Latin America

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The new Latin American empires of Spain and Portugal maintained special contacts with the West. Western forms were imposed on indigenous cultures as the militarily superior European invaders conquered their lands. Latin America became part of the world economy as a dependent region. The Iberians mixed with native populations and created new political and social forms. The resulting mixture of European, African, and Indian cultures created a distinctive civilization. Indian civilization, although battered and transformed, survived and influenced later societies. Europeans sought economic gain and social mobility; they used coerced laborers or slaves to create plantations and mine deposits of precious metals or diamonds. Spaniards and Portuguese: From Reconquest to Conquest. Iberians had long inhabited a frontier zone where differing cultures interacted. Muslims invaded and conquered in the eighth century; later small Christian states formed and began a long period of reconquest. By the middle of the fifteenth century, a process of political unification was under way. Castile and Aragon were united through marriage. Granada, the last Muslim kingdom, fell in 1492, and Castile expelled its Jewish population. Iberian Society and Tradition. The distinctive features of Iberian societies became part of their American experience. They were heavily urban; many peasants lived in small centers. Commoners coming to America sought to become nobles holding Indian-worked estates. Strong patriarchal ideas were reflected in the family life, which was based on encomiendas, large estates worked by Indians. The Iberian tradition of slavery came to the New World. So did political patterns. Political centralization in Portugal and Castile depended on a professional bureaucracy of trained lawyers and judges. Religion and the Catholic Church were closely linked to the state. The merchants of Portugal and Spain had extensive experience with the slave trade and plantation agriculture on the earlier colonized Atlantic islands. The Chronology of Conquest. A first conquest period between 1492 and 1570 established the main lines of administration and economy. In the second period, lasting to 1700, colonial institutions and societies took definite form. The third period, during the eighteenth century, was a time of reform and reorganization that planted seeds of dissatisfaction and revolt. From the late fifteenth century to about 1600, two continents and millions of people fell under European control. They were joined to an emerging Atlantic economy. Many Indian societies were destroyed or transformed in the process. The Caribbean Crucible. The Caribbean experience was a model for Spanish actions in Latin America. Columbus and his successors established colonies. The Indians of the islands were distributed among Spaniards as laborers to form encomiendas. European pressures and diseases quickly destroyed indigenous populations and turned the islands into colonial backwaters. The Spaniards had established Iberian-style cities but had to adapt them to New World conditions. They were laid out in a grid plan with a central plaza for state and church buildings. Royal administration followed the removal of Columbus and his family from control. Professional magistrates staffed the administrative structure; laws incorporated Spanish and American experience. The church joined in the process, building cathedrals and universities. During the early sixteenth century, Spanish women and African slaves joined the earlier arrivals, marking the shift from conquest to settlement. Ranches and sugar plantations replaced gold searching. By this time, most of the Indians had died or been killed. Some clerics and administrators attempted to end abuses; Bartolomé de las Casas began the struggle for justice for Indians. By the 1520s and 1530s, the elements of the Latin American colonial system were in place. The Paths of Conquest. The conquest of Latin America was not a unified...
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