History of Peru

THE COLONIAL PERIOD, 1550-1824

Demographic Collapse

Throughout the Americas, the impact of the Spanish conquest and subsequent colonization was to bring about a cataclysmic demographic collapse of the indigenous population. The Andes would be no exception. Even before the appearance of Francisco Pizarro on the Peruvian coast, the lethal diseases that had been introduced into the Americas with the arrival of the Spaniards-- smallpox, malaria, measles, typhus, influenza, and even the common cold--had spread to South America and begun to wreak havoc throughout Tawantinsuyu. Indeed, the death of Huayna Cápac and his legitimate son and heir, Ninan Cuyoche, which touched off the disastrous dynastic struggles between Huáscar and Atahualpa, is believed to have been the result of a smallpox or measles epidemic that struck in 1530-31.

With an estimated population of 9 to 16 million people prior to the arrival of the Europeans, Peru's population forty years later was reduced on average by about 80 percent, generally higher on the coast than in the highlands. The chronicler Pedro de Cieza de Leon, who traveled over much of Peru during this period, was particularly struck by the extent of the depopulation along the coast. "The inhabitants of this valley [Chincha, south of Lima]," he wrote, "were so numerous that many Spaniards say that when it was conquered by the Marquis [Pizarro] and themselves, there were ... more than 25,000 men, and I doubt that there are now 5,000, so many have been the inroads and hardships they have suffered." Demographic anthropologists Henry F. Dobyns and Paul L. Doughty have estimated that the native American population fell to about 8.3 million by 1548 and to around 2.7 million in 1570. Unlike Mexico, where the population stabilized at the end of the seventeenth century, it did not reach its nadir in Peru until the latter part of the eighteenth century, after the great epidemic of 1719.

War, exploitation, socioeconomic change, and the generalized psychological trauma of conquest all combined to reinforce the main contributor to the demise of the native peoples--epidemic disease. Isolated from the old world for millennia and therefore lacking immunities, the Andean peoples were defenseless to the introduction of the deadly viruses by the Europeans. Numerous killer pandemics swept down from the north, laying waste to entire communities. Occurring one after the other in roughly tenyear intervals during the sixteenth century (1525, 1546, 1558-59, 1585), these epidemics did not allow the population time to recover, while impairing its ability to reproduce itself.

The Colonial Economy

With the discovery of the great silver lodes at Potosí in Perú Alto (Upper Peru--present-day Bolivia) in 1545 and mercury at Huancavelica in 1563, Peru became what historian Frederick B. Pike describes as "Spain's great treasure house in South America." As a result, the axis of the colonial economy began to move away from the direct expropriation of Incan wealth and production to sustain the initial Spanish population through the encomienda system to the extraction of mineral wealth. The population at Potosí in the high Andes reached its apogee in 1650 at about 160,000, making it one of the largest cities in the Western world at the time. In its first ten years, according to Alexander von Humboldt, Potosí produced some 127 million pesos, which fueled for a time the Habsburg war machine and Spanish hegemonic political pretensions in Europe. Silver from Potosí also dynamized and helped to develop an internal economy of production and exchange that encompassed not only the northern highlands, but also the Argentine pampa, the Central Valley of Chile, and coastal Peru and Ecuador. The main "growth pole" of this vast "economic space," as historian Carlos Assadourian Sempat calls it, was the Lima-Potosí axis, which served as centers of urban concentration, market demand, strategic commodity flows (silver exports and European imports), and inflated prices.

If Potosí silver production was the mainspring of this economic system, Lima was its hub. "The city of the Kings" (Los Reyes) had been founded by Pizarro as the capital of the new viceroyalty in 1535 in order to reorient trade, commerce, and power away from the Andes toward imperial Spain and Europe. As the outlet for silver bullion on the Pacific, Lima and its nearby port, Callao, also received and redistributed the manufactured goods from the metropolis for the growing settlements along the growth pole. The two-way flow of imports and exports through Lima concentrated both wealth and administration, public and private, in the city. As a result, Lima became the headquarters for estate owners and operators, merchants connecting their Andean trading operations with sources of supply in Spain, and all types of service providers, from artisans to lawyers, who needed access to the system in a central place. Not far behind came the governmental and church organizations established to administer the vast viceroyalty. Finally, once population, commerce, and administration interacted, major cultural institutions such as a university, a printing press, and theater followed suit.

The great architect of this colonial system was Francisco Toledo y Figueroa, who arrived in Lima in 1569, when its population was 2,500, and served as viceroy until 1581. Toledo, one of Madrid's ablest administrators and diplomats, worked to expand the state, increase silver production, and generally reorganize the economy by instituting a series of major reforms during his tenure.

