Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Liberal Studies


David Gordon

Subject Categories

Inequality and Stratification | Latin American History | Politics and Social Change


history of Colombia, spanish empire, encomienda, resguardo, inequality


Colombian society has been historically marked by socioeconomic inequality, restricted social mobility, and institutional weakness. In order to understand the reasons for the country´s continuous struggle to achieve inclusive economic progress and stability since its independence from Spain in 1819, it is necessary to understand its colonial history. Central to this were the two most important colonial economic institutions, the encomienda and the resguardo, both designed for the exploitation of unfree Indian labor. Even when these were slowly replaced by more modern haciendas worked by free farm workers, the economic and political life of the country continued to be determined by older forms of subordination and exploitation established in the earliest days of Spanish colonial rule. This thesis focuses on the eastern highlands of northern South America, principally the area around Bogota, and analyzes how the encomienda, resguardo, and hacienda were fundamental in determining how wealth was acquired in the region, and the extent of the economic opportunities available to various sectors of society. Colombia’s institutionalized hierarchy based on racial and social distinctions had given economic and political advantages to a small group of Spaniards and their descendants living in the country’s most important urban centers. This is as much true today as in colonial times. The vast majority of the population, especially in rural areas, has remained politically and economically marginalized. An examination of these historical developments will provide a more comprehensive understanding of the seemingly intractable nature of Colombia’s economic limitations and social turmoil today.