Latin American Studies

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The Destruction of the Indigenous Peoples of Hispano America

A Genocidal Encounter

Eitan Ginzberg is the author of Lázaro Cárdenas, gobernador de Michoacán, 1928–1932 (1999), and Revolutionary Ideology and Political Destiny in Mexico, 1928–1934: Lázaro Cárdenas and Adalberto Tejeda (2015). His research focuses on questions of infra-political resistance, history and culture of Latin America, and the study of genocide. Dr. Ginzberg serves as a researcher at the Sverdlin Institute of Latin American History and Culture at the University of Tel Aviv.

It was not the original intention of the Spanish to harm the Hispanic-American natives. The Spanish Crown, Councils and Church considered the natives free and intelligent vassals entitled to be embraced by Christianity and by the Hispanic civil culture. However, at the same time it was the monarchy’s decision to exploit the natives as taxpayers and as a reservoir of forced labor that made its rule in America exceptionally destructive. The recruitment of the natives to serve the interests of the Spanish Empire under what can only be considered near to slave conditions, compounded by systematic annihilation of their cultures and by cyclical epidemics, led to the near total eradication of the Indians.

The book narrates the story of the Spanish conquest and the widespread violations against the Hispanic-American natives. The author ponders on the question why the Spanish Crown and the Church failed to apply the necessary measures to effectively protect the natives, particularly during the first years of the conquest and its aftermaths, when exploitation practices were gradually formed and implemented. The author further enquires how exploitation on this scale was made possible despite a constant flow of reports emphasizing the clear and present danger to the very existence of the natives and the profound, ongoing debates, led by most prominent intellectuals of the time, challenging its justification.

Based upon primary sources and current research on the relationship between colonialism and genocide, this book examines whether the Spanish actions were genocidal. What lies at the heart of the issue is whether the wide range of exploitative acts implies ministerial responsibility of the Crown and its Councils in Spain, Crowns’ agents in America, or whether the destruction of the native population resulted from unplanned but acute circumstances, making it impossible to place the blame on specific persons or institutions.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-813-8
Hardback Price: £75 / $99.95
Release Date: March 2018
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-921-0
Paperback Price: £40.00 / $60.00
Release Date: February 2019
Page Extent / Format: 400 pp. / 234 x 156 mm
Illustrated: Pictures and maps


List of Illustrations and Maps

Genocide and the Hispanic American dilemma               
The concept of genocide and its referential limitations
The limited approach to the question of genocide
Genocide as a twentieth-century phenomenon
The Jewish Holocaust:  a unique genocidal phenomenon?
Should cultural extermination be viewed as genocide?
The question of intent
Settler colonialism as piecemeal genocide?
The extended approach to the question of genocide
Is genocide without intent possible? 
Genocide as a universal phenomenon
Genocide as an extermination of culture
Genocide as a colonial condition: Lemkin’s observation
The Hispanic American dilemma according to Lemkin
Focus and aims of this study
Historical sources

Chapter 1    America and the Native Americans: On the Eve of a Tragic Encounter
The population of America on the eve of the conquest
Cultural background
Origins of the Central and South American cultures
Creating existential frameworks for daily life
The dimension of time
Material culture and social life
Spiritual life and ritual   
Writing and literature    
Political structure and imperial territory on the eve of the conquest    
Human sacrifice and cannibalism   
From discovery to concealment   

Chapter 2    Spaniards and Indianos at the Onset of the Conquest   
Emergence of the Spaniard as a “frontier man”                      
The consolidation of Spain   
Spanish momentum and expanding horizons   

Chapter 3    The Discovery and Conquest of America   
The discovery and exploration of the New World   
The conquest of Mexico   
The conquest of Peru   
Factors that contributed to the Spanish victory   

Chapter 4    The Conquest: A Strategy of Cruelty and Destruction   
 Dynamics of mass killings
“Pacification”: The horrors of an expanding conquest
The Chichimeca Affair
Devastation of infrastructure
Violence as logic of conquest
Cultural destruction

Chapter 5    Institutions of Subjugation and Acculturation  
The Encomienda   
The repartiemento (allocation) system
The repartimiento on trial: The Third Provincial Council of the Mexican Church (1585)
Background, framework, and agenda
Pedro de Pravia’s response
The Franciscan position
Ortíz de Hinojosa’s standpoint 
Life under the repartimiento system
Debt bondage
The head tax (tributo)
Indian resettlement and destruction of regions of memory   

Chapter 6    Debating the Appropriate Treatment of Native Americans (1511–1539)   
The groundbreaking sermons of Antonio de Montesinos (1511)   
The Council of Burgos (1512)   
The Requerimiento   
The Valladolid Conference of November 1526   
In the name of the humanity and wisdom of the Indians: the Papal Bull of Paul III
Francisco de Vitoria and the justification of the Spanish rule in America (1534–1539)
Proposal for a new legal order
The conceptual framework
The Indis and the false claims on America
De Indis and the seemingly legal Spanish claims to America
De iure belli: Was the war against the Indians a just one? 

Chapter 7     Debating the Appropriate Treatment of Native Americans (1542–1585)   
The new laws of 1542   
The idea of restitution (1547)   
The debate: Bartolomé de Las Casas versus Juan Gines de Sepúlveda (1550–1551) 
The Codex of 1573
The Third Provincial Council of the Mexican Church (1585)

Chapter 8    Unintended Calamity or a Genocidal Encounter? What did actually happen in Sixteenth-Century Hispano-America?
The Inevitability of the Spanish Colonization   
The Logics of Spanish colonialism and its consequences
The Debate about the plagues and their causes
Unintended calamity or a genocidal encounter?  
Denying responsibility   
From denial of responsibility to denial of the Indian 

Epilogue: Lessons about Genocide and the Destruction of Culture
The policy of Indian rehabilitation and its critics   
The emergence of Spanish American Indianism   
Lessons to be drawn from the extermination of the Indians   

Glossary of Terms   
Vocabulary List
List of Copyright Holders

This study for students and scholars explains the origins of colonialism in Hispano America, examines the aims and motivations of European explorers, and assesses the level of human, material, and cultural destruction in Central and South America, in order to determine whether what took place in Hispano America in the 16th century should be categorized as genocide or merely as wide-scale destruction by the Spanish. The first part of the book deals with definitions and frameworks of genocide, various historical genocides, and the question of genocidal intent, as a way to begin debating whether the Spanish encounter with Hispano America in the 16th century was a genocidal encounter. Later chapters deal with various aspects of the cultural destruction. The book also considers how the indigenous population dealt with the destruction and how it has been commemorated. Of special interest is discussion of the widespread practice of human sacrifice and cannibalism in indigenous cultures of Hispano America and whether that is similar to, or a justification for, genocide. The book contains a glossary and color photographs, illustrations, and maps.

Reviewed in Spanish by Raquel Gil Montero in Iberoamericana, XX, 7  (2020) 

Reviewed by Silke Hensel in Zeitschrift für Historische Forschun, 47 (2020).       

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