Slavery in Latin America
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Slavery in Latin America was practiced in precolonial times.
During the Atlantic slave trade, Latin America was the main destination of millions of African people transported from Africa to French, Portuguese, and Spanish colonies. Slavery was a cornerstone of the Spanish Casta system, and its legacy is the presence of large Afro-Latino populations.
After the gradual emancipation of most black slaves, slavery continued along the Pacific coast of South America throughout the 19th century, as Peruvian slave traders kidnapped Polynesians, primarily from the Marquesas Islands and Easter Island and forced them to perform physical labour in mines and in the guano industry of Peru and Chile.
Encomienda (Spanish pronunciation: [eŋkoˈmjenda]) was a labor system in Spain and its empire. It rewarded conquerors with the labor of particular groups of subject people. It was first established in Spain during the Roman period, but used also following the Christian conquest of Muslim territories. It was applied on a much larger scale during the Spanish colonization of the Americas and the Philippines. Conquered peoples were considered vassals of the Spanish monarch. The Crown awarded an encomienda as a grant to a particular individual. In the conquest era of the sixteenth century, the grants were considered to be a monopoly on the labor of particular groups of Indians, held in perpetuity by the grant holder, called the encomendero, and his descendants.
With the ouster of Christopher Columbus, the Spanish crown sent a royal governor, Fray Nicolás de Ovando, who established the formal encomienda system. In many cases natives were forced to do hard labor and subjected to extreme punishment and death if they resisted. However, Queen Isabella of Castile forbade Indian slavery and deemed the indigenous to be "free vassals of the crown". Various versions of the Leyes de Indias or Laws of the Indies from 1512 onwards attempted to regulate the interactions between the settlers and natives. Both natives and Spaniards appealed to the Real Audiencias for relief under the encomienda system.
The encomienda system brought many indigenous Taíno to work in the fields and mines in exchange for Spanish protection, education, and a seasonal salary. Under the pretense of searching for gold and other materials, many Spaniards took advantage of the regions now under control of the anaborios and Spanish encomenderos to exploit the native population by seizing their land and wealth. It would take some time before the Taíno revolted against their oppressors — both Indian and Spanish alike — and many military campaigns before Emperor Charles V eradicated the encomienda system as a form of slavery. Raphael Lemkin (coiner of the term genocide) considers Spain's abuses of the Native population of the Americas to constitute cultural and even outright genocide including the abuses of the Encomienda system. He described slavery as "cultural genocide par excellence" noting "it is the most effective and thorough method of destroying culture, of desocializing human beings." He considers colonist guilty due to failing to halt the abuses of the system despite royal orders. Recent research suggests that the spread of old-world disease appears to have been aggravated by the extreme climatic conditions of the time and by the poor living conditions and harsh treatment of the native people under the encomienda system of New Spain.
Enslaved Africans in Latin America
The African presence in Latin America had an effect on the culture across Latin America. Black slaves arrived in the Americas during the early stages of exploration and settlement. By the first decades of the sixteenth century they were commonly participating in Spain's military expeditions.
Marriage was allowed in some areas and some slaves were taught to read and write. Colonial Brazil had the highest recorded number of legal marriages among slaves in Latin America.
While most slaves were baptized upon arrival to the New World, the Catholic Church did come to the defense of slaves. Some brotherhoods raised money to purchase the freedom of some of their slave members. Although the church owned slaves themselves, they never embraced the racist justifications for slavery so common among Protestant denominations in the United States.
According to the television series, Black in Latin America, The territories that later constituted Mexico and Peru combined as part of the New Spain, imported more African slaves than the United States. Between 1502 and 1866, of the 11.2 million Africans, only 388,000 arrived in the United States, while the rest arrived in Latin America and the Caribbean These slaves were brought as early as the 16th and 17th centuries. The evidence of the African population is not readily apparent due to the mixing of the indigenous population, Africans, and European peoples and the early inception of African slaves into the Mexican society. According to Henry Louis Gates, Jr.'s film on the slave trade in Mexico, the integration of African peoples was so pervasive that every Mexican has an "African grandma hiding in their closet." The slaves would be forced to work in mines and plantations. Today, the most African communities live in coastal towns, "Vera Cruz on the Gulf of Mexico, the Costa Chica region on the Pacific".
