Modernity among theologians, settlers and pirates



Piracy was undermining the economic bases of the Spanish colonial empire, and preparing the bases for new colonial hegemonies.


In the sixteenth century, the submission of American Indians and the question of their conversion to a religion that was intended to be universal, unique and true, shook the foundations of the Church and of Christianity itself. The human catastrophe provoked in the “discovered” continent did not take long to be perceived as such in the metropolises: the conquest of America, which came to be celebrated as the greatest “civilization” enterprise in history,[I] it supposed the destruction of entire populations of natives.

Dobyns estimated that, in the main regions of present-day Latin America, 95% of the indigenous population (32,5 million people) was exterminated;[ii] a company in the face of whose horror the Catholic Church itself recoiled from its initial intention to canonize Isabella of Castile (called “the Catholic” by special papal license) and Christopher Columbus. In another order of things, the conquest also posed the question of the right to booty obtained from the colonial plunder by the colonizing powers, generating multiple conflicts, regular and irregular, between them. Public International Law was born in the midst of a series of warlike confrontations on the seven seas over this booty, in the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, which a historian (Charles R. Boxer) did not hesitate to describe as the first war of global scope.

The first episodes of controversy over the status of the colonized took place in Spain, the first colonizing power in the Americas.[iii] There was a defining debate in 1550 in Valladolid, following numerous denunciations of mistreatment of Native Americans by Dominican missionaries. Held at the Colegio de San Gregorio, it was a moral and theological debate on the conquest of the Americas – which had been justified with the need to convert the indigenous peoples to Catholicism – putting into question the relations between the European colonists and the indigenous peoples of the New World.

According to one of its protagonists, the outstanding theologian Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, the Indians did not have a soul, therefore, they were not eligible for salvation, they were not children of God, which authorized their enslavement. Sepúlveda, author of a History of Charles V, was hostile to Lutheran reformism (but admitted some of Erasmus's ideas) and was at the center of Spanish religious reform "conceived and applied from the top down thanks to a plan carried out in collaboration between the Church and the State, which would not happen in the rest of Europe until the nationalization of the churches in the second half of the XNUMXth century”.[iv]

Sepúlveda's argument regarding the American Indians did not differ much from that, two centuries later, of Montesquieu regarding the Africans, whose slavery the French author justified in the name of their inferiority, to the point of doubting their humanity.[v] Opening a different path, after the conquest of the Aztec empire and the Maya peoples of Yucatan (which happened simultaneously with the beginning of the war against the Incas), another cleric, Bartolomé de Las Casas, wrote his Very Brief Report of the Destruction of the Indies. Las Casas demonstrated that the social organization of the original American societies was extremely complex, that they had systems capable of concentrating gigantic populations: Tenochtitlan, at the time of the conquest, was probably the second largest city in the world, second only to Chang'na (Shanghai) , in China.

Las Casas was opposed to the theses of Sepúlveda, who considered America as an inhospitable region populated by inferior beings, and was a defender of the idea of ​​the inequality of the Indians in relation to the Europeans (recurring to the authority of Aristotle, he declared that those “slaves by nature”) and promoter of the “just war” idea. The holy war of the Iberian Christians was thus replaced by the concept of just war (bellum iustum). The notion of “holy war” had been taken over by Iberian Christianity from its former Arab masters. The colonization of America was carried out under the aegis of clerical hegemony: hence the conflict raised by the question of the civil status of the conquered was discussed in religious terms, but with a legal background, involving the very notion of justice, and political.

In the new Iberian interpretation of war, the Indian ius to life as long as he accepted the foundations of the Catholic faith. It was for no other reason than Friar Sepúlveda made the theological defense of the Spanish conquest of America and the enslavement of its inhabitants. Organized religion has always fostered collective empathy among its members while limiting empathetic feeling for individuals who were not part of the same group. Sepúlveda's position was not the expression of a medieval anachronism, but of a religiosity that limited the empathetic ability to see the other as similar, expressed in rational terms.

The Dominican Las Casas, for his part, proposed the replacement of indigenous labor (slavery) by slaves imported from Africa, and considered the evangelizing action the only legitimizing objective of colonization. Jorge Luis Borges mocked Las Casas in an account of his Universal History of Infamy: “In 1517, Father Bartolomé de las Casas felt very sorry for the Indians who exhausted themselves in the laborious hells of the Antillean gold mines, and proposed to Emperor Charles V the importation of blacks who exhausted themselves in the laborious hells of the Antillean gold mines”; it should be noted, however, that “Las Casas, who in 1516 had suggested importing slaves to the Antilles, ended up regretting the idea, and in 1560 maintained that black slavery was as unjust as that of the Indians”:[vi] Las Casas's initial preoccupation with "true religion" gave way to humanist preoccupation. The Catholic pope, Paul III, mediating in the debate, drew a distinction between Muslims, "infidels" who fought the true faith, and therefore could not be converted, and Amerindians, "disabled", innocent children who needed to be directed and whose rights needed to be protected.

Based on this, several historians postulated that the Iberian expansion in America corresponded to a concept specific to feudalism, unlike the subsequent English colonization, which made little of these distinctions and was linked to a process of capitalist accumulation, which did not happen in Spain. In addition to being simplistic, this argument ignores the universal nature of the debate. Sepúlveda considered it natural for superior men, representatives of perfection, strength and virtue, to dominate inferiors, synonymous with imperfection, weakness and vice. Sepúlveda cited one of the principles of Politics of Aristotle to justify his position: “When men differ from one another as much as the soul differs from the body, or a man from an animal, they [the 'animals'] are slaves by nature, because it is better that they be under the authority of a Sir". At bellum iustum Sanctions against the vanquished, including slavery, were legitimate. The Church introduced a distinction: only “infidel” (or “pagans”) Indians could be enslaved, those who accepted the Christian faith could only be forced to pay a “ransom” through forced labor institutes.

The “just war” was legitimized by Sepúlveda in modern, not “feudal” terms, insofar as the values ​​of superior men would be universal values ​​and, by forcibly imposing them on others, they would be doing good to humanity. Bartolomé de Las Casas, on the contrary, was in favor of the idea of ​​equality among all men, and took Christ's teachings as his line of argument. The war against the Indians was “unfair”, as they limited themselves to living on their ancestral lands and had not attacked the Spaniards. Following Thomas Aquinas, Las Casas affirmed that faith was “a free act of the will” (Aristotle, quoted by Sepúlveda, was for him a great philosopher, but he had not known the true God revealed by Christ). The only admissible colonization was peaceful, like the one that Las Casas tried to carry out in the Captaincy of Guatemala. To reject the “just war” against the Amerindians, Las Casas emphasized the virtues, the sweet and peaceful character of the Indians, seeing the possibility of them becoming good and true Christians.

