. . . Lauria's research in previously unavailable primary sources sheds light on transformations at the local level and in doing so, forces us to reconsider our understanding of the 'Liberal Reforms' of the 1880s. . . . This new perspective also challenges important myths in Salvadoran historiography such as the Indian rebellions at the end of the nineteenth century and the misnamed Communist revolt of 1932. In fact, standard works on state formation in Central America will have to be revised to incorporate this important contribution.
With unprecedented use of local and national sources, Lauria-Santiago presents a more complex portrait of El Salvador than has ever been ventured before. Using thoroughly researched regional case studies, Lauria-Santiago uncovers an astonishing variety of patterns in land use, labor, and the organization of production. He finds a diverse, commercially active peasantry that was deeply involved with local and national networks of power. An Agrarian Republic challenges the accepted vision of Central America in the nineteenth century and critiques the “liberal oligarchic hegemony” model of El Salvador. Detailed discussions of Ladino victories and successful Indian resistance give a perspective on Ladinization that does not rely on a polarized understanding of ethnic identity.
Carefully tracing the manifold ways in which national political and economic developments were mediated by local histories and politics, Lauria-Santiago thus establishes a well-argued middle ground between micro-level cultural histories and macro-level models of political economy, bringing the people back in, as it were, without neglecting the structural factors that shaped their lives, choices, and opportunities for collective action. . . . Well researched and gracefully written, this book will be of great interest to anyone concerned with peasant politics, state formation, Latin American liberalism, and Salvadoran history and politics.
[A] country vastly more diverse and complex than the one previously described in the literature emerges, a portrait that is sure to leave a lasting impression on novice and expert alike, not to mention the historiography.
Based on solid and extensive research, this work should prompt a reexamination of peasant and agrarian history not only in El Salvador but also in other regions of Latin America.
An Agrarian Republic is a thoroughly researched work with a clear and consistent argument. The book is invariably objective, drawing a contrast with the numerous studies influenced by Central America's political polarization. In addition to its academic contribution, the book is a lucid read, with concise, insightful summaries appropriately sprinkled throughout. 'An Agrarian Republic' is a must not only for anyone seeking to gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of El Salvador's history and the processes leading to authoritarianism and the civil war of the 1980s, but also for analysts of state formation in general.
Aldo Lauria-Santiago, associate professor of history and director of Latin American and Latino Studies at the College of the Holy Cross, is the author of An Agrarian Republic: Commercial Agriculture and the Politics of Peasant Communities in El Salvador, 1823-1914.