Slavery in the Countryside
Over 70 percent of slaves in Latin American worked on sugar cane plantations due to the importance of this crop to economies there at the time. Slaves also worked in the production of tobacco, rice, cotton, fruit, corn and other commodities. The majority of slaves brought to the Americas from Africa were men due to the fact
plantation owners needed brute strength for the physical labor that was done in the fields. However women were brought to the Caribbean islands to provide labor as well. Female slaves were often responsible for cutting cane, fertilized plants, fed can stalks in mill grinders, tended garden vegetables, and looked after children. Men cut cane and worked in mills. They also worked as carpenters, blacksmiths, drivers, etc. In some cases they were even part of the plantations militia.
Atlantic Slave Trade- Brazil, French Caribbean, and Spanish America
During the nearly four centuries in which slavery existed in the Americas, Brazil was responsible for importing 35 percent of the slaves from Africa (4 million) while Spanish America imported about 20 percent (2.5 million) all during the Atlantic Slave Trade. These numbers are significantly higher than the imported slaves of the United States (less than 5 percent). High death rates, an enormous number of runaway slaves, and greater levels of manumission(granting a slave freedom) meant that Latin America and Caribbean societies had fewer slaves than the United States at any given time. However they made up a higher percentage of the population throughout the colonial period. This being said, the upper class of these societies constantly feared for uprising among not only slaves but Indians and the poor of all racial ethnic groups.
Slavery and the Catholic Church
As far back as 1537 Pope Paul III condemned slavery in the New World writing,
the said Indians and all other people who may later be discovered by Christians, are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property, even though they be outside the faith of Jesus Christ; and that they may and should, freely and legitimately, enjoy their liberty and the possession of their property; nor should they be in any way enslaved— Pope Paul III, "Sublimus Dei", NewAdvent.org (accessed 30 June 2018)
In addition to its consistent opposition to indigenous slavery in Latin America, the Catholic Church also condemned the enslavement of Africans. In 1839 Pope Gregory XVI once again denounced the slave trade, concluding his apostolic letter by saying,
We reprove, then, by virtue of Our Apostolic Authority, all the practices abovementioned as absolutely unworthy of the Christian name. By the same Authority We prohibit and strictly forbid any Ecclesiastic or lay person from presuming to defend as permissible this traffic in Blacks under no matter what pretext or excuse, or from publishing or teaching in any manner whatsoever, in public or privately, opinions contrary to what We have set forth in this Apostolic Letter.— Pope Gregory XVI, "In Supremo Apostolatus", NewAdvent.org (accessed 30 June 2018)
When slavery persisted, once again Pope Leo XIII wrote to African missionaries in 1890 saying about "this evil institution",
As you know, venerable brother, the Church from the beginning sought to completely eliminate slavery, whose wretched yoke has oppressed many people. [...] How horrible it is to recall that almost four hundred thousand Africans of every age and sex are forcefully taken away each year from their villages! [...] Wherever Christian customs and laws are in force, wherever religion establishes that men serve justice and honor human dignity, wherever the spirit of brotherly love taught by Christ spreads itself, there neither slavery nor savage barbarism can exist.— Pope Pius XIII, "Catholicae Ecclesiae", NewAdvent.org (accessed 30 June 2018)
A second revival of slavery took place after the discovery of the New World by the Spaniards in 1492. To give the history of it would be to exceed the limits of this article. It will be sufficient to recall the efforts of Las Casas in behalf of the aborigines of America and the protestations of popes against the enslavement of those aborigines and the traffic in negro slaves. [...] in 1462, Pius II declared slavery to be "a great crime" (magnum scelus); that, in 1537, Paul III forbade the enslavement of the Indians; that Urban VIII forbade it in 1639, and Benedict XIV in 1741; that Pius VII demanded of the Congress of Vienna, in 1815, the suppression of the slave trade and Gregory XVI condemned it in 1839; that, in the Bull of Canonization of the Jesuit Peter Claver, one of the most illustrious adversaries of slavery, Pius IX branded the "supreme villainy" (summum nefas) of the slave traders. [...] Leo XIII, in 1888, addressed [a letter] to the Brazilian bishops, exhorting them to banish from their country the remnants of slavery — a letter to which the bishops responded with their most energetic efforts, and some generous slave-owners by freeing their slaves in a body, as in the first ages of the Church.— Paul Allard, "Slavery and Christianity.", NewAdvent.org (accessed 30 June 2018)
During the deportation of Yaqui under the Porfiriato the Mexican government established large concentration camps at San Marcos, where the remaining Yaqui families were broken up and segregated. Individuals were then sold into slavery inside the station and packed into train cars which took them to Veracruz, where they were embarked yet again for the port town of Progreso in the Yucatán. There they were transported to their final destination, the nearby henequen plantations.