Las Casas' argument was echoed in Europe: under his influence, the enslavement of Amerindians was prohibited by the Church, opening the way for the lucrative slave trade. The colonizers were forced to import blacks from Africa, which enriched the Catholic Church itself. The Spanish conquerors, who never took ecclesiastical prohibition seriously, invented various subterfuges to enslave the aborigines. In view of this, the Spanish Crown was alarmed by the rapid decrease in the indigenous population; this extermination, which only produced enormous short-term gains for its executors, the colonizers, did not suit him, but the implantation of a tax system that was viable in the long term. Echoing him, the Jesuit missions (from Spain) in Paraguay, protecting the Amerindians within their reach from the voracity of the colonizers, allowed to spare the lives of a good part of the indigenous population of the region – the Guaranis. In their American task, the members of the order gave vent to their vocation for martyrdom"life is offered for attracting God Nuestro Señor to these helpless people”, in the words of priest Roque González.

The polemic, implicitly or explicitly, had repercussions until the present, and was at the heart of the resurgence of enormous indigenous political movements in the last quarter of the XNUMXth century, with arguments that spared none of the polar positions of the metropolitan controversy of the XNUMXth century: “The weakness of the Indians has a huge dimension in the Lascasian interpretation. In his aim of convincing that the Indian is an unarmed and impersonal being, Las Casas goes so far as to paint him simply as an imbecile”.[vii] According to the same author: “The collective suicides, the abortions practiced by the Indian women, mentioned by Las Casas circumstantially (in the History of the Indies) are always attributed to the panic-fear that the Indians had of the Spanish. Sometimes, the Dominican mentions the diseases that decimated the populations, which historians point out as the main cause of the demographic catastrophe in America. This image of destruction and violence is irremediably associated with a defeatist vision of America that is profiled as a component of a historiography that has privileged much more the first term of the relationship between conquerors and conquered. In this sense, the work of Las Casas exerted a notable influence among historians, essayists and novelists on the continent... Covered by destruction and genocide, the two favorite themes of Lascasian discourse, the idea develops that the conquest fell on pusillanimous peoples, cowards, destined beforehand to defeat.”[viii]

Reaching a similar conclusion, but using a different method, Tzvetan Todorov concluded that both visions did not testify to knowledge about the “other”, since in neither of them was this “other” recognized by the status of a human being simultaneously similar and different. Emphasizing inequality, Sepúlveda constructed an image of non-human for the Indian, which would justify enslaving him and taking possession of his lands and wealth. Emphasizing equality, Las Casas wanted to prove that the Indians were naturally suited to Christianization, without admitting and recognizing their own identity. Las Casas loved the Indians for the possibility they offered of realizing his ideal of evangelization. He identified with the Indians because he saw in this “other” the projection of himself. In his old age, however, the Dominican friar enunciated a transformation: he began to recognize that each culture had its own values, and it was up to its members to choose their own future. After his long coexistence with the Indians, he came to the conclusion that the common, universal and egalitarian point among men was not the God of the Christian religion, but the very idea of ​​divinity. Las Casas, after all, was the exception within the norm.



In Portuguese America, Manuel da Nóbrega defended that the Indians had memory, understanding and will, the three Augustinian potentialities of the soul, confirming their human condition. Indigenous evangelization, therefore, was justified. In 1537 the Church, by bull Most High God, recognized that American “Indians” were “true men, not only capable of embracing the faith of Christ, but inclined to do so” and that these “men”, “although outside the faith of Christ, should not be deprived of of freedom and possession of their goods, on the contrary, they must be able to freely enjoy this freedom and these possessions, without being reduced to servitude”. Clergy and laity in America interpreted these norms in their own way. Manuel da Nóbrega, in Brazil, José de Acosta, in Spanish America, defended compulsory indigenous labor in its “civilizing” function, to make Christian catechesis perennial and effective, hindered by the supposed inconstancy and bad habits of the native Americans.

The religious persecution of the natives became independent of its original justifying function of the evangelizing enterprise. The missionaries who initially came to America, however, already brought with them abstract concepts about the State, law and natural law, which were being specified in the context of the colony, where they underwent modifications that would be incorporated by the metropolitan legal theology and by the nascent political philosophy, later returning to America, where they endorsed choices made since the beginning of colonization.[ix] The metropolitan confrontation over Native Americans was decisive in the formation of modern international law and its fundamental concept, sovereignty (national sovereignty over its own territory, and sovereignty over conquered territories located beyond borders). This right was born from the process of colonial expansion, more than from internal conflicts in Europe.

The debate on the legitimacy of the conquest of America was expressed in theological terms (in the sermons of Montesinos or in the debate between Las Casas and Sepúlveda), but it had a secular content that was projected onto the Law. In his 1542 lessons on The Just War, the Dominican theologian Francisco de Vitoria defended the natural right of the Indians to their lands, and rejected the “Discovery Doctrine”, which granted Europeans titles and property rights over the Americas. According to Vitoria, the divine gift of reason granted native peoples, as human beings, rights and obligations, among which was included the ownership and domain of their lands. When native peoples were unaware of these norms (including obligations), which they obviously did not, wars against them were justified, including wars of conquest.[X] Considered (with Hugo Grotius and Alberico Gentili) one of the founders of Public International Law, Vitoria elucidated the legitimacy of colonization in the distinction between illegitimate titles (those referring to the conquest and occupation of new territories) and legitimate titles (those referring to the colonization and civilization of peoples). indigenous).[xi]

The first wars against Native Americans had already taken place, but not with this justification. Francisco Pizarro had led the wars against the Incas to impose obedience and respect for the universal authority of the Pope and the Spanish Emperor, which Vitoria rejected. Pizarro and Cortés enslaved the American aborigines and seized their goods to punish their rebellion against the emperor (Carlos V), whose American right of ownership rested on the “donation” of the highest pontiff, and occupied their lands, dividing up their inhabitants to evangelize them, according to the papal mandate. In denial of this argument, Vitoria threw a first stone against the temporal power of the Church, against the Augustinian “city of God”.