Native communities (ayllus) were concentrated into poorly located colonial settlements called to facilitate administration and the conversion of the native Americans to Christianity. The Incaic mita system was shifted from performing public works or military service to supplying compulsory labor for the mines and other key sectors of the economy and state. Finally, various fiscal schemes, such as the tribute tax to be paid in coin and the forced purchase of Spanish merchandise, were levied on the indigenous population in order to force or otherwise induce it into the new monetary economy as "free wage" workers. In these, as in many other instances, the Spaniards used whatever elements of the Andean political, social, and economic superstructure that served their purposes and unhesitatingly modified or discarded those that did not.

As a result of these and other changes, the Spaniards and their creole successors came to monopolize control over the land, seizing many of the best lands abandoned by the massive native depopulation. Gradually, the land tenure system became polarized. One sector consisted of the large haciendas, worked by native peasant serfs in a variety of labor arrangements and governed by their new overlords according to hybrid Andean forms of Iberian paternalism. The other sector was made up of remnants of the essentially subsistence-based indigenous communities that persisted and endured. This left Peru with a legacy of one of the most unequal landholding arrangements in all of Latin America and a formidable obstacle to later development and modernization.

Colonial Administration

The expansion of a colonial administrative apparatus and bureaucracy paralleled the economic reorganization. The viceroyalty was divided into audiences, which were further subdivided into provinces or districts and finally municipalities, which included a city or town, governed by town councils cabildos, composed of the most prominent citizens, mostly encomenderos in the early years and later hacendados.

The most important royal official was the viceroy, who had a host of responsibilities ranging from general administration (particularly tax collection and construction of public works) and internal and external defense to support of the church and protection of the native population. He was surrounded by a number of other judicial, ecclesiastical, and treasury officials, who also reported to the Council of the Indies, the main governing body located in Spain. This configuration of royal officials, along with an official review of his tenure called the residencia, served as a check on viceregal power.

In the early years of the conquest, the crown was particularly concerned with preventing the conquistadors or encomenderos from establishing themselves as a feudal aristocracy capable of thwarting royal interests. Therefore, it moved quickly to quell the civil disturbances that had racked Peru immediately after the conquest and to decree the New Laws of 1542, which deprived the encomenderos and their heirs of their rights to native American goods and services.

The early administrative functions of the encomenderos over the indigenous population (protection and Christianization) were taken over by new state-appointed officials called correqidores de indios. They were charged at the provincial level with the administration of justice, control of commercial relations between native Americans and Spaniards, and the collection of the tribute tax. The corregidores (Spanish magistrates) were assisted by curacas, members of the native elite, who had been used by the conquerors from the very beginning as mediators between the native population and the Europeans. Over time the corregidores used their office to accumulate wealth and power to dominate rural society, establishing mutual alliances with local and regional elites such as the curacas, native American functionaries, municipal officials, rural priests (doctrineros), landowners, merchants, miners, and others, as well as native and mestizo subordinates.

As the crown's political authority was consolidated in the second half of the sixteenth century, so too was its ability to regulate and control the colonial economy. Operating according to the mercantilistic strictures of the times, the crown sought to maximize investment in valuable export production, such as silver and later other mineral and agricultural commodities, while supplying the new colonial market with manufactured imports, so as to create a favorable balance of trade for the metropolis. However, the tightly regulated trading monopoly, headquartered in Seville, was not always able to provision the colonies effectively. Assadorian shows that most urban and mining demand, particularly among the laboring population, was met by internal Andean production (rough-hewn clothing, foodstuffs, yerba mate tea, chicha beer, and the like) from haciendas, indigenous communities, and textile factories. According to him, the value of these Andean products amounted to fully 60 to 70 percent of the value of silver exports and elite imports linking Peru and Europe. In any case, the crown was successful in managing the colonial export economy through the development of a bureaucratic and interventionist state, characterized by a plethora of mercantilistic rules that regulated the conduct of business and commerce. In doing so, Spain left both a mercantilist and export-oriented pattern and legacy of "development" in the Andes that has survived up to the present day, and which remains a problem of contemporary underdevelopment.

The Colonial Church

The crown, as elsewhere in the Americas, worked to solidify the Andean colonial order in tandem with the church to which it was tied by royal patronage dating from the late fifteenth century. Having accompanied Francisco Pizarro and his force during the conquest, the Roman Catholic friars proceeded zealously to carry out their mission to convert the indigenous peoples to Christianity. In this endeavor, the church came to play an important role in the acculturation of the natives, drawing them into the cultural orbit of the Spanish settlers. It also waged a constant war to extirpate native religious beliefs. Such efforts met with only partial success, as the syncretic nature of Andean Roman Catholicism today attests. With time, however, the evangelical mission of the church gave way to its regular ecclesiastical endeavors of ministering to the growing Spanish and creole population.

