Portuguese navigational technology – Portuguese technological innovations arose a need for expansion. A mountainous landscape provided insufficient space for agriculture, making it necessary for Portugal to look to new regions to support its existing population. Additionally, Ferdinand and Isabella had a desire to expand Christendom that made global exploration an even more worthwhile investment. Perhaps most important to Portuguese expansion were the innovations of Gil Eannes. Gil applied logic and mathematics to nautical navigation in a way that allowed Portuguese sailors to venture into unexplored territory in Southern Africa. This method, known as triangulation, allowed explorers to sail further away from land and navigate using the currents to their advantage. This combined with a change in sail shape to accommodate crosswinds more effectively made navigation more efficient and reliable than ever. Astronomical studies also led to the discovery of new constellations that could be used for navigating. These technological advances made it possible for Ferdinand Magellan to circumnavigate the globe, de Gama to arrive in India by sea, and Bartholemew Diaz to cross the Cape of New Hope. Portuguese exploration opened the door to globalization, leading to cross-cultural trade, colonization, and the rise of a new global empire.
Silver (as a currency/commodity) – While it carried value as a currency during the colonial period of Latin America, silver also carried inherent value that made it a global commodity desirable to many different groups. Silver was durable, stable, and had antibiotic properties, allowing it to be worn as jewelry without irritating the skin. These properties made silver a valuable substance across the globe. No matter what part of the world you were in, you could trade silver for any resources you needed. Additionally, the desire for silver led to a rise in smuggling and piracy. Piracy during the time period centered around obtaining “pieces of eight”, where a piece of eight was equivalent to one-eighth of a Spanish silver peso. While large amounts of silver were extracted in mines like that of Potosi and then extracted, it was also used in local transactions in the colonies and led to the establishment of credit. Silver was used as payment for trades in the intercolonial markets in exchange for mules, wine, cattle, and other resources necessary to maintain the labor force working in the silver mines. The silver market was stable for decades and demand remained high, allowing for the rise of the first round of colonial elites and millionaires in Latin America.
Piracy – Piracy began with the rise of silver as a currency and commodity and only grew from there as the colonies developed advancements in agriculture in the 18th century that led to the production of new commodities. These commodities, including tobacco, alcohol, gold, and even slaves, were seen as tools in the quest for silver. Imperial competition for silver and other commodities led to a rise in privateering and contraband trade, especially by the British and the French. The presence of hostile ships made the oceans between the colonies and their mother countries unsafe, causing large amounts of revenue and trade in remain on the colonial side of the Atlantic. Thus, this period marked the peak of development in the colonies and led to their increased independence. Eventually, anti-priacy laws and international treaties would effectively outlaw piracy, making the oceans safe to traverse again.
Audiencias and cabildos – Following Spanish colonization, new political centers were built where old world capitals existed. These political systems included governing bodies with purposefully overlapping jurisdictions. Audiencias served as a sort of judicial branch for the colonies. This type of governing body could function as a court of appeals and had direct access to the king. Cabildos functioned largely as a town hall and allowed local elites to participate in governance. Members of the cabildo were required to be “clean of blood” and to have descended from a family that hand not done manual labor for generations. The cabildo handled local politics and held elections, but also had the ability to write directly to the king. Both the audiencia and the cabildo were parallel to the viceroy. These governing bodies often sent competing agendas to the king, who was always the final decider. While the colonists were expected to remain loyal to the king, and largely did so, they were also allowed to disagree with local laws or judicial rulings and appeal directly to the king. While law was focused more on ideals than reality and punishment at the time, the Spanish political structure served as a balanced system that allowed some colonists to have a say in how they were governed.
Auxiliary industries – Silver, gold, and sugar industries required a large labor force and lots of land. Thus, these industries developed a need to fuel their labor forces with resources from other regions. For example, the silver mine at Potosi and other silver mines required specialized labor forces that included indigenous people as well as slaves. Secondary industries that produced cattle, mules, wine, grains, and other products were necessary to keep laborers fed and the mines and plantations producing at high volumes. The cattle industry was extremely important in both providing waterproof shipping containers and supplying dried beef to feed laborers at mines and plantations. Mules were important for transporting materials to, from, and around the mine. Wheat and wine nourished people throughout the colonies, including higher class individuals that owned mining operations. While these industries became globally desirable later as globalization and industrialization continued, they first became necessary to supply mines and plantations, which produced the most revenue for the colonies at the time. Auxiliary industries fostered the growth of intercolonial markets and strengthened colonial autonomy. Secondary industries also helped colonies establish trade relationships with other countries and produce revenue after they gained independence.