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Reductions (known as Reducciones de Indios, or simply Reducciones in Spanish; also Congregaciones) were settlements founded by the Spanish colonizers of the New World with the purpose of assimilating indigenous populations into European culture and religion.

Already since the beginning of the Spanish presence in the Americas, the Crown had been concerned with the building of indigenous towns. The evolution of this concern can be seen in the documents issued from the Court such as the Instrucciones a Ovando (1501), the Leyes de Burgos (1512), and the Leyes Nuevas (1542). In the instructions to Nicolás Ovando, for example, the Crown ordered that the Indians live in the cities of the Spanish (thus favoring a total assimilation of the indigenous population). The Leyes de Burgos--the first law code of the Spanish in the New World—encharged the encomenderos with the indoctrination of the Indians, and decreed that the Indians should live near Spanish settlements, "so that the continuous conversion of those that will have it, through going to church on the feast days to hear mass and the divine rites, and seeing how the Spanish live" would be quickly accomplished.

However, the abuses of the encomenderos and, above all, the evangelistic character of the Spanish state—which based its right over the land and persons of the Indies on the Papal charge to evangelize them—created an impetus for a better organized missionary involvement. For this, it was essential that the Indians be concentrated in cities and towns of the Spanish style, if well separated from Spanish populations. At the same time, so that the Crown could offer the Indians services and protection, it was necessary that the collection of taxes be efficacious, and this was impossible with a dispersed population. In this way, it can be seen that the goals of the reductions were not only evangelistic, but also demographic, economic, and political.

The effective organization of the reductions dates to 1531, according to the instructions communicated to the second Audiencia of New Spain. In each reduccion de indios there was required to be a church staffed by a priest. The priest was to be supported by tributes required of the Indians. The regimen of life in the reduction was communal, and the resources of the reduction (including land) untransferably belonged to the reduction.

The majority of the reductions were incorporated by the Spanish Crown, although some were given to particular people along the lines of the encomiendas. A collection of reductions incorporated by the crown received the name corregimiento, which was commanded by a corregidor. However, this brought with it the growth of corruption, as the post of corregidor was bought and did not entail a salary, which provoked all kinds of extortion.

The Franciscans and the Jesuits also organized reductions, mainly in the Viceroyalty of Peru. It were these that eventually achieved the most development, success, and fame, especially the Jesuit Reductions of Paraguay. This was a result in a difference between the application of the reduction system between Viceroyalty of New Spain and the Viceroyalty of Peru. The work of Vasco de Quiroga--the bishop of Michoacán who founded a number of hospital towns—and Francisco de Toledo, Count of Oropesa--the viceroy of Peru who promoted the system and convinced the Jesuits to work within it—should be especially noted for their efforts to improve the system.

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