chapter  2
28 Pages

The Seventeenth-Century Decline, 1580–1715

As the system of labor control called encomienda faded in colonial Latin America, encomenderos and other people of high colonial status turned to direct control of the land for wealth. The colonial state leased huge grants of land (called haciendas or estancias in some areas, and plantations in others), to wealthy and infl uential Spaniards and their creole descendants. The land grantees (who quickly saw themselves as owners) sometimes paid for the land with loans from the Church, the only colonial banker. On these lands they raised livestock such as cows, sheep, and pigs; vegetables such as corn, beans, and squash; and commercial crops like cotton and sugar. The most prized lands had access to water and were near many villages with large populations. To cut costs, the landowners wanted cheap labor, and the most available workers were the ethnic groups who lived in the villages located on these vast lands.