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Dynamics of Continuity and Change: Shifts in Labour Relations in the Potosí Mines (1680–1812)*

  • Rossana Barragán Romano (a1)
Abstract

Labour relations in the silver mines of Potosí are almost synonymous with the mita, a system of unfree work that lasted from the end of the sixteenth century until the beginning of the nineteenth century. However, behind this continuity there were important changes, but also other forms of work, both free and self-employed. The analysis here is focused on how the “polity” contributed to shape labour relations, especially from the end of the seventeenth century and throughout the eighteenth century. This article scrutinizes the labour policies of the Spanish monarchy on the one hand, which favoured certain economic sectors and regions to ensure revenue, and on the other the initiatives both of mine entrepreneurs and workers – unfree, free, and self-employed – who all contributed to changing the system of labour.

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E-mail: rba@iisg.nl
Footnotes
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This article is based on the Potosí archives in Sucre, and on archives in Buenos Aires and Seville. It also draws on a rich historiography. See R. Barragán, “‘Indios Esclavos’. En torno a la mita minera y los servicios personales, 1790–1812”, in Clément Thibaud et al. (eds), Les révolutions des empires Atlantiques. Une perspective transnationale (Paris, 2013); R. Barragán, “Extractive Economy and Institutions? Technology, Labour and Land in Potosí (16th to 18th Century)”, in Karin Hofmeester and Pim de Zwart (eds), Colonialism, Institutional Change and Shifts in Global Labour Relations (Amsterdam, forthcoming); R. Barragán, “Working Silver for the World: Mining Labor and Popular Economy in Potosí”, in Hispanic American Historical Review, (forthcoming). For further historiography, see footnote 2.

Footnotes
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1 After the decline of silver, at the end of the nineteenth century, Potosí’s mountain produced tin, and since the last few decades of the twentieth century it has produced zinc, lead, tin, and silver (again).

2 The classic studies of Potosí and Indian labour remain Rodas, Alberto Crespo, “La ‘mita’ de Potosi”, Revista Histórica, 22 (1955–1956), pp. 169182 ; Bakewell, Peter, Miners of the Red Mountain: Indian Labor in Potosí, 1545–1650 (Albuquerque, NM, 1984); Cole, Jeffrey, The Potosí Mita, 1573–1700: Compulsory Indian Labor in the Andes (Stanford, CA, 1985) for the early periods; and Buechler, Rose Marie, Gobierno, Minería y Sociedad. Potosí y el “Renacimiento” Borbónico, 1776–1810 (La Paz, 1989); Tandeter, Enrique, “Forced and Free Labour in Late Colonial Potosí”, Past and Present, 93 (1981), pp. 98136 ; and idem, Coacción y Mercado. La minería de la plata en el Potosí colonial, 1692–1826 (Buenos Aires, 1992) for the later periods.

3 Scholars have differentiated between a political-legal organization, a collection of instruments and institutions, and a state system, on the one hand, and the construction of consensus and hegemony, the functions of cohesion and unification, the ideological project, and the “idea of the state” or imaginary unity, on the other. See Abrams, Philip, “Notes on the Difficulty of Studying the State (1977)”; Journal of Historical Sociology, 1:1 (1988); Corrigan, Philip, “State Formation”, in Gilbert M. Joseph and Daniel Nugent (eds), Everyday Forms of State Formation: Revolution and the Negotiation of Rule in Modern Mexico (Durham, NC, and London, 1994), pp. xvii–xxi; Smith, Martin, Power and the State (Basingstoke, 2009); Jessop, Bob, “From Micro-Powers to Governmentality: Foucault’s Work on Statehood, State Formation, Statecraft and State Power”, Political Geography, 26:1 (2007), pp. 3440 . Sharma and Gupta wrote that instead of viewing states as preconstituted institutions that perform given functions, they are produced through everyday practices: Aradhana Sharma and Akhil Gupta (eds), The Anthropology of the State (Oxford, 2006), p. 27.

4 The political crisis started with the conflicts linked to Napoleon Bonaparte, who invaded Portugal (1807) and Spain (1808). Charles IV, King of Spain, abdicated in favour of his son Ferdinand VII, who was overthrown by Napoleon. Spain was subsequently entrusted to Joseph Bonaparte. In May 1809, a rebellion broke out in Madrid against the French occupation. Local and regional assemblies were organized (juntas) in favour of the Spanish king. The same happened in the Americas. A central junta then convened an Extraordinary and General Assembly, or Cortes de Cádiz, which promulgated the first Spanish Constitution in 1812. In the Spanish Americas, the crisis led to a series of struggles, particularly after 1814, which ended with the political independence of most of South America.

