POLC99 Lecture 2 – January 11
Latin America in Historical + Political Perspectives
Pre-colonial Society and Power Structures
-Southern Mexico and Guatemala. They had independent city-states with
major cities. King, nobles and priest on top and common people on the
-Organization was top-down and authoritarian. Known for scientific
accomplishments such as mathematics, astronomy, they invented the
-We never really know what happened but it’s thought that invading tribes
from the north destroyed the Maya civilization.
-Mexico’s central valley. Displaced Toltecs who were displaced and attacked
-Known for their military power. Major city was Tenochtitlan in 1325.
-Organization was rigidly stratified, centralized power. Slaves at the bottom
and hereditary lords at the top. Rulers ruled despotically.
-Andes of South America with the heart in today’s Peru. Ran from Colombia to
Peru. They invited the local nobles and getting their support and then
integrated their tribes into Incas. Inca was a semi-god (Inti). Incas were
known for empire building.
-Organization: highly centralized bureaucracy. They were able to command a
-The Amazon Rainforest: hunter-gatherers, nomadic societies.
-Mapuche people of Southern Chile. They have territorial identities. They did
not have a centralized power structure; hence they were impossible to
conquer for conquistadors.
-Spain signed an agreement with the Mapuche people in 1641 recognizing
Mapuche territory below the Biobío River.
-Mapuche were never conquered until Chile became independent from Spain
in 1810 when Chile forced Mapuche people off of their land into reserves.
Conquest + Colonial Society
Hernan Cortes arrived in Mexico in 1519. Francisco Pizarro arrived in Peru in 1532.
POLC99 Lecture 2 – January 11
-30—70 million people were killed on the onset from disease and conflicts
-Conquistadors infiltrated the power structure by removing the leaders of
Incas, Mayas and Aztecs and installing loyal people instead.
How can 700 Spaniards subdue 70 million people?
-Superior military armaments (firepower, horses, etc) and technology
-Disease from Europe
-Alliances against competing indigenous groups: divide and conquer
-Malinche: A Nahua (Aztec) woman was captured by Mayans and was
presented as a slave to Hernan Cortes and came to be a mistress and
interpreter, adviser and intermediary between the groups. Her child was the
first Métis (Spanish and Indigenous).
-Spaniards and the Portuguese had honed their fighting skills in the 700-year
conquest of Iberia (Spain and Portugal connected through he Iberia
-Spaniards as gods or semi-gods and were initially reluctant to destroy them.
-Indigenous peoples were used to be brutalized and ruled by a despotic leader.
They were used to being at the very bottom of the pyramid so it didn’t shake
up their every day lives all that much. They were used to being obedient and
reluctant to resist due to rigid hierarchical structure of power.
Legacies of Colonial Society
-The changing face of people in Latin America. 3 ethnic groups: indigenous
peoples, Africans and Europeans.
•Europeans at the top: 2%
•Peninsulares: white born in Europe (Spain/Portugal)
•Criollos/creoles: whites born in the new world
•Mestizos: Indigenous and European ancestry
•Mulatto: African and European ancestry, they were considered even
worse than pure Africans since they inherited the worst of genes.
•Indigenous and African: 95%.
Contemporary Latin America
-Upper class: 5%—10% (descendants of the Europeans)
-Middle Class: 10%—25% (mixed ancestry, immigrants from other countries)
-Lower Class: 65%—85% (Mulato, Africans).
-Your status is largely determined by your race. You can whiten yourself by
becoming an actor or a soccer star, by attaining status in society, fame
through the military, etc.