“The Sexual Politics of Gender and the Liberal State in Patriarchal Central America: A Cross-Country Examination of Nicaragua and Costa Rica (1750- 1850)”
The state formation and the centralization and development of the civil judicial apparatus created changes that allowed authorities and the community to play a role in the sexual politics and policing of the women’s body. Courts promoted a Christian upper-class ideal of marriage and purposely subjected women to the domestic space. In Nicaragua, we see the elite ladinos benefiting from their privilege to bride and govern municipal governments as well as control of indios (both men and women) and ladinas (excluding the single and widowed). In Costa Rica, we see women subjected to patriarchal domination as well as an invasion of private marital affairs. Conversely, we see how both Nicaraguan and Costa Rican women manage to access the legal arena and create a public sanction of marital relationships.
The coffee revolution contributed to the economic prosperity of the agribusiness and transformed the state formation in Latin America. Furthermore, liberal reforms in Central America attempted to unify the distraught factions of conservatives and liberals who established policies to preserve the status of aristocratic landholders. These distraught factions established the social order by creating a racist, national unity that disapproved of foreigners. The reforms paradoxically welcomed the agro-export corporations because of their large foreign capital investments to the building of the nation state. These reforms catered to the emergent coffee elites (who were predominately caudillos) that inherited a “naturalized” hegemonic axis of power [of racial, class, and gender superiority]. The evident racial and gender dichotomies of elite ladinos, ladinas, and indias with regards to land ownership and participation in the commercial economy was achieved through non-marriage behavior and often-patriarchal law governed the private sphere of women’s lives. This research paper will examine Nicaragua and Costa Rica’s sexual politics of gender throughout the state formation in which ladinos’s systematic superiority to the law made invisible indias and ladinas in the political arena and subjected their private regulation of their domestic life and property to public tribunales that perpetuate a Christian ideal of marriage, while simultaneously garnering women their legal right to participate and access these patriarchal domains without regarding their socioeconomic status.
The coffee revolution of Nicaragua not only changed its politics, but it also obstructed the household composition and gender relations between the elite and working class. The liberal reforms in Nicaragua disrupted the Catholic Churches’ divine rights by limiting its power and establishing a centralized government that created a chain in command sub-government offices (municipios) throughout the country as disciplinary mechanisms to control its constituents. Municipal governments in Diriomio, Nicaragua stratified its court cases that dealt with property and household kinship into gender and class dichotomies: male and female and elite ladinos and ladinas and peasant indios and indias. Although the liberal reforms eradicated the Church’s political power to govern Nicaraguans and implemented municipios as representatives of the liberal state, the municipios’ sexual politics of gender regulated the elite ladina and india’s body through marriage and sexual morale, like what the Church has historically perpetuated as a patriarchal institution. Sexual politics of gender encompasses the historical trauma and violence patriarchal and sexist institutions inflicted on the woman’s body during colonization. The municipios’ regulation on the sexual morality of the popular sectors systematically disadvantaged women in Nicaragua from all socioeconomic statuses because its policies derived from Spanish Law (which coincidentally mirrored the Churches’ attitude towards women as subservient to men). Although the Spanish Law attempted to discipline and condition women and their bodies, the development of the civil judicial apparatus unknowingly created a legal loophole within the system that allowed women entrance into the political sphere and take legal action against their husband in cases of landholdings, adultery, physical abuse, and premeditated femicide. Although the courts favored ladinos over ladinas and indias, it was interesting to discover that ladinas were treated as chattel in the eyes of the law in severe physical violence cases, whereas indias’ legal claims were often limited to land rights.
The implementation of municipal governments throughout the state formation of Nicaragua attempted to alleviate the limited centralized power, municipios perpetuated gendered property regimes because of personal interests causing further turmoil in the courts. The municipio body was composed of elite ladinos who had familial ties with the plaintiffs or defendants and often sided with the males. Indios and indias were often excluded from the Spanish Law by laws and if they sought legal action, indias were often subjected to their male counterparts because of the indio contribution to the Nicaraguan economy. The stratification of land based disadvantaged elite ladinas because of the Spanish Law’s position on the landholding transactions after amalgamation. Women lost titles and possession of their land to their husbands as well as their autonomy according to the Spanish Law because the patriarchal institution of the Church influenced the law to objectify women as a man’s property until the end of their marriage. For elite ladinas to regain their autonomy and their land rights, they would have to wait until their husbands passed or remain unwed [according to the courts of Diriomio] (Dore 157). If a woman chose to remain unwed, she became a threat to the Church’s idea of marriage. On the other hand, indias were excluded from their direct right to access their own property regardless of her marital status because of the systematic expropriation of land from the indios during the transition from agriculture to industrialization.