5 “Discurso”, in Levene, Ricardo, Vida y Escritos de Victorian de Villaba (Buenos Aires, 1946), p. xxxi .

6 For an analysis of property in mines and on land, see Barragán, “Extractive Economy and Institutions?”.

7 The main evaluations come from the work of John TePaske and Herbert Klein, The Royal Treasuries of the Spanish Empire in America, 3 vols (Durham, NC, 1982). Those accounts are published on the website of Richard Garner, available at www.insidemydesk.com, (last accessed 26 August 2016. See also Richard Garner, “Long-Term Silver Mining Trends in Spanish America: A Comparative Analysis of Peru and Mexico”, The American Historical Review, 93:4 (1988), pp. 898–935; John TePaske, A New World of Gold and Silver (Leiden, 2010); and idem, “New World Silver, Castile and the Philippines, 1590–1800”, in J. Richards (ed.), Precious Metals in the Later Medieval and Early Modern Worlds (Durham, NC, 1983).

8 The high-quality eight-real coin, also known as the Spanish dollar due to its wide circulation in the period.

9 The royal taxes (twenty per cent of production in Potosí) are converted into pesos (value in pesos). On the peso, see Marichal, Carlos, “The Spanish-American Silver Peso: Export Commodity and Global Money of the Ancien Regime, 1550–1800”, in Steven Topik, Carlos Marichal, and Zephyr Frank (eds), From Silver to Cocaine: Latin American Commodity Chains and the Building of the World Economy, 1500–2000 (Durham, NC, 2000), pp. 2552 . For the general trends emanating from America and the circulation of silver around the world, see Flynn, Dennis and Giráldez, Arturo, “Cycles of Silver: Global Economic Unity through the Mid-Eighteenth Century”, Journal of World History, 13:2 (2002), pp. 391427 ; Giráldez, Arturo, “Born with a Silver Spoon: China, American Silver and Global Markets during the Early Modern Period” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Amsterdam, 2002); Garner, Richard, “Where Did all the Silver Go? Bullion Outflows 1570–1650: A Review of the Numbers and the Absence of Numbers”, October 2006, available at www.insidemydesk.com/lapubs/NetDraft-SilverGoRev.pdf , (last accessed 26 August 2016).

About the revival in the eighteenth century, Garner wrote: “Without Potosi’s eighteenth-century revival, both the mining economy and the general economy might have remained stalled down to the end of the colonial period” (Garner, “Long-Term Silver Mining Trends”, pp. 910–911). For Tandeter, the revival was between 1731 and 1800. Even with a diminished role towards the 1770s, Potosí accounted for forty per cent of the silver originating from the Viceroyalty of Peru. Tandeter, “Forced and Free Labour”, p. 100.

10 TePaske, A New World of Gold And Silver, p. 146.

11 Assadourian, Carlos Sempat, El Sistema de la Economía Colonial. Mercado Interno, Regiones y Espacio Económico (Lima, 1982), pp. 22 and 295; Bakewell, Miners of the Red Mountain, p. 51.

12 Sempat Assadourian, El Sistema de la Economía Colonial.

13 Cole, The Potosí Mita, pp. 9, 12, 14.

14 Ibid., pp. 23–45.

15 See Sánchez-Albornoz, Nicolás, Indios y Tributos en el Alto Perú (Lima, 1978); Sempat Assadourian, El Sistema de la Economía Colonial; Saignes, Thierry, Caciques, Tribute and Migration in the Southern Andes: Indian Society and the 17th Century Colonial Order (London, 1985). There followed a far-reaching redistribution of the Andean population, which took place largely in the seventeenth century.

16 There were, nevertheless, only 3,199 mitayos workers each year, instead of 17,000 (Decree of Viceroy Castelfuerte, 1736; Tandeter, “Forced and Free Labour”, pp. 102–103).

17 The name comes from azogue, mercury, used to produce silver by amalgamation.

18 Pretensiones de la Villa Imperial de Potosi propuestas en el Real Consejo de las Indias (Madrid, 1633).

19 The Viceroyalty of Peru, created in 1542, had jurisdiction over most of Spanish South America. Its capital was Lima. The viceroy represented the King of Spain and his immense territory was divided into a number of audiencias. The audiencias were the supreme tribunal courts, but they also had some legislative and government responsibilities. Two of the most important were the Audiencia de Lima, created in 1543, and the Audiencia Cancillería Real de La Plata de los Charcas, established in 1559 in La Plata (modern-day Sucre), containing an important part of what is now Bolivia. Potosí was in the Audiencia of Charcas.

20 See Casasnovas, Ignacio González, Las dudas de la Corona. La política de repartimientos para la minería de Potosí (Madrid, 2000), p. 270 .

