Bolton Johnson Prize, The Conference on Latin American History

The history of relations between the Spanish and the Indians of colonial Central America, often oversimplified as a story of unending Spanish abuse, forms a complicated tapestry of economics and politics. Robert W. Patch’s even-handed study of the repartimiento de mercancías—the commercial dealings between regional magistrates and the people under their jurisdictionreveals the inner workings of colonialism in Central America.

Indians were at the heart of the colonial economy. They made up the majority of the population, produced most of the goods, and performed most of the labor. The bureaucrats who ruled over them were badly paid, and to increase their income, they carried out illegal business activities with the Indians and sometimes even non-Indians. This book analyzes these commercial exchanges in colonial Central America within the context of a colonial regime dependent for income on taxes paid by Indians.

Patch demonstrates that the magistrates frequently used repartimientos illegally to facilitate tax collection and then justified their actions by claiming that such commerce was necessary for the survival of colonialism. At the same time, the commerce contributed to the development of regional economies and the integration of the regions into the world economy. Patch’s case studies of highland Guatemala and Nicaragua reveal how the system worked at the regional and local levels. These studies manifest not only the profits to be made through repartimientos but also the problems faced by magistrates as they tried to be government officials and businessmen at the same time.

The Spanish government eventually imposed reforms to make the colonial bureaucracy more honest by eliminating the repartimiento system. The reforms, however, also resulted in economic decline and political disaffection among the Hispanic population. Patch’s book, therefore, covers a crucial phase in the history of Central America as the region moved from colonialism to independence.

About The Author
Robert W. Patch is Professor of History at the University of California–Riverside and author of Maya and Spaniard in Yucatan, 16481812 and Maya Revolt and Revolution in the Eighteenth Century.

Reviews & Praise

“Robert W. Patch charts the story of the huge and highly complicated influence of colonial officials known as alcaldes mayores on the lives and fortunes of indigenous peoples. By exploring a wide spectrum of examples, he gets us beyond the simplistic judging of the legacies of colonialism as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ that occasionally creeps into scholarship, and daringly takes on a number of theories favored in seminar rooms. Patch’s careful and sensitive treatment takes us out of the realm of generalization and into the real world of human lives. This model work of scholarship will appeal to specialists, but its directness, clarity, and succinctness also make it ideal for classroom use.” —Terry Rugeley, author of Rebellion Now and Forever: Mayas, Hispanics, and Caste War Violence in Yucatan, 1800–1880


“Richly researched, Indians and the Political Economy of Central America, 1670–1810 provides a wealth of new information on a region that has largely been overlooked by colonial historians in favor of Mexico and Peru. Indeed, we know far too little about colonial Central America—and this work is a very nice addition.” —Jeremy Baskes, author of Indians, Merchants, and Markets: A Reinterpretation of the Repartimiento and Spanish-Indian Economic Relations in Colonial Oaxaca, 1750–1821


Book Information
3 maps, 11 tables
296 Pages
Hardcover 978-0-8061-4400-9
Kindle 978-0-8061-5135-9
e-pub 978-0-8061-5136-6
Published October 2013
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