Viceregal rule in colonial Latin America

by Dave

The similarities with Indian colonial rule are telling. From John Crow’s book:

To all intents and purposes a viceroy of the Spanish colonial empire was a king while he was in the New World. The only great limitation on his power was the time limit involved…By pulling a single one of his fingers the [Spanish] monarch could jerk any governor in America off his pedestal, slap him into prison or send him to the gallows.

The result of these snoopings was to prod the viceroy into finding some way of getting around them. This gave rise to an unhealthy body politic which made effective and progressive rule next to impossible. Each unit often came to distrust every other unit, and the people themselves were given almost no opportunity for self-expression or for learning or expanding the machinery of self-government.

With the example of his monarch before him, and with his very appointment usually the result of some pull at court and rarely dependent on ability alone, the Viceroy swam with the current and with few exceptions set an example of stupid or at least inept government, which kept his domains marking time throughout most of the colonial epoch. Under him the lesser cogs and puppets floated along in the same stream, disdaining the honest and just use of authority, intent only upon those abuses of power which would redound to their personal benefit. For nearly 3 centuries this was the symbol of government which the peoples of Latin America had before them.