Spanish Invaders in Latin America

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The Spanish relentless greed catalyzed their success in taking over Latin America. Bernardino de Sahagún, through his description of a Mexican man’s account of the Spanish invasion of Aztecs, portrays the European lust for wealth with his description of Spanish men being gifted gold by the Aztecs. He documents, “Like monkeys they grabbed the gold” and “gold was what they greatly thirsted for; they were gluttonous for it, starved for it, priggishly wanting it” (Sahagún, 1).

The Spanish invaders were so blinded by greed, they were unable to even consider coexisting as equals with Native Americans. Instead, they sought to abuse the American land and its people to maximize profits. Slavery and abuse of native people was the backbone of creating and sustaining capitalism in Latin America. The power-hungry conquistadors and greedy imperialists annihilated existing societies and replaced them with new societal and political structures that enriched the European elite at the expense of indigenous people.

The Spanish success in taking over Latin America was enhanced by luck from Columbian Exchange. The Columbian Exchange is an extensive swap of plants, human population, animals, diseases, ideas, and culture between the Eastern and Western hemispheres that emerged as consequence of Christopher Columbus landing in American in 1492. The Colombian Exchange benefited the European colonization of Americas because it provided Europeans with more land, food, resources, and human labor. It led to an increase in variety of food available to the Eastern hemisphere due to shipments from the “new world” and the development of agriculture. The increase in food availability lead to a population boom in the Western hemisphere (Lockard, 32). Moreover, developments in agriculture created new jobs (Lockard, 32).

The success of Europeans sharply contradicts the indigenous people’s experience, who were described as “abused” by Antonio Vazquez de Espinosa in his first-hand account of the fallen Incas in 1625 (Vasquez de Espinosa, 3). The agricultural imperialism played a huge role in the destruction of pre-Latin American land. Indigenous people watched their land get infested with new species of animals and plants. Pigs, new weeds, and rats terrorized the environment and upset the ecosystem that existed for thousands of years.

In addition to losing land to parasites, and therefore taking losses on food supply, as the result of Columbian exchange, indigenous people were introduced to numerous European diseases, which they were not immune to. The indigenous people’s bodies were attacked by diseases like smallpox, measles, chickenpox, influenza, typhus, typhoid and parathyroid fever, diphtheria, cholera, bubonic plague, scarlet fever, whooping cough, and malaria (Nunn & Quin, 3). It is estimated that 80-95 percent of the native population was “decimated within the first 100-150 years following 1492” (Nunn & Quin, 3).

The Spanish colonial imperialism in Latin America was further aided by their dynamic imposition of Christianity. It is no surprise that Europeans were able to successfully take over after annihilating such large amounts of indigenous population and destroying the ecosystems of the land. Yet, perhaps blinded by greed, Europeans mistook their “luck” due to this trans-global interaction for God’s favor on them, and proceeded to purposely torment indeginous populations, while forcing them to convert to Christianity. The Christian establishments did not tolerate native ways and forced natives to adopt Christianity or murdered them (Lockard, 79). Some natives worshiped their gods in secret, but in was safer to become Christian (Lockard, 79). This resulted in quick forced adoption of European ways.

Similar to when Antonio Vazquez de Espinosa described Incas, the term “abused” was also used to describe indigenous people of Aztec heritage by Gonzalo Gomez de Cervantes in 1599 (Gomez de Cervantes, 3). Contradictory to their proclaimed Christian beliefs, conquistadors enslaved, raped, and killed locals. They forced the locals to work intense hours in horrid conditions and swindled the natives out of property and money.

According to Gonzalo Gomez de Cervantes, Of the Affairs and Administration of Mexico (1599), the motive for colonization is need for labor to sustain a booming economy. Cortés, the conqueror of the Aztecs, established a version of the encomienda system in Mexico, giving power over natives to his soldiers. In Gomez de Cervantes’s primary source account, it is evident that the natives were indeed abused. The natives’ clothes were taken, and they were forced to work and sleep naked. Natives were often under brutal supervision of a black slave, and were looking for ways to escape (Vazquez de Espinosa, 3). The employers deducted money for lunches that they provided or paid natives in small cats or dogs that they could eat (Vazquez de Espinosa, 3). Although natives were only legally required for 8 days, employers often kept them for much longer times (Vazquez de Espinosa, 3).

Vazquez de Espinosa points out that due to the encomienda system, “great losses and gaps in the quotas of Indians” took place and that the chiefs were walked “off in chains” for not meeting unreasonable demands of the Spanish (Vazquez de Espinosa, 3). Gomez de Cervantes described that when a indigenous forced laborer “returns home, he discovers that his wife or children have died, or his crops have been ruined by a lack of attention caused by his absence, or the cattle has eaten them, all because he has been required to work longer than they should be” (Gomez de Cervantes, 3). Bartolome Las Casas justly called the conquistadors as “the Devil” to the natives, because they made indigenous people’s lives hell (Todorov, 166).

It is evident that the real motives behind conquistadors’ ruthless actions were greed and power, despite their Christian background. It is also evident that the Spanish were successful in their domination mainly due to their “lucky” unintentional spread of disease amongst the Native Americans, and their incredible ruthlessness. The ultimate reason for European success in the new world was the abuse of local people. As the result of new political and societal establishments by the European invaders of Latin America, indigenous people suffered severe abuse from Europeans. I believe that this supremacist attitude of the European conquistadors has been passed down into modern-day Latin America; Few powerful, mostly European descendants, are in power, while most of Latin Americans live in poverty.

Works Cited

  1. Bernardino de Sahagun. “General History of the Things of New Spain.” 1578. History 308 Course Archive. Web
  2. Gomez de Cervantes, Gonzalo. “Of the Affairs and Administration of Mexico.” 1599. History 308 Course Archive. Web.
  3. Lockard, Craig A. WORLD: Student Edition,Vol II. Boston:Cengage Learning, 2011. Print.
  4. Nunn, Nathan, and Nancy Quin. “The Columbian Exchange: A History of Disease, Food, and Ideas.” American Economic Association, vol. 24, no. 2, 2010, pp. 163–188. Spring 2010. www.jstor.org. Web
  5. Todorov, Tzvetan. “The Conquest of America.” Poly Learn, polylearn.calpoly.edu/AY_2018- 2019/pluginfile.php/262312/mod_resource/content/1/Debate1550 .pdf.
  6. Vazquez de Espinosa, Antonio. “Compendium and Description of the West Indies.” 1625. History 308 Course Archive. Web.

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Spanish Invaders in Latin America. (2021, Jul 28). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/spanish-invaders-in-latin-america/

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