The Potosi Mita, 1573-1700: Compulsory Indian Labor in the Andes

The Potosi Mita, 1573-1700: Compulsory Indian Labor in the Andes

The Potosi Mita, 1573-1700: Compulsory Indian Labor in the Andes

The Potosi Mita, 1573-1700: Compulsory Indian Labor in the Andes

Excerpt

Bitter debate swirled about the mita during most of its 250-year existence. The draft labor system was identified by its enemies as a form of servitude worse than slavery and was accused of depopulating the provinces subject to it. Its defenders denied that it was responsible for the demographic decline in Alto Perú and argued that the mita was necessary to produce the silver upon which the Spanish Empire was so dependent. The arguments of the two factions were destined to play major parts in the formation of the Black and White Legends of the nature of Spanish American colonization.

Despite being one of the principal bones of contention in a heated historiographical controversy, the mita did not, until recently, receive the careful historical analysis that it required. Some early articles, such as those of Alberto Crespo R. and Jorge Basadre, offered broad sketches of the system that were, we should note, remarkably accurate. But too many other studies merely parroted the claims made about the mita during the colonial period. The problem was not a lack of source materials, but rather too many, spread throughout the South American and European continents. Investigators were forced either to content themselves with broad interpretations based on a few sources or to write highly specific works restricted to a very short time frame and subject.

This is not to say that larger studies were not planned. Silvio Zavala, Marie Helmer, and Alberto Crespo R. are among those who contemplated the task of writing a comprehensive history of the . . .

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