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In its most general sense, this word means "estate" or "all worldly possessions of an individual." In Latin America the word is used most commonly as a generic term for all types of large rural properties ranging in size from a few hundred hectares (1 hectare equals 2.47 acres) to hundreds of square kilometers (1 square kilometer equals 0.4 square miles). Large rural estates and the individuals and institutions who control them have dominated the peoples, politics, and economies of Latin America since the sixteenth century and still do in many places in the late twentieth century.

The origins of the great estate in Latin America can be traced back to two or three decades after the Conquest, when the first land grants (mercedes) were given to Spanish conquerors and to later immigrants. Other holdings were acquired less auspiciously by usurping unoccupied Indian land. These squatters' holdings were subsequently legalized and titled by payments to the crown (composiciones). Regardless of their legal or illegal origins, haciendas grew by later donations, sales, usurpations, and composiciones.

Most haciendas developed independently of the encomienda. Early encomenderos, using positions on the municipal councils in nearby Spanish towns, sometimes granted themselves one or more plots of land from among the parcels that had been used by their Indian charges. As more and more of the Indians died or moved away, however, their abandoned parcels were granted to other later-arriving Spanish immigrants in an effort to further colonization and settlement of the land, increase the quantity of needed foodstuffs and draft animals and reward individuals who had served the king. These mercedes far outnumbered those granted to encomenderos. Nevertheless, mercedes of both the encomendero and non-encomendero types became the nuclei of individual farms and stock-raising enterprises that later grew into the large estates that dominated both countryside and city.

Large estates or haciendas can be grouped into three main types. One is the ranch, which developed from the estancia (fazenda, in Portuguese). The estancia was an early and popular type of enterprise because its establishment required relatively little capital and small numbers of laborers. Transportation costs were insignificant because cattle could be driven to market. Before the eighteenth century, however, an estancia was not the large ranch, in the legal sense, that we envision today. Typically, its owner (the estanciero) had legal title to only a few units of land, on which he usually built a house for himself or his steward (mayordomo), a storage shed or building, and one or more corrals. This became his operational headquarters. The estancia, in other words, was no more than a cattle station. Pastures were common domain. In the eighteenth century the crown, in need of money, sold the pastures to the highest bidder. It was only then that the estanciero consolidated control over a large area of pasturelands and the ranch was legally born.

A mixed farm was the second type of hacienda. Some estancias became haciendas when part of the land, usually that near the headquarters, was planted in crops. The mixed farm required more capital and more labor than the estancia but less than a specialized farm.

The third type of hacienda was the specialized farm, usually dedicated to producing only one crop for a distant market. The typical crops grown—sugar cane, rice, cacao, and wheat—required processing. During colonial times these specialized farms, the forerunners of modern plantations, took their names from the type of mill or processing facilities installed on the premises. An ingenio referred to a water-powered mill. A trapiche was an animal-powered mill. Both of these terms usually referred to sugar estates. A molino could be either water- or animal-powered and usually referred to a wheat- or rice-producing enterprise.

All three types of estate relied on a dependent labor force: Indians who had left their communities and become personal retainers (naborías and yanaconas); community members working on a temporary basis to earn money to pay their tribute; and wage-earning or salaried Spaniards, creoles, mestizos, and mulattoes who worked on haciendas in various capacities from peon to mayordomo, or steward, over the years. In tropical areas, where haciendas produced sugar or cacao, owners sometimes purchased large numbers of black slaves to do much of the work. These laborers lived in huts or houses near the operational center of the estate, which, in some cases, grew to the size and complexity of small towns, complete with church and jail.

In contrast to earlier stereotypes of the self-sufficient hacienda, more recent studies have shown that most haciendas, however remote, produced for a market. The hacienda, while not always profitable, did generate revenues and, in some cases, became the basis of considerable fortunes. In the process it became the measure of a person's or a family's power and prestige.

Thus, land in Latin America became the hallmark of elite standing. It achieved this status because landowners, or hacendados, were wealthy. They controlled the means of production and as such provided employment for agricultural workers (plowing, herding, planting, harvesting, etc.), skilled craftsmen (carpenters, metal smiths, etc.), and urban professionals (scribes, lawyers, bankers). They also wielded political power, directly or indirectly, on the municipal council and often at higher levels of government as well.

