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Latin America: A Legacy of Oppression

Essay by   •  October 5, 2010  •  Research Paper  •  2,118 Words (9 Pages)  •  2,128 Views

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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

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