Latin America: A Legacy of Oppression

Latin America: A Legacy of Oppression
When the Europeans first arrived in Latin America, they didn’t realize the immensity of their actions. As history has proven, the Europeans have imposed many things on the Latin American territory have had a long, devastating effect on the indigenous people. In the centuries after 1492, Europeans would control much of South America and impose a foreign culture upon the already established civilizations that existed before their arrival. These imposed ideas left the continent weak and resulted in the loss of culture, the dependence on European countries, and a long standing ethnic tension between natives and settlers which is evident even to this day. The indigenous people of South America, which included the Aztec, Olmec, and the Maya cultures of Central America and the Inca of South America, had developed complex civilizations, which made use of calendars, mathematics, writing, astronomy, the arts, and architecture. Unfortunately for them, the Europeans cared little about the culture they would be obliterating, and cared more about their own ulterior motives.

Before the influence of the Europeans, the different tribes scattered throughout Latin America would be viewed by “western” standards as somewhat barbaric. The European friars were horrified by native practices and felt obligated to “eliminate” them. (Gibson 72) An extremely Christianized view of the natives was formed which viewed them as ignorant pagans. Some accounts reported that, “The natives were so savage and stupid as to be beyond belief. For the say, these early tribes were bestial, and that many ate human flesh; others taking their mothers and daughters for their wives, besides committing other great sins, having much
intercourse with the devil, who they served and held in high esteem”(Hanson 29). This extremely biased thinking was common in the era of colonization among settled Europeans and sparked a crusade of Christianity on the aboriginal tribes to “westernize” their civilizations. The Europeans felt free to do this because they “found no native tradition worth preserving and where the Indian element was absorbed almost imperceptibly into the alien” (Salas 42). The European powers hid
under a veil of Christianity to gain support for the underlying atrocities they were committing to the people of Latin America. The European government’s main goal was inspired by greed and jealousy. According to a National Geographic article, “The South American countries did not have the same happy chances. The greed for gold and the race for El Dorado were the main inducements of the Spaniards who, at the peril of their lives, crossed the ocean in unfit vessels in a mad pursuit after the gold and all other precious property of the Indians” (Peace 479). The royal rulers of Spain made it a rule that nothing would jeopardize their ability to rob the land from the native people of Latin America. The missionary process, “had to be encouraged, but the missionaries could not be permitted to dominate the colony at the cost of royal rule” (Gibson 76). The European governments established missionaries to cleanse their minds of any guilt aroused by the slaughtering of innocent men, women, and children. When European “ships arrived in the 16th century to colonize the land and exploit its natural resources, they killed indigenous people and brought black slaves from Africa. Millions of indigenous people were slain and their cultures completely destroyed by the process of colonization” (Ribero). The overall devastations caused by the Christianization of the native inhabitants created a blend of cultures within the indigenous civilizations which gradually isolated old native ways into a small population of oppressed people. The Christianized people became a symbol of loyalty to the European powers and were left alone simply on their religious status. This long term mission of total religious replacement caused very strong and advanced civilizations to be destroyed and replaced by an overbearing
European presence. Mariano Picon-Salas states that, “From the very beginning of colonial history the ruling class imposed an ornate style of urban existence despite the poverty and backwardness of the locality” (44). Once this ruling European presence pulled out of Latin America, the developing need for the presence became evident.

After the Christianization of native Latin America, the general population had moved away from indigenous traditions and more towards European cultural aspects which caused a great dependency on European countries. “The economic system that elite Latin Americans obviously associated with progress was European capitalism” (Burns 9). One part of this dependency included an unjust economical system based on Capitalistic trade with European countries. One periodical described the economic system of the time as, “an unbalanced and asymmetrical system. It is based on monopolies sustained by dominant groups and nations” (Ribeiro). In this case, the dominant nations would include England, Spain, and Portugal and their victims would be the collective native people of Latin America. The same article continues to say, “As far as homogenized powers enforce readjustment on the powerless around market dealings, it is evident that coercion is exercised by the strongest on the weak” (Ribeiro). Through this unbalanced economic system, European countries kept Latin America on the line between extreme poverty and mediocrity. The implication that another economically dominant country can impose their beliefs on people already established is hard to imagine, but had become an intimidating reality to the people of Latin America. The Europeans made significant progress in “increasing urbanization, industrialization, and modernization at an unprecedented speed” (Burns 7). The pressures of westernization by the Europeans had become overwhelmingly stressful and forced a dependency on a European influence. Through economic trade, Europeans retained established power and wealth long after they had been overthrown by Latin American rebellions.