The hacendados were, then, the epitome of success and as such were imitated. Mine owners, merchants, and professionals who achieved wealth bought land. Miners might acquire a hacienda to raise foodstuffs or mules needed in mining and thus vertically integrate their enterprises. But the prestige of owning vast tracks of land was also an incentive. Given the early prejudices against commerce, merchants too were attracted to landowner-ship as a means of shedding their tainted image and validating their status. One reason nineteenth-century urban professionals were often politically liberal, and thus anticlerical, was their hope of wresting control of the church's vast landholdings. When the church lost hold of its properties, they were often sold, giving professionals and other monied segments of society the opportunity to acquire the one item that marked their ascension into, or established their permanent standing in, the elite.

In modern times, the issues of land concentration and land reform have become serious political matters, and increasing pressure for redistribution sometimes has erupted into revolts and guerrilla wars. Emiliano Zapata's demands for land reform and restitution during the Mexican Revolution brought the issue to world attention, since Mexico was not the only country where a small minority owned and controlled great proportions of arable land while the vast majority of rural inhabitants were landless and poor. President Lázaro Cárdenas (1934–1940) became an immortalized folk hero by redistributing land to Mexican peasants in the 1930s.

Bolivian peasants did not wait for governmental action. They began invading haciendas soon after the Bolivian Revolution of 1952. The Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (Nationalist Revolutionary Movement), or MNR, subsequently issued a land reform law to legalize their seizures, thereby securing the peasants' allegiance and making this party of middle-class origins look more "revolutionary" than it in fact was.

Meanwhile, peasants everywhere were organizing. In the late 1950s in the southern Andes near Cuzco, Peru, Hugo Blanco, a young Trotskyist agronomist, organized a peasant federation, sparking a series of tenant strikes and land seizures. Peasant syndicates formed in northeastern Brazil, where "Land to the Tiller" became a rallying cry.

The Alliance for Progress (1961) challenged the governing elites throughout the hemisphere to redistribute property. Several countries passed land reform laws in the 1960s and 1970s, but few of them proved effective. Perhaps the greatest progress in redistributing land occurred during the short tenure of President Salvador Allende (1970–1973) in Chile while General Juan Velasco Alvarado (1968–1975) occupied the presidential palace in Peru, and under the Sandinistas in Nicaragua (1979–1990). After these regimes lost power, however, many of the expropriated properties were returned to their former owners. Thus, large estates and their owners still dominate the economy in many areas of Latin America. However, the efforts of peasants to protect the land they retain to recover those already lost promise continuing struggles over this issue.

See alsoAlliance for Progress; Estancia; Finca; Fundo; Latifundia.


François Chevalier, La formation des grands domaines au Mexique: Terre et société aux XVIe-XVIIe siècles (1952).

Eric R. Wolf and Sidney W. Mintz, "Haciendas and Plantations in Middle America and the Antilles," in Social and Economic Studies 6, no. 3 (1957): 380-412.

James M. Lockhart, "Encomienda and Hacienda: The Evolution of the Great Estate in the Spanish Indies," in Hispanic American Historical Review 49, no. 3 (1969): 411-29.

Espinoza R. Gustavo and Carlos Malpica, El problema de la tierra (1970).

Robert G. Keith, Conquest and Agrarian Change: The Emergence of the Hacienda System on the Peruvian Coast (1976).

Henry Pease García et al., Estado y política agraria: Cuatro ensayos (1977).

Herman W. Konrad, A Jesuit Hacienda in Colonial Mexico: Santa Lucía, 1576–1767 (1980).

Additional Bibliography

Gómez Serrano, Jesús. Haciendas y ranchos de Aguascalientes: Estudio regional sobre la tenencia de la tierra y el desarrollo agrícola en el siglo XIX. Universidad Autónoma de Aguascalientes, 2000.

Lyons, Barry J. Remembering the Hacienda: Religion, Authority, and Social Change in Highland Ecuador. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006.

Vegas de Cáceres, Ileana. Economía rural y estructura social en las haciendas de Lima durante el siglo XVIII. Lima: Pontifícia Universidad Católica del Perú, Fondo Editorial, 1996.

                                              Susan E. RamÍrez

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ha·ci·en·da / ˌhäsēˈendə/ • n. (in Spanish-speaking regions) a large estate or plantation with a dwelling house. ∎  the main house on such an estate.

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hacienda XVIII. — Sp., ‘domestic work, landed property’ :- L. facienda, n. pl. of gerundive of facere DO1.