Nas Relections about Indias (1539), he dismantled the arguments that had justified the behavior of the conquerors, the Request (to the “Indians”) by the Spanish jurists Palacios Rubio and Matias de Paz. Carlos V was not, according to Vitoria, lord of the world, nor could he deprive the Indians of their properties and sovereignty by virtue of a papal mandate. He couldn't even impose tribute on them on that basis. Native Americans would even have the right to rebel against these measures, if they were imposed on them.

Vitoria recognized that the Spaniards had faced, in America, organized urban societies, with laws, political power and their own religions. The natives were, therefore, endowed with reason. Their territories and possessions could not be invested or expropriated. The practice of sodomy (homosexuality) by the aborigines could not justify armed aggression, because it was a sin like so many others and so widespread that, if it justified war, it would lead to constant conflict between all countries and peoples. On the other hand, cannibalism and human sacrifices, observed in the American aborigines, were not morally bearable, and authorized war to protect the sacrificed: Vitoria introduced the right of guardianship that, from now on, would justify colonization. God's will, expressed through the Pope, could legitimize the war of conquest against adult “infidels”, but not colonization based on the right of guardianship of creatures considered childish. The natural servitude (or slavery) proposed by Sepúlveda was a perennial condition, the guardianship proposed by Vitoria provided for the future emancipation of the tutored individual.

On the basis of ius societatis et communicationis the philosophy of the Iberian conquest of America was configured. Starting from humanity of the indigenous people, Vitória exposed the political rights and duties common to colonizers and colonized, whom he treated as equals. The Indians could not be expropriated of their goods, due to their supposed lack of culture or true faith. They could only be entrusted to the tutelage of the colonizing power if they were in a situation of poverty or backwardness, this being necessarily recognized by their leaders (or representatives), whose consensus became an integral part of the Spanish colonizing enterprise.[xii] Vitoria's theses were elaborated after knowing the reports about the conquest of the Inca Empire.

There already existed the norm of murdering one hundred natives for every Christian murdered, practiced by the conquerors since Columbus' second Antillean voyage. The Victorian theses served as the basis, together with the Lascasian doctrine, for the “New Laws” of November 1542, which restricted orders and the enslavement of indigenous people, but which gave lasting support to the imposition of colonial power over them. From theological humanism to secular enlightenment, the reason European society swung between these arguments concerning the legitimacy of the colonial enterprise and indigenous and African slavery.

The “modernization” of Iberian colonization did not change the axis of submission of the native populations: “In the transition from the wild Indian to the civilized and Christian Indian, the legal norms that ordered social practices in the space of reduction were not civil laws, but canonical laws and , above all, natural laws… This legal axis, it is essential to note, was valid throughout the colonial period, including the Pombaline and Bourbon reforms.

For the Church, like the State, ceaselessly replaced the distance between the Indian and the Christian vassal throughout the colonial period, similar to Zeno's paradox between Achilles and the tortoise. As for those Indians who resisted the mission and colonization, they were incorporated, even if against their will, as they became targets of just wars determined by the natural law of peoples: the entire margin of the Iberian empires in America thus became an immense repository of legitimate slave labor, recruited from the Caribs, Araucanians, Mindanaos, Chichimecas, Apaches, Aimorés”.[xiii]

The basis of this was not explicit racism: Native Americans and black African slaves were classified from the perspective of the white man as a universal model. In modern colonial empires ethnic oppression was an implicit offshoot of class oppression (exploitation): empires were conceived as a political community “which included indigenous peoples and castes, there was no institutionalized racism against them”.[xiv] Mestizaje did not overcome this oppression: fixed relations rarely emerged between whites and blacks, or between the former and the indigenous women. Miscegenation was subordinated to the settler's power of command and dismantling, to the feeling of ownership and possession in relation to Indians and blacks. In some cases, masters adopted female slaves or Indian women as their usual lovers, but did not restrict their slavery and integrated sexual practice into the attention of the master's will.



The humanitarian aspects of the metropolitan indigenous policy were based on the recommendation to replace the Indian with the African black, carried out on a large scale (13 million individuals), which gave birth to the undifferentiated “black” as a separate human category and superimposed on social diversity. pre-existing cultural and cultural structure in Africa, an assumption that few radically criticized: “Historians habitually treat all classes of slaves as if they showed monolithic similarity, but few of these historians would adopt the only justifiable principle of such a procedure – blacks are black ”.[xv] The black was created by modern colonial slavery, as much as the Indian was created by “European” colonization which, in turn, created the European, presented as the “modern man” bearer of human universality.

The limits of religious humanitarianism were determined not by Christian doctrine, but by the reality and objective needs of the colonizing powers. Within them found shelter the internal currents of the Church itself, which was in the process of splitting in Europe: the first Franciscans who arrived in Mexico, in 1524, considered the “last era of the world” to be close, that is, a period of peace, of reconciliation and general conversion to Christianity, which would precede the end of history, were convinced that they could reconstitute the golden age of the primitive Church on the other side of the Atlantic, far from perverted European Christianity, with the poor and simple of America.

The Jesuits established a separate territory in Paraguay made up of reductions, small fortified villages in the forest, where Indians converted to Christianity lived, but the correction of colonial borders placed some of these strongholds in Portuguese territory. At the time, Portugal maintained aboriginal slavery: the Portuguese tried to steal the Indians from the Jesuits and then sell them as slaves, which Spain approved.

The Pope intervened in favor of Portugal, excommunicating the Jesuits from the reductions. Afterwards, an army, with cannons and swords blessed by priests at the service of the State, attacked the reductions, massacred the Jesuits and took the Indians as slaves. One Te Deum solemnly celebrated the victory. Shortly afterwards, the Pope banned the Jesuit order, blamed for not having loyally served the Bourbon family, kings of France and Spain, absolute monarchs and great friends of the Catholic Church. Religious piety succumbed to colonizing imperatives. The role of the Society of Jesus in the colonial management of indigenous labor was a step towards the secularization of the Church.[xvi]

For Todorov, the Europeans' superiority in communication allowed them to conquer America through the massacre of local populations. The Indian would have been incapable of conceiving “the other”, because “due to sea voyages to Asia and Africa, the European conquerors were more prepared for diversity and had greater 'openness of mind' than the American Indians. Upon realizing that foreigners were not inferior and that they could not be subjected, the Indians began to deify them... This is so important that it makes no sense to celebrate the discovery or condemn the genocide that followed. This was the beginning of modern times, of our modern history.”[xvii]

The concept of “alterity” was not, however, specifically Iberian or European, as it already characterized the Arab civilization in its commercial expansion: the Arabs not only needed a market, but also knowledge of others (cultural and linguistic) to be able to trade. For the Mexican Octavio Paz, it would not even be appropriate to speak of American genocide, given that in the conquest “the most significant circumstance (is) the suicide of the Aztec people. (Indigenous peoples) are gripped by the same horror, which is almost always expressed as a fascinated acceptance of death”.[xviii]

This forgets the centuries-old resistance against colonization by various indigenous peoples (particularly in the southern and northern extremes of America). Nor is it correct to state that the Indians did not understand what happened during colonization due to their inability to assimilate “alterity”: “In the American Northeast, the indigenous people were in contact with French-Canadian 'travellers' for the fur trade. . These were poor people, small traffickers, but who had very intimate contact with the indigenous people. It is very surprising to see how much Amerindian thought was nourished by the mouths of these travelers, transforming and integrating part of their narratives into their own mythology”.[xx]

The idea of ​​“indigenous suicide” reproduces the reasoning about the ignorant passivity of Amerindians. It turns out that “the Indian was not as peaceful, obedient and disillusioned as Las Casas portrayed him. In reality, the destruction and murder were the product, among other well-known causes, of a war relationship that developed because there were combatants on both sides. The conqueror killed because the Indian opposed him in various forms of resistance, starting with the military, even surreptitious ones, such as the rupture of verbal communication”.[xx]

The defeat of indigenous peoples in the face of armies smaller in number, but coming from societies with greater productive development (and therefore also science, technology and military art) was due to several factors, one of which was, however, , the decisive, the political. The victory of the conquistadors/colonizers was political, before being military and social: “The most extraordinary victories (of the conquerors) were precisely those that pitted a small number of Spaniards against a large number of Indians organized in regular armies. Victory was easier against more powerful armies or more solid states, and much more difficult against unorganized, scattered, nomadic tribes.

The ancient empires rigorously dominated numerous populations. For them, it was to accept with naivety and a little too quickly to replace the old manor for another. It was the opportunity to take revenge on former oppressors.” In southern Chile and northwestern Argentina, and in the present-day USA and Canada, where “scattered and nomadic” tribes existed, indigenous resistance was fierce; the Spanish Crown therefore authorized the enslavement of “brave” and “war” Indians; the Church itself owned numerous slaves; “these zones of resistance reveal to us the extraordinary assimilation capacity of the indigenous world at the military level to appropriate the means of defense, from learning how to ride a horse to how to use firearms; from the construction of fixed defenses to the acquisition of extreme mobility: all Spanish military science was perfectly assimilated and even surpassed”.[xxx]



The conquest of America, carried out by arms, had to be maintained and organized by other means: the role of the Church was central to maintaining the domination of the American Indians: “Functioning as a legitimizing ideology, Christianity placed certain limits on the colonial practices it sanctioned. But by sanctioning these practices and by providing the colonists with moral justifications for their undertakings, Christianity was no longer able to prevent the rise of entrenched interests that ended up disregarding the moral constraints of Christian theology and ended up throwing the logic of religious conversion into question. dustbin of history”.[xxiii] What were the disputed policies in the conflict between Europeans and Amerindians? For the colonizing powers, it was a question of subjugating the continent and its populations at any cost, by virtue of the world mercantile logic of European expansion. For the Indians, none of this was an alternative.

Claude Claude Lévi-Strauss gave the example of the Canadian tribes: “In the conflicts that have always opposed them to the Canadians coming from Europe, they never stopped saying that they never refused the arrival of the whites, that they were never their enemies. They never complained about the presence of the whites, only the fact that the whites had excluded them”.[xxiii] This seems to be the key to the military victory of the Europeans, and the apparently inexplicable defeat of the Native Americans: “For the Indians, war is a ritual that is not taken to extremes. Once the enemy is defeated, he is abandoned, as the warriors who have demonstrated superiority are satisfied. The Indians did not have the concept of territorial acquisition, therefore, they could not appropriate the idea of ​​methodical warfare in the European style”.[xxv] Not only the stratification and conflicts present in American societies (which were used in the political/military strategy of the conquerors), but also aspects of their culture, were used and reformulated to sustain the colonial enterprise.

On the basis of the massacre of local populations, the American colonial system made world trade and navigation prosper like never before. In the manufacturing period, commercial supremacy was what provided industrial dominance, before industry became the driving force behind international trade. Public debt took over the whole of Europe during the American colonial period, as Marx observed: “The colonial system, with its maritime trade and its commercial wars, served as its incubator. Thus, he first established himself in the Netherlands.

The public debt, that is, the alienation of the State – despotic, constitutional or republican – leaves its mark on the capitalist era. The only part of the so-called national wealth that is really part of the collective possession of modern peoples is their public debt. Hence, the modern doctrine according to which a people becomes richer the more it goes into debt is entirely coherent. Public credit becomes the creed of capital. And when the indebtedness of the State appears, the sin against the Holy Spirit, for which there is no forgiveness, gives way to the lack of faith in the public debt”.[xxiv] This debt became one of the most powerful levers of capitalist accumulation, as it suddenly enriched the financial agents that served as intermediaries between the government and the nation, giving rise to the international credit system.

In the New World, given the almost unlimited abundance of land, colonial institutions had to face the problem of obtaining and disciplining labor, the scarcest production factor of the colonial enterprise. All colonialist powers, without exception, solved this problem through forced labor or the enslavement of indigenous populations, and African slavery. The first shipments of American gold were obtained through the looting and extermination of high indigenous cultures. Colonization required more strategic means: “Colonization was organized in order to promote primitive capitalist accumulation within the framework of the European economy, to stimulate bourgeois progress within the framework of Western society. It is this profound meaning that articulates all parts of the system: first, the trade regime develops within the framework of the metropolitan exclusive.

Hence, colonial production was oriented towards those products that were indispensable or complementary to the central economies; production was organized in such a way as to allow the overall functioning of the system. It was not enough to produce products with growing demand in European markets, it was essential to produce them in such a way that their commercialization promoted stimuli to accumulation in European economies. It was not just a question of producing for trade, but for a special form of trade, colonial trade; it is the ultimate sense (acceleration of primitive capital accumulation) that commands the entire colonization process. This forced the colonial economies to organize themselves in such a way as to allow the functioning of the colonial exploitation system, which imposed the adoption of forms of compulsory labor or, in its extreme form, slavery”.[xxv]

Due to this, the mechanism used for the valorization of the American territories of Spain was the compulsory exploitation of the natives: the breakdowns and parcels acted effectively in this regard. Exploitation of the Indian as a workforce has always been justified in order to obtain the necessary resources for the expansion of Christianity. Mining exports were characterized as a means to this end. Its objective was to finance the construction of a great Spanish and Catholic colonial empire. Its existence conditioned Spain's hegemony in the European context, and gave the country leadership in the Counter-Reformation process on the continent. The Tribunal of the Holy Office reached colonial areas, such as the city of Lima, where the Inquisition played a significant role in social and political control. On the other hand, the Crown invested a large part of its income in the construction of religious monuments.



The first 150 years of Spanish colonization were dominated by mining production. This century and a half was, according to Celso Furtado, “marked by great economic successes for the Crown, and for the Spanish minority that participated directly in the conquest”. The path opened by mining was later followed by other types of primary production. The settlement of Chile, based initially on gold production, found a permanent base in export agriculture, whose market was the Peruvian economic center. Spanish America comprised four great viceroyalties: those of New Spain (Mexico), New Granada (Colombia), Peru and that of the Río de la Plata (Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia). Agricultural production implied an effective occupation of the territory, with an effective settlement of the population.[xxviii] The effective colonization of Brazil, in turn, did not begin until the middle of the XNUMXth century. Before that period, Portugal paid little attention to Brazil, being more concerned with the eastern routes for obtaining spices and luxury items. The discovery of Brazil was a matter of secondary importance for the metropolis.

The expedition of the Spaniard Juan Diaz de Solís (1515), who discovered the Rio de la Plata, verified the existence of a flourishing trade in pau brasil on the Brazilian coast. This is how the original toponym of Holy Cross Land was replaced by the name of Brazil to name the new American lands owned by Portugal. These were still only coastal commercial enterprises, left in the hands of private individuals: it was only in 1513 that a Crown commissioner was appointed with the task of paying taxes on extractors-traders. The Portuguese efforts to militarily control the Brazilian coast were a defensive action, aimed at preventing the establishment of coastal enclaves by France and England. These countries did not accept the division of the New World between the Iberian countries and were also interested in the extraction of pau brasil, used in the manufacture and dyeing of wool in England and the Netherlands.

During the conquest, land acquisition was not the main objective of the settlers, who established a society organized around urban centers in the New World. These centers depended on the peasant indigenous population, which provided the food supply. The system of entrust it seemed to be the ideal formula for Hispano-Indigenous relations, to subject the Indians to compulsory labor. You order they received tributes or personal services, and had to take care of the instruction and evangelization of the “commissioned” Indian. As a legal institution, the entrust it did not imply rights over the lands of the Indians, “benefited” by the new Spanish laws. For a long time, the demand for land was limited, given the large density of indigenous farmers compared to the tiny groups of European settlers.

In the mid-XNUMXth century, Spanish emigration to the New World increased, multiplying urban settlements. In Potosí, the main silver-producing mining center in South America, the Spaniards used the native technique of guayras, and also made use of coca leaves and llamas, which had their original uses reoriented. Coca leaves served as a palliative for the work fatigue to which the natives were submitted, their consumer market was guaranteed by the mines; llamas played an essential role, mainly because they represented the means of transport with the most diverse locations.

Exploration of “Cerro Rico” began in 1545 and “during the colonial period it surpassed in total accumulated production the sum of its two competitors, the Mexican deposits of Zacatecas and Guanajuato, with a great peak at the end of the XNUMXth century, which was followed by a rapid depletion and inexorable decline in production throughout the eighteenth century and the first third of the eighteenth century”.[xxviii] The Spaniards introduced mercury amalgamation to produce silver, which triggered a huge increase in production.

With the mining axis and its complementary elements, the economic and ecological transformation of America, the complete reorientation of its productive activity, was enormous. European colonization combined the brutal decline of the native population with the penetration of the Spaniards and the spread of European plants and animals. In a few years, grains transformed the traditional landscape of indigenous fields, inaugurated the exploitation of very rich lands, introduced the permanent use of cultivation techniques, such as ploughing, irrigation and pairing of animals. The penetration of European colonization in temperate and warm lands was stimulated by the European demand for tropical products, such as tobacco, cocoa, indigo, indigo, palo dye and other plants, which since the second half of the XNUMXth century have been exploited on a commercial scale.

Cattle spread across Mexico and the Río de la Plata Basin region through the action of farmers, the animals invaded and destroyed the open cultivation of the Indians, turned farmland into grazing fields, displaced the settlement system and reduced food resources. of the indigenous people. Spanish domination was always linked to debt slavery imposed on indigenous peoples: the form used for this was the peonage, a kind of slavery through which landowners could retain them and force them to work for free as a way of repaying debts that these workers pledged to pay by pawning their properties. Peonage was the system through which peons were tied to land ownership by various means, including inherited debt.[xxix] The rapid transformation of American agriculture, sugar production, the link between ranching, farming, and mining, the economic transformations brought about by ranching, and the role of religion as bringers of knowledge, forever altered the distribution of land.[xxx]

In the conquest of Mexico, the Spaniards took over the best lands, those that had belonged to Aztec military and religious leaders. The Spaniards were not interested in agriculture: indigenous agriculture was sufficient to satisfy demand. From the second half of the XNUMXth century, the Spaniards' lack of interest in land and agricultural activities gradually diminished: there was a greater distribution of land, coinciding with the great epidemics and indigenous decimation, and causing the limitation of indigenous space. The transformations in the distribution and use of land, as a result of the expansion of livestock, stimulated by the Crown and its representatives, were enormous. Much of the redistributed land, however, was not cultivated or dedicated to livestock, but just occupied.

The Crown's decision to carry out a massive distribution of land among the settlers institutionalized the process of disorderly occupation of the land, and gave stability to agricultural landowners, at a time when the discovery of veins of precious metals and the exploitation of mines, together with the decay of native agriculture, they required the creation of new food resources. The new distribution of land finally determined the forms of exploitation of labor. A ranch it was able to stabilize when it managed to create its own system of attracting, maintaining and replacing workers. The adoption of the new work system introduced changes in the indigenous peoples and communities, due to the fact that before the conquest, the Indians produced their own means of subsistence, and later also the surplus required by their rulers, in the same space and with the same methods. of production. Thus, they left the place occupied in common to participate in the colonial economy in specific functions (mining, agriculture and livestock). The massive transfer of workers reduced the carrying capacity that the Native American community previously had. The constant extraction of workers prevented it from producing for its own consumption, increasing its dependence.

Merchants occupied the top of the colonial social hierarchy, preventing farmers from participating in foreign trade, and soon displacing them from internal trade as well. At the same time that colonization, the settlement of migrants and population growth favored the development of agricultural and farming activities, the colonizers never lost sight of the fundamental objective of obtaining precious metals, through the exploitation of indigenous or slave labor. with a view to tearing them from the earth itself, which was supposed to be abundant in precious and noble metals. Some geographic names in America (Rio de la Plata, outlet for the production of this metal to the Spanish metropolis; Argentina, from argentum, land [way] of silver) indicated the ambitious objective of the colonizers, fueled by the legend of Eldorado, the city made of solid gold. The regions that, due to this economic objective, had a marginal position, were subjected to so many limitations that their economic development became impossible.

The latifundium, as a vast expanse of land waiting to be valued, and whose main function was real estate speculation and not agricultural production, was the land tenure characteristic of colonial America. The decline in population made possible the formation of extensive properties of the dominant ethnic group. In this way, the extensive latifundium was born, with white, Portuguese, Spanish or criollos (American-born whites), but almost never Indians or blacks. The scarcity of labor, along with the abundance of land, led to the use of the latter as a way of securing the former. The minifundio (possession of tiny extensions of land) was then institutionalized within the latifundium, to ensure cheap and constant labor. Alongside this process, the “mini-funding of the periphery of the social formation” was observed, deriving from the indigenous people's attempt to escape the social relations of submission. These patterns have survived for a long time.

The fundamental consequence of the sparse population in colonial America was that labor, not land, became the scarcest factor of production. The colony's key institutions were, therefore, those that guaranteed work. Given the historical condition that manual labor was hardly acceptable for peninsular people, and given the fundamental inequality in the system of forces, due to differences in weaponry and organization, slavery was imposed as the logical solution: “The colony's institutions obeyed this logic, which did not derive from the intrinsic characteristics of the type of economic activity – silver mining here, sugar plantation there, textile work there – but from the fact that labor was the scarce factor of production (…) The cultivated area was tremendously reduced , giving rise to unproductive latifundia and, in the regions farthest from consumer centers and transport routes, land was simply abandoned, since its value as a production asset or as an investment asset was zero”.[xxxii] Large estates, unproductive or desert lands, forced, servile or slave labor, ethnic oppression, were links of the same chain in the American colonial system.



In the Iberian metropolis, its colonial system increasingly transformed it into an intermediary for world accumulation centered in England: “Spain’s congenital weakness, which originates in its economic structure as an exporter of raw materials (wool) and an importer of manufactured products, aggravated with the conquest of America; Spain now had sufficient monetary resources without being able, however, to supply its colonies with the manufactured products they needed. From the sixteenth century onwards, Spain increasingly became an intermediary between the American colonies and commercial and manufacturing Europe.[xxxi]

Despite their relative weakness in world trade competition, the Iberian kingdoms zealously protected their American possessions against the onslaughts of Holland and England. The relations between the Portuguese Crown and its representatives with the colonists, in the setting up of the colonization process, were marked by the granting of prizes and benefits by the Crown to colonists who performed various services, necessary for the consolidation of colonial rule, including the protection of the colony itself.

The division of rewards and the form of access to them indicated the distinction between the “metropolitan man and the colonial man”, as well as between the latter and colonists with more limited ambitions, but who received part of these benefits. In the Portuguese colony, entries and flags sought to open the way, leaving a trail of blood, towards rapid wealth. Brazilian gold went to Portugal and from there – to pay the excess of imports over exports, or trade deficit, of the metropolis – to England. Brazil and Portugal were not only important customers for English manufactures, whose growth they stimulated at a time when the European market still tended to reject them, but also supported their financial development.

Brazilian gold, in addition to oiling the gears of British wealth, financed large portions of the British renaissance in the trade of the East, through which the country imported lighter cotton fabrics to re-export them to the warmer climates of Europe, Africa, the Americas, and for which he had no other means of payment other than Brazilian gold.[xxxii] For this reason, the discovery of gold, at the end of the XNUMXth century, inaugurated a new cycle of the Brazilian colonial economy, that of mining colonization (sugar exports were in crisis due to competition from the Anglo-French Antilles). Unlike the Hispanic colonization of Upper Peru (Potosí, in present-day Bolivia), mines were not exploited using complex techniques and abundant labor.

In the Iberian colonies of America, Holland and England promoted smuggling, introducing their manufactures and buying raw materials, despite the monopoly of Spain and Portugal. Not complying with this, they repeatedly attacked and tried to appropriate Iberian colonial territories, or plunder them, in Central America, in Brazil (as the Dutch tried in the XNUMXth century in Northeast Brazil) and even in South America colonized by Spain : the English corsair Francis Drake attacked Peru in the XNUMXth century, Morgan did the same in Spanish colonies in Central America and the Caribbean, finally, the English fleet invaded the River Plate in the early XNUMXth century. What England could not achieve through illegal trade or territorial invasion, it tried to achieve by officially promoting piracy, privateering. Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir William Walker stood out in this activity ennobled by the English Crown, but the praise fell to Sir Francis Drake, the pirate who made Tortuga Island (in the Caribbean Sea) legendary, his headquarters for the looting that took him to the four corners of America.

The golden age of piracy ran from about 1650 to about 1730. Initially, Anglo-French pirates based in Jamaica and Tortuga attacked Spanish colonies and ships in the Caribbean and East Pacific; in the late XNUMXth century, the theater of piracy extended, with long-distance voyages to rob Muslims and East India Company targets in the Indian Ocean and Red Sea; finally, in the first half of the XNUMXth century, Anglo-American sailors and privateers were left unemployed at the end of the War of the Spanish Succession, and turned en masse to Caribbean piracy, on the American East coast, the West African coast, and in the Indian Ocean. . Colonial exploitation and the increase in international trade, including the increase in the amount of valuable cargo sent to Europe, combined with the scarce government care in the Iberian colonies, were factors that stimulated privateering activities, of an official or unofficial nature, in the dispute between European powers for the fruits of the exploitation of the colonial world, and for the hegemony in international trade.[xxxv]

From the late 1655th to the XNUMXth centuries, the Caribbean Sea was a hunting ground for pirates who preyed first on Spanish ships, and later on those of all nations with colonies and trading outposts in the area. The large cargoes of gold and silver that Spain began shipping from the New World to Europe soon caught the attention of pirates. Many of them were officially authorized by nations at war with Spain, but the dividing line between “official” and unofficial piracy (not authorized by any state) was quite blurred. The absolutist States sought to distinguish between the two by granting “letters (patents) of marque”, declaring as piracy only the activity that was carried out without such authorization. The XNUMXth century was the golden age of piracy, following England's conquest of Jamaica in XNUMX.

Privateering was certainly not an English invention. Ernesto Frers traces its origins to antiquity, to the Phoenicians' commercial and corsair activities at the same time, including piracy in the Mare Nostrum Roman (the Mediterranean), Norman and Viking pirates, Catalan and Spanish piracy (which provided indispensable resources for overseas discoveries) and Ottoman pirates, of whom Redhead beard was the most famous, in addition to lending part of his nickname to the most feared of his British followers: “If Bartholomew Roberts used terror to frighten his victims, his colleague Blackbeard used the astonishment.

He approached the ships with his two meters of stature, screaming like a wild beast with lighted hemp wicks tied to his hair and beard, at the same time that he fired his pistols with both hands. His appearance reduced his opponents, who often gave up just by seeing him. Blackbeard's terrible appearance had much to do with theatrical disguise, his exaggerated gestures a premeditated portrayal of the heartless villain. He was no more ruthless than any of his peers at the time, whose wickedness was supposed to be part of the trade... With a patent granted by Queen Anne of England, his ship collaborated with the Royal Navy attacking ships from Spain and France”.[xxxiv]

Piracy, therefore, was the continuation of commercial competition by paramilitary means. Barbanegra, out of control, was killed by the Royal Navy approximately 40 years old. The most famous of privateers British was the Welsh Henry Morgan, who sacked Portobelo, Puerto Príncipe, Maracaibo and Panama, between 1668 and 1671. Pirates of other nationalities continued to operate from Tortuga Island, such as the Dutchman Mansveldt and the French “El Olonés”. The first came to associate with Morgan. Modyford, English governor of Jamaica, encouraged and legalized Morgan's privateering activity, which gathered more than a thousand men in his crews, and employed women, old men, friars and nuns as human shields against the defense of Spanish fortifications. When victorious, he not only looted his targets, employing the worst tortures against civilians, to get them to reveal the hiding places of their belongings, but also put all surviving enemy soldiers through the guns. In 1670, Spain signed a peace treaty with England to protect itself from its corsair activities, which compromised the health and balance of the Spanish Treasury.

Even so, in 1671 Morgan sacked Panama, the heart of the Spanish empire in the Americas, defended by 1200 foot soldiers and 400 cavalrymen, a city where Morgan stayed for three weeks. Back in Jamaica, Morgan was arrested and sent to England to be tried as a pirate, for having violated the English treaty with Spain. He was, however, received as a popular hero, and acquitted of his imputed charges. King Charles II knighted him and sent him to Jamaica as governor of the island. Morgan ended his days (in 1688) as a peaceful colonial landowner, an official of the Crown, and an official enemy of piracy. As a privateer (pirate) or as a governor, however, he was always a loyal servant of Her Britannic Majesty.

Pirate crews were made up of all sorts of people; most were men of the sea who wished to obtain riches and live freely. Many were runaway slaves or aimless servants. Crews were normally "democratic" in their command habits. The captain was elected by them and could be removed at any time. Piracy preferred to use small, fast ships that could fight and flee quickly. They preferred the method of approaching the target and making the melee attack, quickly fleeing. They plundered lightly armed merchant ships, but occasionally attacked a city or a warship. Usually, they didn't have any kind of discipline, they drank a lot and ended up dead at sea, sick or hanged, after a relatively short career.

At the height of their activity, pirates controlled island cities that were havens for recruiting crews, selling captured goods, repairing ships, and spending what they looted. Several nations encouraged or turned a blind eye to piracy as long as their own ships were not attacked. As European colonization of the Caribbean became more effective and the region became more economically important, pirates gradually disappeared, hunted by warships of the colonial powers; their mainland bases were taken. In the XNUMXth century, European piracy in the Atlantic disappeared almost completely. Its function of “pure violence” for the original accumulation of capital had finally been exhausted. The criminal-adventurer-traders from Jamaica and Tortuga dispersed and disappeared.[xxxiv]

Piracy and privateering were not economically marginal; it played a central role in the distribution of wealth, in the original accumulation of capital and in the dispute for hegemony in the world market, in its initial phase. None other than John Maynard Keynes thus observed: “Undoubtedly, the plunder brought by Drake can justly be considered the source and origin of British foreign investment. With him, (Queen) Elizabeth paid all her foreign debt and invested a part of the balance in the Levantine Company; With the profits extracted from that Company, the East India Company was formed, whose profits represented, during the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, the main base of England's external connections. There never was so prolonged and so rich an opportunity for the businessman, the speculator, and the profiteer. In these golden years, modern capitalism was born.”[xxxviii] Said by an English lord (as well as an economist) there is no reason to doubt it.

Piracy was undermining the economic bases of the Spanish colonial empire, and preparing the bases for new colonial hegemonies, of which the English was the largest: “Contact between Spain and its colonies was restricted by the Crown’s decision to limit commercial travel to the New World for two per year, a restriction that obeyed the need to only transport colonial goods in large armed fleets, as a means of defense against pirates like Sir Francis Drake”.[xxxviii] Piracy prepared a new commercial and colonial hegemony, centered in England, and was the last foundation of the primitive capitalist accumulation of the “late powers” ​​in relation to the Iberian colonial primacy. Thus, on the basis of massacre, the destruction of entire American and African civilizations, slavery and forced labor, theft and murder practiced among the massacrers themselves through banditry and piracy, the extraction of surplus value by purely economic means , the capitalist mode of production, has built its world launching pad.

*Osvaldo Coggiola He is a professor at the Department of History at USP. Author, among other books, of Marxist economic theory: an introduction (boitempo).


[I] Jan Carew. Columbus and the origins of racism in America. race and class No. 4, London, 1988.

[ii] HF Dobyns. The Number Becomes Thinned. Knoxville, University of Tennessee Press, 2004.

[iii] Jean-Claude Carriere. La Controverse de Valladolid. Paris, Flammarion, 1992.

[iv] Santiago Muñoz Machado. Sepúlveda, Chronicler of the Emperor. Barcelona, ​​Edhasa, 2012.

[v] “If I had to defend the right we had to enslave black people, this is what I would say: sugar would be very expensive if the plant that produced it was not cultivated through slaves. Those we are referring to are black from head to toe and have such flat noses that it is almost impossible to regret them. We cannot accept the idea that God, who is a very wise being, has introduced a soul, especially a good one, into a completely black body (...) It is impossible to assume that such people are men, because, if we consider them men, we would begin to believe that we are not Christians” (Charles de Montesquieu. The Spirit of Laws. São Paulo, Martins Fontes, 2000 [1748]).

[vi] John Lynch. God in the New World. A religious history of Latin America. Buenos Aires, Criticism, 2012.

[vii] Hector Hernan Bruit. Latin America: 500 years between resistance and revolution. Brazilian Journal of History No. 20, São Paulo, March 1990.

[viii] Hector Hernan Bruit. Vision or simulation of losers? Anais V ADHILAC Congress. Sao Paulo, University of Sao Paulo, 1990.

[ix] Carlos AMR Zeron. Line of Faith. The Society of Jesus and slavery in the formation process of colonial society. Sao Paulo, Edusp, 2011.

[X] Anthony Anghie. Imperialism, Sovereignty and the Making of International Law. New York, Cambridge University Press, 2005.

[xi] Margaret Cantarelli. Francisco de Vitoria, colonial doctrine for the New World. In: Claudio Brandão et al (eds.). History of Law and Legal Thought in Perspective. São Paulo, Atlas, 2012.

[xii] Luciano Perena. The process of conquering America. In: Laureano Robles (ed.). And the Scoprì l'America Philosophy. L'incontro-scontro tra European philosophy and pre-Columbian culture. Milan, Jaca Book, 2003.

[xiii] Carlos AMR Zeron. op cit.

[xiv] Manuel Velazquez Castro. The promises of the decolonial project or the chains of hope. Criticism and Emancipation nº 1, Buenos Aires, CLACSO, June 2008.

[xv] Eugene Genovese. The World of Slave Masters. Rio de Janeiro, Peace and Land, 1979.

[xvi] Marcel Gauchet. The Disenchantment of the World. Une histoire politique de la religion. Paris, Gallimard, 1985.

[xvii] Tzvetan Todorov. The Conquest of America. The question of the Other. Sao Paulo, Martins Fontes, 1993.

[xviii] Octavio Paz. The Labyrinth of Solitude. Rio de Janeiro, Peace and Land, 1984.

[xx] Claude Levi-Strauss. Lynx History. Paris, Plon, 1991.

[xx] Hector Hernán Bruit. op cit. For the case of Mexico, see: Miguel Leon-Portilla. Vision of the Vanquished. Indigenous relations of the conquest. Mexico, UNAM, 1992.

[xxx] Ruggiero Roman. Mechanisms of the Colonial Conquest. São Paulo, Perspectiva, 1973, as well as the preceding citation.

[xxiii] Emilia Viotti da Costa. The Inverted Dialectic and Other Essays. Sao Paulo, Edunesp, 2014.

[xxiii] Claude Levi-Strauss. op cit.

[xxv] Helen H. Jackson. A Siècle de Deshonneur. Paris, UGE, 1972. It is an account of the extermination of the North American Indians, written by the wife of a Union army captain. For the extermination of the Indians in the extreme south of America, see: Liborio Justo. Pampas and Spears. Buenos Aires, Lecture, 1962.

[xxiv] Karl Marx. The capital. Book I, Section VII.

[xxv] Fernando Novais. Structure and Dynamics of the Colonial System. XVI-XVII centuries. Lisbon, Horizonte Books, sdp.

[xxviii] Celso Furtado. The Latin American Economy. São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 2007.

[xxviii] Enrique Tandeter. Coercion and Market. The silver mine in colonial Potosí. Madrid, Siglo XXI, 1992.

[xxix] A peonage it was only abolished in Mexico by the Mexican Revolution (1910); in Bolivia, the I pose, a similar institution, survived until the 1952 revolution.

[xxx] Enrique Florescano. Formation and economic structure of hacienda in Nueva España. In: Leslie Bethell (ed.). History of Latin America, v. 3. Barcelona, ​​Criticism, 1990.

[xxxii] Glaucio Ary Dillon Soares. The Agrarian Question in Latin America. Rio de Janeiro, Zahar, 1976.

[xxxi] Ignacio Sotelo. Sociology of Latin America. Rio de Janeiro, Pallas, 1975.

[xxxii] Andre Gunder Frank. World Accumulation 1492-1789. Rio de Janeiro, Zahar, 1977; Virgilio Noya Pinto. Brazilian Gold and Anglo-Portuguese Trade. São Paulo, National Publishing Company, 1979.

[xxxv] David Cordingly. Under the Black Flag. The romance and the reality of life among the pirates. London, Random House, 2013.

[xxxiv] Ernesto Frers. More Allá del Legado Pirata. History and legend of piracy. Barcelona, ​​Robinbook, 2008, p. 159.

[xxxiv] Direct testimonies of piracy activities in America can be found at: Alexandre Olivier Exquemelin. Pirates of america. Barcelona, ​​Barral, 1971 [1678]; Daniel Defoe. A History of the Pirates. Rio de Janeiro, Jorge Zahar, 2008 [1724].

[xxxviii] John Maynard Keynes. A Treat on Money. New York, Harcourt & Brace, 1930.

[xxxviii] Charles Gibson. Spain in America. New York, Harper & Row, 1967.

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