El café y el desarrollo histórico-geográfico de Costa Rica

El café y el desarrollo histórico-geográfico de Costa Rica

REVIEWS was lost before it reached the Russian capital or lay unheeded in archives, while myths showed great persistence in influencing decisions of p...

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REVIEWS was lost before it reached the Russian capital or lay unheeded in archives, while myths showed great persistence in influencing decisions of policy and action. The most crucial decisions of the second voyage, for example, were based on confidence in an inaccurate map. A few criticisms can be made. There is a fine line between what can and what cannot justifiably be deduced from reported remarks and phrases in memoranda, and Fisher comes close to the line at times. On occasion he imputes more precision of underlying thought than may be warranted as for example in his discussions of the word “European” as used in Peter’s instructions to Bering (p. 172), and of Chirikov’s recommendations to Bering during the first voyage (pp. 91-2). At the other extreme it is argued that a reported statement of Peter’s, which appears to contradict the author’s thesis concerning the purpose of the voyage, must have been intended to deceive. In general, however, he builds a persuasive if somewhat laboured argument. In sum, Bering’s Voyages cannot be expected to have wide appeal. It is written for a specific purpose and uses an approach which a reader not already close to the subject would probably find tedious. On the other hand, the specialist interested in Russian eastward expansion or in the background to official decision-making, or anyone seeking a pattern for meticulous scholarly enquiry, will find in Professor Fisher’s book considerable value. University of British Columbia


CAROLYN HALL, El Cafk y el Desarrollo Histdrico-Geogrtjico de Costa Rica (San Jose: Editorial Costa Rica y Universidad National, 1976. Pp. 208) This is an excellent study that bears all the hallmarks of the Oxford dissertation from which it is derived: well written (and losing little in translation); superbly documented with primary sources drawn from a range of types and locations; and, most important, a book with a thesis. The central question involves the role and impact of coffee cultivation on the socio-economic fabric of Costa Rica. The study transcends mere historical analysis to raise the issue of relationships between past processes, present conditions and future alternatives. As a small country, Costa Rica’s experience with Ring Coffee has been quite distinctive in a world of production giants, fluctuating demand and international agreements. The book is structured in five chapters which allow one to monitor the progressive evolution of the coffee economy from the early-nineteenth century until the 1970s. Before coffee, Costa Rica had been no more than one of the most impoverished and isolated appendages of the Spanish empire; possessing neither minerals nor labour it had lain practically abandoned and symbolically forested at the southern extremity of the mule trail from Guatemala. Yet, as Dr Hall so concisely indicates, it was precisely such peripherality and remoteness that provided coffee with its advantageous competitive position in the nineteenth century, when world demand first stirred and then leaped. Not only did the independent government make coffee growing attractive to colonists, but municipal support ensured its successful promotion. However, with a very limited domestic market, it was upon exports that any hope of economic development hinged, and exports meant commercial connections and physical infrastructural developments to link the Central Plateau to the coasts. The former were readily provided by British entrepreneurs (never too far from profit if their Consular Service could help it) and the latter by new rail and road networks. Costa Rica’s agricultural heartland was rapidly opened to the world economy, as were those of Colombia and Brazil. Loans for agricultural development were also provided-again initially by “El Banco Anglo”, symbolizing as it did the interdependence of innovation, capitalization and credit controls. The author then elaborates on the intricate pattern in which coffee cultivation extended, first in the Central Valley until 1935, and then in the areas outside that commercial core. These phases coincided with increasing sizes of agricultural holdings, a



process the author finds difficult to explain in the face of clear population pressure in the central region, Excellent use is made in these sections of the analysis of detailed maps of land use, productivity and distributions of the agricultural economy at a variety of scales. It is a pity that all the maps had to be so small, and that they all suffer from line weights quite inappropriate for the printed version. One of the most important facts to emerge from Dr Hall’s analysis is a reminder that contrary to the stereotype of Costa Rica as no more than one large coffee patch, a mere 6 % of the total area is given over to the plant’s cultivation in the present decade. Equally important is the note that since its share of the world market has never accounted for more than 2%, Costa Rica has never been able to manipulate pricing structures as has Brazil, nor has it reacted to world slumps in the same way. Government involvement has steadily increased since the depression years of the thirties, especially noteworthy being the National Plan of 1969 which aimed at modernizing the ageing infrastructure, providing drainage or irrigation where necessary, and. most important, new credit facilities. Meanwhile the “coffeescape” itself was changing, with new varieties and regional specialization of cultivation systems complicating the scene. Costa Rica now stands at a new crossroads: behind lie the days of undevelopment before coffee, and the century or more of coffee-export monoculture that has made Costa Rica what it is. Ahead lies the critical future of possible diversification and alternate development strategies, a means of escape from what for some is an underdeveloped trap of overdependency on coffee. Yet the risks of change are ever-present, and potentially enormous. It will take, as elsewhere, a bold politico to accept the challenge or risk his career and neck. At least no literate Costa Rican can now avoid the historical record that has been so lucidly interpreted for them, and us, by Carolyn Hall. For that she deserves our congratulations. Syracuse University LESLIE HEWES, Occupying the Cherokee Country of Oklahoma



(Lincoln: University of

Nebraska, University of Nebraska Studies, 1978. Pp. 77) The twenty thousand acres assigned to the Cherokee nation in the north-eastern corner of Oklahoma consists of hilly wooded land east of the Neosho River and prairie with some timber to the west of it. The Cherokee occupied about one third of the assigned land and most of them still live in the southern valleys and adjacent uplands. Their first town, Tahlequah, with a capitol of 1867 still intact, lies in the centre of Cherokee country. Even before their forced removal in 1839 from their homes in North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia, they no longer lived in “towns”, but on separate “plantations”. In the new land they reconfirmed in their constitution that a quarter mile be left between their farms. The prairie, still a vast pasture in 1874, and only thinly settled by the Cherokee, was open to intruders who spread from the edge of the woods and eventually occupied it fully. Instead of five-foot high rail fences, permitted under Cherokee law, barbed wire fences around fields and pastures surrounded these farms of American citizens. The boundary between Arkansas and the land of the Cherokee nation became a line separating fenced property on one side and intermittent patches of cultivated land on the other. The Cherokee practised mixed farming integrated with cattle, hogs and maize as the main crop. Hewes finds that at the eve of the Civil War, Cherokee life came close to the Jeffersonian ideal of yeoman farmers; some working several hundred acres with the help of Negro slaves, some at subsistence level with many chores still regarded as communal tasks. Log houses prevailed; barns were not common by 1857. There was little mobility. United States citizens, who according to the recon8rmed constitution of 1827 were not to cultivate fields of more than twelve acres, soon put larger tracts under the plough. They also constituted the larger proportion of stockmen and traders in the towns.