Historical Social Research

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Wolfgang Gabbert, The longue durée of Colonial Violence in Latin America [Abstract]

There can be no doubt that physical violence was a constant feature of Spanish and Portuguese colonialism in Latin America. Far from being uniform, however, the form and extent of colonial violence varied considerably between different regions and time periods. The paper discusses these differences and relates them, among other things, to the character of the native societies as well as to the different systems of economic exploitation the colonizers used. In another section, the patterns of violent protest against colonial rule will be discussed where periods of relative “peacefulness” alternated with times of massive violence. Beyond this, it is argued that alliances between Europeans and indigenous groups played an important role in the establishment and preservation of colonial rule. Emphasizing native complicity in the colonial system by no means absolves Europeans from their responsibility for colonialism in Latin America as such or, more specifically, for the bulk of colonial violence. However, in view of the fact that the Spanish and Portuguese remained a small minority throughout most of Latin America up to the end of the colonial period, this aspect seems crucial to the understanding of how colonialism was possible at all. In a concluding section the long term consequences of the colonial violence and its legitimizing ideas after independence will be discussed.