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Viceroyalty of Peru

Conflicts of power and disagreements over jurisdictional rights broke out among two groups of conquistadores led by Francisco Pizarro and Diego de Almagro. In 1541 Pizarro was assassinated by Almagro’s followers. The government of Spain considered the necessity to consolidate authority and reduce the abuse of power and in 1542 created the Real Audiencia or Royal Audience to administer civil and criminal justice. Subsequently, in 1543 the Viceroyalty of Peru was established and Blasco Nuñez de Vela was named as Peru’s first viceroy. The Real Audiencia was formed of “oidores” or judges who answered to the viceroy.

The viceroyalty of Peru had its headquarters in Lima and had jurisdiction over all South America except the Portuguese colony of Brazil. To improve communication in the colony, in 1717 the viceroyalty of New Granada was created and included Panama, Venezuela, Colombia, part of Ecuador, Guyana and part of northern Brazil. Later, in 1776 Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and part of Bolivia were incorporated to the Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata.

In 1543, Blasco Nuñez de Vela was appointed viceroy, governor and captain general of Peru and served for almost two years. He was sent by the Spanish crown to restore order in the colonial government and to apply the New Laws. Bartolome de las Casas, a priest, influenced the Crown for the enactment of the New Laws after observing the maltreatment and enslavement to which the natives were subjected. The New Laws were not welcomed by the colonial settlers. Under this law the owners of the encomiendas had to pay their share of tax to the crown and the encomienda system had to be abolished, it also provided for the protection and improvement of native Peruvians lives.

Blasco Nuñez de Vela tried to enforce the law but faced massive opposition among the colonizers and specially the owners of encomiendas. In a series of altercations with the previous colonial government and Gonzalo Pizarro, brother of Francisco Pizarro, the Audiencia disassociated from the viceroy and tried to depose him. In 1544, he was sent prisoner to the Island of San Lorenzo and then to Panama where he was let go free. Nuñez de Vela returned to Peru with a small army and faced Francisco Pizarro in the battle of Añaquito, in the outskirts of Quito, Ecuador. Nuñez de Vela was killed and decapitated and the colony was again under the power of the conquerors and not of the Crown of Spain. Afraid of losing its colonies Spain restored the encomiendas.

A new viceroy, Pedro de la Gasca was sent to Peru to bring back order and he replaced the encomienda with the repartimiento. The repartimiento was an effort by the Crown to reduce the abuse of native workers who were now allocated by a government official, usually the city’s mayor, to settlers for a period of several weeks in which they would be paid a small wage or no wage at all. This system did not change the native workers situation as it also created slave like conditions.

Because the native population decreased due to European diseases, encomiendas and repartimientos were not as profitable as they used to be, this shortage of labor initiated the trade of Atlantic slaves. The hacienda became more important to colonial settlers as there was more money to be made from land tenure than acquisition of labor. Many people fled their repartimiento by leaving their communities and found jobs in haciendas where they were paid a small wage and given accommodation.

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