21 Ibid., pp. 260, 271, 282–283 and 292.

22 The term used was “saving” money.

23 González Casasnovas, Las dudas de la Corona.

24 Ibid., pp. 337, 400.

25 Ibid., pp. 336–337.

26 Ibid., pp. 318–319 and 367.

27 Ibid., pp. 325 and 327.

28 Ibid., pp. 334 and 337.

29 Ibid., pp. 341, 344–345.

30 Ibid., pp. 389.

31 Zavala, Silvio, El servicio personal de los indios en el Perú, extractos del siglo XVIII, 3 vols (Mexico, 1980), III, p. 34 .

32 Casasnovas, González, Las dudas de la Corona, p. 406 .

33 Zavala, El servicio personal de los indios en el Perú, III, pp. 35–36.

34 Casasnovas, González, Las dudas de la Corona, p. 430 and 434.

35 Zavala, El servicio personal de los indios en el Perú, III, pp. 19 and 23, 31.

36 Ibid., pp. 32-33, and González Casasnovas, Las dudas de la Corona, pp. 441–442.

37 Zavala, El servicio personal de los indios en el Perú, III, p. 36.

38 “Ordenanza X”, in Relaciones de los Vireyes y audiencias que han gobernado el Perú, Vol. I: Memorial y Ordenanzas de D. Francisco de Toledo (Lima, 1867), p. 357.

39 The trapiche consisted of stones to grind the ore and one or two cochas or small ponds to wash it.

40 See “Testimonio de la visita de cerro yngenios y trapiches del cerro rico y ribera de la imperial Villa de Potosi con expresion de los nombres de las minas, sus varas, rumbos y frontis […] 1789–1790”, Charcas 700, fol. 123v.–24, Archivo General de Indias de Sevilla [hereafter, AGI].

41 See AGI Charcas 481, no. 19, 1763–1769.

42 Archivo Histórico de Potosí, AHP BSC 313, for the trapicheros, and AHP BSC 360 for the azogueros. This topic is dealt with in depth in my article in the Hispanic American Historical Review.

43 See AGI Charcas 481, no. 19.

44 Born in Aragon, Villaba died in Charcas in 1802. He was Professor of Law at the University of Huesca. He translated fragments of the great work of the famous Gaetano Filangieri (La Scienza della legislazione (1780–1785), 5 vols) and of Lezioni di commercio (1769) by Antonio Genovesi. He was also the author of Apuntes para una Reforma de España, sin trastorno del gobierno monárquico ni la religión (1797). He was appointed Attorney General of the Audiencia de Charcas, where he arrived in 1791.

45 The Discurso sobre la mita de Potosí comprises some twelve folios in four parts, developing the four arguments of the author: (1) the mines of Potosí were not a public work; (2) that even if the work done was public, there was no right to oblige Indians to work; (3) that Indians were not so indolent as it was thought; and (4) that even if they were indolent there was no right to coerce them to work. See the important and pioneering work of Levene, Vida y Escritos de Victorian de Villaba. Villaba’s Discurso sobre la mita, the response, and the Contra réplica published by Levene in 1946 are just three pieces of this debate, of which there are thousands of pages in the Archivo General de la Nación and at least thirty-two documents related directly to Villaba (in the Archivo Nacional de Bolivia), many of which are from 1795 and 1796. This is a wide topic that we will be discussing in another article. For a broad view on Villaba, see José Portillo Valdés, “Victorián de Villava, fiscal de Charcas: Reforma de España y nueva moral imperial”, ANUARIO de Estudios Bolivianos, Archivísticos y Bibliográficos, 13 (Sucre, 2007). Sanz took over one hundred pages to reply to Villaba’s twelve pages.

46 In the early seventeenth century, a number of writers distinguished between coerced and unpaid work on the one hand and obligatory paid work in favour of the res publica on the other (see Zavala, El servicio personal de los indios en el Perú, II, pp. 18 and 21–22).

47 Francisco de Paula Sanz was administrator of the royal tobacco monopoly in Río de la Plata from 1777 to 1783 and Governor Intendant of Potosí from 1788 to 1810. He was born in Málaga in around 1745 and died in December 1810. Pedro Vicente Cañete was born in Asunción (Paraguay) in 1749–1750 and died in 1816. He studied in Santiago, Chile. In 1781, he was designated Adviser to the Governor of Paraguay; later, he became General Adviser and War Auditor to the Viceroy in Buenos Aires and, in 1783, he was appointed Adviser to the Intendancy in Potosí.

