The Invasion of Latin America


After celebrating mass and communion, Francisco Pizarro set off from Panama in 1530 to steal the wealth of the Andes for himself and his king. At the end of 1532 he and his men arrived in the land of the Incan king Atalhualpa, whom they lured into a trap.  The night before the ambush, the Spaniards spent praying and polishing their swords.  The next day they slaughtered thousands of Incans and took Atahualpa prisoner.

Knowing that the Spaniards wanted gold, Atahualpa offered a large room full of gold treasures in return for his release.  Pizarro agreed and watchedc for two months as Incans brought their finest pieces of artwork as ransom.  Pizarro commanded the people to melt down their art into bars.

After receiving reinforcements, Pizarro charged Atahualpa with treason.  He was tried, baptized, and strangled.  Pizarro and his men moved on to invade Cuzco, the dazzling capital of the empire.  Entering the sacred Temple of the Sun in order to  sack it, a contemporary observed:

Struggling and fighting among each other, each trying to get his hands on the lion's share, the soldiers in their coats of mail trampled on jewels and images and pounded the gold utensils with hammers to reduce them to a more portable size....They tossed all of the temple's gold into a melting pot to turn it into gold bars: the laminae that covered the walls, the marvelous representations of trees, birds, and other objects in the garden" (Pendle, 44).

The invasion of Chile followed.  Diego de Almagro led an expedition in 1535.  Finding no great wealth, he returned to Spain, only to be followed by Pedro de Valdivia, who founded the city of Santiago in 1541.  Six months later local indigenous natives almost destroyed it.

Before Pizarro died he ordered one of his captains, Francisco de Orellana, to sail down a wide river which they later named the Amazon after the marvelous women they saw there.  Orellana sailed two thousand miles to the Atlantic Ocean.

The history of Chile, Peru and Bolivia was shaped by the forced labor of the indigenous population and imported African slaves.  Even though in 1528 the king of Spain ordered that the Indians should not be used in forced labor, the Spaniards ignored his edict.  The encomienda became a system of rewarding Spaniards for military service.  The crown then "commended" the care of groups of the indigenous to that encomendero for two or three generations.  The encomendero was supposed to provide for their Christianization and care.

In reality, the Spaniards exploited their labor to make quick profits.  In 1620 indigenous and mestizos laborers living on the haciendas were required to work 160 days a year.  The situation didn't change much over time: in 1953, Chilean rural tenants and laborers typically worked well over 200 days including the labor of the whole family.

The quest for indigenous and workers' justice has been a constant throughout Latin America.  In Chile, the Araucanians resisted the Spanish invasion longer and more successfully than any other indigenous group.  It took over three centuries before they were finally defeated and their lands taken.  During the period the region souorth of the Bio Bio River most of the remained liberated territory.

-Brian Loverman, Chile, and George Pendel, A History of Latin America, 44-47.

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