Early colonial times (late 15th and 16th centuries)
In Spanish service, C. Columbus discovered the Bahamian island of Guanahani (San Salvador, possibly Samana Cay) on October 12th, 1492 – on the western sea route to India -, on October 28th, Cuba and on December 6th, Hispaniola. On his third voyage (1498–1500) Columbus first touched the South American mainland (on the Gulf of Pariah), on his fourth voyage (1502–04) the Central American mainland (America, overview). Check CountryAAH to see a full list of nations in American continent.
After the colonization of Hispaniola, the Spaniards conquered Cuba in 1508-11; They gained a foothold in Panama in 1509. 1519–21 H. Cortés defeated the Aztec Empire in Mexico, his officer P. de Alvarado until 1524 Guatemala. In 1531–33 F. Pizarro conquered the Inca Empire (Peru) from Panama. S. de Benalcázar conquered Quito (Ecuador) in 1533/34, and G. Jiménez de Quesada conquered the highlands of Bogotá (Colombia). Venezuela was owned by the Welsers from 1528–46, who had signed a treaty with Emperor Charles V to conquer and settle the country. The conquest of the La Plata area was first attempted by P. de Mendoza 1534–36; the settlement undertook D. Martínez de Irala from Asunción. Buenos Aires was founded in 1536, finally in 1580.
Alongside Spain, Portugal had developed into a colonial power; both states agreed in the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494) to partition the New World. Portugal, to which the lands to the east of the agreed border fell, acquired ownership of most of Brazil. On April 23, 1500 P. Á landed . Cabral on the Brazilian coast (in the Bahia area) and took possession of it for Portugal on May 1st. Initially, the Portuguese only set up bases on the coast (“point colonization”), while the Spanish areas became settlement colonies from 1501 (with branches in the interior). It was only when other powers threatened to wrest Brazil from the Portuguese crown (the French made alliances with Indian tribes) that the expedition of Martim Afonso de Sousa (* around 1500, † 1564) initiated the actual occupation of the country (Brazil, history). In the peripheral areas, privileged mission areas developed (such as the so-called Jesuit state in Paraguay).
To legitimize their claims to power, the conquerors invoked the priority of the first discovery, the bestowal by the Pope and finally the Treaty of Tordesillas. The conquered areas became integral parts of the crowns of Castile and Portugal. For Castile, the Indians were considered free subjects who were to be Christianized according to the papal mandate. Castile tried together with the Catholic Church to guarantee the protection of the Indians (prohibition of Indian slavery in 1512 and 1530, reinforced by the “New Laws” of 1542, inspired by B. de Las Casas), but in practice it was mostly unable to oppose them Assert the claims of the conquistadors. In Portuguese Brazil, the Indians were not legally free until 1758.
The conquistadors, who came primarily from the lower nobility (Hidalgos) and from the common people, strived for social advancement and wealth (search for the gold of Eldorado). With the help of the tribute and labor services of the Indians (encomienda) to individual conquerors and their resettlement (sometimes also settling down), the natural resources were ruthlessly exploited and the conquered empires plundered. The consequences of forced labor and v. a. Epidemics caused a dramatic decline in the local population by 1650.
The later colonial period (17th / 18th century)
In the Spanish areas of South and Central America, an administrative structure was built up against the power of the conquistadors, headed by viceroys or captains-general and courts of justice (audiencias). The highest central authority was the Spanish Council of India (Consejo Real y Supremo de las Indias). The American-born Spaniards (Creoles) were not excluded from administrative offices; leading positions were mostly filled with European Spaniards. The contrast between European and American Spaniards increasingly determined colonial politics. Indian village communities had limited autonomy.
In the Portuguese territories it was not until 1604, during the personal union of the Iberian empires (1580–1640), based on the Spanish model, to set up a Council of India (Conselho das Índias) in the mother country. In Brazil itself, a governor (governor-general from 1577) had been at the head of the country, which was divided into 15 captains, since 1549.
Economic centers were the areas of silver mining, Potosí (Bolivia), Zacatecas and Guanajuato (Mexico), and the colonial administrative cities, which also concentrated trade, finance and industry. In Minas Gerais, Brazil, for example, diamonds and gold have been mined since the 18th century. The extraction of dyes (cochineal in New Spain, indigo in Guatemala) was another important branch of the economy; this lay v. a. in the hands of the Indian peasant population. In the 18th century, cocoa was exported from New Granada, tobacco and sugar from Cuba and New Spain, and hides from the La Plata area. In the coastal country of Pernambuco and Bahia (Brazil), as in parts of the Spanish Caribbean, a flourishing tropical plantation economy (cane sugar) developed on the basis of slavery. Spain tried in vain to keep its territories economically dependent through trade restrictions in accordance with the ideas of mercantilism. The overseas movement of goods and people in Castile was controlled by the emigration and trade control authority, the Casa de la Contratación in Seville, from 1717 in Cádiz. 1778 raised Charles III most of the trade restrictions on. Foreigners remained excluded from trade with Spanish America, but infiltrated legal trade early and soon switched to smuggling.
The leading class was formed by the landed aristocracy, which also included large merchants, mine operators and civil servants. The medium-sized industry was only of minor importance. After the initially dramatic decline in the native population, the number of Indians increased again in the following decades of the 17th century. African slaves were brought to the Caribbean and Brazil because of the particularly sharp decline in the local population (Asiento). A mixed population gradually emerged (mestizos, mulattos).
Since the 17th century, other European states pushed onto the continent, v. a. to the West Indies to trade with the New World. Buccaneers crossed the Caribbean; the English conquered Jamaica from 1655 and settled in 1683 in the south of the Yucatán peninsula (British Honduras). The French settled on Hispaniola from 1697. The Dutch ruled the Portuguese Pernambuco from 1630–54. Great Britain, France and the Netherlands occupied parts of Guyana. In 1762–63 the British occupied the strategically important capital of Cuba.
To ward off competing European powers and to strengthen their own position, Spain and Portugal implemented extensive reforms in the second half of the 18th century. In addition to the viceroyalty of New Spain and Peru, the viceroyalty of New Granada came into being in Spanish America in 1739 and the viceroyalty of Río de la Plata in 1776. In Brazil, in 1772, the northern administrative district of Estado do Maranhão was subordinated to the viceroy in Rio de Janeiro. The Spanish colonial administration was reformed and the influence of the Creoles in the administration was greatly reduced. In numerous rebellions, the population protested against tax increases and innovations in trade.