48 The jurist Solórzano suggested, in 1647, that kings had coercive powers over their vassals whenever they believed that this was for the public good. He argued that the members of the republic had to help each other, as if they were members of the same human body. y Pereyra, Juan de Solórzano, Política Indiana (Buenos Aires, 1972), I, pp. 267268 .

49 Pedro Vicente Cañete, Guía histórica, geográfica, física, política, civil y legal del Gobierno e Intendencia de la Provincia de Potosí (1787), idem, Código Carolino de Ordenanzas Reales de las Minas de Potosí y demás provincias del Río de la Plata (1794) and Catecismo Real Patriótico (1811).

50 Sanz and Cañete in Portillo, “Victorián de Villava”, p. 451.

51 “Discurso”, in Levene, Vida y Escritos de Victorian de Villaba, pp. xxxi–xxxiii.

52 ABNB Minas 1796, 129/13 f.2/10v and f.135–17.

53 “Discurso”, in Levene, Vida y Escritos de Victorian de Villaba, p. xxxi.

54 Contextación al Discurso sobre la mita de Potosi escrito en La Plata a 9 de Marzo de 1793. Archivo General de Indias. MP Buenos_Aires, v273, MP Libros_Manuscritos, 76 Charcas 676.

55 All this information is taken from the document ABNB Minas 1796, 129/13 f.2/10v.

56 He made indistinct use of the terms “slave” and “serf” present in Roman law and in the Castilian Partidas. In the classic manual of Roman law, slavery “or” servitude was explained as “an institution […] by which a man was found subjected against his nature to the domination of another”. See Lagrange, Eugene, Manual del Derecho romano o explicación de las Instituciones de Justiniano (Madrid, 1870), pp. 100101 . The parallel between Villaba and Las Casas is noteworthy. Las Casas wrote an important tract (Sobre la materia de los Indios que se han hecho esclavos) (1552) to prove the unlawfulness of all slavery in the Indies. See David Thomas Orique, “The Unheard Voice of Law in Bartolomé de Las Casas’s Brevísima relación de la destruición de las Indias” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Oregon, 2011), p. 202.

57 Villaba’s influence was present in the radical “Diálogo entre [the Inca] Atahualpa y [the King] Fernando VII en los Campos Elíseos” (1809), an imaginary work questioning the legitimacy of the Spanish king, in the proposal “in favour of the Indians in general” in the context of the insurgent project of Jiménez de León y Mancocápac, Manuel Victoriano Aguilario de Titichoca, and Juan Manuel Cáceres of 1810–1811, and in the declarations of Juan José Castelli, one of the leaders of the May Revolution in Buenos Aires in 1810. See María Luisa Soux, “Los discursos de Castelli y la sublevación indígena de 1810–1811”, in Carmen McEvoy and Ana María Stuven (eds), La República Peregrina. Hombres de armas y letras en América del Sur 1800–1884 (Lima, 2007); and María Luisa Soux, “Castelli y la propuesta indígena de 1810–1812. Oralidad, discursos y modernidad”, in Memoria del Coloquio. El Pensamiento Universitario de Charcas y el 25 de mayo 1809 y 1810 (Sucre, 2010).

58 O’Phelan, Scarlett, “Ciudadanía y Etnicidad en las Cortes de Cádiz”, in Cristóbal Aljovín de Losada and Nils Jacobsen (eds), Cultura política en los andes (1750–1950) (Lima, 2007); Rieu-Millan, Marie Laure, Los Diputados americanos en las Cortes de Cádiz (Igualdad o independencia) (Madrid, 1990).

59 de Olmedo, José Joaquín, Discurso sobre las mitas de América pronunciado en las Cortes, en la sesión de 12 de Agosto, de 1812 (London, 1812); Vega, Alberto Calderón, Florencio del Castillo Villagra y las Cortes de Cádiz. Mociones y proposiciones (Costa Rica, 2010).

60 They continued exploiting the ores during the nineteenth century and right up to the 1930s, when cooperatives, still extant, were organized.

* This article is based on the Potosí archives in Sucre, and on archives in Buenos Aires and Seville. It also draws on a rich historiography. See R. Barragán, “‘Indios Esclavos’. En torno a la mita minera y los servicios personales, 1790–1812”, in Clément Thibaud et al. (eds), Les révolutions des empires Atlantiques. Une perspective transnationale (Paris, 2013); R. Barragán, “Extractive Economy and Institutions? Technology, Labour and Land in Potosí (16th to 18th Century)”, in Karin Hofmeester and Pim de Zwart (eds), Colonialism, Institutional Change and Shifts in Global Labour Relations (Amsterdam, forthcoming); R. Barragán, “Working Silver for the World: Mining Labor and Popular Economy in Potosí”, in Hispanic American Historical Review, (forthcoming). For further historiography, see footnote 2.

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