So begins the first chapter of George Reid Andrews’ seminal book on the history of Africans in Latin America. But just as clergyman Walsh was surprised at the size and diversity of the African population of Latin America, so are modern Europeans likely to be astounded by the scale and extent of the transatlantic slave trade in Spain’s and Portugal’s Latin American colonies. The history of Africans in Latin America is multifaceted and complex. Not all Africans were slaves, and for those who were, conditions were diverse depending on a number of factors, such as economics, politics, ecology and demographics. Indeed, Europeans in Latin America used African labour in every conceivable form in every place they decided to settle during the colonial period and beyond. In the space allowed here, it would be impossible to give the whole picture of what happened in this vast continent over a period spanning several centuries. However, I will try to highlight this diversity by exploring slavery in three very different settings and themes within the Latin American mainland: slave policy in the Spanish colonies of Colombia; slaves in the mining industry in the Bolivian high Andes; and the role of descendants of slaves in the building of the Panama Canal.


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