By the end of the century, the church was beginning to acquire important financial assets, particularly bequests of land and other wealth, that would consolidate its position as the most important economic power during the colonial period. At the same time, it assumed the primary role of educator, welfare provider, and, through the institution of the Inquisition, guardian of orthodoxy throughout the viceroyalty. Together, the church-state partnership served to consolidate and solidify the crown authority in Peru that, despite awesome problems of distance, rough terrain, and slow communications, endured almost three centuries of continuous and relatively stable rule.

Silver production, meanwhile, began to enter into a prolonged period of decline in the seventeenth century. This decline also slowed the important transatlantic trade while diminishing the importance of Lima as the economic hub of the viceregal economy. Annual silver output at Potosí, for example, fell in value from a little over 7 million pesos in 1600 to almost 4.5 million pesos in 1650 and finally to just under 2 million pesos in 1700. Falling silver production, the declining transatlantic trade, and the overall decline of Spain itself during the seventeenth century have long been interpreted by historians as causing a prolonged depression both in the viceroyalties of Peru and New Spain. However, economic historian Kenneth J. Andrien has challenged this view, maintaining that the Peruvian economy, rather than declining, underwent a major transition and restructuring. After silver production and the transatlantic trade eroded the export economy, they were replaced by more diversified, regionalized, and autonomous development of the agricultural and manufacturing sectors. Merchants, miners, and producers simply shifted their investments and entrepreneurial activities away from mining and the transatlantic trade into internal production and import-substituting opportunities, a trend already visible on a small scale by the end of the previous century. The result was a surprising degree of regional diversification that stabilized the viceregal economy during the seventeenth century.

This economic diversification was marked by the rise and expansion of the great estates or haciendas that were carved out of abandoned native land as a result of the demographic collapse. The precipitous decline of the native population was particularly severe along the coast and had the effect of opening up the fertile bottom lands of the river valleys to Spanish immigrants eager for land and farming opportunities. A variety of crops were raised: sugar and cotton along the northern coast; wheat and grains in the central valleys; grapes, olives, and sugar along the entire coast. The highlands, depending on geographic and climatic conditions, underwent a similar hacienda expansion and diversification of production. There, coca, potatoes, livestock, and other indigenous products were raised in addition to some coastal crops, such as sugar and cereals.

This transition toward internal diversification in the colony also included early manufacturing, although not to the extent of agrarian production. Textile manufacturing flourished in Cusco, Cajamarca, and Quito to meet popular demand for rough-hewn cotton and woolen garments. A growing intercolonial trade along the Pacific Coast involved the exchange of Peruvian and Mexican silver for oriental silks and porcelain. In addition, Arequipa and then Nazca and Ica became known for the production of fine wines and brandies. And throughout the viceroyalty, small-scale artisan industries supplied a range of lower-cost goods only sporadically available from Spain and Europe, which were now mired in the seventeenth-century depression.

If economic regionalization and diversification worked to stabilize the colonial economy during the seventeenth century, the benefits of such a trend did not, as it turned out, accrue to Madrid. The crown had derived enormous revenues from silver production and the transatlantic trade, which it was able to tax and collect relatively easily. The decline in silver production caused a precipitous fall in crown revenue, particularly in the second half of the seventeenth century. For example, revenue remittances to Spain dropped from an annual average of almost 1.5 million pesos in the 1630s to less than 128,000 pesos by the 1680s. The crown tried to restructure the tax system to conform to the new economic realities of seventeenth-century colonial production but was rebuffed by the recalcitrance of emerging local elites. They tenaciously resisted any new local levies on their production, while building alliances of mutual convenience and gain with local crown officials to defend their vested interests.

The situation further deteriorated, from the perspective of Spain, when Madrid began in 1633 to sell royal offices to the highest bidder, enabling self-interested creoles to penetrate and weaken the royal bureaucracy. The upshot was not only a sharp decline in vital crown revenues from Peru during the century, which further contributed to the decline of Spain itself, but an increasing loss of royal control over local creole oligarchies throughout the viceroyalty. Lamentably, the sale of public offices also had longer-term implications. The practice weakened any notion of disinterested public service and infused into the political culture the corrosive idea that office-holding was an opportunity for selfish, private gain rather than for the general public good.

If the economy of the viceroyalty reached a certain steady state during the seventeenth century, its population continued to decline. Estimated at around 3 million in 1650, the population of the viceroyalty finally reached its nadir at a little over 1 million inhabitants in 1798. It rose sharply to almost 2.5 million inhabitants by 1825. The 1792 census indicated an ethnic composition of 13 percent Spaniards, 56 percent native American, and 27 percent castas (mestizos), the latter category the fastest-growing group because of both acculturation and miscegenation between Spaniards and natives.

Demographic expansion and the revival of silver production, which had fallen sharply at the end of the seventeenth century, promoted a period of gradual economic growth from 1730 to 1770. The pace of growth then picked up in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, partly as a result of the so-called Bourbon reforms of 1764, named after a branch of the ruling French Bourbon family that ascended to the Spanish throne after the death of the last Habsburg in 1700.

