Adam Smith, the classical economist, called the discovery of America one of the “most important events in the history of mankind.” America's significance, he went on to say, lay not in its mines of silver and gold, but in the new and inexhaustible market for European goods. From that “discovery” emerged a New Spain, the ancestral mother of Mexico, a colony for three centuries, a hundred years longer than its independence. Those long centuries of Spanish hegemony set Mexico's contours. The European conquest and colonization of New Spain brought Western culture, the Spanish language, Catholicism, and Roman law, as well as an economic and political system. The conquest and later colony laid the basis for a capitalist economy. One other institution deserves careful scrutiny if we are to understand the background of Mexico's underdevelopment: the Catholic Church. But beneath the glitter of majestic cathedrals and the pomp and ceremony of the baroque years lay the ugly reality of colonialism.
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