LECTURE 2 – Jan. 17
Latin America + Political Perspectives
TOPICS FOR TODAY
1)Pre-colonial society+ power structures
2)Conquest and colonial society
3)Independence to present day
“I came to get gold, not till the soil like a peasant” – Hernan Cortes, Conqueror of Mexico,
1)Pre-colonial society + power structures
Maya, Aztec and Inca (5-7 million people each). Their history is constantly being
revised as we learn more.
Location: Southern Mexico – Guatemala
Organization: Top down and authoritarian.
Known for: Scientific accomplishments
Location: Mexico’s central valley region
Known for: military prowess, main capital cities.
Tenochtitlan: Now Mexico City (over 300 000 residents)
Organization: rigidly stratified, centralized power, absolute power at the top.
Location: Andes of south America
Known for: empire building
Inca -> semi-god, descendent of the sun god Int’
Organization: highly centralized bureaucracy
Location: eg. Hunter and gatherer societies such as groups in the Amazonian rainforest and
Mapuche people of southern Chile.
Organization: Horizontal, based on kinship groupings.
Known for: successful resistance against Spanish colonization; 1641 treaty between Spain
and the Mapuche
2)Conquest and Colonial Society
30-70 million natives people prior to conquest
700 spanish soldiers vs. 70 million natives
How did they do it?
1)Spaniards had latest armaments and technology (swords, horses, armour, etc.)
2)Now defunct: indigenous peoples saw the Spaniards as demi-gods.
3)Diseases eg. Smallpox (half of indigenous died from the conquest; mainly from
4)Spanish and Portuguese had honed their fighting skills in the 700 year reconquest of
Iberia from the Moors
5)Hierarchical and cruel nature of pre-conquest politics lead society to initially accept
6)Spaniards obtained allies among competing native groups
Malinche: a Nahua (Aztec) women enslaved by Mayas and presented to Cortez.
Was Cortez’s interpreter, advisor and mistress.
Colonial Society Legacies (1500-1800s)
Indigenous peoples, Europeans and Africans
Europeans were 2% of colonial population; Peninsulares (whites born in Spain),
Criollos or Creoles (whites born in Latin America)