Nicaragua’s patriarchal society prescribed women’s sexual morality though two statuses: good and bad women. These statuses attempt to regulate women through the interplay of gender, place and power.
The commercialization of land led to an international market for coffee. Ejido lands were commercialized because of the facility in which they were obtained. Land was donated, sold, or rented and contracts were renewed every five years. Indios participated in the coffee economy and the land market through nonmarket measures by local and national government. The government continued to enforce the ejido systems, contrasting to the traditional view of latifundios expanding to small farmer landholdings (Charlip). Elite ladinos rushed to claim expropriated land from the indios leaving them with little to no land relative to the ejido system because of their growing concern of the modernization of the nation-state of Nicaragua with the booming mono-crop of coffee.
The Nicaraguan Civil Code of 1867 reinforced the husbands controlling of his wife’s property and sexuality. A wife’s legal rights were obtained if she was deemed a “good woman”, according to her husband and did not participate in extramarital behavior. The law went as far as to grant husbands’ legal control over his wife’s womb and her sexuality during and post marriage (if there was a marital separation) (Dore 157). This law went as far as to legitimize acts of femicide if a wife was found in the court guilty of adultery. On the contrary, if a husband was found of participating in adulteress behavior, he was sanctioned for about five years. We see the extremity and evident inequalities in the judicial system of Diriomo in the Civil Code of 1904, in which granted husbands who murdered their wife’s impunity if it was proven that she participated in “adulteress behavior.” Nicaragua’s patriarchal society prescribed women’s sexual morality though two statuses: good and bad women. These statuses attempt to regulate women through the interplay of gender, place and power. The domain of the house is gendered and the construction of “place” as a fixed locality subordinating woman to their husbands (Hurtig, Montoya and Frazier 5). The “good woman” status was used a disciplinary mechanism into keeping women in her “place” [as in physical location and behavioral]. Municipal court hearings about women’s honor, domestic violence, rape, and child support attempted to model elite ladino morality, yet their morality perpetuated violent constructions of gender and helped perpetrators of these crimes to evade sentencing.
Elite ladinos imposed codes of conduct [that mimicked the Catholic Church’s patriarchal subjugation] on ladinas and indias by policing their bodies through their “honor”, sexual purity behavior throughout marriage. Women’s honor in the courts was a public virtue to men. Ladinos understood their privileged status and adopted a sense of entitlement above the law to participate in adultery, murder and rape of women in Diriomo. Ladinos operated in a sexist and patriarchal social and cultural context in which they have acquired power, status, and authority in the municipal governments and in their homes from political, cultural, and economic benefits Uribe- Uran 52). Ladinos sexually assaulted indias, knowing that they would not be prosecuted because of their social status and bribery. In addition, their assault on indias masculinized Ladino authority in the pueblo. Elite Ladinos with illegitimate children were subjected to patria potestad (child support) by the courts, mainly if the child was male.
During the liberal reforms, private morality changed the land and household composition that favored elite ladinos. While the reforms benefitted a section of elites, it also created the possibility of Diriomo women to participate in the political arena and obtain legal resources without regarding their socioeconomic status. Although the municipal government and husbands interjected themselves in the regulation of women’s private life and criminalized her for not abiding to its patriarchal institution, women gained political autonomy to defend themselves from their abusive partners. Unfortunately, not all women could express their political right in the courts because we continue to see men determining if their partner was deemed “good” enough to earn their basic human right. Indias were among the highest plaintiffs in claiming land rights and choosing not to participate in marriage, whereas ladinas’ court hearings were predominately on abuse and defending her honor.
In the Central Valley of Costa Rica during 1750-1850, mechanisms used by the state and community to regulate domestic morality, legitimize and normalize gender order changed marriage relationships, gender roles, and court cases on domestic violence. In 1750, there was commercial and foreign commerce boom that created an economic and demographic growth. During 1821-1850 the liberal state formation developed an agrarian capitalism that expanded credit, trade, and technology industrialized coffee production. The production of the agricultural export [coffee] transformed towns, division of labor within family, and increased paid labor. Costa Rica’s reforms were intended to strengthen political authority, favor the expansion of capitalist agriculture and civilize the lower class to spread modern values of patriotism, capitalism, and racial purity.
