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  • Print publication year: 1978
  • Online publication date: May 2010

11 - A Colombian coffee estate: Santa Bárbara, Cundinamarca, 1870–1912


Cundinamarca was the second region of Colombia to export coffee, following Cúcuta and other parts of Santander, which had been exporting since early in the nineteenth century. Cundinamarca was exporting noticeable amounts in the late 1860s, and came to export about 10 per cent of the nation's total just before the First World War, the proportion thereafter declining. In contrast with Caldas-Antioquia, which became and remains the leading coffee-producing area of the country, estates in Cundinamarca were large, some few having over a million trees. There were few coffee-producing homesteads or smallholdings. The potential coffee land of the department was a frontier for enterprise (and was lyrically described as such by Medardo Rivas in his Los trabajadores de la tierra caliente, first published in 1899), but it was not frontier land in the colonizing sense. Most of the land had title, and most of the titleholders were able to make it stick. Here the predominant mode of bringing afinca into production was to give it out in lots to arrendatarios, who would plant out coffee under the owner's or administrator's direction, receiving the young plants from a central nursery. The arrendatario would grow his own food crops, but not coffee, and might be moved to work on a new area of the finca when his original plants came into production. The Santander sharecropping system was not employed. This essay will examine in detail the working of a single finca, Santa Bárbara in the municipio of Sasaima, only one unit in one of the several types of society that coffee has brought into being in Colombia, but one for which a very rich documentation has survived.