Our historical romp continues...
After writing the last historical post I found a page that explains almost everything I wanted to, but better written and researched.
Well, as we noted in the last post, Asunción was founded in 1537. By 1550 the outlines of the Spanish colonial empire had already been laid out: Mexico and the Carribean, the Andes and the Pacific coast of South America, and the Rio de la Plata. By 1600 it was consolidated and organized politcally into two vice-royalties, Mexico and Peru.
The rivers of La Plata were initially explored in the interest of finding a convieninet route to the riches of Peru. The Pilcomayo, the Belmejo and the Rio Negro all flow from the Andes, but first cross the Gran Chaco, which is as inhospitable an envrionment as any in South America and which was populated by aggressive indigenous tribes. The Chaco remained essentially unconquered until the 20th century. Asunción became the center of Spanish settlement east of the Andes and south of the Amazon, but without easily extractable natural rescources the region attracted little attention.
The estuary that would become known as El Rio de la Plata (the river of silver) was first discovered for Europeans by a Spanish explorer Juan Díaz de Solís in 1516, before the Spanish had yet crossed the isthmus of Panama or passed through the straits of Magellan to reach the Pacific. Juan Díaz was killed by natives, and most of his crew sailed home, but one of his lieutenants, a Portugese named Aleixo Garcia was left behind near Santa Catarina on the southern Brazilian coast. Aleixo Garcia spent eight years living with the coastal Gauraní and from them learned of the Inca Empire and its riches to the west. He managed to raise a Guaraní army then crossed through modern southern Brazil, Paraguay, the Chaco, and successfully raided the Inca in modern Bolivia. Needless to say he was one gnarly dude. He looted copious amounts of silver and retreated with the spoils across the Chaco but was attacked repeatedly and finally killed on returning to the Paraguay river. He was the first European to have an encounter with the Inca empire.
Sebastiano Caboto was the son of the Venetian explorer in the service of the English, Giovanni Caboto (aka John Cabot). Sebastiano explored the estuary in 1526 for the Spanish, established two forts, and ventured up the rivers as far as the future site of Asunción. He encountered the survivors of Garcia´s army and thier silver treasures then spent the next 3 years searching for a river route to Inca lands and named the whole river system for the object of his serach. In 1529 his forts were abandoned and overrun and Caboto returned to Spain with a fraction of his crew and reported all he'd heard of the Inca and their riches.
After it proved difficult to reach Peru from the rivers of la Plata, the focus of the Empire shifted to the Pacific coast by the crossing at Panama. The seat of the Vice-royalty of Peru was Lima, and the colonies of the entire continent were administered from there until 1739, when Colombia and Venezuela were broken off to form their own vice-royalty. The Spanish occupied Incan cities and established new ones of their own. These mostly lay along the old Inca road, which ran from Quito to Santiago. The first permanent Spanish settlements in Argentina were founded near this route, which runs through the north-western part of the country to Bolivia. Santiago del Estero, Mendoza, Córdoba, Santa Fe, San Juan, and San Miguel de Tucumán were all founded before Buenos Aires was reestablished in 1580 by a party of Asucenos. Meanwhile Uruguay was left practically undisturbed until Colonia de Sacramento was founded 100 years later by the Portuguese.
Small numbers of Spanish settled in Asunción, took Guaraní wives, went raiding for indian serfs, established encomiendas, fought off the more aggressive Chaco indians, and sent out parties of settlers to found new cities. Attempts by Asucenos to extend Spanish rule to the north and east were short lived. The settlements were too remote to attract more settlers, and were ultimately swept aside by the increasingly aggressive Portuguese raids out of Sao Paolo in the 1630´s.
The most obvious direction for settlement by Asucenos would seem to be back down the Paraná river towards the Atlantic Ocean. Santa Fé was founded in 1573 five hundred miles south of Asunción on the west bank of the Paraná and seven years later Buenos Aires was finally reestablished.
By 1600, Asunción had already peaked in its importance. It was the chief town of a region sparsely populated by Spaniards, with no gold or silver or copper mines. Yerba mate became the province´s chief cash crop, but this was heavily taxed by the viceroyalty. Technically speaking yerba wasn't even a crop as it had not yet been domesticated and was rather gathered from wild stands. By the medieval rules of commerce in the empire, all goods exported or imported were to be traded through Portobelo, in Panama. So Paraguayan goods travelled by river to Santa Fe or Buenos Aires, put onto carts and drawn up to Perú or over to Chile, put on boats to be sailed to Panama, unloaded again onto carts to cross the isthmus, and then finally loaded into ships and sailed to Spain as part of a convoy. The natural attraction of Buenos Aires as a port lead to a good deal of smuggling, but this could only mitigate, not replace, the loss of legal trade.
Buenos Aires gradually ecplised Asunción in importance during the 1600´s, but the onerous economic regulations kept either city from pospering. Buenos Aires is today one of the largest and liveliest cities in the world and we might have expected colonial Paraguay to have prospered in some degree by its reflected glory. However, the region remained a distant and often forgotten province of Perú for 200 years. Not until 1776 was Buenos Aires granted its own viceroyalty and trading privledges.
And now, just in case you still didn't think I was a nerd, here is an animation I've made of the colonization of this part of South America: