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Spain Vs. Portugal: Which Colonial System Was More Effective?

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Spain vs. Portugal: Which Colonial System Was More Effective? Spain and Portugal can be considered two of the greatest colonial powers in history, each having ruled their respective empires for more than three centuries. These imperial powers owed their accomplishments to different concepts of organization and ultimately the Spanish method was more successful. The Spanish administrative system was well organized, making land grants and getting labor more efficient. The Portuguese system, on the other hand, was more loosely organized thus less productive.

Christopher Columbus was a pioneer in setting up Spanish Colonies. His method was relatively simple. A grid pattern would be marked for a town, a municipal government set up, land would be divided among the colonists and Indians would be assigned to each settler to work on their land. Not surprisingly this system was used wherever the Spaniards went in the New World, as it was an effective show of force. The Portuguese were not as strict in their method of establishing their colonies. The colonists did not all follow the same pattern thus there was a larger margin for confusion among them and it was harder for the Crown to keep tabs on every one. It was like establishing their own mini colonies, with their own set of rules created for individual needs. This made their colonies somewhat weaker.

The Spanish labor systems of encomienda and repartimiento were not entirely successful because the Crown did not fully approve of them or did so grudgingly. However they were more strongly enforced and most if not all the Spaniards used them. The Portuguese aldeia system resembled a combination of the encomienda and repartimiento. Like the encomeinda Indians were introduced to Christianity and European way of life in exchange for a portion of their labor which was in turn given to the church or the state. Like the repartimiento land owners could apply to the administrators for paid Indian workers to perform a specific task for a specific period of time. However the aldeia system only included a small percentage of the Indians in Brazil. The rest of the planters hunted to enslave the natives even though the church and the Crown frowned upon this. Again, individuals forged their own paths to suit individual needs.

The declining Indian population, caused mainly by disease, freed up more and more land which the Iberians quickly seized. The Spanish created a three-part legal system to get land that favored themselves and confused the natives. The congregación pushed the Indians into the villages, allowing the Spaniards to take more land; the denuncia required Indians to give legal documentation to their property, something that the ancient Indian traditions were not prepared for, and failure to do so would allowed the Spaniards could seize their land; and the composición was a way of claiming land through legal surveys, another idea that the Indians were unaccustomed to. Moreover, most of the land acquired by the Spanish was arable and had relatively high value, thus the monarchs were fine with large land holding on their new territories.

On the other hand, Portuguese monarchs were not happy with their land holdings. Most of the land lay fallow and unproductive. The huge estates were poorly managed and not properly cultivated if at all, and much of the food was imported when farmers could easily produce it themselves. The Portuguese Crown tried with little success to reverse the damage done, but decrees that tried to limit the size of estates were brushed off by landowners. They viewed large fields as a sign of high prestige, whether or not they were developed.

It was not until the eighteenth century when the Portuguese began to regularize and better define their imperial administration. Because of their more structured administration, Spain was able to maintain a more effective empire up to that point. They in a sense had planned for their future by looking out for the good of the entire empire and not just for individual needs. However well the Portuguese thought they were helping, the Spanish had different ideas. Simon Bolivar and General Miranda were not the only ones who thought they were undermining the fact that they were being overlooked by the Spanish crown.

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