Another dependency that had become imperative to the Latin Americans was the need for a stable government. Through European conquests, indigenous governments had been eradicated and replaced with a curtailed European system that was overseen by the main European nation’s government whom occupied the area. The Spaniards “took charge of an established society, substituting themselves for the rulers they had deposed or killed” (Hanson 149). Not only did the
Europeans destroy past government systems, they also made it harder to install a new government that was not a Europeanized system. In his book, The Poverty of Progress, E. Bradford Burns concludes that, “Those once vigorous folk societies had lost the struggle. They no longer were viable alternatives to the Europeanization that was taking place on unprecedented scale.” (6). Europeans had not installed a full structured system due to the various challenges that came with the foreign land. It was difficult to imply a full feudalism system for the Europeans due to the dense rainforest. Clsudio Veliz argues that, “Spain was not interested in true colonization by white overlords in the forested Amazonian lands. Feudalism was there a costly proposition, not only because of the need for clearing lands, but also because it was too easy for the serfs to escape from plantations into the dense forests.” (253) With the evacuation by the European governments from Latin America went the structure provided by the oppressors and left the country side to the short-term chaotic structure of spontaneous revolts which would quickly lose power and be replaced by another. This uncertainty that was laced into everyday life continued to ravage indigenous cultures due to chaotic uprisings that would fail to meet the expectations of the people and further push a degree of uncertainty into their hearts. “In several countries the desperation stemmed from poverty, governmental neglect, corrupt politics, and unrealizable progress.” (Encarta 2002) Unfortunately, a legacy of ethnic tensions still exists even to this day.
The ethnic tensions that now affect many Latin Americans have existed for centuries between Europeans and the rest of the world. The European ethnic hierarchy that has existed before the colonization of Latin America now subjugates the people of that region. This hierarchy puts the people with the most European features above the ones with the most indigenous features. In doing so, this has continued the oppression of the indigenous people that started with the arrival of the first Europeans. According to Robert Toplin this “aristocratic
society, clearly solidified by the seventeenth century Europeans, accented social distinctions and class prejudices”(76). These long standing ethnic tensions have destroyed the self-confidence that the natives had obtained centuries before the European conquests. The natives were bombarded with a sense of inferiority on a daily basis which included, “Designations, either colorful or derogatory, that defined the degree of racial mixture, helped to maintain sullen resentment and a sense of ethnic inferiority.” (Radin 76) Now, after centuries of oppressing the indigenous people of Latin America, the European powers no longer held their Christian status as proof of their loyalty to their rule. They were distrusted in everyway and held no credibility. One book says that, “From the fervor of the Counter Reformation grew a mistrust of “new Christians,” which ultimately resulted in the demand of proof of “clean blood” as a social requirement.” (S. Liss ; P. Liss 207). Even to this day, the ethnic inferiority felt by the native people is still a prominent occurrence. The people of Chiapas, Mexico are a prime example of this degradation. They are forced by the Mexican government, to live in an area of geographical extremes and infertile soil. (Leon 95) They have demanded basic needs such as running water and equal education, but have been denied solely on the basis of their ethnic background. These native Latin Americans have been discriminated by European social concepts forced upon them by the heritage of European colonization. Through this social stigma of European supremacy, the Native Latin Americans are kept in a mental cage of inferiority and exile from their own land.
After years of oppression and cultural changes, the people of the Latin American region have unwillingly lost their rights and have found themselves caught up in unfamiliar grounds. These grounds are composed of Spaniard oppression. The ethnic natures of these “barbaric” societies, which truly out shined those the more acceptable ways, were made to feel guilty of their native ways. The aboriginal people’s expansive ways of life were amazing to the Europeans and yet, out of greed and fakery, were forced into a diminished, oppressed life style. This
lifestyle caused the demise of highly cultural societies. The understanding of the cultures Indian tribes within this large region fell at the hands of a people less endowed. Hundreds of years past before these people were recognized for the full value. Mystic and curiosity have shrouded these natives from the past, first being portrayed as evil and barbaric, were latter recognized for their great contributions and as advanced civilizations. Also these civilizations have been marveled as to how they became educated with tremendous skills. Today these cultures are lost heritages to the Spaniards. The desecration of this royal excellence has left a continent in a chaotic state of recovery.

Works Cited
Burns, E. Bradford. The Poverty of Progress, University of California Press, 1980
Gibson, Charles. Spain in America, Harper Torch Books, 1966
Hanson, Earl Parker. South from the Spanish Main, Delacorte Press, 1967
“Latin America.” Encarta. CD-ROM. Seattle: Microsoft, 2001.

Leon, Juana Ponce de. Our Word is Our Weapon, Seven Stories Press, 2001
Liss, Peggy K. and Liss, Sheldon B. Man, State, and Society in Latin America, Praeger Publishers, 1972
“The Peace of Latin America.” National Geographic October 1905: 479-480
Picon-Salas, Mariano. A Cultural History of Spanish America, University of California Press, 1963
Radin, Paul. Indians of South America, Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., 1942
Ribeiro, Claudio de Oliveira. “Has Liberation Theology Died?” The Ecumenical Review
Jul. 1999: 304
Toplin, Robert Brent. Slavery and Race Relations in Latin America, Greenwood Press, 1940
Veliz, Claudio. The Centralist Tradition of Latin America, Princeton University Press, 1980
Bibliography
Burns, E. Bradford. The Poverty of Progress, University of California Press, 1980
Clayton, Lawrence A. Bolivarian Nations of Latin America, The Forum Press, Inc., 1984
Gibson, Charles. Spain in America, Harper Torch Books, 1966
Hanson, Earl Parker. South from the Spanish Main, Delacorte Press, 1967
“Latin America.” Encarta. CD-ROM. Seattle: Microsoft, 2001.

Leon, Juana Ponce de. Our Word is Our Weapon, Seven Stories Press, 2001
Liss, Peggy K. and Liss, Sheldon B. Man, State, and Society in Latin America, Praeger Publishers, 1972
Lyon, Patricia J. Native South Americans: Ethnology of the Least Known Continent, Little, Brown and Company, 1974
McDonald, Ronald H. and Ruhl, J. Mark. Party Politics and Elections in Latin America, Westview Press, 1989
“The Peace of Latin America.” National Geographic October 1905: 479-480
Picon-Salas, Mariano. A Cultural History of Spanish America, University of California Press, 1963
Radin, Paul. Indians of South America, Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., 1942
Ribeiro, Claudio de Oliveira. “Has Liberation Theology Died?” The Ecumenical Review
Jul. 1999: 304
Toplin, Robert Brent. Slavery and Race Relations in Latin America, Greenwood Press, 1940
Veliz, Claudio. The Centralist Tradition of Latin America, Princeton University Press, 1980