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Comunero Revolt (New Granada)

Comunero Revolt (New Granada)

Comunero Revolt (New Granada), large-scale rebellion (March-October 1781) against colonial authority in what is now northeastern Colombia. On 16 March 1781, a crowd in Socorro, led by Manuela Beltrán, tore down an edict on new sales tax (alcabala) rates, one of a package of fiscal measures promulgated by the royal visitador, Juan Francisco Gutiérrez De Piñeres. Similar disturbances occurred in other towns in the region, and on 16 April leading figures of the Socorro elite endorsed the movement. One of them, Juan Francisco Berbeo, was named leader (capitán). The rebellious towns quickly organized a force of between 10,000 and 20,000 men to march on Santa Fe de Bogotá, and in late May they arrived at Zipaquirá, just north of the viceregal capital. Viceroy Manuel Antonio Flores was in Cartagena, and Gutiérrez fled the capital, leaving a junta under Archbishop Antonio Caballero y Góngora in charge.

Caballero traveled to Zipaquirá to parley with the rebels (and to exploit the substantial differences among them), and on 5 June Caballero and Berbeo agreed to a set of thirty-four articles—the Capitulations of Zipaquirá. These articles dealt with the full range of the northeasterners' complaints against the fiscal and administrative aspects of Bourbon reformism, including sales tax and head tax increases, restrictions on tobacco cultivation (the region's only viable cash crop), abuses of the liquor monopoly, the one-way flow of public monies to Bogotá, and others. Several of the articles called for improvements in the lot of Indians and free blacks, two groups whose numbers were insignificant in the movement's mestizo heartland—although Indians were more numerous in the neighboring provinces of Pamplona to the north and Tunja to the south, which were nominally part of the rebellion. (The Comunero revolt, it should be noted, was unrelated to the far more threatening and violent Túpac Amaru insurrection in Peru in 1780.)

After Berbeo and most of the comuneros returned home, Caballero and Flores promptly denounced the capitulaciones as null and void. After granting amnesty to the vast majority of the comuneros, including Berbeo and other elite leaders, Caballero then spent six months in the northeast, preaching obedience to royal authority and restoring many (though not all) of Gutiérrez's fiscal measures. Berbeo and other patricians were happy to avoid punishment for their involvement; plebeians, however dissatisfied, had to return to their precarious livelihoods. Only a small core of comuneros, led by José Antonio Galán, a small farmer from Charalá, continued the armed struggle. They were captured in October 1781, and Galán was executed along with three of his lieutenants in February 1782. The visible long-term consequences of the rebellion were slight, though subsequent viceroys took care to draw up defensive plans lest Bogotá again find itself threatened by socorranos.

For many decades the Comunero episode was practically unknown outside the Socorro region; only in 1880 did Manuel Briceño publish his study Los comuneros and a version of the capitulaciones. Like many Colombian historians after him, Briceño saw the movement as a precursor to independence, not just chronologically but programmatically as well. This idea has been effectively refuted by recent studies, which note that elites and plebeians gladly invoked the figure of the king against the abuses of his officials, a typical colonial gambit. However, authors differ as to the overall import of the demands codified in the capitulaciones.

John L. Phelan, in The People and the King (1978), argues that the rebellion reflected societal rejection of centralizing Bourbonist infringements upon local autonomy, whereas Mario Aguilera Peña, in Los comuneros: guerra social y lucha anticolonial (1983), emphasizes the importance of agrarian and other socioeconomic conflicts in Socorro. Given the dominant characteristics of Socorro society circa 1781—the relative autonomy of the region's smallholder/artisan majority, their increasingly tenuous economic situation, and the role of the fiscal system in ensuring the elite's viability—the power of a literalist view that takes the capitulaciones at face value should not be underestimated.

See alsoBourbon Reforms .


Besides the works cited above, see Anthony Mc Farlane, Colombia Before Independence (1993).

Additional Bibliography

Aguilera Peña, Mario. La rebelión de los Comuneros. Bogotá: Panamericana Editorial, 1998.

Arciniegas, Germán. Los comuneros. Caracas: Biblioteca Ayacucho, 1992.

Caballero, Enrique and Alfredo Iriarte. Incensio y pólvora: Comuneros y precusores. Bogotá: Amazonas Editores, 1993.

Silva, Renán. La ilustración en el virreinato de Nueva Granada: Estudios de historia cultural. Medellín: La Carreta Editores, 2005.

Silva, Renán. Saber, cultura, y sociedad en el Nuevo Reino de Granada, siglos XVII y XVIII. Medellín: La Carreta Editores, 2004.

                                      Richard Stoller

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