In the second half of the eighteenth century, particularly during the reign of Charles III (1759-1788), Spain turned its reform efforts to Spanish America in a concerted effort to increase the revenue flow from its American empire. The aims of the program were to centralize and improve the structure of government, to create more efficient economic and financial machinery, and to defend the empire from foreign powers. For Peru, perhaps the most far-reaching change was the creation of a new viceroyalty in the Río de la Plata (River Plate) region in 1776 that radically altered the geopolitical and economic balance in South America. Upper Peru was detached administratively from the old Viceroyalty of Peru, so that profits from Potosí no longer flowed to Lima and Lower Peru, but to Buenos Aires. With the rupture of the old Lima-Potosí circuit, Lima suffered an inevitable decline in prosperity and prestige, as did the southern highlands (Cusco, Arequipa, and Puno). The viceregal capital's status declined further from the general measures to introduce free trade within the empire. These measures stimulated the economic development of peripheral areas in northern South America (Venezuela) and southern South America (Argentina), ending Lima's former monopoly of South American trade.

As a result of these and other changes, the economic axis of Peru shifted northward to the central and northern Sierra and central coast. These areas benefited from the development of silver mining, particularly at Cerro de Pasco, which was spurred by a series of measures taken by the Bourbons to modernize and revitalize the industry. However, declining trade and production in the south, together with a rising tax burden levied by the Bourbon state, which fell heavily on the native peasantry, set the stage for the massive native American revolt that erupted with the Túpac Amaru rebellion in 1780-82.

Indigenous Rebellions

An upsurge in native discontent and rebellion had actually begun to occur in the eighteenth century. To survive their brutal subjugation, the indigenous peoples had early on adopted a variety of strategies but were never as passive as portrayed in the scholarly literature until recently. To endure, the native Americans did indeed have to adapt to Spanish domination. As often as not, however, they found ways of asserting their own interests.

After the conquest, the crown had assumed from the Incas patrimony over all native land, which it granted in usufruct to indigenous community families, in exchange for tribute payments and mita labor services. This system became the basis for a long-lasting alliance between the colonial state and the native communities, bolstered over the years by the elaboration of a large body of protective legislation. Crown officials, such as the corregidores de indios, were charged with the responsibility of protecting natives from abuse at the hands of the colonists, particularly the alienation of their land to private landholders. Nevertheless, the colonists and their native allies, the curacas, often in collusion with the corregidores and local priests, found ways of circumventing crown laws and gaining control of native American lands and labor. To counter such exploitation and to conserve their historical rights to the land, many native American leaders shrewdly resorted to the legal system. Litigation did not always suffice, of course, and Andean history is full of desperate native peasant rebellions.

The pace of these uprisings increased dramatically in the eighteenth century, with five in the 1740s, eleven in the 1750s, twenty in the 1760s, and twenty in the 1770s. Their underlying causes were largely economic. Land was becoming increasingly scarce in the communities because of illegal purchases by unscrupulous colonists at a time when the indigenous population was once again growing after the long, postconquest demographic decline. At the same time, the native peasantry felt the brunt of higher taxes levied by the crown, part of the general reform program initiated by Madrid in the second half of the eighteenth century. These increased tax burdens came at a time when the highland elite--corregidores, priests, curacas, and Hispanicized native landholders--was itself increasing the level of surplus extracted from the native American peasant economy. According to historian Nils P. Jacobsen, this apparent tightening of the colonial "screw" during the eighteenth century led to the "over-exploitation" of the native peasantry and the ensuing decades of indigenous rebellions.

The culmination of this protest came in 1780 when José Gabriel Condorcanqui, a wealthy curaca and mestizo descendant of Inca ancestors who sympathized with the oppressed native peasantry, seized and executed a notoriously abusive corregidor near Cusco. Condorcanqui raised a ragtag army of tens of thousands of natives, castas, and even a few dissident creoles, assuming the name Túpac Amaru II after the last Inca, to whom he was related. Drawing on a rising tide of Andean millenarianism and nativism, Túpac Amaru II raised the specter of some kind of return to a mythic Incaic past among the indigenous masses at a time of increased economic hardship.

Captured by royalist forces in 1781, Condorcanqui was brought to trial and, like his namesake, cruelly executed, along with several relatives, in the main plaza in Cusco, as a warning to others. The rebellion continued, however, and even expanded into the Altiplano around Lake Titicaca under the leadership of his brother, Diego Cristóbal Túpac Amaru. It was finally suppressed in 1782, and in the following years the authorities undertook to carry out some of the reforms that the two native leaders had advocated.

Peru History Contents

SOURCE: Area Handbook of the US Library of Congress