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Hacienda is a Spanish word for an estate. Some haciendas were plantations, mines, or even business factories. Many haciendas combined these productive activities. The hacienda system of Argentina, parts of Brazil, Chile, Mexico and New Granada was a system of large land-holdings that were an end in themselves as the marks of status. The hacienda aimed for self-sufficiency in everything but luxuries meant for display, which were destined for the handful of people in the circle of the patrón.

Haciendas originated in land grants, mostly made to minor nobles, as the grandees of Spain were not motivated to leave, and the bourgeoisie had little access to royal dispensation. It is in Mexico that the hacienda system can be considered to have its origin in 1529, when the Spanish crown granted to Hernán Cortés the title of Marquess of the Valley of Oaxaca, which entailed a tract of land that included all of the present state of Morelos. Significantly, the grant included all the Native Americans then living on the land and power of life and death over every soul on his domains. There was no court of appeals governing a hacienda. The unusually large and profitable Jesuit hacienda Santa Lucia near Mexico, established in 1576 and lasting to the expulsion in 1767, has been reconstructed by Herman W. Konrad (1980) from archival sources. This reconstruction has revealed the nature and operation of the hacienda system in Mexico, its serfs, its systems of land tenure, the workings of its isolated, intradependent society.

Fazenda dating to the 1850s in Paraíba Valley, Brazil.

In Mexico, the owner of a hacienda was called the hacendado or patrón. Aside from the small circle at the top of the hacienda society, the remainder were peones (serfs), campesinos (peasants), or mounted ranch hands variously called vaqueros, gauchos, etc. The peones worked land that belonged to the patrón. The campesinos worked small holdings, and owed a portion to the patrón. The economy of the eighteenth century was largely a barter system, with little specie circulated on the hacienda.

Stock raising was central to the ranching haciendas. Where the hacienda included working mines, as in Mexico, the patrón might be immensely wealthy.

The Catholic Church and its orders, especially the Jesuits, were granted vast hacienda holdings, linking the interests of the church with the rest of the landholding class. In the history of Mexico and other Latin American countries, this resulted in hostility to the church, including confiscations of their haciendas and other restrictions.

In South America, the hacienda remained after the collapse of the colonial system in the early nineteenth century. In some places, such as Santo Domingo, the end of colonialism meant the fragmentation of the large plantation holdings into a myriad small subsistence farmers' holdings, an agrarian revolution. In Argentina and elsewhere, a second, international, money-based economy developed independently of the haciendas which sank into rural poverty.

In most of Latin America the old holdings remained. In Mexico the haciendas were abolished by law in 1917 during the revolution, but remnants of the system affect Mexico today. In rural areas, the wealthiest people typically affect the style of the old hacendados even though their wealth these days derives from more capitalistic enterprises.

The hacienda system and lifestyles were also imitated in the Philippines which was colonized by Spain through Mexico for 300 years. Attempts to break up the hacienda system in the Philippines through land reform laws during the second half of the 1900's have proven moderately successful.

There were haciendas in Peru until the Agrarian Reform of Juan Velasco Alvarado, who expropiated the land from the hacendados and redistributed it to the peasants.

In popular culture, haciendas are often portrayed in telenovelas like A Escrava Isaura and Zorro.

Famous haciendas

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