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Aguardiente Sees Drop in Popularity

September 2, 2003

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ In 1676, having successfully outlawed a drink suspected of leading to homicides, inattentiveness at church and moral turpitude, King Carlos II of Spain warned of another looming threat.

He wrote his colonial rulers in Bogota of a drink ``that is, beyond all comparison, more dangerous and which goes by the name of aguardiente.″

Aguardiente’s popularity might be faltering these days, but back then not even the king of Spain could get between Colombians and their cherished booze. It took 17 years until a ban was finally imposed, and even then, the colonials marked the occasion by tipping another glass, and kept on drinking.

Seven years later, Spain gave up and assumed a monopoly to raise tax revenues.

As described in Gilma Mora de Tovar’s book, ``Aguardiente and Social Conflicts in 18th Century New Granada,″ the hardy settlers didn’t take kindly to the new setup. Many families that made or sold aguardiente were thrown out of work. Those that produced molasses, a key ingredient, were often forced to sell at rock-bottom prices.

In August 1738, the king’s men came to the riverside town of Honda and declared that only one store was authorized to sell aguardiente. Within days, the townspeople invaded the establishment and smashed it up.

The town’s mayor was accused of negligence for not sending police to intervene even though ``there was a din of horses, of firearms, a growing number of people and the noise of rock-throwing between 9 and 10 o’clock at night.″

In 1752, authorities tried to jail aguardiente bootleggers in the city of Tunja, 80 miles northeast of Bogota in the Andean highlands.

Mobs took to the streets and stoned tax collectors’ homes. Authorities responded by banning public gatherings, jailing suspected leaders of the uprising and confiscating their properties.

Other scattered rebellions followed, but the royal monopoly lasted until Colombia won independence in 1810.

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