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By Leslie Bethell

Examines the historical past of colonial Latin the USA prior to its independence.

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In densely peopled areas like those in New Spain, herds of cattle established themselves on land that had previously been inhabited. Both the livestock in these herds and the animals that ran wild (which were equally abundant) continually invaded the areas cultivated by the Indians of the neighbouring villages, destroying their crops and driving them off the land. The vacuum caused thereby tempted the landowners into expanding their estates and creating new ones. European agriculture and stock raising thus spread at the expense of the native Americans: the more European crops and livestock there were, the fewer Indians.

Migrant Indians settled as peons on Spanish-owned haciendas, but they also started to disperse across the countryside again. In the eighteenth century, the crown stopped insisting on the Indians' resettlement in towns, except on the frontiers, where a whole-hearted missionary offensive backed by the state succeeded in setting up missions and reservations in lands whose own inhabitants were unsubdued, from California to Patagonia. In an extension of its policy, the crown favoured lands being divided among the Indians to be held in individual ownership - a step which naturally tended to bring about a dispersion of the population.

Cortes' men then took it with them to the mainland. The epidemic disrupted Aztec resistance and killed Montezuma's successor. From Mexico it spread to Central America, and thence passed on to the southern continent, which it invaded more than five years earlier than Spanish soldiers. When the Inca Huayna Capac died in 1524, it was smallpox that killed him — smallpox which Europeans had originally brought to America, and which thus caused the war for the succession to the throne which was going on when Pizarro arrived in Peru.

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