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History, Spanish Rule

Huascar, Tupac Amaru, Inca civilization, Cajamarca, conquistadores

In 1532 Spanish soldier and adventurer Francisco Pizarro landed in Peru with a force of about 180 men. Conditions were favorable to conquest, for the empire was debilitated by a just-concluded civil war between the heirs to the Inca throne, Atahualpa and Huascar, each of whom was seeking to control the empire. This internal dissension, plus the terror inspired by Spanish guns and horses—unknown to the indigenous peoples until then—made it relatively easy for only a handful of Spaniards to conquer this vast empire.

The Spaniards met Atahualpa, the victor in the civil war, and his army at a prearranged conference at Cajamarca in 1532. When Atahualpa arrived, the Spaniards ambushed and seized him, and killed thousands of his followers. Although Atahualpa paid the most fabulous ransom known to history—a room full of gold and another full of silver—for his freedom, the Spaniards murdered him in 1533.

The Spanish destroyed many of the irrigation projects and the north-south roads that had knit the empire together, speeding the disintegration of the empire. By November 1533 Cuzco had fallen with little resistance. In addition, the indigenous population declined rapidly as a result of new diseases brought by the Spaniards, diseases to which the Inca had no immunity. Members of the Inca dynasty took refuge in the mountains and were able to resist the Spaniards for about four decades. However, by 1572 the Spaniards had executed the last Inca ruler, Tupac Amaru, along with his advisers and his family.

In 1535 Pizarro founded on the banks of the Rimac River the Peruvian capital city of Ciudad de los Reyes (Spanish for “City of the Kings”; present-day Lima). Subsequently, disputes over jurisdictional powers broke out among the Spanish conquerors, or conquistadors, and in 1541 a member of one of the conflicting Spanish factions assassinated Pizarro in Lima.

The Inca civilization had unified what are now Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia and created an integrated society. The Spanish, whose main aims were plunder and the conversion of native tribes to Christianity, stopped the development of the indigenous civilization. The Spaniards treated the Inca ruthlessly, using their labor to produce the minerals needed in Spain. The result was the creation of a psychic chasm between the Inca and the Europeanized population, a chasm that has endured for more than 400 years.

The Spanish introduced a system of land tenure consisting of European landlords and indigenous workers. This system succeeded in solidly establishing a privileged and wealthy landed aristocracy early in the colonial period. Little was done to educate the masses of peoples. As a result, colonial Peru was a divided society, consisting of a small class that owned the land and controlled education, political, military, and religious power, and of a large, mostly indigenous class (about 90 percent of the total population) that remained landless, illiterate, and exploited.

In 1542 a Spanish imperial council promulgated statutes called New Laws for the Indies, which were designed to put a stop to cruelties inflicted on the Native Americans. In the same year Spain created the Viceroyalty of Peru, which comprised all Spanish South America and Panama, except what is now Venezuela.

The first Spanish viceroy arrived in Peru in 1544 and attempted to enforce the New Laws, but the conquistadores rebelled and, in 1546, killed the viceroy. Although the Spanish government crushed the rebellion in 1548, the New Laws were never put into effect.

In 1569 Spanish colonial administrator Francisco de Toledo arrived in Peru. During the ensuing 14 years he established a highly effective, although harshly repressive, system of government. Toledo’s method of administration consisted of a government of Spanish officials ruling through lower-level officials made up of Native Americans who dealt directly with the indigenous population. This system lasted for almost 200 years.



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