By 1908, at least 5,000 Yaqui had been sold into slavery. At Valle Nacional, the enslaved Yaquis were worked until they died. While there were occasional escapes, the escapees were far from home and, without support or assistance, most died of hunger while begging for food on the road out of the valley toward Córdoba. At Guaymas, thousands more Yaquis were put on boats and shipped to San Blas, where they were forced to walk more than 200 miles to San Marcos and its train station. Many women and children could not withstand the three-week journey over the mountains, and their bodies were left by the side of the road. Yaquis (particularly children) were rattled off in Train cars to be sold as slaves in this process having 1/3 die simply in the process of deportation. The deaths were mostly caused by unfettered smallpox epidemics.
On the plantations, the Yaquis were forced to work in the tropical climate of the area from dawn to dusk. Yaqui women were allowed to marry only non-native Chinese workers. Given little food, the workers were beaten if they failed to cut and trim at least 2,000 henequen leaves per day, after which they were then locked up every night. Most of the Yaqui men, women and children sent for slave labor on the plantations died there, with two-thirds of the arrivals dying within a year. The Haciendas have been compared to those of the Stalinist Gulags.
The Amazon Rubber Boom and the associated need for a large workforce had a significant negative effect on the indigenous population across Brazil, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. As rubber plantations grew, labor shortages increased. The owners of the plantations or rubber barons were rich, but those who collected the rubber made very little as a large amount of rubber was needed to be profitable. The rubber barons rounded up all the Indians and forced them to tap rubber out of the trees. One plantation started with 50,000 Indians but, when discovered, only 8,000 were still alive. Slavery and systematic brutality were widespread, and in some areas, 90% of the Indian population was wiped out. These rubber plantations were part of the Brazilian rubber market, which declined as rubber plantations in Southeast Asia became more effective.
Roger Casement, an Irishman traveling the Putumayo region of Peru as a British consul during 1910–1911 documented the abuse, slavery, murder and use of stocks for torture against the native Indians:
"The crimes charged against many men now in the employ of the Peruvian Amazon Company are of the most atrocious kind, including murder, violation, and constant flogging."
According to Wade Davis, author of One River:
"The horrendous atrocities that were unleashed on the Indian people of the Amazon during the height of the rubber boom were like nothing that had been seen since the first days of the Spanish Conquest."
Rubber had catastrophic effects in parts of Upper Amazonia, but its impact should not be exaggerated nor extrapolated to the whole region. The Putumayo was a particularly horrific case. Many nearby rubber regions were not ruled by physical violence, but by the voluntary compliance implicit in patron-peon relations. Some native peoples benefited financially from their dealings with the white merchants. Others chose not to participate in the rubber business and stayed away from the main rivers. Because tappers worked in near complete isolation, they were not burdened by overseers and timetables. In Brazil (and probably elsewhere) tappers could, and did, adulterate rubber cargoes, by adding sand and flour to the rubber "balls", before sending them downriver. Flight into the thicket was a successful survival strategy and, because Indians were engaged in credit relations, it was a relatively common practice to vanish and work for other patrons, leaving debts unpaid.
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