by Angel Cal
Nineteenth-century European industrialization increased the demand for raw resources available in sub-tropical regions. The eastern coast of Central America and the Bay of Campeche had an ample supply of dyewoods used in the textile industry, and mahogany, a durable and precious wood used in the production of railway cars and furniture. British mercantile capital linked the various peoples and activities that were involved in the extractive industry and in the short-lived sugarcane and banana industries. The pre-Columbian regional economic block based on resources such as salt was taken over by the Spaniards during the Contact period. But the tenuous Iberian hold gave way to persistent British buccaneers turned loggers. Eventually, though, British mercantile firms took over the business. These firms monopolized the land, credit and the import business, and exerted considerable influence on the local state. This enclave economy essentially “created” its society, bringing in African slaves and attracting laborers from the region: Garifuna, Miskito, Mestizo and Maya. The Caste War of Yucatan (1847-1901) also sent some 15,000 refugees mostly peasants into Belize. Indentured workers were imported from the 1860s. Except for the blacks, most of the workers and peasants established settlements in the rural areas. The relationship between capital and labor and between capital and the peasantry was marked by both conflict and accommodation. Whereas the firms tried to secure a reliable, cheap, and submissive labor force and tried to “proletarianize” the peasantry with the help of state-backed mechanisms, the nature of the industry: the cultural norms of the Maya peasantry, for example, the strategic alliances among the groups at the frontier and the limited supply of labor made it difficult for capital to have its way. In fact, the Maya’s determination to block further British expansion in the northwest eventually undermined the level of business confidence necessary to operate in a turbulent frontier. Mercantile capital withdrew when faced by declining prices. Many workers were repeasantized.
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Keywords: Yucatan, logwood, British merchants, northern Belize
Suggested APA reference: Cal, A. E. (1991). Rural society and economic development: British mercantile capital in nineteenth-century Belize. University of Arizona.