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The War of the Vicuñas and Basques (Spanish language: Guerra de Vicuñas y Vascongados ),[1] or sometimes just Vicuña War,[2] was an armed conflict in Alto Perú, present-day Bolivia, that lasted between June 1622 and March 1625, fought between Basques and "Vicuñas" (an informal term for non-Basque Spaniards in Alto Perú, a name obtained through the habit of wearing hats made of vicuña skins).[3][4]

Competition over the control of the silver mines in Potosí, Lípez and Chichas surged in the early 17th century, pitting Basques and Vicuñas against each other.[4] The Vicuñas had initially employed legal and political measures attempting to block the Basque attempts to monopolize control over the Cabildo (municipal government) of Potosí and the silver mining sector. However, these efforts did not yield results. Violent incidents began in 1615, and escalated in 1622 following the assassination of a Basque of a street in Potosí.[5][6]

The Vicuñas were led by Antonio Xeldres.[7][8] The creole, Mestizo and indigenous populations largely sided with the Vicuñas.[4] The Vicuñas themselves were not always unified, though, as they suffered from internal feuds between Andalusians on one hand and New Castillians and Extremadurans on the other (the former group eventually withdrew from the rebellion).[3]

The war pitted different sectors of the viceregal administration against each other, as some supported the Basque claims for hegemony whilst others had a conciliatory approach to the Vicuña rebels. Personalities involved in the conflict included the president and oidores of the Royal Audiencia of Charcas, treasury officials and the corregidor of Potosí and the visitador (sent to the area in order to audit fiscal accounts).[3]

The Vicuña rebels had killed 64 men by March 1624. However, the Basque control over the city and the mines had not been broken. Basque leaders pleaded to the King of Spain, Philip IV, to intervene. The King in return ordered the Viceroy of Peru to act decisively against the Vicuñas.[6] Between 1624 and 1625, the viceregal authorities managed to capture several key Vicuña leaders, executing forty of them.[3]

The war would last for three years. The war did not end in any decisive victory for any side, but rather as a result of mutual exhaustion.[5] An agreement to end hostilities was reached.[7] The marriage between the children of two of the leaders of the opposing camps, the son of the Basque leader Francisco Oyanume and the daughter of the Vicuña general Castillo, was part of the settlement of the conflict.[6] In April 1625, a royal decree was issued, pardoning all Vicuñas fighters except those having committed blood crimes.[6] Some Vicuñas continued acts of banditry in the following years, but without the ethnic or political overtones as during the war with the Basques.[7] Basque-Vicuña rivalry did, however, continue for a century.[4]

On March 15, 1626, the ingenios of Potosí were destroyed by massive flooding. This event was interpreted as a divine punishment for the past violences.[3]

Later histiography has sought to emphasize the socio-economic contradictions as catalysts for the war, framing it as class warfare.[3]


  1. Lisa Voigt, Spectacular Wealth: The Festivals of Colonial South American Mining Towns (University of Texas Press, 2016), p. 165 n. 13.
  2. Nicolás Sánchez-Albornoz, "The Population of Colonial Spanish America", in Leslei Bethell (ed.), The Cambridge History of Latin America, Volume II: Colonial Latin America (Cambridge University Press, 1984), p. 17.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Dominguez, Nicanor J (2006). "Rebels of Laicacota: Spaniards, Indians, and Andean Mestizos in Southern Peru During the Mid-Colonial Crisis of 1650–1680". University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. p. 137. .
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 González Moscoso, René (1989). "Historia de las ideas políticas en el mundo y en Bolivia" (in Spanish). Editorial "Tupac Katari". pp. 119–20. .
  5. 5.0 5.1 Cole, Jeffrey A. The Potosí Mita, 1573–1700: Compulsory Indian Labor in the Andes. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 1985. p. 50
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Azcona Pastor, José Manuel, and William A. Douglass. Possible Paradises: Basque Emigration to Latin America. Reno, NV: Univ. of Nevada Press, 2004, pp. 208–9
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Douglass, William A., and Jon Bilbao. Amerikanuak: Basques in the New World. Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2005, pp. 82–83
  8. Navarro Viola, Miguel; Quesada, Vicente G (1865). "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}" (in Spanish). Imprenta de Mayo. p. 347. .

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