Governmental, juridical, cultural, and coercive institutions [and] state politics normalized gender relations of men constituting the role of breadwinner while women were subjected to domestic space (Dore 87). The centralization of the state, the development of the civil judicial apparatus and the community played an active role in the regulation of domestic morality and in the promotion of upper-class ideals of family and marriage. The roles played by the community, family, state and the Catholic Church in controlling and shaping domestic life and conjugal relationships idealized the separate spheres and gender roles of the companionate and the patriarchal. Marital relations submitted to constant public scrutiny, but marital disputes became accessible resources for women within the administrative apparatus of the church and the state as an arena for airing.
Alike Diriomio, there were stratified court cases of familias principales and familias comunes. Familias principales included the urban agricultural and commercial bourgeoisie in San Jose, Cartago, Heredia, and Alajuela, while the familias comunes made up everyone else. During the colonial period, court claims were filed before the local priest. After 1821, the church lost its jurisdiction in martial cases [excluding divorce cases] due to the centralization of the liberal state brought the expansion of the judicial apparatus. The development of the judicial apparatus was reinforced by state politics, which normalized the gender order through the enactment of the Codigo General of 1841 and the Reglamento de Policia de 1849, both used to regulate domestic morality (Rodriguez 90). The judge/mayor utilized two “hombres buenos” to speak on behalf of the involved parties. These men, along with the judge acted as mediators in the judicial process and attempted to perform a process of reconciliation to reconcile the couple, and to propose some sort of settlement. As a cohesive unit, they stressed the upper-class ideal of marriage and insisted that the couple restore harmonious relations and attempt to fulfill the Christina upper-class model of marriage.
The upper-class marriage ideal attempted to replicate the role of wives as companionate and affective, while males were self-sufficient breadwinners. The Codigo General of 1841 stipulated that spouses mutually owe each other fidelity, aid, and assistance . . . a husband must protect his wife . . . and a wife must be obedient to her husband, oblige and give her everything necessary to live according to his abilities and status (Rodriguez 90). Institutions tried to sustain the patriarchal norms of masculine domination, the institution of marriage and the family, and marital harmony and residence. For instance, the Bishop of Nicaragua, Jose Antonia de la Huerta demanded that the Costa Rican clergy in August 19, 1797 persuade couples to live together and if reconciliation fails, seek aid from the judicial apparatus and force couples to follow such requirements (90).
The intervention of civil authorities and the separation of the roles of the church and the state in the regulation of domestic morality normalized gender order. The church was left to the doctrinal regulation of marriage while the liberal state began to take on a more active role in the regulation and transformation of domestic life. Paradoxically, morality of the popular sectors was most regulated, but it also provided greater access to legal resources to women. Harmony was a concept within the liberal doctrines of order, progress and civilization. The liberal state of Costa Rica promoted patriarchal domination, harmony and moral discipline, of families, spouses, and neighbors, with the objective of securing labor discipline and peace necessary to launch the capitalist development project.
With regards to punishment, Codigo General of 1841 enforced a penalty for abuse and it varied according whether the consequence of violence that impeded the victim from working temporarily or permanently underlining the agrarian society characterized by a shortage of labor, the ability to work. Elite wives filed charges of physical and verbal abuse and threats to their lives; common wives filed charges of abandonment, lack of financial support, drunkenness and vagrancy. The popular and middle sectors experienced difficulties in adjusting to the upper-class marriage model. Elements of the Christian upper-class marriage ideal perpetuated the idea that elite husbands can offer his wife companionship, respect, and affection and common husbands must fulfill the role of the head of house and “breadwinner.” These elements promoted the assimilation of the upper-class marital ideal among wives while simultaneously expanding women the civil judicial legal means to confront abusive husbands and obtain certain support from the community and family. Marital disputes were predominately a feminine resource as husbands’ accusations against their wives increased in the 1830’s-50’s.
The state formation and the centralization and development of the civil judicial apparatus created changes that allowed authorities and the community to play a role in the sexual politics and policing of the women’s body. Courts promoted a Christian upper-class ideal of marriage and purposely subjected women to the domestic space. In Nicaragua, we see the elite ladinos benefiting from their privilege to bride and govern municipal governments as well as control of indios (both men and women) and ladinas (excluding the single and widowed). In Costa Rica, we see women subjected to patriarchal domination as well as an invasion of private marital affairs. Conversely, we see how both Nicaraguan and Costa Rican women manage to access the legal arena and create a public sanction of marital relationships. We examined Nicaragua and Costa Rica’s sexual politics of gender throughout the state formation in which ladinos’ systematic superiority to the law rendered invisible indias and ladinas in the political arena and subjected their private regulation of their domestic life and property to public tribunales that perpetuate a Christian ideal of marriage, while simultaneously garnering women their legal right to participate and access these patriarchal domains without regarding their socioeconomic status.
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