What Is The Hacienda System?

This system once dictated the use and ownership of ranches, plantations, other commercial estates throughout the Spanish Colonial world.

Origins of the Hacienda System

A hacienda refers to a form of large landed estate systems which originated in Spanish America during the colonial period, and acted as a traditional institution of rural life. Haciendas were originally profit-making enterprises owned by hacendados. The Spanish crown first started granting land in the form of haciendas to the Spanish conquistadors (those soldiers or explorers of Spain responsible for colonizing new lands in the name of the Spanish Crown). Hernán Cortés, a Spanish conquistador, was one of the first hacendados to be granted land in 1529 in what is today part of present day Mexico. Soon, many other conquistadors were granted land by the crown. In later years, many ordinary Spaniards of more modest means and stations also applied to the crown for such land ownership rights. The encomenderos (Spanish people assigned the task of protecting a specific group of Native Americans in exchange of free service from the natives) would also often acquire lands or enterprises for themselves, and the practice of exploiting these indigenous peoples for forced labor on such lands for reaping economic benefits became common. These encomenderos thus also became hacendados and, even after the elimination of the encomienda system by the crown, the hacendados continued to recruit free labor to work on their estates, where crops like sugar, wheat, fruits, and vegetables were grown. At times, the term hacienda was more broadly used to refer to those ranch lands granted unto people in Latin America where animal agriculture was practiced and, even less frequently, those granted estates where manufacturing, mineral extraction, and other non-agricultural endeavors were engaged in.

The Decay of Haciendas in South America

The hacienda system which originated in South America is currently almost non-existent. The system thrived during the colonial period, but gradually waned as independent countries increasingly emerged in the region towards the beginning of the 19th Century. In the Dominican Republic, the large estates of the hacienda system were broken up into smaller ones, often owned by subsistence farmers of the region. In some other countries, however, the hacienda system took a longer time to disappear. In Mexico, the system was abolished in 1917 after the Mexican Revolution of 1911. In Bolivia and Peru, revolutions and influential leaders were instrumental in eliminating the hacienda system from these countries. The 1952 Revolution led by the left-wing Peruvian General Víctor Paz Estenssoro, and the 1969 Agrarian Reforms introduced by the Bolivian reformist revolutionary and later Bolivian President Juan Velasco Alvarado, led to the abolishment of the hacienda system in these two countries.

Survival of Haciendas in Philippines

In the Philippines, during Spanish colonial rule the encomienda system gradually evolved into the hacienda system. The Spanish, mixed Spanish and native, and other elite families in the region enjoyed exclusive rights over vast tracts of fertile lands, and exploited the native Filipino workers to toil on their lands for their benefit at the locals' expense. Unlike the abolishment of the hacienda system in the South American countries after their independence, this system continued to exist in the Philippines even after the country became independent in 1946. The hacendados then became even more overtly powerful, and formed the new aristocracy of the independent country. Several agrarian reforms were introduced in Philippines in the later years to equalize land distribution between the landless farmers and rich landlords, but less than total success has been achieved to date. The Philippine Presidency of Ramon Magsaysay is worthy of mention, as during his time in office many landless farmers in Philippines were given land ownership. The division between the rich and the poor in Philippines on the basis of land ownership, however, still continues to plague this island nation.

The End of Haciendas in Puerto Rico

Like its nearby neighbors, Puerto Rico, an island territory of the United States in the Caribbean, also suffered the impacts of colonial rule in the form of the exploitative hacienda system, along with other manipulative forms of Spanish "civilization". Sugar and coffee haciendas were the most commonly seen in this country. The hacienda system started declining in significance from the 1950s on, when massive waves of industrialization of Puerto Rico via Operation Bootstrap displaced many of its coffee haciendas. In fact, by the end of the 20th Century, the hacienda system was on the verge of disappearance in Puerto Rico.

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