Rosenthal, Joshua M.: Salt and the Colombian State: Local Society and Regional Monopoly in Boyaca, 1821-1900.

Author:Hall, Michael R.
Position:Book review

Rosenthal, Joshua M. Salt and the Colombian State: Local Society and Regional Monopoly in Boyaca, 1821-1900. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012.

Until 1911, the salt industry in Colombia was a complete government monopoly supported by both the Conservative Party, which favored a centralist form of national government, as well as the Liberal Party, which advocated a decentralized national government and a free market economy. Throughout the nineteenth century, the central government's salt monopoly was difficult to administer and was often the source of many disputes between the national government and the local governments where the salt was produced. Nevertheless, from 1821 to 1900, revenue from salt production was a significant revenue generator for the state and provided "for about 10 percent of Colombia's total federal revenue" (p. 5). After 1911, the government monopoly was removed from marine salt, which only represented a small fraction of Colombian salt production, but remained in effect for the rest of the nation's salt production. During the twentieth century, revenue from salt production was eclipsed by other economic activities, such as coffee production. As such, salt ceased to be a crucial component of the Colombian economy. Notwithstanding the recent wave of deregulation and privatization in Colombia, the salt industry, for the most part, remains a government monopoly; an anachronistic (yet insignificant) legacy of previous times.

In Salt and the Colombian State: Local Society and Regional Monopoly in Boyaca. 1821-1900, Joshua M. Rosenthal posits that a study of the government's salt monopoly "offers one method for charting the reach of the institutional state" (p. 9). Rosenthal, an associate professor of history at Western Connecticut State University, contends that a study of saltworks in the pre-industrial world "is particularly well suited to a practical inquiry into the nature and operational methods of a state" (p. 5). The author uses the salt production activities in La Salina, currently located in the department of Casanare (but part of Boyaca during the nineteenth century), as the focus of his case study. He explains that salt producing areas such as La Salina have been "loci of state power throughout human history" (p. 5). Although salt is an abundant and cheap commodity today, in the pre-industrial world it was a critical component contributing to the rise of civilizations and state building.


To continue reading