In This Review

The Tupac Amaru Rebellion
The Tupac Amaru Rebellion
By Charles F. Walker
Belknap Press, 2014, 376 pp

Empires that try to coerce their colonial subjects into financing their overseas ambitions do so at their own peril, as both George III of the United Kingdom and Charles III of Spain learned. In Peru in 1780, anger over rising Spanish taxes and the many abuses of the Spanish colonial authorities spurred a Jesuit-educated, middle-class, indigenous merchant who called himself Túpac Amaru -- claiming to descend from the last ruler of the Incan Empire -- to organize an armed rebellion with the assistance of his wife, Micaela Bastidas. But as Walker explains, the Spanish authorities quickly and ruthlessly quelled the indigenous uprising: Túpac Amaru lacked organizational skills and a clear vision and made major tactical errors, including failing to seize the strategically vital city of Cuzco. During the course of the ethnically polarized struggle, the rebels were unable to win enough public support to survive, and the powerful Catholic Church sided with the colonial authorities. Superior Spanish firepower and brutality proved decisive, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 100,000 people. To succeed, anticolonial rebellions typically require assistance from geopolitical rivals. But for reasons that Walker does not fully explore, the British showed no interest in aiding Túpac Amaru’s challenge to the United Kingdom’s rivals in Spain.