001. 510 pp.).

This volume marks the very welcome appearance of a Spanish translation of Coffee, Society and Power in Latin America (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995), originally edited by William Roseberry, Lowell Gudmundson, and Mario Samper Kutschbach. For the 2001 Spanish translation Mario Samper K. is listed as lead editor and coordinator of the translation. Mario Samper K. and the National University of Costa Rica should be congratulated for their efforts in producing a Spanish version of this important book. The Spanish-language edition consists of the same chapters as the 1995 volume, with each author having somewhat updated his contributions. There is a brief new preface and postscript, both written by Samper. He also provides a new bibliographic essay at the end of the volume, giving the Spanish-language reader an overview of the published literature (in various languages) on Latin American coffee production. This essay is far from comprehensive, but provides the reader with a good introduction to the major li terature.

The cooperative effort that this book represents first originated fifteen years ago in conversations at a conference in Costa Rica, which blossomed into a 1988 conference in Colombia, and eventually into the 1995 edited volume. The time period covered is the century beginning with the initial production of coffee in Latin America in the 183 Os up until 1930, in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, Brazil, and Colombia. The idea was to analyze one commodity, coffee, in comparative Latin American perspective.

The production of coffee for export markets involved a variety of scales of landholding in different parts of Latin America during this time period, a fact that has had profound implications for comparative models of capitalism and agriculture in the region. There are many local studies of the history of coffee production, land, and labor in Latin America, but it was this volume that brought these issues into comparative focus. It is thus a very important milestone in coffee research, and an appropriate publication to make available to a Spanish-language audience throughout Latin America.

William Roseberry's introductory chapter is a wide-ranging essay on the core ideas represented in this research. Roseberry died tragically in August of 2000 at age 50, only a year after moving from his position at the New School to New York University. He did not live to see the appearance of this Spanish-language edition of the book he was a driving force behind. It is clear from the text that the book was in print before his death, and thus the only mention of his passing is in the cover material.

His introductory chapter is an excellent example of his work at the intersection of history and anthropology, looking at culture, history, and political economy. Roseberry saw the production of coffee in Latin America as having several commonalities, including its location in frontier regions, the alteration of tropical forest environments, and the internal migration of laborers as coffee production zones developed. Despite these commonalities, the solutions to the great need for land and labor were solved in various ways in different locales, and thus this volume is focused on the "comparative analysis of the history of capitalism in Latin America." This is at heart a study of labor relations in the production of coffee, through the framework of historical materialism. At the same time, however, it is a study of Latin America's "coffee republics" of the late nineteenth century, and the unique historical trajectory that the production of this commodity led these countries through.

Several of the chapters concentrate on landholding, labor relations, and the family from the mid-nineteenth century up to the mid-twentieth. Verena Stolcke and Mauricio Font each examine family smallholdings in Sao Paulo. Stolcke looks at this from the perspective of the use of mixed food-crop cultivation by family farms to weather downturns in coffee exports. This is an important gendered analysis of the way that women and children provided unwaged labor and food for the social reproduction of the coffee labor force. Font has a complementary argument that the coffee export economy should not be perceived as inevitably leading to "serrfdom," but instead developed in Sao Paulo into a dynamic sector of family farms and free labor.

Fernando Pico's research in Puerto Rico emphasizes the transition from smallholdings to larger haciendas as coffee cultivation expanded. Lowell Gudmundson looks at the Costa Rican situation and sees the importance of small holding families in the production of coffee throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Mario Samper K. provides one of the few truly comparative chapters in the volume. He looks at the reaction of Colombian and Costa Rican producers to the coffee export slump of 1929, during the Great Depression. He concludes that pre-existing local conditions were important in the responses of producers to an export slump, and that the economic survival of a particular landowner was not necessarily tied to the extent of his landholding.

Families and landholding are far from the only issues that the volume tackles. David McCreery looks at early twentieth-century Guatemala and the way the transition to wage agricultural labor was tied to Mayan ethnicity and to Guatemalan laws on debt peonage and vagrancy. Hector Perez Brignoli examines the growth of coffee cultivation in El Salvador in the early twentieth century, and its ties to the rebellion of 1932 and ideas of Indian and mestizo ethnicity. Michael F. Jimenez looks at the "planter class" in early twentieth-century Colombia, and its relationship to political parties and government power.

A second chapter contributed by Jimenez is a different, yet complementary, approach to the entire question of coffee in the Americas. Jimenez provides us with an excellent overview of the massive growth of coffee consumption in the United States from 1830 to 1930; a growth fueled both by the transition to industrial capitalism and the expansion of consumer markets for products like coffee. Mixing discussion of advertising campaigns, economic changes, consumer habits, and global politics, Jimenez discussion will appeal to readers interested in the social history of coffee consumption in North America. This volume, with its focus on labor relations, landholding, and the local, does not address at any length some other fundamental approaches to research on coffee production in the history of Latin America. The relationship of coffee to ecological and geographical concerns, to nation-building in the "coffee republics," or coffee as one commodity of a suite of tropical plantation crops developed in the nineteenth century are not topics covered at any length here. For those interested in these and many other questions, Steven C. Topik's "Coffee Anyone: Recent Research on Latin American Coffee Societies" (Hispanic American Historical Review 80[2]: 225-266) is an excellent bibliographic entree to a growing literature. The focus on land and labor that Cafe, Sociedad y Relaciones de Poder represents is a strength rather than a weakness. The volume as a whole is convincing in its insistence that there were local variations to these questions as well as global commonalities. It goes beyond economic history, to look at how cultural and ideological factors were inherent in local histories of labor and land. This has become one of the standard references in English on these issues, and it is hoped that the Spanish translation will get the widespread distribution it deserves in Latin America, in order to introduce this scholarship to the widest possible audience.
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Author:Jamieson, Ross W.
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2003
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