4968 - Labour, ethnicity and rubber in Bolivia's Amazonian frontier (1860-1910)

The Industrial Revolution led to an unprecedented demand for Latin American raw products. The Bolivian Highlands, for instance, experienced a series of mining boom and bust cycles that inserted them into the world economy. On the other hand, the Lowlands continued to be one of the most remote and unpopulated areas of Latin America and to be economically, politically and culturally marginalized within the Bolivian nation. By the end of the nineteenth century, though, increased world demand for tropical “wild” products such as cinchona and rubber led to a rapid and uneven insertion of the region into the world economy. Besides geographical isolation, the most formidable challenge that rubber barons faced was the recruitment of a suitable labour force. Most of the labourers belonged to the many indigenous ethnic groups of the Bolivian Lowlands. Like elsewhere in Latin America, the new export economy led to many forms of labour recruitment that ranged from debt peonage to outright capture and “slavery.” Bolivian rubber barons established an ethnic hierarchy in which ethnicity was a very important factor in determining an individual’s role within the rubber industry. This paper will look at how this hierarchy was established and at how the many indigenous peoples of the Lowlands were affected by it. It will also examine the varied and often contradictory indigenous responses to the Amazonian Rubber Boom. The cinchona and rubber booms altered the ethnic map of the Lowlands and the current chasm between the Bolivian Highlands and the Lowlands can be mostly attributed to the impact of the Rubber Boom on the country.

Palabras claves: Labour, Race, Exports, Ethnicity

Autores: Vallve, Frederic (none, Canada / Kanada)


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